Atkins: The Low-Carb Diet That Started it All

Atkins: The Low-Carb Diet That Started it All

When Dr. Robert Atkins wrote his first diet book back in 1972, he decided to call it the Atkins Diet Revolution, and he wasn't kidding. It really was a revolutionary approach to fat loss that went against the conventional wisdom of nearly all nutritionists and dieticians. Now, more than 35 years later, his eating plan still has plenty of devoted followers, and it still causes a huge controversy among people on both sides of the low carb vs. low fat debate. Here is an unbiased look at this eating plan.

Dr. Atkins was a cardiologist who treated scores of overweight patients with high cholesterol, clogged arteries, and heart disease. So, when he went against the proscribed treatment of the day (a strict low fat diet), for his patients, and put them on a high protein diet instead, he was thought of as a heretic. Many experts expected that his advice would cause his patients to gain weight, and become even sicker. When he reported the opposite results in his book, a firestorm erupted, and he was proclaimed a fraud and even called downright dangerous. The truth, however, was that he had plenty of empirical, scientific evidence which showed that his fat loss plan actually worked for many of those he treated.

The basic premise of the Atkins Diet is that the protein and fat in our diets do not cause weight gain. The problem, rather, is excess insulin. Atkins theorized that eating carbohydrates, especially refined, sugary, substances, causes a sharp rise in blood sugar, which in turn causes the body to produce extra insulin. The insulin allows the body to store the extra sugar in the muscles and liver as glycogen, a source of quick energy. But, those storage areas are quickly filled, and the body then converts the extra sugar into fat.

Since the human body burns carbohydrates first when it needs fuel to function, people who limit the amount of carbohydrates they eat can force their bodies to burn stored fat, instead. A state called "ketosis" is reached when the body is in fat-burning mode. People in ketosis report a reduction in appetite and a fairly rapid weight and fat loss.

The Atkins plan calls for users to limit their carbohydrate consumption to 20 grams or less per day for the first two weeks. This is the induction phase of the diet and is supposed to put the body in a fat-burning mode. After that, dieters add small amounts of carbs back into their diets until weight loss stops. That tells them their "Critical Carbohydrate Level," and it will vary from person to person. The theory says dieters who stay below their critical level will continue to lose weight. When the desired body weight has been reached, more healthy carbs are added into the diet until a "Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance" is reached.

The Upside

The biggest thing the Atkins plan has going for it is that it really does lead to fat loss for most people. There are no limitations on the amount of food that is allowed, so dieters can eat until they feel satisfied. There is no need to count calories or weigh food. The only number that must be tracked is the amount of carbs consumed.

Many people find that eating all the meat, cheese, and fats they desire results in their total calorie intake actually being reduced when compared to their normal diets. That is most likely because protein foods take longer to digest than carbs, and make people feel full longer. The process of ketosis also helps to curb hunger pangs and therefore most people on Atkins reduce their caloric intake without really thinking about it.

Many people also find that their total cholesterol falls while they are following the Atkins plan, and their "good cholesterol" or HDL numbers rise. Dr. Atkins explained this by crediting the lowered amount of insulin in the body. He said that less insulin production leads to better metabolic function in numerous areas and thus actually improves many serious conditions.

The recommended meals are quite easy to prepare at home, so an Atkins follower does not have to rely on pre-packaged foods or complicated menus. Food manufacturers do produce a number of low carb snacks and frozen products, however, so convenience foods are available for dieters who wish to use them. It is also relatively easy to order a restaurant meal while following the Atkins plan. A protein entrée along with a green salad will easily fall within the plan's guidelines. However, accompanying potatoes, bread, and starchy vegetables must be declined.

The Downside

Even though an Atkins dieter does not have to measure food portions or count calories, he or she still must follow a severely restrictive plan. Going without fruit, bread, potatoes, milk, and sweets of any kind is hard to do on a long-term basis. Even though hunger is not usually a problem, a diet that consists almost entirely of meat, eggs, and cheese can get monotonous quickly.

The Atkins plan encourages people to take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement while on the diet, which suggests that some vital nutrients are missing from the system. There are also users who report unpleasant side effects of ketosis such as a strange breath and body odor and constipation.

This diet plan is definitely not useful for certain groups of people like vegetarians, those who take diuretics, or folks with certain medical conditions. Anyone who is not fond of meat and other protein-rich foods with definitely struggle on the Atkins plan.

The Bottom Line

Even after decades have passed, and millions of people have followed this diet, you can still find doctors and other experts who will declare that the Atkins plan is not healthy. There are just as many authorities on the other side of the argument that say that low carb is the best way to achieve fat loss and enhance health. Anyone considering trying the Atkins method should do the appropriate research and consult trusted medical personnel before beginning.

Fat Loss 4 Idiots is a plan that uses some of the Atkins ideas, but I think it makes more sense for long-term fat loss. It is like Atkins in that there are no restrictions on the quantity of food that can be consumed, and certain menus on the diet are definitely low in carbohydrates. But, it allows for much more variety in food choices, and also gives a dieter three "free days" after following the plan for eleven days. During that time, a person can eat whatever he or she wants. This breaks up the monotony of the traditional low carb approach, and helps to maintain motivation. If fat loss is your goal, I urge you to check this plan out here.