If you're looking to change your overall eating habits, the Atkins diet might be your best bet.
The Atkins diet is one of the most-sought-out weight loss diets. This popular diet was first developed by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins in the 1960s. Atkins then published a best-selling book in 1972 titled Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution. From there, the popularity of this carb-controlled diet took off.
Atkins is a low-carb diet designed for weight loss. Similar to a ketogenic diet, Atkins helps the body burn fat instead of sugar from carbohydrates. On this diet, you restrict your simple carbohydrate intake (white bread, baked goods, sugars, etc.) and turn to more fiber-rich, nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits and complex carbohydrates. This diet also allows fats, meats and full-fat dairy. While calorie counting is not required, you must keep track of how many carbs you eat a day (more on that later).
The Atkins diet has four phases: introduction, balancing, pre-maintenance and lifetime maintenance. The first phase is the strictest, requiring you to cut out almost all carbohydrates. The second and third phases involve slowly adding in more carbs from vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and some fruits. The fourth phase is taking what you learned from Atkins and applying it to your lifelong diet. You can eat as many healthy carbs as your body allows in this phase.
While most may start with phase one, you can start with any of the first three phases.
In addition to being a diet that gets you to eat more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and meats, the Atkins diet has a few other health benefits.
Atkins is known as a weight loss plan due to the results that some people have on a low-carb diet. When the body is in ketosis, it will use fat as energy since it is being deprived of carbohydrates. In theory, the body would burn fat instead of storing it.
In one study that looked at popular diets, Atkins was a diet that showed the most potential for meaningful long-term and short-term weight loss. Note that in this study, exercise was encouraged in addition to the diet.
The other possible benefits of the Atkins diet include having more energy, feeling full and may even helping improve other health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. However, more research is needed to back up these claims.
Even though the Atkins diet boasts many benefits, there are potential risks that need to be taken into account. A low-carb diet can cause the following:
The Atkins diet cuts out a majority of carbohydrates and sugars from your diet, except for carbs from vegetables. Instead, it focuses on proteins and healthy fats. While you don't have to count calories in any phase of the diet, you do need to keep track of your net carbs.
Net carbs is a calculation of the total carbohydrate content of each food item, minus the good stuff -- fiber. This method helps you get an idea of how foods affect your blood sugar levels. For example, nutrient-dense vegetables will have a low net carb score and will not largely affect your blood sugar level nor weight gain. Here's how to calculate net carbs using the Atkins approach:
Net carbs = total carbohydrates – fiber – sugar alcohol (if applicable)
Counting your net carbs is one of the trickier aspects of the Atkins diet. Depending on the phase, there is a set maximum and minimum. The following is how many net carbs and food groups you are allowed in each stage of the Atkins diet.
Introduction (phase one): The strictest phase allows under 20 grams of net carbs per day. Eat low-carb vegetables, meats and high-fat dairy in the introduction phase. Stay in this phase for two weeks.
Balancing (phase two): In this phase, you can slowly add in nuts and seeds, more vegetables and lower sugar fruits. Continue to stay away from foods with added sugars and simple carbs. Your net carbs should still be around 20 grams per day, and make sure at least 12 to 15 of those carbs are coming from vegetables. Stay in this phase until you are close to your goal weight or when you think it is time to move on.
Pre-maintenance (phase three): This phase allows you to add back in whole grains, fruits and starchy vegetables. You can add about 10 grams of the already allowed carbs each week. If you start gaining weight again, cut back on your carb intake. Stay in this phase until you meet your goal weight.
Lifetime maintenance (phase four): Move into this phase when you find a healthy balance of carbs in your life. Carry this with you for a lifetime.
Each phase of the Atkins diet has a set of acceptable foods. Depending on the phase you are on, the list below may include some foods that you must limit. In general, these following foods are accepted on the diet:
As for accepted beverages, try to stick to water, coffee (without added sugar) and green, black or herbal tea. You can drink alcohol on the Atkins diet but in small amounts, although avoid sugary and high-carb alcoholic drinks (i.e., beer) .
While the phase of the diet you are currently in may slowly let you add more foods back into your diet, these foods are generally not allowed on the Atkins diet. If you struggle with completely avoiding these following foods, try to at least limit them.
Note that during the induction phase (first phase), high-carb vegetables and fruits, starches and legumes are also not allowed.
Fill your grocery list with these meal ideas for the week. Keep in mind that some of these meals might include food items that your phase might not accept.
Although Atkins may work for some people, it isn't recommended for everyone. Always speak with your doctor before starting a new diet. They can help determine if it is right for you. Here are a few points to consider before starting the Atkins diet.
You should try the Atkins diet if:
Try another diet or seek a dietitian if:
While both keto and Atkins diets require limiting your intake of carbs and help the body burn fat instead of sugar, the Atkins diet doesn't have a limit on your intake of protein. As long as you are staying under the recommended maximum number of net carbs, you can have as much protein as you wish. Also, a keto diet needs your body to stay in ketosis during the entire diet. On an Atkins diet, your body may possibly only go into ketosis during the first or second phase.
The number of carbs you should have a day on Atkins depends on which phase you are in. The first phase, introduction, requires you to stay under 20 net carbs a day. The second phase is similar with about 20 net carbs a day and about 12 to 15 of those carbs coming from vegetables. The third phase allows adding in 10 extra net carbs a week until you find the right balance.
Atkins could, hypothetically, help you lose belly fat, because the diet helps your body convert energy from stored fat. This method may help someone on the Atkins diet to help them lose weight, but it will not work for everyone. Speak with your doctor or registered dietitian before starting Atkins or any diet.