Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Atkins Diet™?
- Atkins™ is the original leading low-carb weight loss plan that provides quick, effective, satisfying and balanced weight loss based on an extensive body of scientific research. The Atkins Diet is designed to “flip the body’s metabolic switch”
from burning carbs to burning fat. Graduated carb introduction limits blood sugar and insulin spikes, which cause hunger and cravings, and result in overeating and weight gain.
Atkins has the additional application of being the weight loss plan of choice for the millions of people who have a reduced ability to process carbohydrates – those who have varying levels of “carbohydrate intolerance.”
The Atkins plan consists of four phases, with gradual increased carb intake for each phase. The plan allows an individual to find his or her perfect carbohydrate balance that is ideal for their personal weight loss or maintenance. Atkins dieters are motivated to change and maintain their eating patterns with delicious and healthy food options.
- How can individuals following Atkins ensure they are getting a fully balanced, nutritional diet?
- The Atkins Diet encourages the consumption of a healthy balance of nutrient dense food, adequate protein, a full array of high-fiber vegetables, low glycemic fruits and good fats, like avocado and olive oil. It teaches every individual to discover their own perfect carbohydrate balance. The Atkins Diet includes a wide variety of foods throughout the entire plan. Even during the Induction phase the concentration is on adequate intake of protein and fat, and a wide variety of vegetables to supercharge the body’s fat burning power and jumpstart weight loss. During the first two weeks, dieters can eat more vegetables on a daily basis than is recommended by the USDA. Progressing through the diet, seeds, nuts, low glycemic fruits and eventually whole grains are added in, with the amount dependent on each individual’s personal carbohydrate tolerance.
- How long can I stay on Induction?
- The longer you consume no more than 20 grams of carbs daily, the more body fat you will burn. Depending on how much weight you need to lose, you can safely continue with Induction as long as the following three conditions are met:
However, it is important to understand the entire Atkins Nutritional Approach. The ultimate goal of the program is to advance from the Induction phase through Ongoing Weight Loss and Pre-Maintenance, culminating in Lifetime Maintenance, which should become your permanent way of eating. By following these steps, you can find your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing (CCLL), also known as your carbohydrate threshold for losing, and ultimately your personal carb balance or ACE, also known as your carbohydrate threshold for maintaining. Segueing from one phase to another will help you maintain a healthful weight, feel good and decrease your risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
- Your blood chemistry, lipid values, blood pressure or blood sugar levels continue to improve or remain stable and within normal limits. (You will have to visit your doctor to have these levels tested.)
- You feel well and are experiencing a high energy level, normal sleep patterns and stable moods.
- You are not bored. Boredom could lead to cheating and undermine your efforts.
That being said, if you have a great deal of weight to lose, you can certainly stay on Induction for six months or even more. When you switch to Ongoing Weight Loss, your rate of loss will naturally diminish. On the other hand, if you have a modest weight loss goal, say 20 pounds, and lose the first pounds rapidly, it is important to move through the more liberal phases so you can establish the good eating habits that will become part of your ongoing lifestyle and end yo-yo dieting.
- How do I know when to move from one phase of Atkins to the next?
- Like a lot of things involved with our program, it all depends on what you want. If you have only a few pounds to lose, you can move through the phases quickly or start at a later phase, get to your goal and progress to Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance.
On the other hand, say you have a lot of weight to lose. You may want to stay in a certain phase for a longer period of time. Or slow down and enjoy more variety in your diet. Let's look at some examples, shall we?
