The Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet has been around for some 40 years now, although it has only been widely popular for the last decade and a half. Part of the reason it got so much attention when it became well known is not because it worked so well, although it did prove worthwhile for many dieters, but because it was so radically different from the recommended weight loss diets of its time, which mostly recommended low-fat, minimal animal product consumption.

Atkins is one of the trailblazing low-carbohydrate diets. The mechanism by which Atkins and other low-carb diets work to burn fat isn’t exactly known, although a few theories have been put forth. These diets may work on the basis of ketosis, which is a sort of starvation condition where your body metabolizes fat in the absence of carbs. In fact, the initial stages of Atkins do activate ketosis in dieters, but it is unclear whether this actually causes weight loss. Low-carb diets may work by recommending foods that fill you up better than traditional carby diets do. Fats and proteins, a big part of low-carb diets, are slower to digest than carbs and may suppress appetite in this way. In addition these diets might lose dieters weight by regulating blood sugar levels to promote weight loss and control hunger. There is increasing evidence that blood sugar levels affect the body’s propensity to store fat.

The Atkins diet works in four phases, with the rate of weight loss decreasing as you progress through the phases. Throughout, the diet asks you to keep track of the ‘net carbs’ you take in each day, which are the total grams of carbohydrate you eat minus grams of fiber and grams of sugar alcohols. The phases are as follows:

Induction: The most restrictive of the phases. This phase involves the lowest allowable number of daily carbs, and is meant to put your body in a state of ketosis where it will start metabolizing your body’s fat stores. Weight loss happens rapidly. The phase lasts for two weeks in most cases.

Ongoing Weight Loss: This is where the bulk of weight loss happens. The diet allows for incremental increases in carbohydrate intake, not so much that weight loss stops. One goal of this phase is to find the point where you can eat as many carbs as you can while still losing weight. Foods that were forbidden in the Induction phase are slowly added back in a specific order to the diet to find how the body tolerates them.

Pre-maintenance: In this phase, dieters are nearing their goal weight and transitioning to the diet they will (hopefully) maintain for good. This phase’s goal is to find the number of carbs you can eat and maintain your goal weight. More normal foods are phased in in small amounts, with whole grains added last.

Lifetime Maintenance: Now it’s time to make these habits lifelong. The idea is to maintain your weight, keep close watch over your diet until it becomes easy and natural. If you start to gain weight, you can go into one of the last two phases and get back to your goal before weight gain gets out of control. This phase reinforces the idea that the diet isn’t over so that people don’t gain the weight back. The diet recommends keeping up with a relatively high protein diet and incorporating whole foods and foods with low glycemic index.

Critics of Atkins suggest that it may contribute to causing kidney stones and osteoporosis. Lots of scientists have made claims that the weight loss found on Atkins would be short-lived for most dieters and that the lack of vegetables would create vitamin deficiencies. Much of this could come from the fact that the diet is so much different than traditional diets, and misunderstandings about whether or not the whole diet was as extreme as the Induction phase.

Actual scientific studies and literature reviews seem to indicate that Atkins is no better than traditional low fat diets at preventing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and is likely no better at long term weight loss, but probably isn’t much worse at either. Many experts have given lukewarm endorsements of Atkins and other low-carb diets recently, saying that for those that prefer these diets over low-fat diets, they are likely the best option.

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Some speculate that he is part man, part animal, but the only thing that you need to know is his obsession and dedication to the art of living lean and helping you to achieve your body fat goals.

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