The Atkins Diet Plan: Is It Safe, Effective & Science-Backed?

by | Jun 25, 2019 | Last updated Nov 29, 2022

The Atkins diet is a popular fad diet founded by cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins. The Atkins diet is a low carb diet that has multiple plans based on the amount of weight followers are hoping to lose. Founded in the late 1960’s, the Atkins diet was instrumental in launching the low/no carb approach to weight loss.

Based on the premise that most conventional eating styles lead to unregulated sugar levels, increased hunger, and fat storage, the Atkins diet was designed to alleviate these problems by steadying sugar levels and decreasing hunger, through carbohydrate restriction. As fewer carbohydrates are eaten, the diet proposes that the body turns to fat as a fuel source, meaning that the body is burning not only dietary fat but also body fat. This change in fuel source also results in a reduced appetite, making it easier for followers to lose weight.

Research has been published suggesting that lower carb diets such as Atkins, can lead to better weight loss and health outcomes compared to other eating styles. Given this research, it is important to recognize that efficacy does not equate to sustainability. A diet may offer great outcomes but if you are unable to follow it, is it actually effective?  Interested to see how the Atkins diet stacks up when it comes to sustainability? Let’s take a look!

Are veggies a carb?

Compared to other lower carb diets like Paleo, the Atkins diet appears extreme for new followers. In the four phase approach to Atkins eating, followers start Phase 1 by limiting carbohydrates to between 20-25g of carbs per day. For reference, a medium banana has about 25g of carbs. The aim of this drastic reduction is to “shock the body” into fat burning mode. To accomplish this, followers are encouraged to focus on eating only protein, nuts, dairy, and foundational vegetables (mainly spinach, kale, lettuce, tomatoes).

Phase 1 of this diet is typically the most difficult and dangerous for Atkins followers. Going from a normal eating style of eating anywhere from 200-300g of carbohydrates per day, to only 20g is a shock to the system. Followers can often face headaches, weakness, dizziness, and constipation as veggies are limited and protein intake is increased. In addition, nutrient deficiencies can occur as fruits and veggies are instrumental in getting the proper amount of micronutrients. Followers are encouraged to get a certain amount of necessary salt and to start a vitamin regimen to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Balance and maintenance 

After the initial carbohydrate restriction phase, followers are slowly given the ability to increase carbohydrates and have more freedom in food choices. Phases 2, 3, and 4 slowly increase carbohydrate intake by about 25g per phase, and allow followers more options when it comes to carbohydrates. Phase duration and timing are adjusted based on weight loss and sustained progress.

According to the Atkins website, a full line of meals, shakes, and bars are offered “to help ensure you stay low carb while enjoying your food”. We don’t know about you, but sustainability is immediately called into question when followers of a diet have to purchase branded foods to enjoy eating while following a diet. Also, how can you eat a Chocolate Chip Cookie bar for only 1g of sugar and 3g of net carbs? Simple. By filling it with sugar alcohol and fiber, both of which can cause gastrointestinal issues. The Atkins website even warns followers to limit consumption of these products to avoid a “laxative effect” #nothanks.

Spoiler alert: Carbs aren’t the enemy 

Although restricting carbs, lowering appetite, and reducing calories may lead to quick and substantial weight loss, this approach lacks balance and sustainability. We can’t overlook the fact that the Atkins diet is restrictive in nature and cuts out entire food groups. This has been proven time and time again to be dangerous not only for physical health and appetite but also for mental health and the ability to have a healthy, balanced relationship with food.

Encouraging followers to cut out healthy vegetables and whole grains further blurs the already clear-as-mud advice that so many diets offer. 

At Noom, we believe there are no “good foods” or “bad foods”. There may be foods that fit your goals better, but eating some rice or sweet potato should not be viewed as detrimental to health or weight loss efforts. How effective is a diet if you can’t make it out of the first two weeks?

Are you tired of yo-yo dieting? Tired of eating high carb, low carb, no carb? Want to find your best approach? Look no further than Noom! Focused on giving you the tools and support to find your best approach, your personal goal specialist will assist you in finding foods that work for your life and preferences even if that involves carbs! Try your risk free trial today!