1) You have 20 pounds to lose. You have these options.
a) To jumpstart your weight loss (everyone wants to do this!), start with the Induction Phase and stay there for two weeks. You could lose 7 to 15 pounds depending on your age, gender, activity level and individual metabolic rate. You could then skip Phase Two: Ongoing Weight Loss and start Pre-Maintenance, since you'll be 10 pounds from your goal weight. Here, you'll add 10 grams of Net Carbs each week, find your personal carb balance or ACE (Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium) and lose your remaining 10 pounds in four to five weeks. Once again, results will depend on your age, gender, activity level and metabolic rate.
b) Or, you could start with OWL and set your carb intake at 25 Net Carbs per day for the first week, adding additional carbohydrates in 5 gram increments. If you were to do this, your goal could be to lose up to 10 pounds in 4 to 5 weeks, then move to Pre-Maintenance, find your personal carb balance/ACE number while losing the remaining weight, then enter Lifetime Maintenance.
2) Okay, you have 40 pounds to lose.
a) You'd likely start with Induction and stay there until you lose between 20 to 30 pounds. Then, switch to OWL for 4 to 6 weeks, targeting a weight loss of 10 pounds (if you lost 20 pounds in Induction). Then, move on to lose the rest of your weight with Pre-Maintenance, find your personal carb balance/ACE and move on to Lifetime Maintenance.
b) If you lost 30 pounds in Induction, you could move right to Pre-Maintenance by adding additional nutrient dense carbohydrates in 10 Net Carb increments and lose those last 10 pounds.
So really, the key to moving to the next phase is always up to you. Think about these three things:
Then, go from there.
- How much do you want to lose?
- How fast do you want to get there?
- Are you willing to trade speed for more variety in your diet?
- In addition to weight loss, what are some of the health benefits associated with Atkins?
- Independent third-party clinical research has found that Atkins reduces risk factors for heart-disease, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Additionally, the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Imagine it: 31 five-pound bags per person per year. By eating carbohydrates in moderation, the Atkins Diet helps individuals (even those without diabetes) maintain stable blood sugar levels, leading to fewer carb cravings and more energy, among other health benefits. Scientific research has consistently found that subjects at a high risk for Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) that were following the low-carb approach had improvements in their cholesterol profiles, decreasing their risk of developing CAD.
There are also many digestive benefits that come with following Atkins. Fiber requirements can be easily met because the Atkins Diet replaces highly refined, low-fiber carbohydrates with salad greens, fresh vegetables, low sugar fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains. The diet includes lots of vegetables to replace processed foods, which increases fiber intake. A high-fiber diet is the best way to lower risk factors associated with the colon. Additionally, numerous scientific studies have confirmed that those eating a high-fiber diet have lower cholesterol levels and fewer incidences of heart disease than those on a low-fiber diet.
- Can vegetarians follow the Atkins Diet? Vegans?
- The Atkins Diet allows individuals to consume a wide variety of foods, all framed within a context of eating fewer carbohydrates and sugars. The diet can be followed as a vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarians can start in Ongoing Weight Loss at 30 grams of Net Carbs and introduce seeds and nuts before berries. Vegetarians will can get their protein from eggs, cheese and soy products. Vegans can get sufficient protein from seeds, nuts, soy products, soy and rice cheeses, seitan, legumes and high protein grains like quinoa. Vegans can start in Ongoing Weight Loss at 50 grams of Net Carbs so they can have nuts, seeds and legumes from the start.
- It is common knowledge that Atkins limits carb intake, but does the diet allow for individuals to eat any carbs?
- The Atkins Diet is a low-carb, not a no carb plan. People frequently mistake the first phase, Induction, for the entire Atkins plan. During Induction, the plan allows dieters to eat 20 grams of net carbohydrates (total grams of carbs minus fiber and the only carbohydrates that impact one’s blood sugar level) daily, with 12 – 15g net carbohydrates coming from a full array of colorful, nutrient-dense vegetables. After the Induction phase is complete, the carbohydrate count is gradually increased until each individual reaches his or her perfect carb balance and goal weight. Additionally, dieters can start during any phase of the Atkins plan depending on their individual weight loss goals. Atkins dieters can even enjoy whole grains and pasta in later phases.
- Isn’t Atkins criticized for having too much fat?
- Atkins does focus on fat, but a balance of fats that are commonly agreed to be healthy, such as monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado. If they wish, individuals can easily avoid almost all saturated fats while on Atkins by following the plan as a vegetarian.
