Does bacon and eggs for breakfast, smoked salmon with cream cheese for lunch, and steak cooked in butter for dinner sound like a weight-loss menu too good to be true? If you love foods like these and aren’t a fan of carrot-filled diets, Atkins may be right for you.
You’ll have to learn how to limit your carbs, but you’ll enjoy plenty of tasty options instead.
You can lose weight while you eat a diet rich in protein and fat, and very low in carbs, and you shouldn’t feel hungry or deprived. Today's Atkins focuses more on lean proteins, healthy fats, and high-fiber vegetables as part of the plans.
Millions of people have lost weight on Atkins. Actress Alyssa Milano blogs about her success on the Atkins web site.
What You Can Eat and What You Can’t
There are four phases to the standard Atkins diet, also called Atkins 20.
It focuses on proteins and fats like:
You’ll have to stay away from starchy and sugary carbs, including:
You’ll eat carbs in veggie form at first. As you progress, you’ll add in other foods, like beans/legumes, fruits, and whole grains.
Phase 1. This is when you help your body switch from burning carbs to fat. This process is called ketosis, and you should notice weight loss quickly. You’ll eat protein, fat, and only 20 grams of carbs in veggie form daily. Some people (like vegetarians) should skip this phase.
Phase 2. You’ll add foods back to your diet, until you learn how many carbs you can eat while still losing weight.
Phase 3. Go to this level when you have about 10 pounds left to lose. You’ll learn how to maintain weight loss and lose the last few pounds.
Phase 4. You'll follow this for the rest of your life, to ensure that you don’t gain back what you’ve lost.
A newer version of Atkins, called Atkins 40, has more relaxed rules and allows you to start with 40 grams of carbs in the daily diet. It doesn’t exclude any food groups at first, as Atkins 20 does.
There are limits to the amount of butter or fats that you should eat, but no strict guidelines for meats or other proteins.
Level of Effort: Medium
You won’t have to count calories, attend meetings, or buy special food. But this does require big changes to the way you eat, especially if you’re used to starch on your plate or if you snack on chips, sweets, or other junk foods.
Limitations: You’ll have to cut out white flour, sugar, and other common carbs at first, and eat carbs only in vegetable form.
Cooking and Shopping: With Atkins, it’s best to make meals from scratch. If you rely on prepared foods, read labels to find out how many carbs and how much sugar they have.
Don’t buy allowed foods with added sugar or carbs.
You can find Atkins brand frozen foods, drinks, and snacks in stores, but you don’t need to eat them.
At restaurants, choose foods you’d eat at home. Ask the waiter about carb content and keep your hand out of the bread basket.
Exercise: You don’t need to exercise to lose weight with Atkins, but you should get moving. Try to be active for 20 minutes or more every day.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: Atkins doesn’t require you to eat meat. Also, you'll have to skip the first phase of Atkins 20, which limits carbs too much.
Vegetarians get protein from:
Vegans get protein from:
- High-protein grains like quinoa
Gluten-free diet: It’s easy to stick to that eating plan when you’re on Atkins. Foods with gluten are high in carbs. People on Atkins eat less gluten than people who eat the standard American diet.
Low-salt diet: There’s no need to add salt to any recipes for Atkins. Stay away from canned and packaged foods as much as you can, because they often have added sugars and other carbs, bad-for-you fats … and salt.
What Else You Should Know
Cost: There are no membership fees, meetings to attend, or brand-name foods that you need to buy for this diet. Online and smartphone tools are available and free.
Support: You can follow Atkins by reading a book, but if you want extra support, the Atkins web site has support groups and chat rooms, where you can talk to others who are losing weight the same way you are. There are also free recipes, meal trackers, and apps to make it simple to count carbs, plan meals, and shop.
What Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy Says
Does It Work?
The Atkins diet is one of the best-known low-carb diets, and the research shows it can work. If you fill your day with processed carbs like white bread, pasta, and potatoes, and you don’t eat many fruits and veggies, then this diet may be the jump-start you need to lose weight.
You can quit your usual go-to foods and start with the Atkins food list. The initial phase in the Atkins 20 plan is limited in food choices but focused on protein, fat, and vegetables that are low carb and not starchy. In each phase you add back food groups: first nuts, seeds, and berries; then fruits, starchy vegetables, beans, and whole grains. With the Atkins 40 plan you can choose from a larger variety of foods and carbs but still little to no starchy foods.
With Atkins 20, the closer you get to your weight loss goal, the more variety of foods you’re allowed. Ideally, you’ll stick to their healthy list and not go back to your old ways.
If you like variety in the foods you eat, the Atkins 40 plan would likely be better for you. Of course you'll still need to keep your portion sizes under control, which may be easier as a low-carb diet can help tame hunger.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
When you’re overweight, shedding pounds can improve your health, and we know the Atkins diet works. But it’s still unclear how the higher amounts of animal protein and fat in the Atkins diet affect long-term health.
Recent research suggests that people on the Atkins diet who chose foods rich in plant fat and protein did better with their health than those who went with the diet rich in animal fat and protein.
This makes sense to me, and the Atkins 20 and Atkins 40 diets reflect this idea. They focus more on getting fat and protein from heart-healthy choices like olive oil and protein like soy and lentils.
The Final Word
For the person who needs structure in their diet, limiting starchy, sugary carbs will help cut calories and allow for weight loss. And focusing on proteins and fats that are plant-based is the healthy and smart thing to do.
For your long-term health, you have to move on from the initial Atkins 20 diet. It’s the later phases of the diet including the Atkins 40 that give you the variety of foods that are important for health. You have to exercise and keep portions small while you start eating nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains again.