Diets Deconstructed – Atkins

The Atkins Diet:

The granddaddy of them all this diet plan was devised by Dr Robert Atkins in 1972 and reached new levels of popularity in 2002 upon the release of “Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution” when it was championed by numerous celebrities including Jennifer Anniston, Demi Moore, Gerri Halliwell, Robbie Williams, Renee Zelwegger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Catherine Zeta Jones Jennifer Aniston Demi Moore Atkins diet

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore are just a few celebrities who followed the Atkins diet.

Chances are you know a bit about the diet plan already – how many times have you heard someone say they’re doing “Atkins” or that they’re “strictly no carbs”?  Well this is perhaps a gross oversimplification of the plan but at its core the Atkins diet plan focuses on limiting carbohydrates in an attempt to impact metabolism – with a limited consumption of carbohydrates the body’s metabolism shifts to a state of ketosis which converts stored body fat to energy.

Nowadays where we live in a world full of processed foods, sugar laden snacks, takeaways galore and ready meals everywhere you turn a diet plan like Atkins seems pretty harsh, especially for those of us who suffer with some seriously crazy carb cravings!

Convenience foods

The diet has been successful for many who have been looking to lose weight; the programme is great for people who like structure – it provides a clear set of food rules to help your efforts:

The original Atkins diet

There are four phases of the Atkins diet: induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance and lifetime maintenance.

Phase 1 – Induction:

This phase will come as a shock to your system and is the most restrictive part of the Atkins plan.  According to the information on the Atkins UK webpage:

“This phase is all about giving your body a jump-start into burning the excess fat you want to lose.  You’ll turn your body into the fat-burning machine so you can expect to lose as much as 15 pounds or 6.8kg in the first 2 weeks.”

In order to “jump-start your body” you must limit your carbohydrate intake to less than 20 net grams per day, 12 to 15 of these must come in the form of salads, greens, fruits and vegetables (check the website for a full list of greens that are compatible with this phase of the plan).

atkins cookbook salad

All alcohol must be cut out in this phase, caffeine is allowed only in moderation (so pace yourself on those trips to Starbucks or Costa) and drinking 8 glasses of water a day is a must.

For a full list of acceptable foods for this programme check out the website but to give you a sample, here are some foods that are not allowed in any way, shape or form during phase 1:

  1. Grains (wherever they may be – including bread, cake, pastries, or anything else made of flour)
  2. Any food that includes added sugars (most processed food then!)
  3. Fruits and fruit juices
  4. Dairy products, except for cheeses and cream in limited quantities as noted on the foods list
  5. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, beets, corn, etc.
  6. Legumes (beans and peas)
  7. Deli salads, which often have added sugars
  8. Alcoholic beverages
  9. Nuts

Safe to say that due to the restrictions in this phase, this is where most people see the most weight loss (particularly when combined with a regular exercise regime).

Phase 2 – Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL): OWL

The OWL phase of the programme encourages small, incremental increase in the intake of carbohydrates; however the intake of carbs is set to remain at the “critical carbohydrate level for losing” according to the individual and is often used to see what levels incur weight loss and to determine what foods can be included in diet without triggering carbohydrate cravings.

There is no set time frame for this phase of the plan, but the phase is encouraged until an individual is within 10 pounds or 4.5kg of their target weight.

There are 9 steps to take when introducing carbohydrates back into your diet, according to the Atkins plan you should slowly introduce foods in the following order and in small additional servings (introducing 5 grams each week for example):

  1. Acceptable vegetables
  2. Cheese (fresh cheeses such as cottage cheese and ricotta)
  3. Nuts and seeds
  4. Berries
  5. Alcohol
  6. Legumes
  7. Other fruits
  8. Starchy vegetables
  9. Whole grains

By slowly and carefully reintroducing these “good” carbs into your diet you’re ready to move on to phase 3…

Phase 3 – Pre-maintenance:

Now the programme shifts from weight loss, to preventing weight gain and maintaining current weight.

In a similar manner to phase 2, phase 3 focuses on finding the “critical carbohydrate level for maintenance” looking for the maximum number of carbohydrates an individual can consume each day without putting on weight…of course this varies from person to person and is dependent upon a number of factors.

Again daily carbohydrate intake is increased, this time by 10 grams each week, and should be introduced in the same order as in phase 2.  It’s all about the “good” carbs again here, slowly and in moderation.

Depending upon an individual’s progress you may be able to start reintroducing some of the “forbidden” carbs back into the diet gradually which it is hoped helps prepare the body for the final phase of lifetime maintenance.

Phase 4 – Lifetime maintenance:

I don’t really think this can be called a “phase” but this is the section of the plan which focuses on reinforcing new diet habits that have been successful, encouraging healthy food choices of whole, unprocessed items, and emphasising the importance of sticking with what has been learnt instead of dropping back into previous habits that have encouraged weight gain.

So there we have it ladies – an overview of the Atkins diet – celebs seem to love it but I know people who have tried it, and testimonials from “real women” have not been so positive.  Finding the diet plan restrictive, difficult to plan and fit into a busy lifestyle many women have reported successful weight loss from following this plan, however after the initial phases and weight loss it proves a difficult plan to maintain and as food is reintroduced to the diet, as too does the weight return…

diet weigh in

For those of us with PCOS this plan particularly seems like a great weight loss solution, but it can play havoc with our already warped insulin levels and the results are not likely to be as affective when you already struggle with burning fat and losing weight..

**As with all diet plans the results vary from person to person, I am no doctor so to find out more about if a plan is suitable for you before you begin be sure to talk to your GP or a nutritionist to see if it is right for you.**


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