Research from more than 80 peer-reviewed independent studies has consistently demonstrated the diet’s safety and efficacy.
- Is it dangerous to lose weight very quickly?
- When you start the Induction phase of Atkins, you may experience rapid weight loss for the first time in your life. Don't worry. What makes the initial drop dramatic is that you lose a good bit of water weight in the first 3 to 4 days. That's because eating fewer grams of carbohydrate results in fewer spikes in blood sugar, resulting in less insulin output. Insulin makes the body retain sodium, which, as you probably know, makes your body retain water. When you're not producing as much insulin, this cycle slows and the effect is like taking a diuretic. After four days or so, however, you will also begin to lose body fat. Young men and people who have a lot of weight to lose are more likely to lose weight more rapidly at the start of the Atkins program.
Losing weight too fast is an issue only if:
1) You're not eating enough, which could make you lose lean muscle mass. To lose only body fat, be sure to eat regular meals and take in adequate calories. If you aren't hungry at meal times, have a small snack with your supplements. Also, drink at least 64 ounces of water every day.
2) You feel sick, weak, dizzy or fatigued. If you lose too fast, especially at the beginning of the program, you may be experiencing an extreme diuretic effect. This could deplete you of water and also some electrolytes, which contain sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Signs of electrolyte depletion are muscle cramps and heaviness in your legs when climbing steps. You may need to add more vegetables to your meals to slow down weight loss and add a mineral supplement to replace lost minerals.
But if you feel well and aren't starving yourself, you're probably not losing too quickly. If you have just a few pounds to lose, you might slow the pace so that you can continue to learn good eating habits before progressing through the phases to Lifetime Maintenance. Simply move to Ongoing Weight Loss and increase your daily intake of carbohydrates by 5 grams. If you are within five to 10 pounds of your target weight, move into the Pre-Maintenance phase and increase your intake gradually, in 10-gram increments, until weight loss slows to about a pound or two a month. However, if you still have a lot to lose and you feel full of energy, simply feel good that you are dropping pounds easily.
If I stay at 20 grams of Net Carbs a day, why can't I have some in the form of a slice of whole grain bread or even a peanut butter cup, which has 20 grams of carbs?
There are two reasons this approach won't work. For one, all carbohydrates are not created equal. The Atkins Nutritional Approach is designed to prevent blood sugar levels from spiking and causing the overproduction of insulin—a hormone that helps convert carbohydrates to body fat. The first carbohydrates you need to add back to your diet when you move beyond Induction are more vegetables, then seeds and nuts, then berries and then—if you are still losing—legumes and grains. Even bread made from 100 percent whole-wheat flour contains enough refined carbs to produce this insulin-raising, fat-storing effect in many people. Later, if your weight loss is progressing well and you have increased your daily carb intake, you may eat an occasional slice of whole grain bread. As for the 20-gram peanut butter cup, it contains a lot of sugar—not to mention artery-clogging hydrogenated fat and sugar is the worst kind of carbohydrate.
Secondly, the Atkins approach is not about rapid weight loss—it's about learning to eat a variety of nutrient-dense carbohydrates for the rest of your life. These are foods that are packed with the most antioxidant vitamins and healthful phytochemicals relative to the amount of carbohydrates—so you're getting the most bang for your carbohydrate buck. Once you've reached your goal weight and established your personal carb balance or Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium (ACE), most people can enjoy whole-grain bread, fruit and even the occasional plate of french fries. Unfortunately, that conventional peanut butter cup just doesn't make the grade!
- What is “Carbohydrate Intolerance” and Metabolic Syndrome?
- Atkins offers a scientifically proven plan that delivers increased weight loss and health marker improvements among those who have carb intolerance. The Atkins Diet reduces carbs to begin weight loss, and then directs the dieter to increase their healthy carb intake until they find their perfect carb balance – the level where their body can effectively metabolize carbs and maintain their weight long term. No other weight loss plan does this.
