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Atkins Diet Review – Is it a Safe Effective Way to Lose Weight?

In this Atkins Diet Review we take a look at probably the most controversial diet of all time…the questions most often asked are will you lose weight and is it safe?

Never has a weight loss plan polarized opinion to such an extent as the the Atkins diet.

Despite the late Dr Atkins publishing his first book, “The Dr Atkins Diet Revolution” way back in 1972, the debate over his high protein, high fat, low carb approach still rages.

Sure, the Atkins Diet has been modified over the years and the latest incarnation is a little more generous with the carbs. But the jury is still very firmly out.

The negative publicity generated by the adverse medical opinion, compounded by the late doctors death – he was allegedly obese and with heart disease – has hit its popularity.

At its height in 2003 and early 2004, it was estimated that around 1 in 10 Americans and around 3 million Brits were following the Atkins Diet.

Our Atkins Diet review would suggest that those numbers have now more than halved.

Such was its popularity, though, that we would suggest that if you haven’t personally tried the Atkins yourself, you’ll know someone who has!

So, our Atkins Diet review – what was this dieting phenomena all about?

Atkins Diet Review – How Does it Work…?

Basically, you eat lots of protein and severely restrict your intake of carbs.

The theory is that by doing so, your body is forced to burn fat, as its primary energy supply – carbohydrates – are not available.

The diet is designed to convert your body from a carb burning to a fat burning machine, what Dr Atkins refers to as “benign dietary ketosis”.

The calorie and carb restriction thus forces your body to burn fat and as a result, you lose weight.

The diet encourages a high protein and fat intake, as Dr Atkins reckons these foods are more more satisfying than carbs.

Your body fills up more quickly eating protein rich foods – try eating a whole chicken or a couple of tins of tuna in one sitting! – and therefore you’re less likely to overeat.

Whilst the diet does not restrict high fat foods like butter and cream, without bread to spread it on or fruit to pour it over, you’re probably not going to eat huge quantities of them on their own.

Dietary protein also spares muscle tissue, so eating all that protein is supposed to protect and conserve muscle tissue in the absence of dietary carbs.

Ok, that’s the theory, how does the Atkins Diet work in practice?

There are four phases to the Atkins Diet:

Phase 1 – Induction

Our Atkins Diet review would suggest that this is the toughest part of the plan. It lasts for two weeks and you cut your carbs back to 20g a day, around 10% of what most people eat each day.

You can eat unlimited quantities of meat and fish as well as fatty foods like butter and cheese.

This phase is designed to force your body to switch from carb burning to fat burning. It’s also supposed to help stabilize blood sugar levels so your body secretes less insulin – insulin converts excess blood sugar to body fat.

Phase 2 – Ongoing Weight Loss

You now gradually increase your daily carb intake by 5g in weekly increments. The idea is to find your ‘Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing Weight’.

Essentially, this is your maximum daily carb intake that will still enable you to lose 1-3lbs a week. However, you’re only gradually re-introducing fruit and veg, not bread, potatoes, pasta, etc!

Phase 3 – Pre-Maintenance

When you’re nearing your target weight you increase your daily carb intake by 10g a day in weekly increments. At this point your weight loss should slow to around a pound a week, according to Atkins.

Phase 4 – Lifetime Maintenance

To maintain your weight, you continue to follow the Atkins low carb eating plan. You can eat a greater variety of carbs, but can still only eat less than around 100g/3.5oz a day.

That’s less than a third of what you’re probably used to eating.

Atkins Diet Review – Does it Work…?

Dr Atkins suggests weight loss of up to 10lbs in phase 1 and 1-3lbs a week thereafter.

This certainly seems realistic, as you’ll be eating fewer calories. Although you could expect similar results from many of the leading weight loss programs.

The evidence from a number of clinical trials we looked at whilst preparing this Atkins Diet review would support claims that the Atkins Diet is an effective way to lose weight.

However, there’s little evidence to suggest that the Atkins Diet Lifetime Maintenance phase will keep the weight off for good.

Whilst this Atkins Diet review is not disputing the claim that you can and probably will lose weight on this diet, we do have other concerns.

The induction phase, whilst only two weeks long is extremely unbalanced and 20g of carbs is difficult to stick to.

Even the 100g or so that you’ll be eating in the maintenance phase is very low, particularly if you’re physically active and need the quick energy that carbs supply.

Whilst we agree that eating more protein is a good idea generally, around 30% would be the max we’d recommend. You’ll be eating 50-60% in the early phases of the Atkins and around 40% or more thereafter.

Low carb, high protein diets certainly can lead to rapid and sustained weight loss, but their efficacy and safety in the long term are unclear.

We’d also have concerns about the high fat intake.

There is evidence from some trials that would suggest that the Atkins Diet has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Despite this, the consumption of high levels of dietary fat flies in the face of 40 years of established medical wisdom.

We’d be interested to see whether these beneficial effects are maintained in the longer term.

We’re also concerned about the messages that the diet gives regarding fruit and veg consumption.

We’re staunch advocates of eating plenty of fruit and veg in your diet given the undoubted health benefits in terms of heart disease, cancer and obesity prevention that such a diet confers.

Whilst they’re reintroduced later in the diet, to us it seems like a license for salad dodging!

Indeed, vegetarians would find the diet virtually impossible to follow in the early stages, even if they did eat eggs and dairy products.

There are some pluses in addition to the weight loss. This is a diet that men seem to have taken to with a gusto, no doubt attracted by the fried breakfasts, steaks and sausages banned by pretty much every other diet!

Anything that gets men interested in ridding themselves of their beer bellies is a good thing!

However, bolognese sauce without spaghetti, burgers without buns and curry without rice is going to get boring after a while!

Atkins Diet Review – The Bottom Line…

You certainly can lose weight on the Atkins Diet, whether that’s due to the low carb intake or an overall reduction in calories.

Our Atkins Diet review would suggest however, that it’s not exactly the healthiest diet on the market.

We’ve no problem with low carb, high protein diets per se, it’s the high fat content that we have trouble with.

You’ll be eating around twice the recommended intake of saturated fat on the Atkins Diet.

Indeed, the diet doesn’t conform to healthy eating guidelines and as such, we’d be loath to recommend it as a long term eating plan.

There are also a few unpleasant side effects to the ketosis caused by your body burning fat.

These include bad breath, nausea and tiredness and are more evident in the induction phase. As your body gets used to fat burning, they tend to reduce over time.

Low carb diets generally can also make you constipated, although this would be more of a problem in the early stages of the diet, when fruit, veg and wholegrains are severely restricted.

There are also concerns around the effect of a high protein intake on the kidneys and bones, although our Atkins Diet review found little evidence to substantiate these claims.

Beware too, of the burgeoning numbers of low carb foods hitting the supermarket shelves. Some are higher in fat and calories than their regular counterparts and they also tend to be more expensive.

All in all, the conclusion of our Atkins Diet review is that you will be eating fewer calories on this diet and as a result you will lose weight.

If you’re determined to try the Atkins Diet, consider using it for a short period, say a few weeks then switch to a lower fat alternative.

The Zone Diet and South Beach Diet are low carb diets that are more generous in terms of fruit, veg and wholegrain consumption.

Is the Atkins diet right for you?

If you do want to try it, eDiets can personalize a plan for you.

Our Atkins Diet Review verdict? You’ll lose weight quickly, but this is not a diet that we’d recommend for long term use!

About Lisa Warnes

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