Atkins Diet Basics

My personal favorite approach to low carb eating is based on Dr. Robert C. Atkins’ early books, written from 1972 through 1990.  His company was sold after his death in 2003, and I’m not a fan of the books and advice produced since that time. 

His first book, “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution“, was published in 1972, and he referred to it as “the revolutionary never-hungry no-limit steak-and-salad-plus diet”.  

It is simple to do, satisfying, and it works like gang-busters for most people…especially those who have had little success with other diets. (There is a reason for this, insulin resistance, which I’ll get into a little farther down the page.)

The diet…actually a lifestyle change rather than a short-term weight loss plan…has been controversial and has a lot of critics, but it has had a resurgence in popularity recently as a result of dissatisfaction with the results of low-fat, calorie restricted diets. As more and more people have jumped on the Atkins bandwagon, there has been a lot of hype and misinformation spewed forth as a result.


So what are the basic principles of the Atkins diet? (Technical Stuff)


Though it is simple, it is easy to go astray and sabotage your efforts if you don’t understand why it works and how it works.

Contrary to popular thought, this is not a diet you can stop and start, “wing it”, and create your own version. Well…you can…but it isn’t a good idea if your goal is to lose weight.  An interesting side-effect of this way of eating is all the health benefits that start to take place in your body as it adjusts to this new way of eating.

Bottom line for success with this plan is that you MUST READ THE BOOK!!  I’ll give you a break, though, to get you interested in learning more and will outline the basic concepts.

The Atkins diet is based on a theory of why we get fat.  According to Dr. Atkins, the over-consumption of carbohydrates and simple sugars leads to weight gain.  The way your body processes the carbohydrates you eat has more to do with your waistline than the amount of fat or calories that you consume.  In fact, calories are not even counted in this diet, only carbohydrates.

In his book, Atkins outlines a phenomenon called “insulin resistance.” He theorizes that many overweight people have cells that do not work correctly.

When you eat excess carbohydrates and sugar, your body notices that sugar levels are elevated.  Insulin is released from the pancreas in order to store sugar as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells for extra energy later on.  However, your body can only store so much glycogen at once.  As soon as your body reaches its limit for glycogen storage, the excess carbohydrates are stored as fat.  

This happens to everyone who eats too many carbohydrates.

However, insulin resistant individuals have an even harder time of using and storing excess carbohydrates.  The more insulin that your body is exposed to, the more resistant it becomes.  Over time the pancreas releases more insulin and cells become insulin resistant.  The cells are trying to protect themselves from the toxic effects of high insulin.  They create less glycogen and more fat.

As a result, insulin resistant individuals gain extra weight.  The carbohydrates get converted into fat instead of energy.  

Other side effects include fatigue, brain “fog” (the inability to focus, poor memory, loss of creativity), low blood sugar (which can lead to hypoglycemia), intestinal bloating, sleepiness, depression and increased blood sugar.  There is much more than weight at stake when you are insulin resistant.

The remedy for people who are insulin resistant is a diet restricted in carbohydrates.

The basic requirement of the Atkins diet is a limitation of carbohydrates in all of its forms, including simple sugars (like cookies, candy and other sweets, and sodas) and complex carbohydrates (like bread, rice, potatoes and grains – even whole grains). Yes, even carbohydrates that are generally considered healthy, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat bread, are restricted on the program.

The diet advises restricting your carbohydrate intake to less than 20 grams a day in the initial induction phase.  This will put your body in a state of ketosis.  While in ketosis, your body will burn fat as fuel.

According to Dr. Atkins’ research, the ketosis state will also affect insulin production and it will prevent more fat from being formed.  Your body will begin using your stored fat as an efficient form of fuel, and you’ll lose weight.

Another benefit of the Atkins plan is that ketosis will end your cravings for carbohydrates.  (It’s true! Seriously!)  If you’ve been living on a carb-heavy diet, you may have found that you simply cannot get enough carbohydrates.  With carbohydrate restriction and ketosis comes a reduction in carbohydrate cravings.  People who have been on the Atkins diet for even a few short weeks report that they do not crave carbohydrates as they once did.

