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Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet is arguably the granddaddy of all the low-carb diets. It all started with Robert Atkins’ first book, (Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution: The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever) in 1972, and reached its peak after 2002 when nearly every celebrity was on a low-carb diet, followed by half of America.

The Atkins Diet Concept

The Atkins Diet’s central characteristic is its emphasis on limiting carbohydrates, and more specifically, “net carbs”. Net carbs is the carbs minus fiber. The idea is that carbs in the form of fiber don’t have the same negative effect as other carbs.

It especially limits carbs with a high “glycemic index” (things that cause rapid insulin spikes, like potatoes, breads, pastas, sugars, etc.). The carbs that ARE allowed are mostly vegetables.

That means almost no carbs, which leaves fats and proteins. Meats, eggs, oils, butter, dairy, nuts, etc. are all allowed. Often it is said by Atkins’ materials that calories don’t matter, calorie counting is not required, and that one can eat all the cheese, oil, and meat they desire.

The idea is to starve the body of carbs so that it will be forced to burn stored fat.

But the Atkins Diet isn’t just lists of allowed and banned foods with a focus on limiting carbs. It’s a bit more specific than that.

The Atkins Diet Phases

The Atkins Diet has four distinct phases, but the primary distinction between phases is mostly the amount of carbohydrates permitted. ALL phases are relatively low-carb.

During Phase 1, “Induction”, carbs are limited to 20 grams per day. If you’re not accustomed to monitoring carb intake, that’s basically two slices of bread. Other than that, NO other carbohydrates, not even in “natural” form like in fruit. In fact, that 20 gram limitation pretty much means you don’t even get to eat much in the way of vegetables (which are mostly carb).

The idea behind this strict start is to quickly train the body to start burning fat right away. Each subsequent phase allows increasingly more carbs until one reaches their target weight and maintains. But even during these increased carb phases carbs with high glycemic (sugars, breads, pastas, etc.) index are still banned.

No Other Restrictions

The very strict limitations of the quantity and type of carbs is the hallmark of the Atkins Diet. But this diet is somewhat distinctive in that it places no other strict limitations on fat, protein, or calories.

It’s right there in the title of his 1972 book, “The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever”. The plan does not advocate portion control or counting calories.

Does it work?

So what of the Atkins Diet? Is it legitimate? Does it work? Is it healthy?

The short answer, in my opinion, is YES, absolutely, it works.

I remember my first exposure to Atkins. A friend told me about it. He had been on the plan for a few weeks and I hardly recognized him. He was someone I saw fairly regularly, and in less than a one-month period of time he dropped around 10-15 lbs!

And as far as I know, he experienced no adverse health effects from the experience.

That’s pretty anecdotal, but it fits well with everything else I know about diet and weight loss.

Any diet that encourages the elimination of all highly processed carbs and being very mindful of everyone one eats is on the right track. But there’s probably little about the Atkins diet beyond this fact that helps one lose weight. You can read my discussion on The Keto Diet where I discuss a little of the science related to making the body burn fat.

No Portion/Calorie Control?

The Atkins Diet does not advocate calorie counting or portion control. OR DOES IT?

QUESTION: What happens if you tell someone they can eat as many calories they want, but that they MUST NOT eat any sugars, breads, pastries, pastas, rice, grains, fruits, or even vegetables? Answer: They don’t eat very many calories.

You may look at that giant, fatty steak, or that eggs/cheese/bacon/sausage breakfast and envision LOTS of luxurious calories that would normally leave you STUFFED and FAT.

But maybe that steak itself isn’t really what leaves you feeling so stuffed and fat. Maybe it is the complimentary bread you ate while waiting for the steak. Or maybe it is the included 800-calorie loaded baked potato that comes with the steak dinner. Maybe it is the 1800 calorie Flaming Fudge Volcano dessert.

If you ONLY ate the steak and maybe some steamed broccoli, you might not be able to force down very many calories.

The same is true with the eggs/cheese/bacon/sausage breakfast. The thing that usually makes you feel STUFFED after such a meal is the HASH BROWNS (potato), BISCUITS, and PANCAKES (which require SUGARY SYRUP) that often come with the egg breakfast.

I’m not saying that one cannot get a lot of calories from steak dinners and egg breakfasts, only that when you eliminate the banned items it is a lot harder to abuse one’s calorie budget.

Marketing Hype

I would guess that all the claims – especially the one in the subtitle of Atkins’ first book (“The High Calorie Way…”) – are just attention-grabbers. But ultimately they aren’t true.

This is the favorite go-to trickery of the weight loss industry. In order to lose weight, one must CONSUME FEWER CALORIES. But no one really WANTS to go through all that trouble and make those big adjustments, so the marketing departments of the big publishers must find ways to tickle the ears of the audience. “No counting calories”, “No portion control”, “High cal way to stay thin”, etc.

I am certain that if you consume 3000+ calories of fat and protein every day YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LOSE WEIGHT!


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