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Atkins diet / Low carbs diet For Weight loss / Overweight

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Atkins diet / Low carbs diet For Weight loss / Overweight

Overweight overview: 

Being overweight or obese is a medical condition characterized by having an excess amount of body fat that is not considered normal or healthy for an individual’s height. It can increase the risk of developing many health problems such as heart diseases, diabetes, and hypertension.

The BMI (Body Mass Index) is a great tool used to assess the body composition and measure weight in comparison to height. Accordingly, you can know if you are overweight or not.

A BMI of 25 is the threshold for obesity. When an individual has a BMI above 25, that person is considered overweight or obese. 

The human body stores an average of 1,400 to 2,000 calories of carbohydrates and an average of 50,000 to 80,000 calories of fat. This means that people have huge fat stores in their bodies, and if they don’t burn fat properly, they can end up gaining a lot of weight. 

Since people began to follow the new modern dietary pattern, known as the Western pattern diet (WPD) or standard American diet (SAD), obesity is now more prevalent across communities and has become a serious health issue.

The WPD or SAD incorporates a high amount of fast food, processed meat, high sugar products, refined grains, and other food items into one’s diet. These foods are unhealthy because they contain a high number of calories and have less nutritional value compared to other foods.

How the metabolism works:

Our body uses nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) for growth, development, and energy so it can function properly. While carbohydrates and fats remain the main sources of energy, proteins are mainly used to support the body’s growth, repair tissues, maintain muscles, and fight diseases.

Compared to fat molecules, carbs burn much faster and can be easily converted into energy. That’s why carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. They are broken down into glucose by the liver, and they enter the blood stream to deliver proper energy and nutrition to various tissues and organs.

That’s why it’s important to maintain proper levels of glucose in the body, so that it can function properly.

What are the causes of weight gain that can be managed by the Atkins diet?

Carbohydrates are usually the body’s primary source of energy. They get broken down into glucose and enter the blood stream to be delivered to various tissues and organs.

It is important to maintain proper levels of glucose to allow the body to function properly. However, excessive carbohydrate consumption can lead to weight gain for various reasons:

-    You will feel hungry: carbohydrates are digested much more quickly than proteins or fats meaning they pass quickly through the digestive system. Consequently, this leaves the individual hungry because there is no feeling of satiety. This results in additional calories consumed, and hence more weight gain.

-    Your body will not burn fat: when carbohydrates are consumed, the body automatically uses them as a primary energy source because they are the easiest to access and metabolize. As a result, fat stores remain untouched.

-    Fat storage will increase: the carbohydrate consumption is associated with an increase in insulin hormone production that affects the fat storage. Accordingly, when insulin levels become high as a result of increased carbohydrates consumption, the storage of fat is increased. This promotes weight gain further.

Why the Atkins diet helps for weight loss?

The Atkins diet is categorized as a low carb eating plan that focuses on proteins and fat consumption. There are several reasons supporting the fact that this type of diet can promote weight loss, including:

1- Satiety: an increased consumption of fat and protein will increase satiety because these nutrients pass slowly through the digestive system.

Therefore, they can maintain a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time. As a result, less amounts of food are taken daily and less calories consumed. Hence, weight loss is promoted.

2- Fat burning: when carbohydrates are consumed in the diet, the body uses them as the first source of energy. This is mainly because carbs can be easily processed and metabolized into glucose, unlike fat that requires much more effort. 

Hence, our bodies are not efficient in burning fat in general, especially that they are not used to do so because carbohydrates are always available in our diet. 

Based on the modern diet guidelines, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrates is 45% to 65%. This means that our body is loaded with carbs, and accordingly it can get most of the energy required easily from burning carbohydrates. Hence, there’s no urgent need for the body to move into a fat burning stage to produce energy.

The Atkins diet is a low carbs diet, hence by restricting carbohydrates it decreases the main energy source of the body which is glucose. Accordingly, the body becomes forced to find another source of energy in order to survive, and thus turns to burning fat so it can produce this alternative energy. 

