What To Expect on the Atkins Diet


Are you thinking about going on the Atkins diet to lose weight? The Atkins diet plan has gone through significant changes in recent years. If you're considering the Atkins program, use this 5-minute guide to see if the plan is right for you and if you're likely to lose weight on the diet.

What is the Atkins Diet?

Atkins is one of the most widely recognized low carbohydrate diets. Developed by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1970s, the original version of the weight loss program was heavily criticized in the early years because it included relatively high levels of saturated fat and protein.

But since that time, the popularity of low carb diets has exploded and newer versions of the Atkins plan have gained acceptance in many - but not all - weight loss communities.

Dieters who use the current Atkins plan learn how to count net carbs to lose weight. The traditional Atkins plan has four phases:

  • Induction Phase. For two weeks or longer, dieters keep their net carbs at the lowest level.
  • Balancing Phase. Dieters slowly add grams of net carbs to find the best carbohydrate balance.
  • Fine Tuning Phase. Dieters make small tweaks to reach and maintain their goal weight for at least a month.
  • Lifetime Maintenance. Dieters continue to eat a healthy diet with limited carbohydrates to maintain their goal weight.

The Best Atkins Plan for You

The Atkins program provides two plans for different types of dieters.

  • Atkins 20: The Atkins 20 plan is what most would consider to be the classic Atkins plan. Dieters on this program start by consuming just 20 net carbs per day. Dieters eat a variety of approved (foundational) vegetables, lean meat, cheese and healthy fats to meet their energy needs. After two weeks on Atkins 20, dieters begin to add berries and nuts in five net carb increments. Then gradually they learn to incorporate more healthy carbohydrate choices to reach and maintain their goal weight.
  • Atkins 40: This plan offers a more relaxed program where dieters eat from all food groups from day one. The plan is designed for people who have 40 pounds or less to lose. Dieters start the first phase of the plan by consuming 40 grams of net carbs per day from vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.  As dieters approach their goal weight, they add carbs in 10 net carb increments to find their personal carb "sweet spot" to maintain their healthy weight.

    What to Expect on the Atkins Diet

    No diet works for everyone. The key is finding a diet that fits your lifestyle so that you can stick to it long enough to reach your goals and maintain your new body. If you choose the Atkins diet, these are a few things you can expect.

    • Portion control. Contrary to popular belief, portion control is built into the Atkins system. So don't plan to binge on steak, butter, cheese and bacon for weeks to lose weight. Dieters on the Atkins 40 plan, for example, are reminded to eat three 4 to 6-ounce servings of protein each day and just 2 to 4 servings of fat each day.
    • Limited alcohol. Drinking alcohol is not recommended during the first few weeks on the Atkins plan. Then as you move through the plan, alcohol should be limited to reach and maintain your goal weight.
    • Counting net carbs. You don't have to count calories on the Atkins plan, but you do need to count net carbs.  For some people, this process can be too tedious because calculating net carbs takes a little work. But the Atkins website and easy-to-use app make finding the numbers easier.
    • Carb withdrawal. Because the typical American diet is full of carbohydrates, it can be challenging to reduce carbs to lose weight.  Some dieters complain of headaches, low energy and poor mood during the early stages of the diet.
    • Quick results.  Because the induction phase of the Atkins diet is (for most people) a drastic change to their typical diet, those who follow the diet exactly tend to lose inches and weight quickly during the early stages of this plan. Critics of the diet, however, will claim that this early stage is too hard to follow.

    Of course any dieter can go low carb without going on Atkins.  But according to one expert, Atkins provides a structure that helps dieters lose more weight. "Dieters have a choice and they can either turn to a low carbohydrate diet or try to do it on their own, says Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD.  Marie is a nutrition expert who has done work on behalf of Atkins.  She says that "having a program to follow can provide guidance, suggestions, recipe ideas and an online community of people who are working towards the same goal. Atkins is the leader on low carbohydrate diets and they’ve helped people lose weight with various versions of low carbohydrate diets for over 40 years."

    Constipation on the Atkins Diet

    Some dieters complain about constipation during Atkins induction. While this condition doesn't happen to everyone, there are a few things you can do to reduce constipation during induction and a few steps you can take to prevent it.

    First, be sure that you drink plenty of water during this first stage of the Atkins plan. Program experts recommend that you drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Next, watch your intake of caffeine. While you are allowed to drink beverages like black coffee or tea, caffeine can act as a diuretic. So you may become dehydrated when you drink too much of it and get constipated as a result.

    Next, choose your limited carbohydrates carefully. If you eat healthy carbs with fiber, you'll promote healthy digestion and bowel movements. Atkins recommends eating at least 12 – 15 daily grams of carbohydrate from salad greens and other vegetables. 

    Lastly, if you do experience constipation during Atkins induction, the program recommends that you "mix a tablespoon or more of psyllium husks in a cup or more of water and drink daily. Or mix ground flaxseed into a shake or sprinkle wheat bran on a salad or vegetables."

    Does Atkins Work?

    The Atkins diet has been studied extensively through the years. Other low carbohydrate diets have been studied as well, most often compared to moderate or high carbohydrate plans. Many studies demonstrate modest weight loss with Atkins over the long-term, as long as dieters stick to the plan. But sticking to the diet can be hard for many people.

    So should you try the Atkins diet to lose weight? Authors of several recent diet studies often come to the same conclusion: choose any plan that you'll stick to. The difference between one diet and another are not great enough to determine that any single diet is the perfect solution to weight loss.  Evaluate your lifestyle and your personal preferences to find a diet that you can live with and maintain for life.


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    Renée Atallah, MSc, Kristian B. Filion, PhD, Susan M. Wakil, MD, Jacques Genest, MD, Lawrence Joseph, PhD, Paul Poirier, MD, PhD, Stéphane Rinfret, MD, SM, Ernesto L. Schiffrin, MD, PhD and Mark J. Eisenberg, MD, MPH. " Long-Term Effects of 4 Popular Diets on Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Risk Factors. A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials" Circulation:Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes November 11, 2014.

    Johnston BC, Kanters S, Bandayrel K, et al. " Comparison of Weight Loss Among Named Diet Programs in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Meta-analysis." JAMA. September 3, 2014.

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