Atkins Diet: How It Works

The Atkins diet is one of the most successful weight loss diets in history. This low-carb, high-fat eating plan has gained tremendous popularity over the past few decades for its fast results and easy implementation. But how does it work? What are some benefits of following an ultra-low-carb diet like this? Is there anything to be concerned about when trying out a ketogenic lifestyle? Let’s find out!.

The Atkins diet has been around for more than 40 years and is a popular low-carb diet that is strong in fats and proteins but low in carbs. The Atkins diet books are among the best-selling in the diet category, with more than 45 million copies sold worldwide since its first publication in 1972.

The Atkins diet was established by Dr. Robert Atkins, an American cardiologist and dietitian who devised his diet in the 1970s after examining the possible advantages of lowering carb consumption. He was mainly influenced by a 1950s study on the effects of low-carb diets and publications published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the same issue.

On the Atkins diet, what do you eat? Sugar, fruit, grains, and many processed foods are avoided on the Atkins diet since it is a low-carb diet. Dr. Atkins thought that following a low-carb diet centered on low-carb items like meat, vegetables, cheese, and butter may assist those who were battling with weight gain lose weight rapidly.

Below, you’ll learn about the Atkins diet, how it works, the distinct diet stages, what to eat throughout each phase, and several options to consider depending on the possible risks.

What Is the Atkins Diet?

The Atkins diet is defined as “a weight-loss diet heavy in protein and fat and low in carbs.” Low-carb diets, such as Atkins, have been used to help patients lose weight and maybe improve some health concerns for decades.

During the 1990s and 2000s, the Atkins diet gained popularity in the United States and Europe. Atkins was voted one of the top ten most essential persons globally by Time magazine in 2002. However, sales of Atkins goods and books have been slowly declining in recent years. Packaged foods like bars and shakes have a reputation for being primarily unhealthy and tasteless. Although the Atkins firm went bankrupt in 2005, many dieters still use Atkins’ principles and guidance to lose weight.

While there is evidence that the Atkins diet helps people lose weight, is it necessarily healthy? Diets have distinct effects on various individuals, such as women vs. males. While low-carb diets like the Atkins diet aren’t for everyone, they’ve been linked to not just weight reduction but also a variety of other health advantages. These are some of them:

  • Hunger or desires are lessened (especially for sweets)
  • Insulin and blood sugar (glucose) surges are better controlled. So although low-carb diets aren’t the only strategy to lower diabetes risk factors, they may be handy for prediabetics and diabetics.
  • Improved cognitive functioning, such as fewer brain fog or energy dips
  • Lower risk of heart disease causes in certain circumstances
  • Certain forms of cancer may be at a lower risk.

How Does It Work?

The Atkins diet comes in various flavors, depending on your objectives, starting/current weight, and desire to consume only highly low-carb meals. Some Atkins diet versions are more carb-restrictive than others. In general, the lower the carbohydrate content of a diet, the more likely it results in quick weight reduction (especially in obese individuals).

Carbohydrates are limited to 30–50 net grams in the early stages of the Atkins diet (the number of carbs left when fiber grams are subtracted). Most health experts consider this to be “very low carb,” while phases containing 100 to 130 grams of carbohydrates per day are deemed “low carb” or “moderate carb.” The Institute of Medicine recommends that Americans get 45 percent to 65 percent of their carbs, often more than 250 grams per day.

The Atkins diet works by increasing the body’s fat-burning capacities by eating only low-carb meals and avoiding those heavy in carbohydrates and sugar. So what is it about carbohydrate restriction that produces fat loss? A significant decrease in glucose from carbohydrate diets, or virtually complete removal in certain situations, leads the body to burn fat for energy instead. Our bodies generally function on glucose, but fat and protein are employed as backup fuel sources when glucose isn’t available. Because we cannot produce glucose and can only store roughly 24 hours’ worth in our muscles and livers, fat-burning and weight reduction on the Atkins diet may begin soon.

All carbohydrate meals include glucose or other sugar/carb molecules that may be converted to glucose once consumed. This is why grains and fruits, and other carbohydrates are forbidden on the Atkins diet.

On the Atkins diet, what can you eat? High protein meals, non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, oils, and cheeses are among Atkins dieters’ most popular no-carb and low-carb foods. Most sources of glucose are reduced on the Atkins diet (and other low-carb diets). Grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, fruits, and sugars or sweeteners of various types. Carbohydrates may be found in nuts, seeds, and vegetables. However, the quantity varies depending on the kind.