Only a doctor can make a medical diagnosis of carb intolerance, but there is a simple way to spot the first indicator: waist measurement. Fat deposited at the waist is a particularly unhealthy type of fat (visceral fat), and increased amounts of visceral fat can be indicative of carb intolerance. Women with waist sizes greater than 35 inches and men with waist size greater than 40 inches should consider speaking with their doctors about carb intolerance. It is important to note that this is a simple guideline and health risks can vary with height and body type.
- Are nuts and seeds okay on Induction even though they have carbohydrates?
- Atkins is not about eating no carbs. It is about controlling carb intake and eating those that are most nutrient-dense. Different nuts and seeds have different percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrate. We don't recommend eating them during the first two weeks of Induction. But after that if you are continuing to lose steadily, you can try introducing some. Note, however, that nuts and seeds may contain mold, which could trigger an allergic response.
However, it is worth mentioning that nuts are notoriously hard to eat in moderation. One leads to another until you may have eaten several ounces. Try buying the one- or two-ounce packets so you won't be tempted to over indulge.
- I'm used to counting calories. How many am I allowed on Induction?
- The Atkins Nutritional Approach counts grams of carbohydrates instead of calories. In Induction, you are allowed 20 grams of Net Carbs. When you progress to Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), you gradually add carbohydrates in 5-gram increments as you move toward Pre-Maintenance, and finally, in 10-gram increments as you approach the Lifetime Maintenance phase. On the Atkins Nutritional Approach we don’t make you count calories. However for weight loss purposes we suggest you shoot for a healthy range. For women that range is approximately 1500 to 1800 calories. For men that range is approximately 1800 to 2000 calories per day. Be sure to limit empty calories and follow the acceptable foods list for whichever phase you are currently in.
Research has shown that on a controlled carbohydrate program, more calories are burned than on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, so there is a certain metabolic advantage to the controlled carb approach. But understand that this does not give you a license to gorge.
The real goal of the Atkins program is to learn eating habits that will enable you to permanently maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. This includes changing old habits such as overeating that contributed to your original weight problem.
I lost weight on Induction and for the first few months on Ongoing Weight Loss, but now the scale just won't budge. How do I get off this plateau?
First, before you assume there is a problem, ask yourself some questions: Are you feeling better? Are your clothes fitting better? (You may be losing inches, not pounds, because muscle weighs more than fat.) Are you still losing, but at a slower rate? You may just need to continue a bit longer, making slight modifications. These include:
- Decreasing the number of grams of carbohydrate you are consuming by 5 or 10 grams.
- Increasing the amount of fat and decrease protein.
- Finding and eliminating "hidden" carbs in the form of lemon juice or processed foods that may contain sugar.
- Increasing your activity level.
- Drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.
- Cutting back on artificial sweeteners, cheese or excess protein.
- See Atkins Tips for Success
- How is the Atkins Diet beneficial to those who have been diagnosed with diabetes?
- Yes, a diabetic can overcome high blood sugar using Atkins since the diet helps regulate blood sugar. Protein, fat, and low-carb vegetables have the least effect on blood sugar, which means they will not cause very high blood sugar. However, if an individual is on blood sugar lowering medications, they need to work closely with their doctor to adjust medication dosage. The need for medication diminishes dramatically and quickly while on Atkins.
- What is carb creep and how can I avoid it?
- When you start adding back carbohydrates as you move from Induction into the progressively less restrictive phases of Atkins, some people begin to lose track of how many grams of Net Carbs they're eating. If that happens, you are likely to regain the pounds you've lost. That is why it is very important to increase your daily carb intake by only five grams each week and to introduce only one new food at a time. That way, you'll also immediately notice if a new food is causing you to experience cravings that lead to over-eating. Another way to stay in control is to keep a food diary so you can spot troublesome foods before they set up a pattern of cravings and gorging. For example, if you find after eating nuts, you are hungry again in a few hours, cut out the nuts and see if the hunger disappears.
