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Atkins diet plan

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Summary Induction Induction allowed foods
Ongoing weight loss Pre-maintenance Maintenance
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The Atkins Diet - summary

The Atkins Diet is a low carb diet developed over twenty years ago by Dr Robert Atkins, an American heart specialist. He found that the diet he devised for his patients not only improved their heart conditions - it had the unexpected but welcome side effect of reducing their weight without calorie restriction.

Dr Atkins realised that the carbohydrate restriction was forcing the body to 'change gear' and start preferring its fat stores to the food taken in as a source of energy (lipolysis). This breakdown of fat stores produces ketones and is referred to as being 'in ketosis'*. The body excretes any ketones which are surplus to requirements, hence the ability to determine whether the body has started using its fat stores for energy by testing the urine for ketones. Weight lost under these conditions is mostly from the body's fat stores, rather than lean muscle as tends to happen with low calorie/low fat/high carb diets. (Any diet, Atkins included, will tend to produce water loss in the first few days.)

* This type of ketosis is commonly confused with, but has nothing to do with the ketosis that can occur in uncontrolled type 1 diabetes. In the latter case, there is no insulin to regulate the level of ketones in the blood and a build-up can lead to the serious condition of acidosis. In everyone else, insulin keeps the level of ketones in the blood within a fairly narrow range and if more are being produced than the body can use, they are simply excreted.

Dr Atkins believed that the diet is positively beneficial for diabetics and certain other medical conditions, and that it is compatible with most others. Nevertheless he emphasised that anyone with a medical condition or who is pregnant should consult their doctor before starting (for instance, diabetics may find it reduces their need for insulin).

Unfortunately much misinformation exists about the Atkins Diet. False claims that it is deficient in nutrients and fibre and that all carbohydrates are banned are frequently proliferated by those who have not taken the trouble to read Dr Atkins' book. This and other common myths such as 'the weight lost is only water', 'the diet is too restricted and monotonous for people to stick to in the long term', and 'it's a low calorie diet in disguise' are shown to be incorrect by the Atkins Nutritional Approach Research Library, which contains a wealth of abstracts, articles and research summaries on the subject of the weight loss and other health benefits of the Atkins Nutritional Approach

The Atkins diet has four stages (although the first, 'induction' stage is often mistakenly believed to be the entire diet):

Induction

The first stage, 'induction', lasts for two weeks to ensure that you are properly in ketosis and that your body has 'switched gear' to its alternative source of energy. This is the most carbohydrate-restricted stage (no more than 15 - 20 g carbohydrate per day). This level allows you a daily amount of around 120 g of salad vegetables and 130g of cooked low carb vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, green beans etc, plus unsweetened soya milk in weak tea/coffee if you wish.

The rest of your menu is made up of meat, fish, shellfish or poultry and fats (which are completely unrestricted as they are carbohydrate free) and eggs and hard cheeses (which do contain a small amount of carbohydrate, so you need to use these in moderation for this initial stage).

You eat until you're satisfied, and should never be hungry. It is also important to drink a large amount of water, as explained earlier. There is no rule on when to eat, except that you should avoid skipping meals, breakfast in particular.

Induction phase - allowed foods

High protein, carbohydrate free foods
  • All meats, fish, seafood such as prawns, poultry
Eat as much as you like
Fats & oils
  • All 100% fats & oils
Eat as much as you like
High protein/fat foods containing small amounts of carbohydrate
  • Eggs
  • Hard cheeses
  • Cream cheese
  • Double (heavy) cream, crème fraiche etc
  • Shellfish
  • Soya milk (unsweetened, 0.6g carb per 100ml or less)
Eat as much as your daily carbohydrate allowance permits
Salads containing small amounts of carbohydrate
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Dill, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano etc
  • Fennel
  • Lettuce, romaine, escarole, endive, radicchio etc
  • Olives
  • Radishes
  • Red/green peppers (bell peppers)
Eat as much as your daily carbohydrate allowance permits
Vegetables containing small amounts of carbohydrate
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Aubergine (eggplant)
  • Avocado
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Bean sprouts
  • Beet greens
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celeriac
  • Chard
  • Courgettes
  • Green/French beans
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Marrow
  • Okra
  • Pumpkin
  • Rhubarb
  • Spring onions (scallions)
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts
Eat as much as your daily carbohydrate allowance permits
Other
  • Herbs and spices - these vary in carbohydrate content but in general the quantities in which they are used are too small to worry too much about counting
Eat as much as your daily carbohydrate allowance permits