Foods to Consume

  • Pastured eggs from chickens, turkeys, and other animals.
  • Salmon, haddock, and trout are suitable alternatives for fish and seafood (eat wild-caught fish and avoid shellfish such as shrimp).
  • Beef, hog, turkey, and chicken that are organic and grass-fed
  • Spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cabbage, canned cucumber, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, lettuce, and asparagus are non-starchy vegetables.
  • Tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, squash, peppers, carrots, and other carb-rich vegetables are included in Phase 2.
  • Coconut oil (organic or unprocessed), grapeseed oil, walnut oil, and olive oil
  • Hard cheese, butter, sour cream, and heavy cream (grass-fed and organic wherever feasible, preferably prepared from raw milk) — blue cheese, cheddar cheese, goat, feta, Swiss, parmesan, and American cheese are all permitted cheese products.
  • Curry powder, cinnamon, thyme, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, chili powder, five-spice powder, dijon mustard, parsley, oregano, basil, tarragon, black pepper, and garlic are just a few examples of herbs and spices (whole or ground)

Foods to stay away from

  • All grains, including wheat, barley, oats, rice, and other whole grains, and all items manufactured with grain flour, such as bread, cakes, biscuits, chips, cereal, muffins, pasta, and other baked goods.
  • Artificial sweeteners and additional sweeteners and sugar (honey, cane sugar, coconut sugar, etc.)
  • The majority of fruits and fruit liquids (lime or lemons are OK)
  • Premade condiments, sauces, and packet mixes are often heavy in sugar.
  • Carrots, potatoes, butternut/winter squash, and parsnips are examples of starchy vegetables.
  • Milk, yogurt, ricotta, and cottage cheese are all examples of dairy products. Because they contain so few carbohydrates, higher-fat, low-carb cheeses are acceptable.
  • Alcoholic beverages, carbonated beverages, and other sweetened beverages
  • Diet foods that are low in fat and artificially made. These goods are frequently produced with additional thickeners, carbohydrates, or sweets to compensate for fat loss.
  • Most junk meals and fast/fried foods are manufactured with hardened or hydrogenated oils.

4 Stages to the Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is divided into stages and generally four phases, with you choosing which items to consume and which to avoid depending on your current weight vs. your desired weight:

  • Phase 1 is known as the “Induction Phase,” and it is the most carb-restrictive phase. To alter your metabolism from relying on carbohydrates/glucose for energy to relying on stored body fat, you remove practically all carbs from your diet (by eating largely no-carb meals like meat and fats).
  • The “Balancing Phase” (sometimes known as the “Ongoing Weight Loss Phase”) is the second phase. For one to two weeks, you increase your carb consumption by around five grams each day. The idea is to figure out how many carbohydrates your body can handle without causing you to gain or lose weight. Most people consume 25–30 grams of net carbs per day from non-starchy vegetables, seeds, nuts, lower-carb fruits, and starchy vegetables during this period.
  • The “Pre-Maintenance Phase” is the third phase. You progressively increase your consumption of whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits. To monitor weight gain, gradually add roughly 10 grams of net carbohydrates to your diet weekly.
  • The fourth phase is the “Lifetime Maintenance Phase,” which you aim to maintain indefinitely. When you’ve reached your goal weight and can consume a range of meals without gaining weight, you’ve entered this phase. At this stage, you should have a good idea of how much carbohydrates your body can manage daily without gaining weight. You utilize this knowledge to maintain a regular dietary pattern that includes nutritious carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, fats, oils, and meats, among other things.

In comparison to Phases 1 and 2, Phases 3 and 4 of the Atkins diet allow for more high-carb items. You may include the following entire meals throughout the later phases:

  • Examples are citrus fruits, apples, bananas, grapes, mangoes, papaya, pineapple, and other starchy fruits.
  • Club soda, coffee, and tea are examples of beverages.
  • Red beans, string beans, black beans, horse beans, and lima beans, among others, are legumes.
  • Squashes, carrots, beets, corn on the cob, and sweet and white potatoes are all starchy vegetables.
  • You may also gradually reintroduce grains to your diet. However, it’s best to do so in moderation if you’re prone to weight gain and stick to largely gluten-free, ancient grains.


How effective has Atkins been? In terms of Atkins results, studies show that while low-carb diets have been shown to aid weight loss, particularly in the first six to twelve months, and in some cases provide other health benefits as well; there is only weak evidence supporting Atkins’ effectiveness as a long-term weight loss diet plan. In the end, the success of the Atkins diet is mainly determined by a person’s determination to adhere to the diet. Low-carb diets are better for some individuals than others.

