Yes, Atkins Works: Here’s Why (and Why You Should Still Avoid It)

Have you ever wondered how the Atkins Diet works? There are so many diet plans available, how can you tell whether this one is good or not? Well, there is actually a scientific reason this very-low carbohydrate diet causes weight loss, as well as a few other ways it works.

1) Ketosis: This is a biochemical condition that occurs in the body when deprived of carbohydrates. Normally food that contain sugars and starches (potatoes, bread, cereals, fruit, milk, baked goods and sweets) are digested and ultimately turned into glucose. Glucose is the preferred energy source for most cells in the body, especially the brain. A constant level of glucose in the blood is also required for normal functioning. Without carbohydrates (or without enough of them) the body resorts to other methods of obtaining energy. A small amount of glucose can be obtained from fat or protein breakdown so the blood sugar level can be maintained and you can remain conscious. Aside from that, the body establishes a new chemical pathway and breaks fats down to a compound known as ketone bodies. These can be used for energy while the body perceives (or is actually in) starvation, while inadequate carbohydrates are being ingested. But these ketones are recognized as a toxin and flushed out as quickly as possible: this is why it is always recommended to consume large amounts of water while on a low carb diet–dehydration can occur quickly if lots of fluid is released and not enough replaced. So frequent urination occurs and there is a resulting weight loss from water loss.

This makes the dieter encouraged because more than five, or even eight pounds can be lost in the first week. But as soon as the normal diet is resumed, this weight returns quickly.

2) Reduced appetite: Another way the diet works is by causing a decreased appetite. The state of ketosis often includes side effects such as headaches and nausea. In this way, the dieter notices they don’t even feel like eating as much so the diet becomes less difficult to adhere to.

3) Fewer food choices: Since entire food categories are eliminated (bread, potatoes, milk, fruit, cookies, chips) there is a limited number of foods from which to choose. Once the diet is limited to just a few choices the foods quickly become less appetizing. How many meals of steak and spinach can you eat? How many times can you snack on cheese and nuts? After a few weeks, the dieter becomes disgusted at the idea of another bag of pork rinds or another breakfast of cheese omelets and just eats less. This leads to a lower calorie intake, overall, which results in weight loss.

The Atkins diet and other low carbohydrate diets (there are many) include one of the few weight loss methods that actually has a biochemical science behind the way it works: ketosis. The body chemistry actually changes in an effort to support normal function and this results in large initial weight decrease from water loss. In addition, dieters have a decreased appetite from the side effects of ketosis as well as from the palatability of the foods allowed after some time spent on the diet. The resulting calorie deprivation allows weight loss to continue, as long as one remains on the diet. Remember that these are adaptations the body is using as a last resort to save the person who is apparently starving (no carbs can be sensed as no intake) and the reduced appetite is probably another mechanism to save the starving person from further suffering. In other words, it is certainly not an ideal or beneficial state to be in.

Studies show it is difficult to adhere to this diet for longer than a few months before the natural cravings for carbohydrate cause most people to stray. This might not be a bad thing, in the long run: The diet can be dangerously low in many nutrients since there are precious few sources of several vitamins (namely vitamin C, thiamin, and riboflavin) and minerals (calcium and potassium to name two) and someone who is not supplementing their intake could suffer adverse consequences. Ideally, of course, the best way to lose weight is to substitute bad habits for better ones that can be maintained in the long run.

Image credit: mtsofan

5 thoughts on “Yes, Atkins Works: Here’s Why (and Why You Should Still Avoid It)

  1. I agree with one thing, when I tried this several years ago, I felt terrible, I almost passed out at work. I knew something was wrong with my body and I stopped. I have struggled with my weight my whole life (I’m sure you hear this often) but am curious if you would put the South Beach Diet in the same category? It was recommended by my doctor and seems to navigate the dieter to healthier carbs instead of no carbs at all.

  2. You are correct about the South Beach diet encouraging some carbs. This plan starts out with a severe carbohydrate restriction, but after a couple of weeks, those with lower glycemic index are added back in… Sweets continue to be on the “no-no” list, and healthy portions are encouraged. Also, this diet encourages more “healthy fats” and in general stresses healthier eating for life–instead of a “diet” to go off as soon as the weight is lost. Good Luck 🙂

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