An important aspect of the Atkins diet that is often not understood, is the fact that it is individualised. By progressing through the four phases, you discover which foods you can eat and how many grams of carbs you can eat a day and still lose weight. And once you have reached your goal weight, you will know how many grams of carbs you can eat a day and remain at your goal weight – for good.
The amount of carbs an individual can eat and maintain their weight loss will vary considerably from one individual to the next. It depends on lots of factors from how carb intolerant you are, your metabolism, your genes, medical conditions and your level of activity. However, before you read that list and think, “I can’t do anything about my genes/metabolism or certain medical conditions”, Atkins will still work once you keep to the Acceptable Food List and reduce the carbs sufficiently. This is evident once you understand how Atkins works.
Very simply our body has two types of fuel:
- Carbohydrates: bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal, fruit, sweets, fizzy drinks, cakes, fast food and many processed foods.
- Fat: fat on meat, cream, butter, vegetable oils, avocados and many processed foods.
The key point is that our bodies use the carbohydrates as the first fuel source. Anything that is not burned as energy is stored as fat (and usually around our middle). So eating sweets and drinking fizzy drinks are not just bad for our teeth – they make us fat. Once we reduce the amount of carbs, our body switches to using fat for fuel – fat from our diets and from our body. Our body essentially becomes a fat burning machine and the weight drops off. The basic mechanism really is that simple – reduce the carbs enough and your body starts using fat (including your body fat) for fuel instead. Check out our page on how Atkins works for more information.
As you can see from the description above on how Atkins works – it is clear that it does work regardless of factors such as age, genetics, activity levels or metabolism. The part that will vary from one person to the next is the amount of carbs and which foods they can eat to lose weight and maintain that weight loss when they reach their goal weight. However, discovering what this level is and which foods might cause a problem is all part of the Atkins program. By following the four Atkins phases correctly, you will learn this important information that allows you as an individual to lose weight and more importantly maintain that weight loss.
In Phase One or Induction, you start off at 20g of carbs a day – in phase you can eat meat, fish, eggs, a wide range of vegetables, butter, cream and cheese. Meat and fish contain no carbohydrates and the vegetables you can enjoy in phase one contain very little carbs. Once you get a little practice you can turn this list of foods into really delicious and filling meals – you should definitely not be hungry on Atkins! You should also find that after a week or two – cravings for high carb foods just disappear – this is a huge achievement for some people. After a few days at 20g carbs, your body switches to fat burning mode – it would be a very rare individual that would not burn fat at that level of carbs. This is the phase where you lose weight most quickly. It is possible to lose up to a stone (or 6.3kg) in two weeks although this will vary but it’s important to keep in mind that losing the weight and keeping it off is the goal – not how quickly you lose it. Phase One lasts two weeks although you can stay in it longer if you wish.
Phase Two is where things will start to vary from one person to another. The idea with this phase is that you increase the amount of carbs you eat each day and introduce foods higher in carbs. So in week one you would add back in nuts and seeds so from this point you would be on 25g of carbs a day. Then if all is going well you would move to the next item in the carb ladder which is berries. So after adding 5g of raspberries for instance, you would now be on 30g of carbs a day. You can do this process as slowly or as quickly as you wish and what you you are watching out for is whether you continue to lose weight as you increase the carb level. You also need to keep an eye on whether the food you have just introduced causes a problem or not. For instance, if you introduce strawberries and notice that you start having cravings for high carb foods again or any other health issues reappear then you may have made an important discovery for you. Keeping a food diary helps greatly with this process also. By the end of phase two, as you add in foods according to the carb ladder you will know how many grammes of carbs you can eat each day and what foods but still continue to lose weight. For one person, this might be 30g a day while it might be 100g a day for another – what is important here is that you discover your individual level.
By the time you reach Phase Four or Lifetime Maintenance, you will know exactly how much carbs you, as an individual, can eat and maintain your goal weight. It is the most important phase – this is where you remain – in this way you make sure the weight stays lost and you keep the health benefits. It stands to reason that if you were to return to your previous way of eating – you would get the same results – that is, you would regain the excess weight and accompanying health issues. So time to celebrate and buy a new wardrobe – knowing that you will still fit into them this time next year!