According to studies concentrating on low-carb diets, the following are some of the advantages that the Atkins diet may provide:

1. Helps you lose weight

Unlike many other weight-loss programs that emphasize calorie monitoring and portion management, the Atkins diet emphasizes carb counting (specifically net carbs, which considers how much fiber a food has). According to research, people who lose weight on a diet do so because they consume fewer calories overall, maybe enter ketosis, and feel complete due to enough protein, fat, and fiber consumption when followed correctly.

Even though the low-carb diet group ate more dietary fat (participants were told to avoid trans fats and emphasize monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and saturated fats), the low-carb diet was more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor reduction than the low-fat diet, according to a study conducted at Tulane University School of Public Health involving 148 subjects split between a low-fat diet group and a low-carb diet group. Both groups consumed plenty of veggies, but the low-carb group consumed more healthy fats, including olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and butter, as well as dairy.

Excess carbohydrate consumption (particularly refined sugar) is linked to weight gain, obesity, diabetes risk, cardiovascular disease, and other metabolically related medical disorders. Therefore, according to the Atkins diet, at least two-thirds of daily calories should come from foods low in sugar/carbs but rich in protein and fat, such as oils, meats, and cheeses. Most meals also include vegetables, which give bulk, fiber, and nutrition while containing few carbohydrates.

2. May Aid in the Prevention or Treatment of Diabetes

The Atkins diet substitutes processed, high-carb/sugar meals with healthy fats and lean proteins, which are prone to generating blood sugar fluctuations, insulin resistance, and weight gain, all of which are causes of diabetes (mainly from animal proteins, which are no-carb foods). In addition, as previously said, eliminating items such as fruits, starchy vegetables, pasta, and bread from your diet causes your body to produce less insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and burn fat.

Patients’ hemoglobin A1c, fasting glucose, and specific lipid fractions (triglycerides) improved when they consumed reduced carbohydrate-content diets, according to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Diabetic Association that included a total of 13 trials. But, to be honest, Atkins isn’t the only diet that can yield these outcomes. Other kinds of diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have also been demonstrated to help people with diabetes, even when more unprocessed carbohydrates are consumed.

3. May normalize Triglyceride and cholesterol levels 

The Atkins diet is heavy in fat, particularly saturated fats, which many people believe cause heart disease. When saturated fat comes from healthy sources like grass-fed beef or coconut oil, on the other hand, it may help raise HDL cholesterol and minimize risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, low LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides, both of which are linked to heart disease and heart attacks, may be helped by eating a balanced, unprocessed diet that leads to healthy weight reduction.

4. Aids in the treatment of PCOS

Due to the effects of insulin on hormonal balance, having diabetes or being prediabetic is one of the primary risk factors for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS has surpassed thyroid disease as the most frequent endocrine illness affecting women of reproductive age. Obesity, hyperinsulinemia, infertility, and insulin resistance are all linked to it. While additional study is required before conclusions can be drawn, several studies have suggested that following a low-carb ketogenic diet for 24 weeks improves PCOS symptoms such as weight, percent of free testosterone, LH/FSH hormone ratio, and fasting insulin.

5. Has the Potential to Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Low-carb diets have been shown to help those with cognitive issues, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, and narcolepsy. Researchers think that persons with the most significant degrees of insulin resistance have greater levels of inflammation and reduced cerebral blood flow (brain circulation), resulting in less brain plasticity.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiology discovered evidence of substantial metabolic implications of a high-sugar diet on cognitive functions, including memory, mood, and energy, particularly when paired with an omega-3 fatty acid shortage. According to the findings, consuming omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding insulin resistance may preserve learning and memory through modulating brain-signaling mediators, according to the results.

Side Effects and Risks

Although the Atkins diet may lead to significant weight reduction (at least at first), there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all strategy to low-carb eating that will benefit everyone’s health or quality of life. After all, losing weight isn’t everything. Your diet must also be long-lasting and suitable for both your body and mind. According to research, if a person feels overly confined by their diet, they are more likely to regain the weight loss in the first place — and maybe even more.

Depending on your medical history, age, gender, level of exercise, body weight, and genetic disposition, you may find the Atkins diet to be either incredibly accommodating and gratifying or quite challenging to stick to over time. According to several research, dieters on even extremely low-carb diets report less weariness, cognitive symptoms, physical impacts of hunger, sleeplessness, and stomach troubles than dieters on low-fat/higher-carb diets. Low-carb diets, on the other hand, might have adverse side effects. There seems to be a lot of variation when it comes to the consequences of the Atkins diet, ketogenic diet, and other similar diets.