Ongoing weight loss

The second stage is the 'ongoing weight loss' stage, during which you gradually increase your daily carbohydrate allowance, week by week, to allow you more quantity and variety of salads, low carb vegetables, dairy products such as low carb yoghurt, nuts and possibly berry fruits at whatever rate still allows you to lose weight. (This is different for every individual but 5 g steps are suggested.)

The majority of fruits and certain vegetables (eg peas, carrots, onions, parsnips) can be surprisingly high in carbohydrate and most people will need to avoid these for at least the early weeks of the ongoing weight loss phase of the diet. High carbohydrate foods such as 'normal' bread, cakes, pasta, cereals, rice, pulses, potatoes, fruit juices, jam, honey, sugar etc are prohibited for most people until the pre-maintenance phase at the very least.

Foods with flour or sugar as a minor ingredient, eg salami, frankfurters, high meat content beefburgers/sausages etc may be used during the ongoing weight loss and pre-maintenance phases as long as they are included in your daily carbohydrate count and do not 'throw you out of ketosis'.

It is at this stage that most people find it helpful to branch out into low carb ingredients which may be unfamiliar but which allow them to increase variety and avoid becoming bored with the low carb way of eating. Examples of these ingredients are linseeds (flax seeds), sesame seeds, soya or whey protein powders (isolates), nut flours such as ground almonds (almond flour) and artificial granular sweeteners. There are now many recipe collections and cookbooks available on the Web to help low carbers learn to cook the low carb way and use substitute ingredients, such as The Low Carb / Low GI Cookbook . Depending on your individual tolerance, these ingredients will enable you to have your own low carb versions of many of the foods low carbers say they most miss, such as bread, pastry, sauces, biscuits, cakes, ice cream etc.

The 'ongoing weight loss' stage may last for many months, if you have a lot of weight to lose.

Pre-maintenance

In time, you move into the 'pre-maintenance' phase, where you keep increasing your carbohydrates gradually until you find the level of carbohydrate at which you stop losing weight. From this you will know what level of carbohydrate your body will tolerate in future if you are not to start putting weight back on. The pre-maintenance phase is designed to avoid a sudden change in your way of eating and a return to the old way of eating which caused the problem in the first place, which is a major criticism of many diets of the calorie restricted type.

At all times the majority of your carbohydrates come from nutrient-dense vegetables, nuts and, if you can tolerate them, fresh fruits. (Many find they cannot tolerate fruits other than the occasional serving of berries, but there is plenty of evidence that, contrary to popular belief, vegetables are even better than fruits at providing fibre and all the essential vitamins and minerals in your diet.)

Maintenance

The final, 'maintenance' stage is reached when you have reached your weight loss goal and found the highest level of carbohydrate at which you maintain your weight or feel best. If you do break your maintenance regime, all you need to do is return to the induction diet for a few days to start the ketosis again.

When you are in maintenance you bring back as many of the 'good' carbohydrates into your diet as your carbohydrate tolerance allows. 'Good' carbohydrates are vegetables and fruits, pulses and whole grains. Refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar, and their frequent companion hydrogenated fats and oils should not form part of your regular diet. As you bring more variety back, the percentage of protein and fat in your diet will naturally decrease from the levels seen in Induction and Ongoing Weight Loss.

More tools to help you

To make it even easier for you to achieve success with your diet, we have developed the following tools to help you:

Understanding more about low GI, low GL and low carb diets and deciding which is best for you

The Easy Guide to Low Carb & Low GI Diets is available as a bonus with the Low Carb / Low GI Cookbook.

Low carb menu plans

Check out our free Low carb menu plans.

If you are not losing weight on your diet

There are many mechanisms at work which can prevent you from losing weight, no matter which diet you try. These are explained in "Why Can't I Lose Weight - the real reasons diets fail and what to do about it".


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