In his book ‘Why We Get Fat’ – Gary Taubes suggests that the only reason any diet works is because we are reducing carbohydrates whether we are conscious of it or not. Even if we just decide to “eat healthy” or “get fit”, chances are that we stop drinking beer or reduce it or switch to light beer, we’d cut back on the fizzy drinks and get rid of the desserts, donuts and sweets. We would probably perceive this as calorie cutting but all of these are carbohydrates and, more importantly in the case of beer and fizzy drinks, they are of the liquid refined type which are especially fattening. Even if going on a low fat diet, you are obviously going to cut out these types of foods as well as takeaways etc. And because carbohydrates constitute the largest proportion of calories in our diet, these will see the greatest absolute reduction.
However, when calorie restricted diets fail as they typically do, it is because they are restricting fat and protein which are required for energy and rebuilding cells. Plus the dieter is likely hungry much of the time. This can only be sustained for so long.. With Atkins, you are not hungry which makes it sustainable long term and you are not semi-starving your body of energy and protein to rebuild muscle. So according to Taubes, on any diet, dieters are reducing the fattening carbs and losing weight because of this whether knowingly or not.
The idea that it is just calories-in calories-out is simply not true and scientists are beginning to understand this now. Your body simply does not process calories from broccoli in the same way that it processes calories from a doughnut! For example if we take the 2004 study from Volek, one of the authors of New Atkins New You, that placed overweight men and women on one of two diets: a very low-carb ketogenic diet or a low-fat diet. The low-carb group ate more calories but lost more weight and more body fat, especially dangerous abdominal fat. The damage that the calories-in calories-out myth does is that it prevents people from looking further and discovering that it is in fact the carbs in their food and their individual carb tolerance that is the key to losing weight.
For some people, just replacing fizzy drinks with water might be enough for them to lose weight. For another more carb intolerant person, it would take more than this. Likewise with low fat diets like Weight Watchers or Slimming World, the amount of carbs you are eliminating while focusing on reducing the fat/calories is probably what is doing the trick. But again, what works for one person with these plans will not work for another depending on their carb tolerance. So two people using the same amount of points or “sins” could see different results even with all other things like exercise being equal. I have to say that personally I don’t like the idea of storing up points to eat “bad” foods or having so many “sins” either and having so much negative emotions tied to what you eat on a daily basis.
For many people the idea, that they can continue to eat high carb foods and have “treats” while following low-fat diets like Weight Watchers or Slimming World, on a regular basis is very appealing. However, for many people this does not work well in practice, as many individuals are very much addicted to these foods. Continuing to eat them means that they never break the carb cravings and so have tof exercise much more will power in order to try to stick with it. On Atkins, people are often amazed to discover that after only a week or two, they no longer crave the foods they thought they couldn’t live without. I couldn’t picture not eating toast or cereal when I started this but after two weeks I couldn’t believe that I really did not crave them! Five years on, while I do eat the occasional slice of brown bread, I don’t think I’ve had a slice of toast or a bowl of cornflakes and have no desire to whatsoever.. Killing the cravings makes it much easier to stick with this way of eating. Plus there are lots of “treats” you can eat on Atkins – check out the Atkins bars for a start!
Whether or not you can occasionally ‘break’ the diet and eat something high in carbs is also down to you as an individual. Some people can have the occasional cigarette when they are out socializing for instance, but for others doing this would mean they would soon be smoking 40 a day! In addition, you have lots of choices if you did decide to break it – it could be something like eating higher carb fruit than you do usually or having some brown bread or sweet pepper fries. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Again you can experiment with whether having pizza occasionally throws things off for you completely or is manageable and you are able to get back on track by the next meal. The New Atkins New You book gives some excellent strategies on dealing with these issues. It depends completely on you as an individual and that is why Atkins works for everyone.