How the Atkins Diet Works
You may have heard a little about the Atkins diet and references to ketosis, and think that is not a state you want your body to be in. For weight loss, ketosis when dieting is a great state to be in.
While your body is in ketosis through dieting, it is burning body fat. Not muscle, not parts of our bodies we want to keep, but all over body fat, the parts we actively want rid of.
In fact, a great many dieters have reported that this fat loss firstly comes off those place we'd like to lose it from first - our bellies, faces, hips and thighs can see a remarkable trimming down process occur within weeks of starting on the Atkins diet.
So, just by carefully choosing what we eat, we can send our bodies into this state called ketosis, and watch the weight fall off.
It's that easy. Not only that, but while we are in ketosis, we lose our appetites, so the hunger pangs that ruin so many other weight-loss diets simply don't happen.
By starving our bodies of carbohydrates, both simple and complex, we force our bodies to use up the reserves (body fat) laid down in good times in preparation for the lean times, when food is not available.
Of course, nowadays, food is always available and so more and more of us are suffering from obesity.
Simply cut right down on the carbs, increase proteins and fats, and watch the weight fall off.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet has had a lot of unfair publicity over the years, but I have to say it worked for me. In the 9 months I stuck to the low carb diet plan back in 2002, I lost 3 ½ stones (50lbs), enough to bring my weight down to a slim size 8/10 (UK sizing), most of which I have never regained.
The food groups
Let’s look at our foods and how our bodies use them.
Carbohydrates - for energy
Pasta breads flour rice sugars cereals some fruit and vegetables
Proteins – for tissue repair and growth
Fats - energy storage, insulation, blood pressure regulation, clotting, healthy hair and skin.
Creams cheese milk margarine butter oils dairy products red meat
Fibre – aids digestion
Cereals fruit bread vegetables
Minerals & Vitamins - for healthy bones, teeth, nerves and blood
Dairy products fresh fruit vegetables
Nutritionists advise we eat some of each food group every day, for energy, tissue growth and repair, and for healthy skin, bones and teeth. This are not something we think about; we eat because we are hungry.
When we gain weight, it is because we eat more than our bodies use, so when we want to lose weight, we eat less than our bodies need. Alternatively, we can eat as normal and exercise more so that we burn off what we eat.
What happens if you are infirm and unable to exercise? Then to avoid gaining weight, you have to eat less. This in turn can be a miserable experience, because we experience hunger.
The beauty of the Atkins diet is that you never have to suffer hunger, yet you will still lose weight
How does the Atkins diet work?
When you eat something containing lots of carbohydrates, i.e. cakes and biscuits, your blood sugar (glucose) levels rise rapidly and in response your pancreas produces insulin to break down the sugar into glycogen which is then stored in the muscles and liver for later use. If not used, in exercise for example, it is turned into body fat.
Within an hour or two of eating, the insulin levels will have peaked; then they drop back down to a normal level. When the blood sugar drops low we again experience hunger pangs.
Some people produce more insulin that others. Those people, and myself included I suspect, suffer nosedive drops in levels to below normal resulting in hunger. If I eat a pasta meal, I will be back in the kitchen within a couple of hours looking for leftovers!
The idea behind the Atkins diet is to keep your blood sugar level, and so your insulin level, without the peaks and troughs. This in turn will control hunger peaks, helping you resist the temptation to eat something unsuitable.
Low Carb Diet
By severely limiting the type and amount of carbohydrate we eat, our bodies will quickly start to use up its fat stores for energy.
When we are burning body fat, we are in a state called ketosis; ketone bodies will be released in the urine (can be measured with a special stick from the chemist), from our pores, from our hair. It smells a bit like nail-polish remover. Starving people also enter this state, as do some diabetics, but that is an extremely dangerous state for them. There is no evidence that ketosis causes long term damage. However, while you are in ketosis, you should see a drop in the scales every day.
The type of energy dietary fats give is slow-release, more of a back-up energy, but they are vital for good health as they release many vitamins and minerals from foods, and keep us warm. Dietary fats also keep us feeling fuller for longer.
What can we eat on a low-carb diet?
Before I discuss that, I want to stress the importance of drinking water. Any diet high in protein is going to put added strain on your kidneys, so make sure you protect them by drinking a minimum of 2 litres plain water every day, more in hot weather.
We can eat everything except the carbohydrates. It is only this food group we need to limit and count. Here is a list of free foods.
In the first two weeks only, it is recommended you eat 20gms or less of carbohydrates every day. This is difficult as we eat carbs all the time without thinking about it. Cereal or toast for breakfast is out. A quick sandwich for the busy worker is out at break-time. Forget the fish supper on the way home. The fish is fine, the batter isn’t.
This is a difficult diet for those who work outside the home, but not impossible with a little forward planning.
