Having recently posted an overview of five popular low-carb plans, I’ve been asked which is the one I prefer myself.
For me personally, it is still the good old Atkins. Having lost a substantial amount of weight on Atkins back in 2007, I still follow Atkins Maintenance principles.
Here’s my advice on what to expect when you go on Atkins.
Atkins Diet – quick overview
Atkins is a classical LCHF diet – your food will be low in carbs, and high in fat and protein.
The diet consists of four phases, starting with a really strict two-week Induction phase. It then gradually relaxes over phases 2-4.
If you can manage the first two weeks, the rest will be much easier.
Your carb allowance starts with just 20g of carbs a day on Induction (can be 30-40g for very active people).
You then add more carbs and more food groups in increments throughout the next two phases.
The last stage of Atkins – Maintenance – is more like a nutritional guideline rather than a “diet”. All wholefoods are back on the list, with only sugar and white flour excluded.
By Maintenance stage, your carbs intake could be up to around 100g a day or over. This is a comfortable amount, but it is still lower than the average carb consumption of people who eat sugar and grains.
Atkins Diet Phase 1 – Atkins Induction
Atkins Induction is designed as a shock to your system. It completely resets your food habits, to break away from sugar addiction and kick-start fat-burning metabolism.
The ultimate aim is to get you into ketosis – a safe and natural metabolic state where you will burn fat for fuel instead of carbs.
Induction is very strict. You can only have 20g net carbs a day, and only from the list of permitted foods.
This amounts to several cups of salad vegetables a day (see more information on Atkins Induction vegetables and best cooking methods).
Atkins Induction is radical, but you only have to do it for two weeks. If you wish, you can carry on for longer. It is safe to stay in ketosis for up to six months and even a year.
Breaking into ketosis
So what does Atkins Induction feel like? There are several stages you might expect to go through on your way to ketosis.
Precise duration of each stage varies by individual – I included rough estimates based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence from others.
Atkins Induction Days 1-2: Nothing happens
For the first 1-2 days, you will be burning through glucose stored in your body.
Your body will think it’s just business as usual.
You might miss your favourite carb-rich foods, but you will feel ok overall.
Atkins Induction Days 3-10: Induction flu
Then comes the infamous “Induction flu” – also referred to as Keto flu.
You might feel tired, depressed and irritable. You will probably get headaches and muscle cramps.
You will definitely be desperate for carbs.
This is the hardest part of the diet. Many people give up at this point.
But if you stick with it, it will definitely be worth it. Eventually you smash through the carb addiction wall and get into ketosis.
Here’s some advice on how to make your Induction Flu easier, and how to cope with sugar cravings.
Atkins Induction Days 10 onwards (estimated): KETOSIS!!!
If you stick to your guns and pull through the keto flu, next comes ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural (and completely safe) state which occurs when you body starts burning fat for energy.
And it feels wonderful!
Induction flu disappears. Hunger and sugar cravings go away completely. Your energy soars sky-high, often well above pre-Atkins levels.
Weight loss during ketosis is fast and effortless. You will feel great and pounds will melt off.
But remember – to stay in ketosis, you must keep your carb intake at 20g day (spread out throughout the day). If you fall off the wagon, you will be right back to square one, and might have to go through Induction Flu again.
If you find yourself getting bored with Induction food, make a concious effort to add some variety.
Have a look at these low-carb cookbooks, low-carb recipes on this website, and this post about Atkins Induction desserts for some ideas.
Atkins Induction and exercise
Dr Atkins strongly recommends doing exercise alongside the diet.
But it is better to stay in your comfort zone during this period. Do not to push yourself until you get into ketosis.
If you already have an exercise routine, just stick with it as is, or perhaps even scale it back by about 20-30% (run shorter distances, lift lighter weights etc). You can pump it up again once you are full of ketosis energy.
If you don’t do any exercise at the moment, just do something gentle. For example, a 20-minute walk every day would be sufficient. Once you get into ketosis, you can think about increasing your exercise levels (you will have extra energy to burn!)
Atkins Induction supplements
Dr Atkins strongly encouraged supplementation in his original book – check out this post for the full list of recommended Atkins Diet supplements.
According to Dr Atkins, correct supplements can help to optimise the diet and speed up transition to ketosis.
Have a look in our online shop for low-carb diet vitamins and supplements.
Atkins Diet Phase 2 – Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)
After Induction, you progress to Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL).
Now you can increase your carb allowance by 5g a day (25g a day total), and stay at that level for a full week.
The week after that, add another 5g net carbs to your daily allowance and so on.
Keep watching your weight loss, because at some point it will stop. Once that happens, dial your carb allowance down again back to the level where you were still losing weight.
That number is your individual optimal carb allowance – the maximum amount you can have while still losing weight. You can stay on that level for as long as you need, to reach your desired weight.
The optimal carb intake can vary greatly depending on genetics, lifestyle and health history.
The key to this stage is to monitor your progress and well-being very closely. You will at some point drop out of ketosis, but you will be adapted to this lifestyle by then.
Atkins Diet Phases 3 and 4 – Pre-Maintenance and Maintenance
Once you have achieved the desired amount of weight loss, move into Pre-Maintenance and finally, Maintenance stage.
Aim to stay there forever. Yes, that’s right. Forever!
Before you run for the hills – please note that Maintenance stage includes pretty much all whole foods.
The only foods that are excluded forever and ever are white sugar (in all its forms) and refined grains.
All dietitians agree that cutting out these two products is beneficial, for many reasons beyond weight loss.
This is a very important point to bear in mind, whether doing Atkins or any other diet.
If you want your weight loss to be permanent, you need to make permanent changes to your lifestyle and nutrition.
If you think of a diet as a quick-fix, you will put the weight back on once you revert back to your old habits.
Atkins Nutritionals products
Atkins Nutritionals was founded by Dr Atkins, but since his death has changed ownership several times.
The company’s commitment to the original philosophy of the diet has become compromised by their drive to make profits.
Atkins Nutritional brand is now used on a range of low-carb products such as chocolate bars, sweets, shakes etc, including things like breakfast cereal and bread mix.
Some of these products are laden with an array of chemicals, and don’t comply with the permitted foods lists.
Unless you are completely desperate, it’s best to stay away from them, at least when you are on Induction.
If you decide to try them out after Induction, do think of them as a treat and definitely not something to have every day.
You would be better off making your own low-carb desserts from scratch – at least then you know exactly what’s inside and how many carbs.
Are you ready to go?
If this basic overview sounds like you want to give it a go, I strongly recommend more research to ensure you fully understand all the rules of the diet and how it works.
Ideally, you should read one of the two official books:
Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution
Updated edition (2003) of the original book, written by the man himself
Buy this book on Amazon UK | Buy this book on Amazon US
New Atkins for New You
Revised version of the diet (2010), written by Eric C Westman; Stephen D Phinney; Jeff S Volek
Buy this book on Amazon UK | But this book on Amazon US
If you don’t want to buy the book, the basic guidelines to the diet are also on their official websites:
Atkins Diet Official Website
UK site | US site | Other regions
If you are on Google+, please have a look at our G+ Community for Atkins Diet followers.