Although the initial phases of the Atkins diet are rather strict, the program teaches you to restore balance to your diet in the long run by gradually adding more carbs.  People who use the diet must remain in the induction phase for a minimum of two weeks (though you can stay on this phase much longer if you choose), then slowly reintroduce minimal amounts of carbohydrate into their eating plan until they find a level at which they can continue to lose or maintain their weight.  This level will be different for everyone, so it is your responsibility to follow the program to determine your level.

The basic principles of the Atkins diet have been adapted to many other low-carb diet plans.  However, Atkins popularity still remains strong as one of the most effective low-carbohydrate solutions for those who are insulin resistant.


How Do I Know if Atkins is Right for Me?


The Atkins diet is very popular, but is it right for you?  It may or may not be a good match, so just because it has been effective for your sister or your co-worker doesn’t mean it will be right for you.

No specific diet works for everyone, and you may even find that another type of low carb diet might work better for you.

There are several things to consider before you start the Atkins diet that will help you decide whether low carb is the right way for you to lose weight.

First, evaluate your past dieting history. If you’ve been trying to lose weight for a long period of time, you’ve no doubt tried a wide variety of diets.  Take note of the different diets you’ve tried over the years.  Write down the basics of each diet and what worked and what didn’t.  Evaluate why you didn’t stay on the particular diet.  Evaluate your experience with high carbohydrate diets.  These types of diets include most low-fat and calorie controlled diets which have been the primary method for weight loss in recent years.  How did you feel on these types of diets?  Were you always hungry?  Were you obsessed with food? Did you experience negative reactions or did you generally feel good and full of energy?

Have you tried low carb diets before? If so, how did you feel then? Why did you stop doing the low carb diet?

This self-evaluation will help you decide whether Atkins is right for you or not.  If you’ve had good experiences with low-fat diets and bad experiences with other low carb diets, then Atkins is probably not for you.  If other low-carb diets have worked but not without difficulty, then you may have been on the wrong type of low-carb diet and Atkins might work better.  If you’ve had bad experiences with both types of diets, then you may have better success with a Paleo Diet or the Mediterranean Diet.

Carb sensitivities are indicated by a certain set of behaviors, so your food and eating behaviors can give you a clue about whether or not Atkins is a good choice for your weight loss efforts.

You may be carb sensitive if you feel like eating right after you’ve finished a meal.  You will also feel strong urges to eat throughout the day.  You may feel dizzy, fuzzyheaded and fatigued without getting a boost from sugar or another carbohydrate. Carb sensitivity is also shown when you feel sluggish after eating.  This occurs especially after you eat a meal rich in sugars and carbohydrates.

If you experience these symptoms frequently, you may have carb sensitivities, and a low carb diet will benefit you.  Pay close attention to see if carbohydrates affect you in these ways.

If you have any pre-diabetic symptoms, or diabetes itself, a reduced carb diet like Atkins may be right for you.  Significant weight gain makes you more likely to develop high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high blood glucose.

Moreover, if any member of your family has diabetes or is significantly overweight, this can put you at risk for these conditions. Your tendency toward these conditions on a genetic level can mark a necessity for a low carbohydrate diet like Atkins.  The Atkins plan has been shown to improve weight and control blood sugar issues.  If these are problems in your family history, then you may want to consider the Atkins diet.



There are so many good reasons to try the Atkins diet.  I personally was diagnosed as pre-diabetic and immediately began the Atkins plan.  Within six months my blood work was back to normal – no more pre-diabetes or high triglycerides – and I was down two clothing sizes! (Not so many pounds, but a lot of inches…and I’m good with that).

You will especially enjoy Atkins if your idea of a great meal is a thick, juicy steak, a crisp salad filled with crunchy veggies and full-fat Ranch or Caesar dressing, and a glass of red wine.  Yes, as you progress through the Atkins plan, you can add wine to your food list if you want!

Whether you have responded well to other low carb diets in the past or you have a medical history that warrants a controlled carbohydrate diet, the Atkins diet can meet your needs.

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