Breakfast – a hardboiled egg or 2, prepared the night before, for the busy worker. If you have time, fry some bacon and eggs instead. Decaffeinated tea or coffee, with cream, or a little milk if you count that into your 20gm carbohydrate limit, no sugar, but Splenda may be taken instead if need be. Avoid caffeine (may cause an insulin spike in some) and aspartame based sweeteners. A large glass of water.
Lunch – difficult for the worker who has to bring a packed lunch as nearly all allowed foods are freshly cooked, not pre-packaged. I would recommend some cold cooked ham or chicken, perhaps with mayonnaise and salad leaves. Nuts make great low-carb snacks if you are hungry in between.
Dinner, any meats, poultry, fish served with any vegetable or salad. You can still have accompanying sauces or gravies so long as you count the carbohydrates in them and stick with your daily allowance.
Kitchen snacks. Keep some hard boiled eggs, cold cooked meats, nuts, to hand so that if you should get hungry there is something there already prepared. You will find that after a week or two your hunger will have all but evaporated and you will stick to meal plans only.
End of induction phase
After the first two weeks have passed, you will no doubt be pleasantly at how much weight you have lost, albeit a lot of it will be fluid, simply by following a strict low-carb diet.
You can stay on this phase for longer if you wish, but it is recommended you increase your carb limit and gradually introduce more carbohydrates into your diet, in increments of 5gms per week until you reach a level where weight loss slows down. If it stops completely, cut back a little again.
My first ‘out of induction’ treat was a plate of fresh strawberries and cream. It was delicious, and so sweet. The best I have ever tasted. My body was ‘sugar-starved’ on my low carb diet and my taste buds primed to really enjoy it.
Fruit is not recommended while on induction as they contain fructose, natural sugars, and may spark an insulin reaction in some, but once induction is over they can be eaten if you include them in your daily allowance.
When you are incorporating carbohydrates back into your diet, try to choose from this list of complex carbohydrates (as natural starches)
The next group to include is the refined starches:
- biscuits, pastries and cakes
- sugary processed breakfast cereals
- white bread
- white flour
- white pasta
- white rice.
I would stay away from them at least until you are on the maintenance phase.
Although fats are allowed on Atkins, it is important to know the different types of fats, and to try and incorporate the best ones into your diet.
Saturated fats are derived from animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs, and are solid at room temperature. These fats raise LDL cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats include olive, peanut , canola, safflower, sesame, corn, cottonseed and soybean oils, olives, nuts and avocados. They are generally reckoned to be good for you because they lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats also include the trans fats which are chemically altered vegetable oils which turn them from a liquid state to a more solidified state to make them easier to use in industrial production. Many cake, biscuit and other food manufacturers use them, as do fast food outlets and restaurants because this type of fat can be re-used many times. Since January 2006(in the US), all food must be labelled if they contain trans fats, also known as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’. They are considered to be the worst of the fats, health-wise, by not only lowering good (HDL) cholesterol but raising bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for health, by boosting our immune systems and reducing the risk of coronary artery disease. They are found in fish, soy, walnuts and flax seed.
The best thing I liked about the Atkin’s Diet is that all spirits are carbohydrate free. They have a lot of calories that come from the alcohol, but are carb-free. Taken with an equally carb-free diet mixer, they became part of my free foods.
Atkins diet does not recommend drinking alcohol while on the diet as it could reduce your will-power to resist a late night fast food outlet, but I never had that problem. I know of no other diet where you can drink alcohol and lose weight!
Beer and wine are not so lucky, both containing carbs, but they could be included in your allowance if you so wish. You are on a low carb diet, not a no-carb diet.
Possible side-effects of the Atkins diet
You may feel a bit headachy and tired when you first enter ketosis. Don’t worry about this, it is normal. It is just your body getting used to burning a new fuel (your body fat). As stated earlier, you may smell a bit, but only your closest partner is likely to notice. Get them to join you on your diet then it won’t be a problem.
Low Carb Diet Conclusion
I think I have covered all the main points here. I would only add that the Atkins diet is an expensive diet to go on because it is a hunter/gatherer type diet, where all the foodstuffs are freshly cooked and very few, if any, processed foods are permitted.
I hope you have taken the time to read it all, and remember where the main opposition to this diet came from – the processed food industry itself, probably one of the most powerful industries in the world. What can be unhealthy about eating all-natural products without a hint of preservative or additives like monosodium glutamate?
Personally speaking, I saw many health benefits while I was on the Atkins diet, including normal blood pressure without medication (I have hypertension), a regulation of my menstrual cycle, the disappearing of the joint pains I had, and a lowering of my blood cholesterol.
Buy the All new Atkin Diet Advantage Book
The New Atkins Diet
The New Atkins Advantage Diet, written by Dr.Stuart Trager and Collette Heimowitz seems to be much of the same only including an exercise plan, and a new method of calculating the net carbohydrate content of foodstuffs where the fibre on the label is subtracted, giving you a new lower carbohydrate reading to include more in your diet.
One man's amazing journey
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