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The Atkins Diet...Is it all its cracked up to be?
By Carrie Paddock

Hold everything but the meat...What is the Atkins Diet?
Contradiction:How does a person get thin living on fatty foods?
Other Benefits
Dr. Atkins' Crew on how it works..
What some ex-Atkins dieters have to say
Not in favor?  Say Pie!
Studies show...
In conclusion



 Since it’s introduction in the middle 1970’s, the Atkins Protein Diet has grown to be one of the most popular methods of weight loss.  It requires a large amount of self-discipline and dedication but if done properly it seems that people can lose a tremendous amount of weight in short period of time.   There are also claims that Atkins dieters will experience other health benefits as well.  The Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine is confident that their diet is the most successful means of weight loss around as they teach patients to determine their personal sensitivity to carbohydrates and manage their weight and health for life.  They have successfully treated over 60,000 patients who followed their diet, which each subject experiencing some of the beneficial health effects as well. other researchers argue that this diet is incredibly bad for the human body and is not a means of losing weight and especially keeping it off. This page will discuss the Atkins diet, how it works, and studies for and against it will be discussed.

Hold everything but the meat...What is the Atkins Diet?

The idea of the Atkins Diet is to cut carbohydrates out of one’s diet in order to lose a significant amount of weight.  An Atkins dieter is not to consume starchy foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes, cereal, any foods containing sugar, high sugar fruits and vegetables, and even fruit juices; Thus eliminating many foods one would normally need as a part of the four food groups to stay healthy.  A dieter is allowed no more than 30 carbohydrates a day; the equivalent of a few pieces of lettuce or less than one apple, which is drastically less than the suggested servings for fruits and vegetables.  An Atkins dieter is restricted to eat only meat and dairy products, including chicken, fish, and milk, and even bacon, eggs, cheese, and butter. In other words, one can live on the most fattening foods, eating all the steak and rib dinners that they want, and still lose weight.

Contradiction:  How does a person get thin living on fatty foods?

The Atkins Diet works in two main ways:
    1) Since carbohydrates are the first forms of energy burned in the body, the body goes into ketosis and learns to burn the fat as energy because it has no more carbohydrates to use. Ketosis is when there are no glycogen reserves in the liver so the body breaks down muscle mass in order to make energy that are necessary for brain function.
    2) Because carbohydrates are digested quicker than protein and fat, one can become hungry soon after eating a huge plate of pasta or huge bowl of fruit.  By eating only protein, one will feel fuller, longer, and will have less of an urge to snack in between meals.

Other benefits

In addition to losing a good amount of weight, an Atkins dieter may experience improvements in health and overall well being.  This diet supposedly improves cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and helps alleviate some problems such as fatigue, irritability, depression, chronic headaches, and some forms of joint and muscle pain.  Type 2 diabetics may also see an improvement in their blood lipid profiles therefore having to rely less on their medications to maintain proper health.

Dr. Atkins' “crew" on how it works…

    The people at the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in New York have done years of research in order to provide the world with safer and healthier methods of losing weight.  Dr. Atkins and his colleagues claim that obesity has grown to 33% over the past couple decades proportionately with carbohydrate intake, death due to heart disease has risen 10%, and cases of diabetes are growing in near epidemic proportions.  The Atkins Center claims that “All of these conditions are linked not by the amount of fat in ones diet, but by blood sugar disturbances and insulin disorders caused by excessive refined carbohydrate consumption.”
     Researchers at the Atkins Center claim that humans rarely use body fat as energy unless there is restricted carbohydrate consumption. They say that this restriction will cause anyone to burn body fat as energy rather than carbohydrates. The researchers claim that the fewer carbohydrates present, the more sustained the blood sugar level remains throughout the day because sugar is always metabolized first.  Cravings are caused by blood sugar fluctuations that are aggravated by carbohydrate consumption.  By cutting the carbohydrates, a person’s blood sugar can retain a more even level throughout the day, therefore he or she will have no cravings and refrain from in-between meal snacks. Also, diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates increase the body’s production of insulin.  When insulin levels are high, food is more quickly turned into body fat in the form of triglycerides, and high triglyceride levels are one of the greatest risk factors for heart disease. By using the fat cells for energy one is able to cleanse the burned stored fat out of their cells, thus causing the dramatic drop in weight. One of the questions regarding any diet is whether or not the weight can be kept of when the diet is complete.  The Atkins Center does say that when one is satisfied with the drop in weight and is ready to bring carbohydrates back into their daily diet at the previous level.

