Keto is a very popular weight loss diet. With keto, you slash your carb intake to 20-30 grams per day and fill up on fats and protein. But, before keto become popular, there was the Atkins Diet. Like keto, Atkins is a very low-carb diet, but it’s also different too. For some low-carb dieters, Atkins may be a better choice than the standard keto diet. In this article, we’ll lift the lid on this popular diet and reveal the Atkins diet pros and cons.
The Atkins diet is largely responsible for bringing low carb dieting into the masses. Before the media storm that surrounded the launch of the Atkins diet, very low-carb diets were used mainly for medicinal purposes. The original low-carb diet was developed back in the 1920s and used as a treatment for children with epilepsy.
The Atkins diet came about 50 years later and was a real shot in the arm for the diet industry. Where all other diets focused on low-fat foods and counting calories, the Atkins diet flipped the script and encouraged dieters to eat more fat, more protein, and very limited amounts of carbs. Needless to say, this new approach to weight loss was very controversial and continues to be so. Eating fat is bad for your heart, right?
The irony is that the inventor of this diet, Dr. Robert C. Atkins, was a renowned physician and cardiologist before he became a diet guru. Dr. Atkins passed away in 2003, but his diet books are still very popular. The Atkins diet is the benchmark for all low-carb and keto diets.
What is the Atkins diet?
With most low-carb and keto diets, your carb intake is limited to less than 50 grams per day, and usually between 20-30 grams. This forces your body to use fat and ketones for energy, and that leads to rapid fat and weight loss. Unless you are following a cyclic ketogenic diet, your carb intake will remain mostly stable for as long as you stick to your low-carb eating plan.
What is the Atkins diet, and how does it differ the keto diet?
With Atkins, you start out on a strict, very low-carb diet but, as you lose weight and get closer to your weight loss goal, carbs are gradually reintroduced. The amount of carbs you are allowed at the start of your diet depends on which of the two variants of the Atkins plan you decide to follow – Atkins 20 or Atkins 40.
There is also a moderate-carb version of the Atkins diet, Akins 100, which has no phases and is basically a general healthy eating plan that limits the consumption of refined carbs and sugar. This is not a keto diet, and so it’s not part of this Atkins diet review.
There are four phases to the Atkins diet
Phase one – Induction
Phase one is all about getting you into ketosis as fast as possible. For many, this is the hardest part of the Atkins diet. With Atkins 20, you are allowed no more than 20 grams of carbs per day. With Atkins 40, that number is doubled to 40 grams. This phase lasts two weeks during which your on-board glucose and glycogen stores are depleted, and your body makes the switch to using ketones for fuel.
During this phase, the following foods are off limits:
- Starchy vegetables
- Dairy products (except cheese and butter)
Phase two – Balancing
After two weeks no next-to-no carbs, during this phase, you start to gradually increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and nuts. It’s still a very low carb diet, but nowhere near as strict as the induction phase. Your carb intake depends on your progress and will vary from person to person.
Through trial and error, you will learn how much carbohydrate you can eat and continue losing weight. Factors that affect your carb tolerance include genetics and how physically active you are. The average carb intake during this stage is 25-50 grams per day. Phase two lasts for as long as it takes to get you within 10 pounds of your target weight.
Foods that can be reintroduced during this phase include:
- Tomato juice
Phase three – Fine Tuning
As you close in on your target weight, you add more carbs to your diet until your weight loss slows down and you reach your weight loss goal. Most dieters report a carb intake of around 50-80 grams of carbs per day. The emphasis is on healthy carbs like whole grains and starchy vegetables rather than processed foods and sugar.
In this phase, you can eat more:
- Starchy vegetables
- Whole grains
Phase four – Maintenance
Having reached your target weight, it is crucial that you don’t revert to your old diet and regain all the weight you have lost. Instead of undoing all your good work, in phase four, you eat as many healthy carbs as your body can tolerate without weight regain. This figure will vary from person to person but will probably mean you still need to follow a low-carb diet, although you may no longer be in ketosis. Most phase four Atkins dieters end up eating between 80-100 grams of carbs per day.
Pros Of The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet offers many advantages and benefits over low-calorie and even other keto diets. These pros make it one of the most popular weight loss diets around and include:
Easy to follow – the Atkins diet has been around since the 1970s, and that means it’s been finetuned to make it as effective and easy to follow as possible. The four phases of the Atkins diet are clearly defined, which means all you need to do is adhere to the plan as it has been written. There are several Atkins diet guide books, Atkins approved recipe books and even a range of foods designed to make your diet more effective.
