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Are High-Protein/Low-Carb Diets Still Effective As Weight-Loss Plans?

Updated on September 26, 2020
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Former university professor of marketing and communications, Sallie is an independent publisher and marketing communications consultant.

Do High-Protein/Low-Carbohydrate Diet Plans Actually Work?

Everyone seems to be larger than they want to be these days, me included. That means there will always be a lot of talk and excitement on the Internet about one diet plan or another. I am someone who has often had to fight the notorious battle of the bulge, and I make no excuses or apologies for it. It's part of my life, and it seems no matter what else I may be doing in my life at any particular time—the need to lose a few (or more) pounds is usually a constant companion, along for the ride that is my life.

Diet? What Should I Do?

If this sounds like you too, then like me, you might have a hard time trying to decide which, if any, weight-loss plan to try out. This is what led me to decide it might be a good idea to revisit some of my "greatest hits," or the most effective of several popular plans I have tried in the past. In this article, I will walk down memory lane with the popular weight-loss plan known as the “Atkins” diet, which is one of the first high-protein, low-carb diets that was able to garner lots of publicity and/or media attention. Today, after trying many other plans over the years, high-protein/low-carb plans are still the most truly effective of all the countless weight-loss plans I've ever tried.

The Atkins Diet . . .

The Atkins Diet—also known as the “high-protein” or the “low-carb” diet, requires you to eat lots and lots of protein while minimizing your consumption of carbohydrates. It sounds easy, because when you’re on it, you get to eat all the meat, fish, and poultry that you want—within caloric reason, of course. Well, you don’t really have to count your calories, because the main idea is that by eliminating carbs from your eating, you will trigger a “fat-burning” process known as ketosis. (Check out what the Mayo Clinic says about the Atkins Diet/Weight-Loss Plan.) However, any time I have put myself on this diet, because it is important to me, I have always paid attention to my caloric intake.

Still, I think the thing that drew me to the plan in the first place was the idea that I would not have to count calories rigidly, and also that I would not have to buy a lot of new food items that I either could not afford, or did not like to eat. So, I guess you could say the simplicity of the diet was what attracted me to it. Also, as someone who loves eating meat, fish, and poultry, it sounded to me like I could really enjoy eating while being on the Atkins weight-loss plan.

I first tried Atkins when I was a teenager (yes, it has been around that long!). As expected, I found the diet to be delicious because I got to eat tuna salad, fried chicken, and bacon! Keep in mind now that my insides were all still young and relatively new at that time, and I didn’t encounter any, ah, elimination problems from eating mostly meat and precious few veggies. I remember that the diet worked extremely well for me. I developed my own exercise plan, and, after being on the diet and using my exercise plan for a whole summer (around three months), I was able to lose weight for the first time in my life. I was elated! I had finally gotten down to the size I wanted to be back then, and I remember being very happy with the results I achieved. So, I finished my senior year of high school floating on a weight-loss cloud because I was about three or four sizes smaller than I had ever been since I'd been in high school.

After high school, I went to college where I gained a pound here and there until one day I again had a need to go on a diet. I remember that I went on Atkins a few times in college, always with great success. I also remember going on the diet again several years after I got out of college with my bachelor’s degree. I was in my early twenties by that time, and I remember having basically the same results as the first time I was on it, when I was in high school. Again, I was very pleased with the results. Over the years, sometimes when my weight would fluctuate, I would go on Atkins again. And, whenever I did, I always lost the weight, that is, until I turned the big four-oh! That’s when the high-pro “elimination” problems started, and that’s when I decided it was time for me to look for another way to lose weight. I didn’t have the information I needed at that time to simply add more low-carb veggies, or more beans, to my diet to increase fiber. So I decided, in the interest of "elimination health," I had to discontinue Atkins, and I abandoned it for other programs.

The way I understand it, the high-protein/low-carbohydrates diet works by decreasing the body’s production of insulin. Eating carbs increases your body’s insulin production, and when the pancreas creates insulin, it turns on the body’s fat storing mechanisms. It seems that when you eat carbs, the body burns glucose from digesting the carbs, instead of burning fat. Also, eating and processing carbs causes your appetite to increase, and that is what causes you to experience hunger. But when you consume mostly protein, it turns off (or dials way down) the body's insulin production, and doing that causes your body to burn fat for its fuel or energy. When that happens, you hit the trifecta! Your appetite becomes reduced, you feel full, and your hunger is satisfied.

Does High Pro/Low Carbs Still Work?

There is no doubt in my mind that high protein weight-loss methods work. The Atkins weight-loss plan is one high protein plan that has been around a while, and it has been modified several times over the years. There are also many other diet plans (including the South Beach Diet and Ketogenic plans) that have used the same high-protein/low-carbohydrates principles, and have been modeled based on principles of the Atkins Diet.

Now that the Atkins Diet has introduced more complex carbs into the plan, it even works well for those of us who need help with, ah, elimination. Consumer Reports, in 2016, included Atkins in a list of 13 popular diets after questioning 9,376 people about diet plans they had tried. For me, I think the idea that you can eat meat, fish, and poultry on a diet sounds delicious, especially when you can add complex carbohydrates back into your diet, while paying attention to caloric intake. Still, as far as diets go, this is one that–through the years, has actually done the job for me. I have lost weight many times while sticking to it, along with adding a plan for regular exercise.

These days, I am a part-time vegetarian/vegan, for about two weeks out of every month. For me, that means I lose weight on days when I only consume vegetables, and no carbs. But, would I try a high-protein/low-carb diet again? Yes. In fact, I intend to always use high-protein/low-carb plans to help out with weight loss on my non-vegetarian/vegan days, but the next plan I am going to try will be some version of the ketogenic plan. Why? Because these plans come with modifications that add complex carbohydrates into what I am allowed to eat. Would I recommend high protein/low-carb diets to others? Yes, but I would add a caution encouraging folk to experiment with several plans before deciding which one might work best for them. Based on my own experiences with them, these plans do work, but instead of just trying out a diet plan to lose weight, I am cautioning you to consider creating a lifelong eating plan that you can live with, so that you will never stray too far away from your ideal weight.

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD

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