Hnds with knife and fork ready to eat from empty plate on yellow checked tablecloth.

What is the Atkins diet?

Also known as the Atkins nutritional approach, the diet follows a strict structure that requires limited consumption of carbohydrates with plenty of protein and fat. The dramatic reduction in carbohydrates will help the body move from metabolizing the glucose from carbs for energy to a more efficient process of burning stored fat, instead.

Not only will this help followers lose weight, but the increased consumption of protein also helps decrease appetite. When you’re eating less carbs and more protein, you’ll feel more satiated – meaning you’ll naturally consume fewer calories without having to restrict yourself like with a low-fat diet or counting calories.

Despite a plethora of opinions from all sides, this low-carb diet has become popular around the world, as it has proven to lead to more weight loss and greater health benefits than typical low-fat diets. More than 20 different studies have examined how the Atkins diet benefits practitioners, making it a widely supported option for people looking to eat healthier, lose weight, and improve their overall well-being.

The Atkins diet involves four different phases, but practitioners are not required to follow these phases too precisely.

Phase One – Induction

Weight loss is kickstarted during this phase, which requires followers to consume under 20 grams of carbs per day for at least two weeks. The focus should be on high-fat, high-protein foods, alongside low-carb vegetables including leafy greens, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables.

Some people prefer to remain in this stage indefinitely, to maximize weight loss results and maintain a state of ketosis, where the body is burning stored fat for energy. This is the process achieved through a ketogenic diet.

There are others who skip this phase entirely, beginning their Atkins diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables from the get-go. This is also acceptable, especially if you’re not focused on weight loss.

Phase Two – Balancing

After you’ve passed through the induction phase and the carb crash that occasionally goes along with it, you’ll be able to begin adding some carbohydrates back into your diet – including nuts and fruit. Add these slowly to see how they affect your body, and to prevent any weight gain.

This phase will continue until you’re close to your goal weight.

Phase Three – Fine-Tuning

Once you’ve nearly reached the weight you’re aiming for, gradually add more carbs into your diet until you notice your weight loss begin to slow down. Still, your diet should be primarily comprised of protein and fat.

Phase Four – Maintenance

Now that you’re at your goal weight, feel free to consume as many healthy carbs as your body can handle without gaining back the weight you’ve lost. If you notice the scale creeping back up, cut back down to phase two or three until you reach your goal weight again.

Where did it come from?

The diet was designed by Dr. Robert Atkins, who argued that the primary factor behind rising obesity is the increase in refined carbohydrates in Western diets – sugar, flour, and high-fructose corn syrups, specifically. He also determined that society’s perception of saturated fat as a nutritional problem was “overrated,” and that we would be better off eating healthy fats while avoiding trans fats, instead.

What foods can I eat on this diet?

The Atkins diet is based around healthy foods. Shop along the edges of the grocery store – produce, meats, dairy. You shouldn’t need to hit the middle aisles when you’re eating Atkins-approved foods. Choose a fatty protein source and add vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats for a solid Atkins-style meal.

Eat plenty of:

- Meat, including chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and even bacon in moderation.

- Fish and seafood, like salmon, trout, and sardines. Fatty fish is best.

- Eggs, particularly Omega-3 enriched or pastured.

- Low-carb vegetables, like cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and more.

- Full-fat dairy products, including yogurt, cream, cheese, and butter.

- Nuts and seeds, particularly almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

- Healthy fats and oils, like avocados, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

- Drink lots of water, green tea, and even coffee.

What foods should I avoid?

Your diet should include whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Your goal is to avoid high-glycemic foods that will cause your blood sugar to spike and give your body glucose to use as fuel. You want your body to burn fat, instead.

Stay away from things like:

- Sugar in fruit juices, cakes, candy, soft drinks, ice cream, etc.

- Grains like rice, spelt, barley, wheat, and rye.

- Vegetable oils, including soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and corn oil, among others.

- Trans fats, which are mainly found in processed foods. Look for the word “hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients.

- Foods labeled “low-fat” or “diet,” because these are often high in sugar.

- High-carb fruits and vegetables, particularly during the induction phase.

- Starches like potatoes, but these can be slowly introduced if they don’t lead to weight gain or digestion issues.

- Legumes, including lentils, beans, and chickpeas, can be introduced after induction.

Next Post: 15 Health Benefits of the Atkins Diet

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About The Author

Jacky Miller's picture

Jacky Miller is a Registered Dietician based in New Zealand. She specializes in chronic conditions and through diet and lifestyle changes helps her patients improve their health, and lead richer, more fulfilling lives. She writes regularly on health related topics for blogs including MindBodyGreen, Jen Reviews, and The Huffington Post. 

Follow Jacky on Twitter and Facebook.


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