Priority Health: Atkins diet

By Dr. Randy Shuck, Medical reporter
Last Updated: Friday, June 22, 2012

Desmond writes, “What are your thoughts on the Atkins diet?   I have heard people have great success but others say it leads to other medical complications?”  

It must be swimsuit time again! Probably the best time of the year for dieting, and healthier attitudes. It's important to understand how metabolism works, to understand how to lose weight, and become healthier. Unfortunately, many are not looking to be healthier, just skinnier....regardless of the health angle. So, my advice to you all is to think a little deeper, work a little harder, and put your health first, and your bikini/beach body second.

The biggest diet controversy has always been the type of food to eat that will help you lose weight. There have been hundreds of "fads" over the years, but many resurface, or refuse to go away. Any diet that severely restricts your food types and calories will make you lose weight, but will you be able to maintain that weight after stopping the restrictions? I look at diets as a "four letter word". It's not a term you are supposed to use! I would prefer "lifestyle changes" simply because there really is no end to the change. Therefore, any weight you lose will stay off since your goal is not to radically change your behavior for a short period of time (like most diets).

To answer Desmond's question, I did some research on the original Atkins diet, which was introduced in 1972, and revised in 2002. The premise is that a low carb, high protein diet will put the body in ketosis (weight loss by breaking down fat, also known as lipolysis. To do this you have to avoid carbohydrates, to allow the depletion of glucagon, and force the body to break down the fats used as storage in the body. The theory goes that you have to do this in stages to get the maximum benefit.

Stages of Atkins diet:

  • Induction
  • Ongoing weight loss
  • Pre-maintenance
  • Lifetime maintenance

 

Induction is where most of the weight is lost, 5-10 pounds a week. During this phase, there are severe restrictions on carbohydrates, but no restriction on total calories taken in by protein or fat. There is a limitation of total fat, with only 20 percent of total calories expected from fat.

Ongoing weight loss, allows the inclusion of carbohydrates while still losing weight. This inclusion of carbs is limited and in stages or "rungs" of a ladder.

Rungs:

  • Veggies in larger quantities than induction
  • Fresh cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Alcohol -recommended to skip
  • Legumes
  • Other fruits
  • Starchy veggies
  • Whole grains

 

Pre-maintenance allows even more carbs to be added by 10 grams per week. You keep adding until you stop losing weight, but do not gain weight. Until you reach your "tipping point". Then you are considered in the lifetime maintenance phase. It is still a weight management program with the thought of building on the learned knowledge during the previous stages.

 

Interestingly, there have been numerous studies trying to discredit the diet, or prove the outcomes. I have to say the studies have turned out mostly in favor of the theory. While I can't really tell you that you should not do this diet, I would recommend modifying it to get the most benefit. High protein, low fat low carb diets are really the best way to safely lose and maintain weight. Fats are not really bad for us, except the calories are concentrated in usually small volumes.

Many studies showed better outcomes if the fats were non-animal based. Carbohydrates are necessary, but using a system called the glycemic index helps you decide on lower sugar level carbs, making the inclusion of them into your daily regiment better in the long term. No matter what you eat, portion control and exercise are probably the most important items often overlooked. There was a recent study down that stated the time it took for calories to go to fat was within 3 hours of eating. You can modify this by simply using your muscles after eating to make those calories go to areas needing them. If no one needs the calories, the body will put them to storage, no matter how you got them.

The most important issue with a diet is planning...if you are thinking, you are winning the battle. Think through what, when and how you eat, and the outcomes will always be better. Stay Healthy My Friends!