An Overview of the Atkins Diet

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*For updated information about Atkins, see What to Expect on the New Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is a popular diet that focuses on reducing carb intake in favor of consuming more protein-rich foods. It requires stringent attention to the amount of carbohydrate in the diet, particularly during the first few weeks. The following is an overview of the Atkins diet:

The Basics of the Atkins Diet

The core concept of the Atkins diet is Dr. Atkins' theory that over-consumption of and hypersensitivity to carbohydrates is at the root of weight gain. The principle Atkins bases his plan on says that it is the way your body processes the carbohydrates you eat — not how much fat you eat — that causes us to have a weight problem.

Dr. Atkins says that many overweight people may be insulin resistant — the cells that convert carbohydrates into glucose (which becomes energy) do not work correctly. Atkins suggests it is more likely than not that most overweight people are in fact insulin resistant. Dr. Atkins' remedy to insulin resistance (or simple over-consumption of carbohydrates) is strict carbohydrate restriction.

In order to follow the Atkins plan, you must begin monitoring and controlling your carbohydrate intake. There are specific foods that are allowed and not allowed during certain portions of the plan. In particular, you must refrain from eating "bad" carbs such as processed, pre-packaged foods and junk foods like cookies in favor of a protein-rich diet.

How Does the Atkins Diet Work?

By reducing your carbohydrate intake to less than 40 grams a day, you will enter a bodily process called ketosis. Ketosis is a state in which your body burns fat as fuel. Dr. Atkins also says that ketosis will affect insulin production, which will prevent more fat from being formed. Dr. Atkins says once you enter ketosis and your body begins efficiently using fat as fuel, your cravings for carbs will subside and you won't miss the foods you are doing without.

The Phases and the Food

The Atkins Diet consists of the following four stages: induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance, and maintenance.

Induction is the first 14 days of the plan, during which Atkins says you can lose up to 15 pounds. This rapid weight loss can be attributed to limiting carb intake to 20 grams a day. The only carbs allowed during Induction are low-carb vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and tomatoes. (You are limited to three cups per day.) You must eliminate a number of other foods as well, including some that are considered otherwise healthy, such as yogurt, fruit and starchy vegetables (like potatoes). A number of beverages are off-limits during induction, too.

During the next stage — ongoing weight loss — you can increase your carb intake by five grams, but you will eventually hit a plateau and will need to limit your carb intake once again. During pre-maintenance, your rate of weight loss will slow down. You will then be able to "test" certain foods to see if you can safely add them to your diet without weight gain resulting.

Once you reach your goal weight, you enter maintenance and may introduce more carbs back into your diet, but not the "bad" ones, as they will result in weight regain. You will need to choose healthy carbs instead of refined carbs (like white bread) from now on. If you do gain weight, you can restart the plan again at any time.

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Article Sources

  • Atkins, Robert C., MD. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution. New York: Avon Health, 2002.