In specific individuals, the Atkins diet may result in adverse effects or exacerbated symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue or sluggishness
  • Inability to exercise owing to weakness or a lack of motivation in being active due to exhaustion
  • Sleeping problems
  • Constipation and other digestive issues (usually due to low fiber intake)
  • Too much fat in the diet causes indigestion.
  • Irritability or mood swings are two examples of irritability (which can occur when reducing carb intake, which impacts serotonin levels)
  • Breath problems

If you aim to substantially cut your carb consumption for weight reduction, it’s crucial to develop self-awareness, as with any nutritional plan. This is particularly true if you’re underweight, active, old, suffer from a hormone-related illness, or are pregnant or nursing. Pay attention to how you feel, your energy, sleep, emotions, and digestion to find the carbohydrate amount that works best for you.

Alternatives to Losing Weight

Simply lowering carbs — mainly added sugar, refined grains, legumes, or dairy if you have trouble digesting it — may help you lose weight and improve health. This is comparable to the ketogenic and Paleo diets, although eliminating whole foods like raw dairy or legumes may not be the best decision if you handle them well. It also helps to boost calories from healthy fats and quality proteins, such as grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, wild fish, or raw dairy, to minimize overeating, cravings, or blood sugar fluctuations.

While everyone’s diet is different, if you’re trying to lose weight, try restricting unprocessed carbs (veggies, fruits, and starchy vegetables) to roughly 30% of your total calories. In addition, you may wish to boost your fat consumption to 30-40% of total calories and your protein intake to approximately 30%. With this method, you may lose weight without effort, feel better overall, and avoid the weight from returning.

Here are some recommendations to help you get started and remain committed to a low-carb diet in a healthy way:

  • Increase your vegetable consumption. You can’t go wrong with this no matter what diet you follow.
  • To avoid overeating or energy slumps, most individuals should consume three main meals and two snacks each day.
  • Plan your meals for the first and second weeks so you feel prepared and organized. Instead of consuming manufactured drinks, bars, meal replacement items, and the like, go grocery shopping for fresh foods and attempt to cook at home as often as possible.
  • When you’re out and about, look for nutritious snacks that don’t include added sugar (such as nuts and a piece of fruit) and have them in your bag or vehicle.
  • To assist in detoxing or removing toxins from the body, drink at least eight glasses of water every day.
  • So you’re less likely to emotionally eat, get adequate sleep (seven to eight hours each night), and concentrate on minimizing stress. It’s crucial to be peaceful and well-rested to eat thoughtfully and feel content after your meals.

Keto vs. Atkins: What’s the Difference?

The keto diet, which seems to be more backed by science than fad diets like Atkins, may have comparable benefits to very low-carb variants of the Atkins diet. This is a highly low-carb method of eating that carefully removes practically all sources of glucose to put the body into fat-burning mode swiftly. It’s also known as “keto.” Some individuals eat up to 80% of their total calories from fat on a keto diet. Once glucose from carbohydrate sources is no longer accessible for energy, the body switches to stored body fat as an energy source in ketosis.

Very low-carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, offer a long list of demonstrated health advantages, including aiding in treating epilepsy, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome risk factors. When followed correctly and healthily, the Atkins diet may have comparable results.

Last Thoughts

  • The Atkins diet is a “low- or modified-carb diet” that is strong in fats and proteins but low in sugar, fruit, grains, and many processed foods. It has been around since the 1990s. The Atkins diet may help individuals lose weight and improve their health in some instances.
  • The Atkins diet benefits include losing weight, lowering diabetes risk, boosting cholesterol and heart health, managing hormonal issues like PCOS, and preserving cognitive function.
  • The facts that many individuals regain weight after stopping the Atkins diet, that it may contain too much-saturated fat or protein for certain people, that it might exacerbate digestion, and that it can seem restricted are all risks or precautions to consider.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the dangers of the Atkins diet?

A: There are many dangers of the Atkins diet. It is not recommended to do it long-term, as there is a high risk that an individual will lose too much weight and become malnourished.

What are the health benefits of Atkins?

A: There are many benefits for people who follow the Atkins diet. Some of them include weight loss and a boost in metabolism, which can increase energy and better health overall.

What are the rules of the Atkins diet?

A: There are no official rules for the Atkins diet, though you can find them on their website.

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