Many people have anecdotally reported success on the Atkins diet, even when they have experienced difficulty losing weight on other diets. Other dieters find Atkins too restrictive and prefer to pursue other plans offering a wider variety of foods. If you're considering a low-carbohydrate diet to lose weight, then learning the basics of the plan may help you determine if it is right for you.
Phases of the Atkins Diet
Like the South Beach Diet, Dr. Atkins' program consists of phases. The diet contains four basic phases.
Phase One - Induction
During the induction phase, individuals severely restrict carbohydrate intake to fewer than 20 grams per day. During induction, the diet only allows green leafy and non-starchy vegetables. According to Dr. Atkins, this carbohydrate restriction causes the body to achieve ketosis, in which the body burns fat as its primary sources of fuel. Because blood sugar levels stabelize and ketosis begins, sugar cravings and hunger diminish. At the same time, you lose weight rapidly as your body depletes its stored carbohydrates, because it stores water and carbohydrates at a 3:1 ratio. The induction phase typically lasts two weeks.
Phase Two - Ongoing Weight Loss (O.W.L.)
During this phase, dieters gradually increase daily carbohydrate intake each week by five grams, until weight loss comes to a standstill. Then they reduce carbohydrate intake once again to the point where the extra pounds continue to come off. Most people eat between 25 to 50 grams of carbohydrates daily during this phase, depending on their individual metabolism.
Phase Three - Pre-Maintenance
Dieters enter this phase when they are within a few pounds of their goal weight. During pre-maintenance, they gradually increase their carbohydrate intake until weight loss has almost stopped. As carbohydrates are increased, dieters are encouraged to follow the glycemic index, which Atkins calls "The Atkins Glycemic Ranking."
Phase Four - Lifetime Maintenance
This is the phase in which dieters remain for life, once they accomplish their weight loss goal. They eat carbohydrates amounts that don't cause them to gain weight. Atkins claims eating this way for a lifetime allows individuals to attain better health, while reducing their risk of chronic disease. In order to sustain loss, the maintenance phases suggests an ongoing lifestyle of restricting sugar, bread and starchy foods.
Why Follow the Atkins Diet?
Many people enjoy this plan, as it promises weight loss while permitting unlimited consumption of protein products such as steak, eggs and full-fat cheese. People often find weight loss success on this diet, as reported in a 2010 Temple University Study that compared the Atkins diet to a more conventional low-fat and low calorie diet. The study found both diets equally efficacious for weight loss. Many weight loss diets now recommend eating a diet similar to the Atkins diet, because it more closely mimics pre-agrarian hunter-gatherer diets.
Atkins is very similar to other diets in that the weight will come off much more quickly when you incorporate exercise into the plan. Of course, exercise also reduces the risk of disease and provides an enhanced feeling of well being, in addition to burning calories.
Some medical professionals, such as MayoClinic.com, caution that low-carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet are very high in saturated fat, which increases the risk of heart disease. Likewise, the diet is high in protein, which may lead to kidney problems. Low fiber may also be a problem, leading to constipation. Additionally, for some dieters, the strict rules of this diet can seem limiting.
Will It Work for You?
The Atkins diet may provide an effective way for some dieters to lose weight. With multiple studies reporting the efficacy of the diet, reducing your carbohydrate intake may help you lose weight when you have been unable to before. Before going on the Atkins diet, talk to your doctor to evaluate your health.