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You’ve probably heard of the Atkins diet and may have even tried it before, but is it a good option for weight loss? And how sustainable is the diet in the long term? Here we explain the facts of the Atkins diet in order to help you establish whether it could be a good choice for you while you’re on your weight loss journey with Phen Caps.
The diet, officially called The Atkins Nutritional Approach, is a low-carbohydrate diet promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins, and is based on a research paper from 1958 by Alfred W. Pennington titled Weight Reduction. Atkins popularized his method in a series of books, first with Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972. The Atkins diet gained widespread popularity in 2003, and at its most popular, one in eleven North American adults were on the diet. However, the diet has rapidly declined in popularity over the last ten years.
The Atkins diet involves limiting the consumption of carbohydrates in order to switch the body's metabolism from burning glucose as energy over to converting stored body fat to energy, a process called ketosis. There are four phases to the Atkins diet:
Induction – This is the most restrictive phase, and is recommended for no more than 2 weeks. Intended to kick-start the process of ketosis, carbs are limited to an intake of 20 net grams per day (grams of carbohydrate minus grams of fiber, sugar alcohols or glycerin), 12 to 15 net grams that must come in the form of a variety of the 54 fruits and vegetables allowed by Atkins. In addition, this phase permits limited amounts of animal protein, vegetables and fats. During this phase, in addition to the 20 grams of net carbs, dieters can expect to consume at least 100 grams of fat and about 150 grams of protein each day.
Ongoing Weight Loss – This phase involves 5 net gram increases in daily carbohydrate intake per week, but remaining at levels where weight loss still occurs. A goal in this phase is to find the ‘Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing’, so as to determine which foods an individual may incorporate without triggering cravings. This phase of the Atkins' diet lasts until weight is within 10 pounds of the target weight.
Pre-maintenance – In this phase daily carbs are again increased, this time by 10 net grams per week, with the goal of finding the ‘Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance’, which is the maximum carbohydrate level a dieter can consume each day without gaining weight. During this phase previously forbidden foods can be added to the diet in small amounts and in a set order, including legumes, starchy vegetables and whole grains.
Lifetime Maintenance – Once the dieter’s ‘Critical Carbohydrate’ level is established they can move into the final phase. Whole, unprocessed foods are emphasized, with the option to drop back into an earlier phase if weight gain occurs.
Many people believe that the Atkins diet promotes eating unlimited amounts of fatty proteins, which Atkins representatives say are misconceptions promoted by the media and competitors trying to discredit the diet. However, this unlimited consumption of fatty food was allowed and promoted in earlier versions of the Atkins plan. It is only more recently, since the death of Dr. Atkins in 2003, that the Atkins Nutritional Company have moved away from Atkins’ original diet, promoting a new approach which is at odds with many of the writings of Dr. Atkins, indicating a potential for confusion between the two quite distinct Atkins plans.
In his earlier books, Atkins claimed that the diet produces a ‘metabolic advantage’ as “burning fat takes more calories, so you expend more calories” but more recent studies have found this to be false. Instead, they state that dieters were simply eating fewer calories due to boredom and that the monotony and simplicity of the diet could inhibit appetite and food intake. This would suggest that although weight loss is possible while those on the Atkins diet are able to stick to the plan, it is unsustainable in the long term as it is too limiting. This lack of long-term sustainability often results in people returning to previous eating habits, and being more likely to gain back any weight lost while following the plan.
A comparison study (Dansinger, 2005) compared the Atkins diet with other diets, including Weight Watchers and The Zone, whereby groups of participants each followed one of the diets for one year. It was found after two months, the carbohydrate intake of the Atkins diet participants had more than doubled beyond levels as recommended by the plan, and that by the sixth month the Atkins dieters were eating similar levels of carbohydrates to the other groups.
At the end of the study, all dieters were found to have lost weight, and despite those on the Atkins diet not following the low-carbohydrate plan, a comparison of the losses between the groups found no significant differences between the diets. Similarly, a scientific review conducted in 2001 and published in the journal Obesity Research found that low-carbohydrate diets produce similar fat loss to other diets with a similar calorific intake. These findings would suggest that it is not necessary to limit carbohydrates in order to lose weight; simply following a balanced diet, as recommended by us here at Phen.com, results in losses comparable to those found in people following many of the most popular diets, low-carb or otherwise.
While at its best the Atkins diet is not found to be any better than other diets, other reviews have raised serious concerns and warned of the potential dangers to health. Dr. Robert Eckel of the American Heart Association states that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets put people at risk of heart disease. This is mainly because those on high-protein diets consume more animal proteins than those on more balanced diets, due to having less food choices at mealtimes. A 2004 study also showed that people following a low-carb diet were more likely to suffer from diarrhea, weakness, muscle cramps, and rashes, and other studies have indicated that followers of the Atkins diet could face a higher risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis.
To conclude, it is clear that the Atkins diet has many limitations. Firstly, Dr. Atkins’ theories, now partly rejected by the Atkins Nutritional Company, has shown to be false, and responsible for promoting an unhealthy diet of unlimited fatty foods. Aside from the confusion that may arise from trying to establish the core foundations of the Atkins diet, it can also be seen that a limited intake of carbohydrates does not promote better weight loss results than more balanced diets, and is so limiting that followers of the diet end up eating fewer calories as a result of boredom with the permitted foods.
The lack of long-term sustainability makes it ineffective as a diet plan, as it promotes overly strict eating guidelines throughout the program and expects the dieter to maintain this for life. Furthermore, the diet denies the dieter of the nutrients and vitamins found in foods like fruits, legumes, and whole wheat, and even in the final stage, places strict restrictions on these healthy foods, while encouraging the dieter to consume animal proteins in their place. Possibly as a result, low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet have been found to be more likely to cause negative physical reactions than other diets, some of which can be very serious and damaging to long-term health.
Here at Phen.com, we strongly believe that a balanced diet should encourage good health and a positive physical reaction, as well as weight loss, which is sustainable for the long run. This means it should be inclusive of all health-promoting foods, carbohydrates or otherwise. While weight loss is possible on the Atkins diet, we do not view it as a beneficial option for those of you aiming to make sure your weight loss journey with Phen Caps is your last weight loss journey. Lastly, no matter what diet plan you choose to follow, keep in mind that Phen Caps always compliments your healthy eating plan, as they suppress your appetite, cravings and increase your energy for additional calorie burn.
What do you think about the Atkins diet? Is it something you have tried or would consider? We would love to hear, leave us a comment below!