Breaking Down the Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet is a revolutionary approach to dieting that was developed by the late Robert Atkins. The Atkins Diet differs from other diets in that eating regular foods is not just allowed, it is encouraged, with the focus being more on controlling the types of carbohydrates eaten, rather than avoiding them all together.

Often, the Atkins Diet is referred to as the Atkins Nutritional Approach and its effectiveness is oft debated and a very controversial subject among dietitians. There are four parts of phases to the Atkins Nutritional Approach, with each phase differing in the types and ratios of carbohydrates being eaten.

The main idea behind the Atkins Diet is that the focus should not be on calorie counting or avoiding the foods you like. Instead, the diet includes eating food that are high in protein, but low in what are considers dangerous carbohydrates, which is at odds with most traditional diet plans.

Different Elements in Food

Food can basically be broken into groups of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein is essential for helping to keep your muscles healthy and to improve muscle growth. Protein can be found in meats, eggs, fish, and also plants, like beans.

Fat is another part of food and is also very important, however there are healthy fats and unhealthy fats, with hydrogenated fat being extremely unhealthy.

Carbohydrates, are also important to the body and can be found in many fruits and grains, as well as certain nuts. Once digested, carbohydrates are used for energy, turned into glucose. Where fat is used more as a backup source of energy, carbohydrates are typically used as a quick source of energy. There are many kinds of carbohydrates and some can be absorbed very quickly, while others take longer to absorb. Those that are absorbed by the body quickly can provide a very quick source of energy, but it is not as long lasting.

The Ideas Behind the Atkins Diet

The Atkins Nutritional Approach is divided into four different steps, with the final step, lifetime maintenance, being more about maintaining the weight loss obtained from the other steps.

  • Phase 1: Induction: In the first two weeks of starting the Atkins Diet, the goal is to dramatically reduce the daily carbohydrate intake, eating only 20 grams of net carbs, which are healthy carbohydrates like artichokes and broccoli. Instead of eating carb rich foods, the individual should rely upon foods that contain a great deal of protein and even fat, providing it is a healthy fat. Fish, eggs, and other meats are some examples of foods that contain a good deal of protein.
  • Phase 2: Ongoing Weight Loss: After a few weeks, the dieter should begin adding more healthy carbs back into the diet, adding more grams of net carbs per week, until the daily intake of net carbs is between 40 and 60 grams per day. It is important to only eat healthy carbohydrates that contain many nutrients, such as cheese and certain vegetables. The ongoing weight loss phase should be continued until the weight loss goal is almost reached, usually within about 10 pounds of the individuals desired weight.
  • Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance: Once the weight loss goal is almost reached, the pre-maintenance phase is designed to help ensure that healthy eating habits are maintained and not simply pushed aside. By adding about 10 additional grams of net carbs each week, the rate of weight loss will be slowed. However, it is important to be very diligent in tracking ones weight and if weight loss stops all together, the daily net carb intake should be reduced again.
  • Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance: The idea behind phase three is to get the dieter to help the dieter identify the number of net carbs they can safely eat without gaining weight. This point is referred to as the Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium(ACE,) and differs from person to person. ACE can be affected by the amount of regular exercise the person preforms, as well as what types of carbs they eat. During the lifetime maintenance phase, it is possible to begin eating more carbs, but attention should be paid to weight loss and gain, to help keep the individual at their desired weight.

Controversy Surrounding the Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is not universally accepted and many dietitians feel that it is not healthy, as it encourages the individual to eat a protein heavy diet, with many of these foods, like eggs, leading to the risk of heart disease. Also, until recently there was little factual evidence to support the effectiveness of the Atkins Diet, specifically in regard to quick weight loss, but a recent study found that weight loss in Atkins is comparable to several other popular diets, like Weight Watchers.

Other studies have reported that the Atkins diet can be rather expensive, as many of the recommended foods, like lobster, are very pricey. Much of the criticism revolves around the principal that relying primarily on proteins can be unhealthy.

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