- The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate diet divided into four phases and designed to help you lose weight.
- Unlike keto, the Atkins diet encourages you to get carbs back into your meals.
- However, some dieticians do not recommend Atkins because it can be too restrictive.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.
Robert C. Atkins developed the Atkins diet in the 1960s. In short, it’s a low-carb diet with the idea that if you limit the number of carbs you eat, you
. Basically, this is an early take on the keto diet, but with a few key differences.
The height of the diet’s popularity was in the early 2000s, when one in 11 Americans said they were on a low-carb type of diet, of which Atkins was a popular choice.
Since then, the Atkins diet has fallen out of favor with other popular restrictive diets like intermittent fasting and the keto diet.
Here’s what you need to know about the Atkins diet, if it works, and how to know if it’s the right option for you.
The three versions of the Atkins diet
Depending on your weight loss goals, the Atkins the website recommends following one of their three diet plans:
- Atkins 20® where you start by eating 20 grams of net carbs per day.
- Atkins 40® where you start eating 40 grams of net carbs per day.
- Atkins 100 ™ where you start eating 100 grams of net carbs per day.
The four phases of the Atkins diet
Once you have decided on a diet, you will go through four phases of the Atkins Diet which will gradually reintroduce carbohydrates into your diet over time. The final phase is designed to help you develop the Atkins diet as a lifelong way of eating.
The four phases are:
introduction: This is the most restrictive phase of the diet and aims to stimulate weight loss. In this phase, you are limited to 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. This phase forces your body to enter ketogenic metabolism, which means that the extreme lack of carbohydrates forces your body to burn fat for energy. During this phase, you will mainly eat protein, fat, and low-carb veggies like leafy greens.
Ongoing weight loss: During this phase, you can begin to gradually reintroduce more carbohydrates into your diet. Your daily carbohydrate intake can increase by 5 grams per week (with a maximum of an additional 40 grams per week) and you can start to diversify your food options. In phase two, you can eat nuts, seeds, and berries. If your goal is to lose 14 pounds or less, you can start here and skip the first restrictive phase.
Pre-maintenance: During this phase, you can increase your carbohydrate intake by 10 grams per week (with a maximum of an additional 100 grams per week) in order to find your carbohydrate balance. This is the tune-up stage of the diet and it is important to make sure that you are keeping an eye on your goal weight. If the weight loss stagnates, you need to cut back on your carbohydrate intake again. This phase has more relaxed dietary restrictions and you can start eating beans, starchy vegetables, and grains.
Lifetime maintenance: Phase four should ideally last a lifetime and involves having relatively few restrictions, but retaining the tools necessary to make healthy choices. If you start to gain weight, the company recommends reducing your carbohydrate intake by 10 grams at a time.
Atkins is unlikely to be better than just calorie restriction
While some people are drawn to the discipline and guidance offered by the Atkins diet, there is little evidence that Atkins is the best way to lose weight.
“Research shows that weight loss is generally achieved with calorie restriction, not specifically carbohydrate restriction,” says Tony Castillo, MS, RDN, LDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
Based on a meet again, published in 2019 in the journal Nutrients, of studies exploring low-carb and low-fat diets linked to weight loss, researchers report that there is not enough evidence to conclude that low-fat diets carbohydrates or low fat are better at helping people lose weight and keep it off than restricting calories.
And although low-carb diets like Atkins have been shown to help people lose weight faster, this is not the case in the long run.
“Some research shows an increase in weight loss when a low-carb diet is followed after six months,” says Castillo. “However, after a year of low-carb diet, there is no difference in weight loss compared to other low-calorie diets.”
How to know if you should try the Atkins diet
Castillo recommends proceeding with caution before attempting to adopt a new diet like Atkins.
“Before starting a diet, it’s important to always consult with both a dietitian and your doctor, as there may be some instances where a low-carb diet may not be right for you,” he says.
For example, the diet would not work for very “active people since carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body,” he says.
He adds that there are often unwanted side effects. “Generally, low-carb diets can make you feel weak, tired, constipated, dizzy or even cause a headache, which is why it’s important to consult an expert first.”
According to Castillo, the most important factor to consider is that following the Atkins diet can lead to a deficit in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals, so a comprehensive plan would ensure these nutritional needs are met.
Castillo’s final opinion on Atkins is: “I believe that in the long run Atkins is too restrictive”.
Instead, he recommends, “a diet that won’t cause nutritional deficiencies would include all types of foods,” he says. That is, fresh, whole foods that can provide you with your daily value of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins that are important for good health.
Some diets that experts recommend for good long-term health include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.