Accordingly, this promotes weight loss because it depletes the carbohydrate stores in the body, hence the body become forced to start burning fat.

3- Insulin levels: insulin is a hormone that plays a role in fat storage. Accordingly, when insulin level is high, fat storage increases and vice versa. 

The Atkins diet promotes weight loss, because a low carbohydrate diet is associated with decreased insulin levels, therefore decreased fat storage.
Accordingly, the diet can help people looking for a slim or fit body to burn the stubborn fat that remains stacked in the fat cells, which is usually very hard to get rid of. 

How the Atkins diet works for weight loss?

The Atkins diet works by restricting carbohydrates in the diet. Hence, once carbs become limited, the body loses its primary source of energy. This would impose on the body to start looking for an alternative source of energy in order to survive. 

Given that fat is the only alternative source, the body becomes forced to start using it and hence shifts into a fat burning mode. 

The Atkins diet can achieve this metabolic change by restricting the carbohydrates daily intake at only 20 up to 40 g of carbs per day, depending on the type of diet followed.

You can check our section on the various Atkins diet types to understand more about this subject.  

Accordingly, this carbohydrate restriction forces the body to use fat stores as an alternative source of energy because carb stores are depleted, and hence this promotes weight loss. 

Furthermore, it is known that the body is normally more efficient in burning carbohydrates for energy compared to fat as it is easier to access and metabolize. That’s why our bodies are not used to burning fat, and hence they are not efficient in doing so. 

However, by following the Atkins diet, with time the body becomes more efficient in burning fat, and hence better results can be seen eventually.

Another contributing factor to weight in the Atkins diet loss is low insulin levels. By lowering carbohydrate intake, insulin levels will decrease.

Insulin is a hormone that plays a role in fat storage, so the more carbohydrates are ingested, insulin levels tend to increase as well as fat storage. By lowering carb intake, insulin levels will decrease and fat storage will be reduced while promoting the fat burning process. 

By following the Atkins diet, it’s also important to note that carbohydrates are re-introduced gradually throughout the later phases of the Atkins diet. Accordingly, the individual weight is always monitored to assure it is maintained at the desired target level.

Atkins diet for weight loss: what are the food types?

The Atkins diet restricts carbohydrate and stresses on protein and fat intake. Supporters of this diet recommend it as an everlasting regimen that should be followed as a lifestyle across the individual’s lifespan for healthier outcomes.


What you should eat for weight loss?

The Atkins diet promotes foods that are considered low in carbohydrates or carbohydrate-free for consumption. These foods include:

- Fish and seafood

- Pork, turkey, and chicken

- Eggs

- Non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, kale, asparagus…

- Unrefined oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, walnut oil…  

- Full fat dairy including butter, heavy cream, sour cream, and hard cheeses that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates such as blue cheese, American cheese, Swiss, cheddar, feta …

- Herbs and spices

What you should avoid for weight loss?

The Atkins diet restricts carbohydrates consumption and tends to eliminate many foods based on their carbohydrate content. Accordingly, the diet removes the following foods from the diet:

- All types of grains, legumes, and starches

- Sugar and alternative sweeteners

- Sugar sweetened beverages and drinks

- Most fruits and vegetables that are high in carbohydrates

- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn

- Vegetables oils like corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil …

- Condiments including bagged sauces and mixes

- Most dairy products that are high in carbohydrates such as milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese

- Alcohol

- Reduced fat and diet products

Atkins diet phases:

The Atkins Diet is divided into four consecutive phases, which are induction, balancing, pre-maintenance, and lifetime maintenance consecutively. 


Phase 1: Induction Phase 

This phase is the most restricted phase in terms of carbohydrates as it is does not allow any carbohydrate intake.

The purpose of the induction phase is to shift the body from relying on glucose and carbohydrates for energy to using the body fat stores to achieve this.

This phase results in the fastest weight loss because the body is using fat as its primary energy source because carbohydrate sources are no longer available. 

