The Atkins diet (TM) is the best known form of low carb dieting. First published by Dr Robert Atkins in the 1970s, it is neither the newest nor the first low carb dieting plan, but it is very well established. Because of this, you can find a wide range of recipe books based on the plan as well as plenty of free recipes online. There have also been plenty of studies about the Atkins diet and it is better accepted by health professionals than many newer diets.
If you are thinking of following the Atkins diet you will need a copy of ‘Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution’. This is the revised version of his diet which includes more vegetables and is generally felt to be a healthier diet to follow than his first plan, so be sure to buy the book that includes the word ‘New’ in the title.
Atkins and other low carb dieting plans work by keeping your carbohydrate consumption low enough that you enter ‘ketosis’ or ‘lipolysis’. This is a natural condition of the body designed to deal with times when carbohydrate foods are scarce.
Many body functions require glucose for energy, and normally this is taken from the carbohydrate foods that we consume. But if the body is not getting enough of these, it can switch to using fat for energy. In this state it will use both the fat that we consume and the fat that is stored in the body, so we lose weight.
Unlike some other low carb dieting plans, the Atkins diet does not restrict fat consumption. This is because the switch to lipolysis depends on the body having plenty of fat in the diet as well as using stored fat. Also, fat is a substance that makes us feel full for a long time after eating. In fact, Dr Atkins included a rule that says you must not go more than 6 hours between meals, simply because his first patients found they were not hungry, and were not eating enough.
So what are the rules of the Atkins way of low carb dieting? Well, there are three stages. The first and best known is induction, in which you are restricted to a maximum of 20 grams of carbohydrate.
Some people assume that this means that you can have 20 grams of pasta a day, but that is not the case at all. Almost all foods contain carbohydrate, except for meat, fish and oils. So if you are counting the carbs in your food, you need to do it by using an online diet tracking program such as fitday.com.
For those who do not want to weigh and record everything that they eat, Dr Atkins gives you a list of foods that you can eat freely (e.g. meat, fish, oils) plus foods of which you can eat a certain amount each day (e.g. milk and dairy products, avocado). In addition you get to eat up to 3 cups of vegetables a day, which you take from certain lists. These do not include starchy vegetables like carrots and potatoes, which are not allowed on induction.
If this sounds restrictive, do not worry. You only follow induction for 2 weeks to kick start your weight loss. Then in phase 2 you will gradually increase your carbohydrate intake and at the same time, reintroduce some of the foods that were not allowed during induction. This means more vegetables, including some beans and starchy vegetables in small quantities; more dairy products; nuts, fruits, whole grains and even alcohol.
Phase 3 of the Atkins low carb dieting plan is maintenance for when you have achieved or almost achieved your desired weight loss.