Atkins Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss Program

An introduction to the Atkins diet and its four phases

Fried chicken wings in frying pan with herbs and spring onions on wooden table

The Atkins Diet is seen by many as the quintessential low-carb diet program. Though he wasn't the originator, Robert C. Atkins, M.D. is often called the "Father of Modern Low-Carb Diets" due to his books that popularized the diet. The essence of the Atkins program is a diet of lower carbohydrate intake to address what Atkins believed to be the underlying causes of being overweight and secondly, mechanisms to tailor the diet to the individual.

Four Phases of the Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet has four phases: Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), Pre-maintenance, and Maintenance. The length of these phases depends mainly on how overweight you are and how you respond in each phase of the diet. In his books, Atkins emphasizes the importance of each level, however, on the Atkins website it says, "Beginning with Induction is your choice—you can begin Atkins at any of the four phases. However, Induction will jump start your weight loss as you cut back significantly on carb consumption."

Dieters add more carbs as proceed through the phases. They focus on nutrient-dense carbohydrates while avoiding refined grains and sugars. All the while, they are monitoring their weight and staying at a carb level where they are still losing. Gradually, they transition to Maintenance, or Atkins for Life, the lifelong program. At this point, individuals are eating at a carb level which allows them to maintain their weight. The emphasis is on wise carb choices, with sugar and refined grains remaining forbidden.

Restricted Foods on Atkins

The total carbohydrate intake is counted, without much regard to where it comes from. Some evolution of the philosophy is seen in the book "Atkins for Life" where Atkins first discusses lower-glycemic carbohydrates. Still, added sugars and refined grains are pretty much off the list for the rest of your life, which is the norm with low carb diets.

Amount of Restriction

The Atkins diet starts out with a lot of carbohydrate restriction in the Induction phase. After that the amount of restriction is tailored to the individual, depending upon their response to the diet.

Amount of Structure

The phases are quite structured, with detailed instructions on adding small amounts of carbohydrate. Within that structure, however, the dieter has a lot of choice about what to eat and how much.

Individual Variation

The program focuses on helping people find their individual carbohydrate tolerance levels. Atkins also introduces a concept he called "metabolic resistance," which will partly determine this level.

Learning Curve

The biggest hurdle is simply learning how many grams of carbohydrate are in each food you eat. It helps to have a handy reference of carb counts of many common foods. You may want to use an app or keep a printed list handy until you are more familiar with carb counts. You can explore his concepts in depth and use the resources in his Atkins books and cookbooks.

Bottom Line on the Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet is a straightforward low-carb diet program that promotes weight loss but also has a lifestyle component for those not looking to lose weight. As it is widely popular, many people are aware of the diet but need better insight into the science behind the diet and how it works. Because a part of the program is personalized there is an element of the program that is a wait-and-see situation given that it's different for each person.

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