Because the Atkins diet has been around for so long and so many people have successfully used it to lose weight, you should have no problem learning all about it so that you too can follow this diet to reach your weight loss goals. There are no secrets with the Atkins diet!
Filling – you won’t be hungry on the Atkins diet. Fats and protein are satiating. Also, you can eat foods like steak, eggs, bacon, and cheese, which are often off the menu with regular weight loss diets.
No calorie counting – counting calories is a drag! But, with the Atkins diet, the emphasis is on the type of food rather than how much you eat. So long as you control your carb intake, you can eat as much fat and protein as you want.
Produces rapid results – most experts suggest that slow and steady is the best, safest way to lose weight. Unfortunately, slow progress is not very motivating. The induction phase of the Atkins diet is usually accompanied by an average of ten pounds of weight loss. This boots motivation and encourages adherence. It is important to note that the rate of weight loss will slow as you progress from phase one to phase two.
Flexible – unlike most low-carb and keto diets, Atkins reintroduces carbs into your diet as you approach your target weight. While you may never go back to eating vast amounts of bread, rice, pasta, etc., it’s nice to know that you will be able to at least some of these foods and they are not off the menu forever. The induction phase IS unavoidably restrictive, but it only lasts two weeks. After that, you should find that Atkins is flexible and can be personalized according to your needs.
Designed for extended use – many weight loss diets are only meant for short-term use. Atkins starts off strict but becomes much more lenient when you reach the fourth and final stage. It is designed for long-term use so that you don’t regain the weight you have just worked so hard to lose.
May be good for your health – despite concerns over the high fat intake, the Atkins diet has several important health benefits. This low-carb diet is an effective way to control diabetes, may help normalize triglyceride and cholesterol levels, prevent and treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and may reduce the risk of dementia.
Cons Of The Atkins Diet
While the Atkins diet does offer some great benefits, there are a few drawbacks that you should consider before starting.
Decreased energy – some people experience low levels of energy with Atkins, especially during the induction phase. Energy levels should return to normal once you have adapted to eating less carbohydrate.
Food separation and cravings – following Atkins means eliminating many high-carb staples from your diet. Some dieters find this separation unsustainable. You might crave these foods even if you didn’t eat them very much before. Given time, Atkins dieters should get used to not eating things like bread, rice, pasta, etc., and some of these foods can be reintroduced in phases three and four, albeit in smaller amounts.
Keto flu – it takes time for your body to get used to eating fewer carbs. This transition is often accompanied by a range of symptoms, including headaches, nausea, constipation, rashes, insomnia, and fruity-smelling breath. The good news is that these symptoms, collectively called the keto flu, usually vanish toward the end of the induction phase. However, some dieters may find these symptoms off-putting.
Counting carbs can become a chore – whichever phase of the Atkins diet you are in, you’ll need to count carbs. While you can use apps to make this process easier, it can still be a chore. Counting carbs can be especially tricky when you eat out.
Decreased endurance for exercise – in both Atkins 20 and Atkins 40, carb intake is very low, and that may reduce your energy and endurance for exercise. As you graduate through the phases, you should find your energy levels start to return and normalize. However, initially, at least, you will probably find that intense workouts are increasingly difficult as your body makes the switch from using carbs for energy to using fats and ketones.
Not ideal for vegetarians – the Atkins diet involves eating a lot of protein, usually in the form of meat, eggs, and high-fat dairy. This means that it may be impractical for vegetarians and vegans. There are keto diets designed specifically for vegetarians, but Atkins is not one of them.
50 years is a very long time in the diet industry. Most diets come and go in a matter of weeks, but the Atkins diet has stood the test of time. This strongly suggests that this famous diet works, and that is here to stay. Millions of people have lost weight with Atkins, and the Atkins diet books are global bestsellers.
Like all low-carb and ketogenic eating plans, the Atkins diet IS restrictive, but that’s why it works – it eliminates most if not all of the foods responsible for weight gain. Eating less of these foods is never a bad idea, but avoiding them altogether is even better.
The Atkins diet is somewhat controversial, mainly because of the high fat intake, but after nearly half a century of use, studies suggest that many of these fears are unfounded. Fat is not the dietary demon many of us have been led to believe. In fact, the real danger is sugar – something the Atkins diet all-but bans.
If you want to try keto, but aren’t sure where to start, the Atkins diet is a great place to start. Tried and tested, let Dr. Atkins be your guide into the low-carb lifestyle.