The Atkins Diet was created by Dr. Robert Atkins, a cardiologist whose interest in the health benefits of low-carb diets first culminated in the 1972 book “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution,” according to Atkins.com. The diet involves four phases, starting with very few carbs and eating progressively more until you get to your desired weight.
In phase one, for example, you’re allowed 20 grams a day of “net carbs,” 12 to 15 of them from “foundation vegetables” high in fiber like arugula, cherry tomatoes and Brussels sprouts, according to the traditional Atkins 20 plan. This is advised for maximum weight loss. Two other iterations of the diet, Atkins 40, which the company says is “perfect for those who have less than 40 pounds to lose,” and Atkins 100, a plan promoted to those seeking to maintain their current weight, have a starting point of 40 grams and 100 grams of net carbs per day, respectively.
Generally speaking, the theory is that by limiting carbs, your body has to turn to an alternative fuel – stored fat. So sugars and “simple starches” like potatoes, white bread and rice are all but squeezed out; protein and fat like chicken, meat and eggs are embraced. Fat is burned; pounds come off.
But reducing total carbs isn’t all there is to Atkins. Limiting the carbs you take in at any one time is also in the game plan. A carb-heavy meal floods the blood with glucose, too much for the cells to use or to store in the liver as glycogen. Where does it end up? As fat.
In terms of plan flexibility, Atkins 100 allows you to eat the widest variety of foods, in the beginning, allocating 100 net carbs throughout the day. Here’s how it breaks down:
- A minimum of 12 to 15 grams of net carbs a day of foundation vegetables
- Three 4- to 6-ounce servings of protein a day
- Two to four servings of added fat a day
The remaining 85 grams of net carbs come from foods like legumes, nuts or seeds, higher-carb fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
- Fatty food that’s guilt-free
- Quick weight loss
- Strict limits on bread and other carbs
- Low-carb dieters may eat too much fat, raising health concerns
Atkins Diet is Ranked:
- No.2 diet in Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets (Tie)
- No.7 diet in Best Weight-Loss Diets (Tie)
- No.9 diet in Best Commercial Diet Plans
- No.9 diet in Best Diets for Diabetics (Tie)
How does Atkins Diet work?
To start Atkins 20, the central Atkins program that allows 20 grams of “net carbs” daily during phase one, you’ll likely need to clean your cupboard and hit the grocery store – or your local butcher. Here are tips for beginners:
- Stock up on fish, beef, chicken and other proteins; eat one 4- to 6-ounce serving at each meal.
- Add a serving of fat to each meal – butter, salad dressing and olive oil are fair game.
- Round out your meals with leafy greens and other low-carb veggies.
Will Atkins Diet help you lose weight?
Atkins and other low-carb diets have been studied longer and harder than most other approaches, and Atkins does appear to be moderately successful, especially in the short term. That’s only part of the story, however.
Much of the initial loss is water because of the diet’s diuretic effect. That’s true of many other diets, too, and is one of the reasons researchers don’t judge diets based on a few weeks of results. In diet studies, long-term generally starts at two years. Here’s what several key studies had to say about Atkins and other low-carb diets:
- A systematic review published in April 2020 in BMJ, including more than 120 studies, compared 14 named and three controlled diets. At six months, “Among popular named diets, those with the largest effects on weight loss and blood pressure in comparison with usual diet were Atkins, Zone, and DASH,” researchers concluded, with the highest average weight loss of about 12 pounds for Atkins. However, at one year, overall weight loss diminished for all diets.
- A third study, published in 2010 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found no clear advantage either to a low-carb diet based on Atkins or a generic low-fat diet. Both helped participants lose an average of 11% of their starting weight at 12 months, but they gained about a third of it back after that. At two years, the average loss for both diets was 7% of initial body weight. (That’s still not bad – if you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10% of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.) An analysis of five studies that compared low-carb and low-fat diets published in 2006 in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded similarly – while weight loss was greater at six months for low-carb dieters, by 12 months that difference wasn’t significant.
- Researchers reviewed 17 different studies that followed a total of 1,141 obese patients on low-carb eating plans, some similar to the Atkins diet. Results were published in 2012 in Obesity. The study shows that low-carb dieters lost an average of nearly 18 pounds over a period of six months to a year. They also saw improvements in their waist circumference.
- In a study published in November 2014 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, researchers analyzed existing research on Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and the Zone diets to find out which was most effective. Their findings suggested that none of the four diet plans led to significant weight loss, and none was starkly better than the others when it came to keeping weight off for a year or more. Each of the four plans helped dieters shed about the same number of pounds in the short term: around 5% of their starting body weight. After two years, however, some of the lost weight was regained by those on the Atkins or Weight Watchers plans. Since the diets produce similar results, the study authors concluded that dieters should choose the one that best adheres to their lifestyle – for example, Weight Watchers involved a group-based, behavior-modification approach, and Atkins focuses on lowering carbs.
How easy is Atkins Diet to follow?
The Atkins Diet is ranked #31 in Easiest Diets to Follow
Following the Atkins Diet will likely seriously challenge your willpower. How much do you love sweet and starchy foods? Would you miss crusty French bread? Pasta? Grape jelly? Diets that severely restrict certain food groups for months and years tend to have lower success rates than less-restrictive diets, and the Atkins Diet is the definition of a restrictive diet.
One study showed higher percentages of Atkins dieters dropping out at three, six, 12 and 24 months than others did on a low-fat diet, but the differences were not significant. Two other studies that included low-carb dieters concluded diet type wasn’t connected to the dropout rate.
- The Atkins Diet isn’t known for its convenience. At home, building variety into meals is a little harder than usual. Eating out takes more effort. Alcohol is limited. Company products and online resources may be helpful. In 2013, Atkins launched a frozen-food line, which the company says is the first low-carb frozen-food line on the market.
- Eating out is doable on the Atkins Diet. Just make sure you’ve read Atkins’ list of approved fast-food and cuisine-specific options before heading out (and don’t be bashful about asking lots of questions about meal preparation).
- When you’re in a hurry, Atkins has convenience foods available to help you save time. Try the company’s shakes ($7 for a four-pack), snack bars ($6 for a five-pack), penne pasta ($4 for 12 ounces) and all-purpose baking mix ($10 for 2 pounds). Most recently, in 2020, the company added new products such as Atkins Chocolate Banana Shakes, Sweet & Salty Honey Almond Vanilla Crunch Bites and Atkins Endulge Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Patties.
- There are plenty of extra resources and support for Atkins followers. On its website, Atkins offers a free meal planner, carb counter, two-week meal plan, forums and interactive goal-setting tools.
- You’ll probably stay nice and full on the Atkins Diet. Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. And since protein and fat generally take longer than carbs to digest; the hunger centre in your brain won’t be sending out “Feed me” messages two hours after a meal.
- The Atkins Diet can be quite tasty for many palates.
How much should you exercise on Atkins Diet?
Exercise is encouraged on the Atkins Diet, especially by the time you reach the maintenance phase, but it’s not required.
If you choose to exercise, Atkins recommends waiting a couple of weeks to get used to your new eating regimen, particularly if you weren’t exercising before. If you were, you might choose to keep it up – just be ready to scale back if you feel your energy dipping too low.