- Once I've reached my goal weight, what kinds of foods are allowed and not allowed on Lifetime Maintenance?
- Please note that on the Atkins diet you can eat some of the best foods on earth. See the Acceptable Foods Lists to find out more. Your personal maintenance regimen will be regulated by your carbohydrate threshold, which in turn is a result of your metabolism and your activity level. Younger people and men tend to have higher metabolisms than older people and women. If you have a high carbohydrate threshold and do some kind of physical activity/exercise on a regular basis, you may be able to regularly eat starchy vegetables, beans and other legumes, whole grains and fruit in moderation. On the other hand, if you have a low-carb threshold and are not very active, you may have to limit some of these foods. In either case, your nutrition program will continue to stress whole foods and avoid sugar, white flour, hydrogenated fats and many processed foods.
- What is the highest level of carbohydrate consumption per day recommended for Lifetime Maintenance?
- The important concept to understand in order to maintain your weight is finding your personal carb balance or Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium (ACE). You should find the highest level that won't allow you to regain weight or cause hunger and cravings. Each person has an individual ACE and a bit of trial and error may be required for you to find yours.
- Can I drink alcohol now that I am in OWL?
- The body burns alcohol for fuel when alcohol is available. So when it is burning alcohol, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop weight loss; it simply postpones it. Since the alcohol does not get stored as glycogen, you immediately get back into lipolysis after the alcohol is used up. But keep in mind that alcohol consumption may increase yeast-related symptoms in some people and interfere with weight loss. If it does not slow your weight loss, an occasional glass of wine is acceptable once you are out of Induction so long as you count the carbohydrates in your daily tally. (A 3 1/2-ounce glass of wine contains about 4.3 grams of carbohydrate.) Spirits such as Scotch, rye, vodka and gin are acceptable, but do not mix with juice, tonic water or non-diet soda, all of which contain sugar. Seltzer, diet tonic and diet soda mixers are permitted. If you have added alcohol to your regimen and suddenly stop losing weight, discontinue your alcohol intake.
- I have been able to do Atkins successfully but now that I am in Pre-Maintenance, my appetite increased. Why and what can I do to manage it?
- Appetite can return when you are no longer in lipolysis (fat burning). Or you may have added a food that may be causing your blood sugar to become unstable, contributing to hunger or the re-emergence of cravings. Examine what you’ve recently added and determine if it contains sugars or refined grain. Be sure that you are maintaining a regular intake of protein and fat and, if eating more of acceptable foods assuages your hunger, eat a bit more. If all else fails, stop the most recent additions until you get your appetite under control.
- What types of products and support does Atkins offer?
- Atkins provides dieters with a wide variety of products, tools and support. The New Atkins for a New You book provides readers with guidelines on how to follow the plan phase-by-phase. A new cookbook hits stands on December 27, 2011 and is entitled The New Atkins for a New You Cookbook: 200 Simple and Delicious Low-Carb Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less.
Atkins also offers a variety of nutrition bars and shakes which can serve as a convenient meal, snack, or treat. These products are indulgently sweet but low in carbs – so Atkins dieters can indulge their sweet tooth while managing hunger all day. They can be purchased at major retail stores or at atkins.com. Additionally, Atkins offers a free online community and resource center at Atkins.com with more than 1,500 recipes and menu plans, as well as shopping lists for each phase of the plan. Community Members get all the resources and support to complete the diet online for FREE at atkins.com – other diets can cost upwards of $30 per month. Upon registration, a quick-start kit is available for FREE on atkins.com to give dieters all the information they need to get started.
Disclaimer: Nothing contained on this Site is intended to provide health care advice. Should you have any health care-related questions, please call or see your physician or other health care provider. Consult your physician or health care provider before beginning the Atkins Diet as you would any other weight loss or weight maintenance program. The weight loss phases of the Atkins Diet should not be used by persons on dialysis or by pregnant or nursing women.