What some ex-Atkins dieters have to say…

       “I guess I started it January of 98’ which would have been about 15 months ago.  I’ve lost 55 pounds.”
     “I agree.  Atkins works. Got more energy than ever; Losing weight; 15 so far, 6 weeks; Plan on being on till 2000; Goal 50.”
     “On my regular high carb diet, my cholesterol was 187 and my fasting insulin was 69.9.  I was 285 pounds.  That was March 1998, and five months after starting with Atkins, I weighed 235, my fasting insulin level was 18, and my cholesterol was at 70!  I was stronger than ever and never felt hungry!”
“I lost 20 pounds on the Atkins Diet and 14 months later I have kept 17 off!  It was such an easy way to lose weight and I’ve never had such an easy time keeping it off.  I feel healthy, energetic, and thin!”

Not in Favor… Say Pie!

     Even though the Atkins Center shows good proof that their diet is a successful means of weight loss, many researchers oppose it and argue that is a very unhealthy way of losing weight.  The following are brief claims made about the main arguments on the effectiveness of the diet.
    - Some researchers claim that when a person is not taking in an adequate amount of carbohydrates that they will have a lack of energy, therefore they will be too lethargic to exercise and ultimately not lose any weight.
    -Michelle Albers, PhD, RD, who is a Medical Team Nutrition Expert says that the foods that are eliminated by this diet, especially fruits and vegetables, are the ones that are proven to help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.
    -Robert J. Bolster, MD argues that the key to losing fat is to get a little bit of everything.  “Eat and work out enough to raise your metabolism and eat COMPLEX carbohydrates rather than white breads and sugars. Eat Raisin Bran, vegetables, and fruits over a bagel or pretzels; white breads and sweets are the worst you can choose.

Studies show...

    Heilbronn, Noakes, and Clifton (1999) studied the effects of energy restriction, weight loss, and diet composition on plasma lipids and glucose in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Thirty-five obese patients with type 2 diabetes were placed into one of three low-calorie diets: high carbohydrate, high monounsaturated fat, and high-saturated fat.  All subjects were then followed for a 12-week period with weekly tests on weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.  They found that diet composition did not affect the amount of weight loss, but they did prove that the higher protein diet caused reductions in plasma glucose levels, insulin levels, and blood pressure.  When insulin levels are high, the body turns sugars and starches more quickly into trigycerides and therefore causes an increase in appetite.  So as stated by the Atkins Center, this studied proved that a higher protein diet will help in the suppression of in between meal cravings.  In addition, this study helped prove that blood pressure can be lowered with a higher protein diet which was also one of the supposed benefits of the Atkins Diet.

    Whitehead, McNeill, and Smith (1996) studied the effect of protein in energy expenditure when the body is at rest. They used four different groups of subjects each with a different diet varying with fat, carbohydrates, and protein.   The participants were of varying weight and age between 18-67.  The weight of the subjects in the fasting state was measured every seven days and skinfold thickness was used at different intervals to determine percentage of body fat.  Sleeping metabolic rate (SMR) was also measured for six hours every night. The researchers found that all groups studied had a decrease in overall energy expenditure and sleeping metabolic rate no matter what their diet was, but the decrease was much less in the group with a high-protein diet.  This shows that the higher consumption of protein over carbohydrates and fats does increase metabolism even when the body is at rest.  Therefore, one can produce energy and lose weight without the suggested consumption of carbohydrates, which is the main idea of the diet.

