Started by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1970s, based on his personal life experiences a decade earlier, the Atkins Diet is perhaps the most famous of all low-carb diet programs. It all began with the successful book in 1972, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, and was then refined a few years later in his second book, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.
In premise, the Atkins Diet is one of the easier diets to understand. By limiting carbohydrate intake, you deprive the body of glucose – its natural fuel source. This means, when the body looks to energize itself, it will have to dip into its fuel reserves (stored body fat), and thus weight loss occurs.
This switch is complicated, and as Dr. Atkins famously noted, it takes a lot more calories than expected to be able to lose weight. So the idea is to have the body’s metabolism switch its fuel source more frequently, as switching it permanently is just impractical if not impossible.
The process of which the body begins to burn fat reserves is called ketosis, and it begins when the body’s insulin levels are low.
Much of the Atkins jargon—weight loss and health-related jargon in general—is a complex matter that would take a lot of reading to understand. For the purposes of this article, we’ll speak more about the Atkins Diet itself and less about how the body dips into fat reserves when bereft of sufficient glucose.
The Atkins Diet is a four-phase diet that acts more as a lifelong program than a simple one-and-done program like a liquid fat diet for example.
It’s also a very controversial diet. Because of the low-carb, high-protein, sufficient-fat nature of the diet, especially in the induction phase (more on that later), and also the lack of caloric monitoring in the diet (meaning you do not have to count calories), some experts claim that a person’s overall health can suffer due to the amount of fats and cholesterol ingested.
However, Dr. Atkins made it abundantly clear that his diet plan, the Atkins Nutritional Approach, was not a license to gorge oneself. No matter which diet plan you try, especially the Atkins Diet, sufficient portion control is a must. Bacon and eggs might be an Atkins staple, for example, but everyone should realize that too much of this type of food is bad for you.
The Four-Phase Atkins Diet for Losing Weight
Phase One: Induction
During the induction phase of the Atkins Diet, you’re looking to take on a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is very, very restrictive in terms of the carbohydrates you will ingest. The lack of carbs is implemented in order to trigger the body’s response to a lack of insulin.
A ketogenic diet is different from the Atkins Diet altogether, but this type of diet is employed to help the body quickly enter a state of ketosis. During this phase, the ideal amount of carbohydrates to ingest is 20g – 50-75% of which must come from fruits/veggies. (There are 54 fruits/vegetables allowed on the Atkins Diet, including broccoli, leafy greens, pumpkin, turnips, tomatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, etc – basically any veggie that has low sugar/starch content.)
A high amount of protein and fat is also required during the induction phase of the Atkins Diet, which should last for roughly two weeks (and should result in significant weight loss). Any types of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, etc, are okay on the Atkins plan. Cheeses and oils are also okay.
Basically, you’re upping your intake of protein and fats, while drastically decreasing your intake of carbohydrates. To this end, it is also recommended that you do not drink alcohol. Caffeine is technically okay, but it’s better to avoid it altogether. Instead, you should drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water every day while on the diet, especially during the induction phase.
Daily exercise is recommended on the Atkins Diet, even if it’s light exercise. It will simply help keep the body’s metabolism working and burning fat reserves. A multivitamin (without iron) is also recommended during the induction phase.
Overall, you’re looking to ingest no more than 20g of carbs, and at least 100g of fat per day. Protein intake should increase, as well, but you do not have to supplement this.
Phase Two: Ongoing Weight Loss
The second phase of the Atkins Diet, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), will have you increase your overall intake of carbohydrates by around 5g per week (based on daily servings, like with the induction phase). The goal here is to reintroduce carbs to your body while still staying in the weight loss (ketosis) “zone.”
The duration of the second phase depends on how much weight you need to lose. The general rule: the OWL phase should last until the dieter is within 10 pounds of his/her target weight loss goal.
An important note for the second phase, and for the Atkins Diet in general: Although the carbohydrate levels increase, you should never receive your carbs from processed/refined foods like soda, junk food, white flour, etc. Simple carbohydrates are to be all but eliminated with the Atkins plan, and should be replaced with complex carbs.
You can add a few starchy veggies to your diet in moderation (as long as you’re adhering to the gram limits) like carrots, legumes and potatoes, and other sources of carbs include: the aforementioned veggies and fruits, whole grains, berries, nuts/seeds, fresh cheeses, and even alcohol (however, drinking alcohol will still probably put you over the limit, even with a glass of wine, but cooking with it is acceptable).
Phase Three: Pre-Maintenance
With this phase, we’re dealing with a touch-and-go plan that may be different for every individual. Basically, we’re looking again to increase the number of carbohydrates ingested, yet still staying within a special zone. This time, however, we’re no longer looking to lose weight with the diet; we’re just trying to avoid gaining weight.
So, for this phase, you will basically stick with the same diet requirements, only you will up your carbohydrate intake by 10g per week. How long does this phase last? Well, that depends on how your body reacts.
You’re looking for the proverbial “sweet spot,” for lack of a better term – the point at which you begin to gain weight. For example: if you gain a pound one week, you know that the extra 10g of carbs was just too much for you, and thus you should return to the prior level.
You may or may not be in a state of ketosis now, but that’s okay. The goal is to maintain your current weight by finding out how many carbs you can eat per day without putting the weight back on.
Phase Four: Lifetime Maintenance
As stated previously, the Atkins Diet is a life-long program meaning, simply, that it never ends. Once you’ve completed the induction phase and have lost your target amount of weight through the ongoing weight loss phase and have found your sweet spot with phase three, it’s time that you started your new life.
You will strictly adhere to the dieting rules you’ve picked up throughout the first three phases, and your body chemistry will now be set and you will not gain anymore weight so long as you stick to the carb plan.
It’s important that Atkins dieters avoid the proverbial “end of diet” phase, where people throw caution to the wind and return to old habits. You need discipline to carry out an Atkins Diet.
If you do happen to gain any weight while on this diet, it is perfectly okay to revert back to a previous phase. Or, if you perhaps would like to lose even more weight, you can drop back to a previous phase. The idea is to regulate your carbs, and this diet is fairly easy to follow if you can avoid temptation.