The duration of this phase is at least two weeks and could stretch to more, but the time is usually individualized depending on personal improvements. 

Depending on the type of diet used, the individual should receive either 20 g or 40 g of carbohydrates per day in this phase.

Carbohydrates here are mainly from vegetables comprising 12-15 g of the total carbohydrate intake, but not from fruits as they are not allowed at this stage due to their sugar content.

The focus is on proteins in each meal, and there is no restriction on fats and oils. 

Phase 2: Balancing Phase

In this phase, the carbohydrate intake is increased gradually over time by adding 5 g of carbohydrates to the diet each week. 

The purpose of this phase is to monitor the maximum amount of carbohydrates that the body can tolerate while still losing 1-2 pounds per week. Once this is achieved, you should no longer add carbohydrates weekly.

Similar to the induction phase, 12-15 g of carbohydrates should be coming from non-starchy vegetables. However, unlike phase 1, the balancing phase allows some low carbohydrate fruits and starchy vegetables.

Thus, this phase allows intake of some nutrients that are rich in carbohydrates such as nuts and seeds, in addition to the proteins and fats recommended in phase 1.


Phase 3: Pre-maintenance Phase 

By this phase, you might have become closer to your targeted weight. Accordingly, this phase allows for adding more foods items to your diet to maintain your weight, or adjust your carbs intake to find your balance if you still need to lose more weight. 

The duration of this phase depends on every individual, however it stops whenever the weight loss goal is achieved.

Addition of carbohydrate containing food such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits is recommended in this phase.

However, it is important to monitor weight regain in this phase and change the carbohydrate intake accordingly. 


Phase 4: Maintenance Phase

The maintenance phase starts once the goal of the individual is achieved and can continue as a long term life style. 

The amount of carbohydrates in this stage depends on how much an individual’s body can tolerate carbs without gaining weight, based on trials from the previous phases. 

For example, if the intake of more than 150 g of carbohydrates a day, during the pre-maintenance phase, showed that the person is gaining back the weight, then less than 150 g of carbohydrate from various sources should be eaten. 

Atkins additional benefits:

The Atkins diet, characterized by low carbohydrate consumption, has several health benefits. 

Apart from weight loss, the Atkins diet is beneficial for diabetes, PCOS, high triglycerides and cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and heart diseases. 

- Heart disease: the diet can reduce body fat, increase HDL cholesterol, improve blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. This would prevent or reduce the risks of heart disease.

- Triglycerides: the diet reduces drastically the triglyceride levels found in the blood. 

- Cholesterol: the diet increases the level of good cholesterol called HDL. The good cholesterol is known for removing unwanted bad cholesterol from the blood.

- Hypertension or high blood pressure: the diet may also decrease blood pressure levels. Hypertension is associated with many diseases such as heart diseases and kidney failure. 

Following the Modified Atkins diet may also have beneficial effects on other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), because this type of diet is very similar to the ketogenic diet.

However, more research and findings are needed in order to support these statements further.

Following the Atkins diet for weight loss: what precautions to take?

There are several side effects that might come along when you follow a low carbohydrate diet such as the Atkins diet. When there is an elimination or even restriction of carbohydrates from the diet, symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, headaches, sleep disturbances, trouble breathing, irritability and mood swings, and bad breath might occur. 

Digestive problems also happen with the Atkins diet due to several reasons such as constipation and diarrhea. Even nausea might follow as a result of inadequate fiber intake secondary to carbohydrate restriction. 

Another important factor to pay attention to is nutritional deficiencies. Certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies are prevalent when omitting a food group or certain food types. The Atkins diet restricts carbohydrates and fruits, and this increases the risk of nutritional deficiencies. 


Precautions for diabetes patients:

An additional and dangerous complication can happen if the body is accumulating high amounts of ketone bodies that can show up in the blood and urine.

This is known as a diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), and is a serious complication for patients with diabetes. It can be life threatening and dangerous, and therefore people following an Atkins diet should always do proper monitoring and conduct regular tests to check their blood and various health indicators.

Published September 2020

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