     Skov, Toubro, Ronn, Holm, and Astrup (1999) performed a study on weight loss in obese subjects by replacement of carbohydrates by proteins.  They found that consumption of higher levels of protein do help obese people lose more weight than when combined with carbohydrates.  The researchers mainly observed changes in body weight, body composition, and blood lipid levels.  There were two groups of subjects, one with a low protein diet (15% of total intake) and one with a high protein diet (85% of total intake).  All food was provided by self-selection and compliance was monitored by urinary nitrogen excretion, which measures the amount of protein in ones diet.  All subjects were told to continue their regular daily habits and physical activity, even the consumption of alcohol in moderation and smoking.  The researchers found that weight loss in the high protein group was almost twice as much than the high carbohydrate group, which was mainly due to a reduction in body fat mass.  Slight improvements in blood lipid levels were also observed in the high protein diet just as the Atkins Center had claimed for type 2 diabetics.

     In 1996 a study regarding weight loss with a low or high carbohydrate diet was done at the Department of Internal Medicine at the University Hospital in Geneva.  Researchers wanted to find a way for obese people to lose weight and cut the cardiovascular disease risk and keep the weight off.  Golay, Eigenheer, Morel, and Lehmann evaluated the effects of different composed diets on weight loss and fat loss, and insulin levels were compared as well.
     Each of the two groups studied took in the same amount of calories but group one took in 25% more carbohydrates than group two.  Weight and body fat percentage were studied in the 68 patients before, during, and after the 12-week diet program by using skinfold thickness and bioelectrical impedance.  Body weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, and waist-hip ratio were all similar in all subjects in both prior to the study.  In the end, neither diet proved to be a better means of weight loss.  The fat loss was inferior to the total loss, which means that the loss of lean body mass was mainly due to protein and water loss.  In addition, insulin levels decreased largely and similarly in both diets.
    This study contrasts the claims made by the Atkins Center on what makes their diet work.  They claim that insulin levels are maintained with a high protein diet therefore decreasing one’s appetite; This study proves that true, but it also show that a low-protein diet does the same and it would therefore be unnecessary to cut carbohydrates out of ones diet.

    Marckmann, Toubro, and Astrup conducted a study compared the influence of two different weight loss regimens, one high carbohydrate and one low carbohydrate.  Thirty-six female subjects with an average age of forty-four were placed into each of the two groups and given a specific diet plan.  Subjects kept a daily nutrition diary to keep track of carbohydrate and fat consumption and adherence was also monitored by blood and urine tests.  At the end of the study, the researchers found that there was weight lost among subjects in both groups and therefore no significant difference in weight loss methods.  The study did show that triglyceride levels were 30% lower in the low carbohydrate dieters than in the high carbohydrate dieters.

In Conclusion

     The Atkins Diet is obviously a good way to lose weight in a short amount of time, but it doesn’t seem to be the best way.  Even though it has shown to be helpful to certain aspects of human health, there is question as to what it will provide in the long run.  In addition, when a person brings carbohydrates back into their diet after reaching their desired weight, they are required to over-exercise in order to keep the weight off until the body exits ketosis; and a person cannot go their whole life never consuming carbohydrates again.  If an obese person is interested in dropping a large amount of weight in a short amount of time, the Atkins diet is the way to go, as long as they are ready to face the repercussions when they complete the diet.  Other than that, the best and most healthy way to lose weight is to have a little bit of everything: protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and even fat.  A balanced diet, accompanied by daily physical activity or exercise, is the best way to insure good healthy, steady weight, and body composition.


    A Golay, C Eigenheer, Y Morel, P Kujawski, T Lehmann, N de Tonnac.  “Weight loss with low or high carbohydrate diet?” International Journal of Obesity (1996) 20, 1067-1072.

Skov, Toubro, Ronn, Holm, Astrup.  “Randomized trial on protein vs. carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity.”  International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders 23(5):528-536,  May, 1999.

Whitehead, McNeill, Smith.  “The effect of protein intake on 24-h energy expenditure during energy restriction.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders 20(8): 727-732, Aug, 1996.

Marckmann, Toubro, Astrup.  “Sustained improvement in blood lipids, coagulation, and fibrinolysis after major weight loss in obese subject.”  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 52: 329-333, 1998.

Heilbronn, Noakes, Clifton.  “Effect of energy restriction, weight loss, and diet composition on plasma lipids and glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes.”  Diabetes Care, 22:889-895, 1999.


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