The Atkins Diet was created by Robert Atkins around 1970. Atkins formed most of the principles of the diet from a paper he read in the Journal of American Medical Association. He stated that he sought the information to help resolve his own weight issues. He reached success and decided to publish a book in 1972 called the Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution.
Atkins Diet Overview
The Atkins Diet is based upon limiting consumption of carbohydrates. This is based upon the science that the body will eventually begin metabolizing stored fat for energy. The scientific name for this process is called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when fat from cells is transferred into the bloodstream, and used as energy.
The Atkins Diet is conducted in four distinct phases:
• Ongoing weight loss
• Lifetime weight loss
Induction – induction is the first stage of the diet. It is by far the most restrictive part of the Atkins plan. Dr. Atkins recommends the induction stage last two weeks. The goal of the induction phase is to get the body into ketosis as soon as possible. The number of carbohydrates is restricted to a maximum of 20 net carbs per day. Approximately half of the net carbs come from vegetables.
Induction allows liberal amounts of meat, chicken, fish, cheddar cheese, pork, butter, and vegetable oils. It is also important that people drink eight glasses of water per day along with a daily multiple vitamin.
The induction phase typically causes rapid weight loss. Losses of 5-10 pounds per week are common when people combine daily exercise. Several people use ketostix to make sure they are in ketosis. Ketostix utilize a urine sample to test the blood sugar.
Ongoing Weight Loss – this phase allows an increase of carbohydrates, but is still low enough to continue weight loss. The carbohydrate intake during the ongoing weight loss phase increases by 5 grams of net carbs per week. This phase lasts until the person is within ten pounds of their goal weight.
Tracking weight loss and carbohydrate intake is critical during this phase. People’s bodies respond differently to the program. Each individual must find their weight loss zone.
During the first week of the ongoing weight loss phase it is important to add one vegetable to the list of approved foods. The approved list has nine rungs including:
• Induction of accepted vegetables
• Semi-soft cheese
• Fruits other than berries
• Starch based vegetables
• Whole grains
Pre-maintenance – during this phase the number of carbohydrates is increased by ten grams per week to the point where the person does not gain weight. This phase is used to find the maximum number of carbs a person can eat without gaining weight. At this point ketostix are no longer necessary.
Lifetime maintenance – this phase is similar to pre-maintenance. It is intended for people to incorporate the Atkins Diet principles as a permanent part of their life.
The Atkins Diet is widely used in North America. The diet was its most popular in 2003 when one in seven adults was on the diet. The diet was even blamed for the rapid decline of Krispy Kreme donuts that same year. Atkins is also responsible for many beverage companies reformulating their soft drinks to have sugar free versions such as Coke Zero and Pepsi Max.
Atkins Diet Controversy
The extreme nature of the diet has led to a lot of controversy. Many health and fitness experts passionately speak out against the diet, and go as far as saying that people are putting their lives in danger by following it.
There have been several conflicting studies published about the Atkins Diet. Some say that the diet improves health and body composition, while others tout it as a fast-track to heart disease and high cholesterol.
A ten year study in Sweden found that women who followed a low carb, high protein diet actually lowered their risk of coronary heart disease when compared to women who followed a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine cited that people who follow the Atkins Diet were subjecting themselves to foods that increase the risk of coronary heart disease. The study went on to say that a low carb lifestyle can work if people get their fat and protein from vegetable sources, rather than animal sources. The study also highly doubted the long term efficacy of such an extreme form of eating.
Forbes Magazine conducted a cost analysis on the diet. The results published showed it to be one of the most expensive diet plans to follow because of the high amounts of expensive foods like fresh fish and lobster. Atkins was less expensive than the Jenny Craig Diet, but more expensive than Weight Watchers.
Misconceptions about Atkins
Part of the controversy surrounding the diet is fueled by misconceptions. Many people believe that the Atkins Diet allows people to eat copious amounts of red meat, cheese, and bacon. Recent publications by the company have attempted to correct this blatant misnomer.
Another misconception about Atkins is the amount of carbs that can be eaten. Many people believe that a person can only eat 20 grams of carbs throughout the entire diet. That is only true during the induction phase. Other phases include increased carbohydrate consumption.
Pros and Cons of the Atkins Diet
• Quick results
• Does not require special foods to be purchased
• Does not require severe calorie restriction
• People can dine out while on Atkins
• According to some studies the diet may help those with Type 2 diabetes
• Long term effects not fully known
• Labeled as dangerous by many health experts
• Expensive menu options
• May increase heart disease and high cholesterol
• Tracking carbohydrate intake is time consuming
Founder Dr. Robert Atkins died in 2003 due to a fall on ice. The company filed chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005, but has experienced a recent upswing in sales. The company has shifted its marketing practices by promoting its line of Atkins portable foods for active healthy people, although there is not a fitness component to the diet.
Much is still to be learned about the long term efficacy and safety of the Atkins Diet. People wanting to follow the diet should proceed with caution, and discuss it with their healthcare provider.