Is Atkins Diet Right for You?
Possibly the most husband-friendly diet in existence, the Atkins Diet is a meat lover’s paradise. The program is based on the principle that starchy carbs—not portion size or fat—cause people to pack on the pounds.
Atkins drastically limits carbohydrates and has dieters load up on fat and protein under the theory that this will change your body from a carb-burning machine to a fat-burning machine.
High-protein diets like Atkins can also curb appetite because dieters tend to feel full longer when they eat more protein.
The Atkins Diet has four phases: Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss, Pre-Maintenance, and Lifetime Maintenance.
Phase One - Induction Phase
The Induction Phase is severe, banishing coffee and alcohol. Carbs are limited to 20 grams per day (to put this in perspective: A 3 Musketeers bar has 46 grams of carbs). As the diet progresses, your daily carb intake is upped to between 45 and 100 grams.
Part of the diet’s popularity stems from the rapid weight loss individuals experience in the two week Induction Phase. Dieters can lose up to 15 pounds during induction, and although a large percentage of these pounds may be water weight, the massive scale shift can keep dieters motivated during the phases that follow, where weight loss becomes more reasonably paced and steady.
Phase Two - Ongoing Weight Loss
Phase Two of Atkins is called OWL (Ongoing Weight Loss). Your goal in OWL is to determine your Carbohydrate Level for Losing or CLL(how many carbs you can eat while continuing to lose weight). The differences between OWL and Induction are small, but during this phase your carb intake will increase to 25 grams and you’ll add small amounts of foods prohibited in Phase One (such as nuts).
Phase Three - Pre-Maintenance
Phase Three of Atkins is known as the Pre-Maintenance Phase. This phase is started when you’re 10 pounds away from your goal weight. Whole food carbohydrates that have been off-limits until now will be reintroduced so that you can find your Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium (or ACE), the amount of Net Carbs you can eat daily without gaining or losing weight. Once you’ve pinpointed your ACE, your goal is to keep your weight steady for one month before entering Phase Four.
Phase Four - Lifetime Maintenance
Phase Four of Atkins, Lifetime Maintenance, you’ll stick to the ACE number you determined in Phase Three and enjoy a lifetime of low-carb eating. (If that last part made you truly wince in pain, this probably isn’t the right diet for you).
The good news? Butter-drenched lobster, cheese, and bacon cheeseburgers are your new best friends. The bad news? Bread and dessert are your new enemies. The medical community has voiced many concerns about high-protein diets, as the increase of protein is at the expense of vegetables and fruits, which contain nutrients known to fight disease (and lower the risk of cancer). Because the diet can be very high in fat depending on your food choices, those seeking a more artery-friendly version of Atkins can skip the bacon smorgasbord and opt for lean protein like fish.
Is Atkins effective?
A Journal of the American Medical Association study found that overweight and obese women following the Atkins diet lost more weight and experienced more positive metabolic effects at the end of a 12-month period than women who followed the Ornish, the Zone, or LEARN diets.
Because Atkins allows you to cook as much or as little as you like, it’s a nice contrasting option for dieters that don’t want to live off of prepackaged meals like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig. If you’re looking for a diet that allows you to enjoy dining out, Atkins is a decent option. Finding Atkins-approved meals is easier than ever thanks to the low carb menu items offered by many popular restaurants including Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, and Applebee’s. But you've got to be very careful, as one bite from the breadbasket, or a single errant breaded onion ring can knock you out of the ketosis ring.
Atkins also has a selection of convenience foods. Advantage bars, Advantage shakes, and the dessert-like Atkins Endulge bars are available at most supermarkets. There are even Atkins frozen meals in the frozen food aisle.
When it comes to finding creative ways to make your own zesty meals with limited food groups, a plethora of Atkins-friendly cookbooks abound. Some of the most popular cookbooks for low-carb devotees include Dr. Atkins’ Quick & Easy New Diet Cookbook: Companion to Atkins New Diet Revolution and 1001 Low-Carb Recipes: Hundreds of Delicious Recipes from Dinner to Dessert That Let You Live Your Low-Carb Lifestyle and Never Look Back. If you’re a busy professional avoiding Atkins because spending your after hours cooking complex meals sounds about as fun as volunteering to be a root canal test dummy at a dental school, pick up a copy of Six Ingredients or Less: Low-Carb Cooking. All of the meals are simple, low effort, and will keep you sane as you cook your way slimmer.
Various Problems with the Atkins Diet
Other than the general overall health controversy of the saturated fat content, there are several other disadvantages to the Atkins Diet you should consider before buying your ticket to No-Carb-Land.
What's that smell? OMG!
You may experience a wicked case of halitosis, bad breath that results from chemicals (ketones) released in the breath as the body burns fat. Because carbohydrates aren't readily available, your body will begin to use other proteins and fats as your source of energy, and as a result you may find friends comparing your oral aroma to an abandoned fish market.
Another Atkins disadvantage is that the menu isn’t family-friendly. Depending on the protein sources you choose, the saturated fat can be very high, and the lack of fruits, whole grains, and veggies don’t compliment a child’s physical development. So if you’re a mom with carb-loving kids to feed, don’t consider Atkins unless you plan to make separate meals for your brood.
Another Atkins problem? A steady supply of mood-lifting carbohydrates in a normal diet are MIA on Atkins, and some low-carbers have found that their new lifestyle has put their attitude on edge. Serotonin (the brain's mood-boosting neurotransmitter) is influenced by food, and when it comes to serotonin production, it’s carbs, not protein, that keep levels high. Carb-cutting can therefore dampen your mood, making you grumpy and irritated.
All diets have drawbacks, but if you’re still on the fence about whether Atkins is right for you, consider this big plus: Atkins is one of the few major diets that doesn’t require paid membership. Atkins.com features an impressive array of etools that don’t require a credit card. These include a recipe database, online carb counter, two week meal plan, and online community. Considering that programs like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem can set you back $350-700 per month, the benefit of a free diet in which you choose the food (and the price of that food) may be worth having to pop a breath mint frequently or exercising vigorously to bolster your mood.
If you’ve got the willpower to overcome cheesecake, Atkins can help you drop pounds while enjoying rich proteins frowned upon by traditional diets.
At a glance: Is Atkins right for you?
- You can imagine yourself swearing off bread, pasta, and sugar indefinitely.
- You love meat and dairy.
- You love dining out.
- You’re more motivated by diets that offer immediate gratification (the Atkins Induction Phase)
- You’re looking for a long-term lifestyle rather than a quick solution.
- You have heart disease or any kind of kidney problems.
- You’re a vegetarian.
- You’ve tried banishing foods before and it lead to binging or diet failure
- You’re prone to depression.
- You need constant guidance and support to stick with a diet.
- You aren’t willing to spend time monitoring every carbohydrate gram you consume.