Although most of us have only recently heard about the Atkins diet, truth is it’s been around since the 1970s. This diet was developed by Dr. Atkins, in response to patients complaining that they had difficulty sticking to a low fat diet, which was the standard recommended diet at the time.
However, the same way this diet has gained many followers, it has also started endless discussions about how healthy it is and what exactly is happening to cause the weight loss. So, how exactly can dieters following the Atkins diet lose weight, and more importantly, maintain their weight afterwards?
Dr. Atkins believed that excessive consumption of carbohydrates can result in weight gain, independently, to a certain extent, of how many calories you consume regularly. The science behind this diet is simple, defended its creator. First, eating Atkins diet carbs leads to a rise in blood sugar, which is then stored as glycogen in the liver in a mechanism regulated by insulin. This is a form of energy that cannot be stored for a long period and can be used easily. However, once no more glycogen can be stored, the body switches its metabolism to start producing fat, a much more stable and long-lasting form of energy. This results in weight gain. Recently, the simplicity of this proposed mechanism has been questioned, with several contradictory studies published.
Dr. Atkins also identified a group of patients, most with a life-long battle with their weight, for whom losing weight seemed almost impossible even on a low-fat diet. He suggested that they were “insulin resistant”, which meant their metabolism was much more turned to producing fat rather than glycogen because they were insensitive to insulin. Unfortunately, he suggested, the body becomes more resistant to the effects of insulin, and over time, higher amounts are needed to produce less glycogen. Furthermore, side effects of this state of insulin resistance were identified, including constant fatigue, poor concentration and memory, low blood sugar and feeling bloated.
Knowing this, the answer seemed very easy – a low-carbohydrate diet and that is the basis for the Atkins diet. Forbidden foods on this diet include all forms of carbohydrates, from simple sugars (such as the sugar in your coffee) to more complex carbohydrates (such as rice and pasta). Even wholemeal products, usually considered healthier, are not included in this diet, at least initially.
The long-term objective of this diet is to change your body’s metabolism and reduce the amount of fat produced in response to carbohydrates. To achieve this, followers of this diet have to go through a very strict initial stage to promote degradation of fat and weight loss. Dr. Atkins defended that by reducing intake of carbohydrates to just 20 grams daily, a state of ketosis means that your body needs to use its fat stores to obtain energy. This also results in less fat being produced, as the metabolism switches to an increase production of glycogen. Unfortunately, several side-effects caused by this unnatural state can occur, such as mood swings, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
This may seem harsh, but it’s only the initial phase. Following this first period of little or no Atkins diet carbs, this method allows for gentle re-introduction of some carbohydrates back in the diet to achieve a balanced diet and weight maintenance. However, even at in the final stages of the plan, the level of carbohydrates is never what nutritionists would recommend as a balanced diet, and this is another question for heated debate between those that follow and those that question this diet.
This diet has proved so popular and effective that many other varieties have developed based on the same principle. Its popularity is still strong, with many followers reporting excellent results. Although there seems to be a consensus about its benefits for short-term weight loss, not all doctors agree about its long-term benefits. Both sides agree that further long-term studies are required to better assess its consequences.
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