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How the Atkins Diet Works

Updated on April 11, 2013

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.

Measure yourself before and after.
Measure yourself before and after.

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

Meat fish poultry eggs nuts cheese beans dairy products

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.

free foods
free foods

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.

complex carbohydrates
complex carbohydrates

When you are incorporating carbohydrates back into your diet, try to choose from this list of complex carbohydrates (as natural starches)

  • bananas
  • barley
  • beans
  • brown rice
  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • oats
  • parsnips
  • potatoes
  • root vegetables
  • sweet corn
  • wholegrain cereals
  • wholemeal breads
  • wholemeal cereals
  • wholemeal flour
  • wholemeal pasta
  • yams.

The next group to include is the refined starches:

  • biscuits, pastries and cakes
  • pizzas
  • 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.

simple carbohydrates
simple carbohydrates

Finally come the simple carbohydrates

Refined sugars are found in:

  • biscuits, cakes and pastries
  • chocolate
  • honey and jams
  • jellies
  • brown and white cane sugar
  • pizzas
  • prepared foods and sauces
  • soft drinks
  • sweets and snack bars.

When you start taking them again, you are no longer on a diet.

Fats and oils
Fats and oils


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.

all spirits are carb-free!!
all spirits are carb-free!!


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.

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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    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      I think it is safe so long as you remember to drink loads of water to protect your kidneys (Its a high protein diet). I take it you have an artificial hip? Then good idea to keep the weight off - try exercising more if you can - strong muscles around joints will keep our bones and joints in good working order for longer.

    • profile image

      DePuy Pinnacle Lawsuit 

      7 years ago

      Is an Atkin diet truly safe? I have had a DePuy Pinnacle hip implant in the past, and I'm doing my best to maintain my weight. Especially now after learning about the different lawsuits that people have claimed against the defective device. There are some updates about the Pinnacle device at the DePuy Pinnacle Lawsuit website.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Good to hear Mags! It does work for a lot of people, myself included :)

    • mag76 profile image


      7 years ago

      I have to say that this diet worked out for me, too.

      I managed to regain my pre-pregnancy weight with it. Very informative hub. Thanks

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      healthy diet is very important .. good article about the Atkins diet .. very informative and could be a reference for my next hub .. thanks

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your positive comment and I am so glad to find someone else who actually read the book and understood fully the concepts. It definitely does work and has been the only diet that has worked for me, and I defy anyone to tell me it is unhealthy when it is basically "back to nature" diet without all the rubbish the food manufacturers add to foods nowadays.

    • profile image

      imoh equere 

      8 years ago

      I am yet to see a diet that works like this.I tried it after my last baby and i lost so much weight my colleague in the office saw me , was shocked at the amount of weight i had lost so she tried it and she blesses dr atkins everyday .I quite agree with you its a very expensive diet but this the only diet i would recommend any day please i advise people to read his book" indepth" before they start criticizing

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks Bonny, you are so right you really don't crave the sugary things which do run away with the money. albeit bit by bit so you don't notice it so much.

      Glad to hear your 'diet' turned out so well xx

    • bonny2010 profile image

      bonetta hartig 

      8 years ago from outback queensland

      Hi IzzyM great hub and you have lots of other good hubs there just waiting to be rread - about the diet - Iam with you - my hair improves, I don't suffer from water retention and I am never hungry no matter how little I eat on certain days when I am in a hurry . Actually I went on this diet about 34 years ago for about 12 months I started when I fell pregnant with my son - when I had him I was only carrying an excess of 8 pound - he was born healthy and turned out to be a big meat eater - I agree with you it is costly, but then when I am on it I don't crave chocolates and such so I end up saving - will be seeing more of your hubs thanks bonny

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks, it really does work but it's boring! You get fed up with the eggs and the bacon!

    • TINA V profile image

      TINA V 

      8 years ago

      It is good to know about the Atkins diet from somebody who have already tried it. You are right that drinking water is really important. This is an informative article.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hello, I'm searching for diet related blogs like mine and I stumbled your site, nice blog!. I hope you could also include me in your blogroll.

      By the way, you have a very good writing skills here. Keep up the good work.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thank you and the same to you, Keira xx

    • keira7 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub my dear friend, thanks for the info. Have a wonderful Christmas IzzM.:D

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks D.A.L.:)

      Actually Dr Atkins himself used to stress the water taking part, though I no longer have a copy of his book it is something I did without fail. Didn't even like water much, but it is really important to drink it. 8 big glasses a day is about 2L. A lot of people who have dissed this diet haven't read the book and don't realise all health aspects were covered if you follow the directions.

    • D.A.L. profile image


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      IzzyM, well done another very informative hub. I agree with you about water being immensely important. I have booked marked your page.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      In the Uk we use different measurements, that's all. There's 14lbs in a stone.

      Thanks for the comments:)

      Life would be boring without carbs to eat- the trouble is , we eat too many of them!

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Wow this is a good hub with lots of good info! I like the idea of saying, "3 1/2 stones verses 50 lbs" :) Also, a great point that you will eventually incorporate carbohydrates back into your diet for balance. Thanks for sharing!


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