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The Atkins Diet - Fact vs. Fiction

Clearing up the myths surrounding the Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet has been in use for over 30 years, but it has only recently enjoyed a surge in popularity. 

Dr. Robert Atkins pioneered the Atkins Diet, the theory of which is very simple: The human body prefers to utilize carbohydrates, including those found in breads, grains, and cereals for energy, and it will burn them before body fat. By scaling back on carbohydrates in your diet, you make your body burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. 

Reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet forces your body into a state called "ketosis." This word is derived from the "ketones" that your body uses for energy when sugars and carbs are unavailable.

When you're in a state of ketosis, your body is creating ketones from your stored fat that is being burned for energy. Basically, ketones are the leftovers from this process and they're used in place of sugar in the body. 

One of the most common misconceptions about the Atkins Diet is that you can or should eat very unhealthy, fatty foods most of the time. This is a myth. Dr. Atkins recommended that you limit your consumption of these types of foods (bacon, butter, sausage, etc.) and focus instead on healthy fats, including fish oil, olive oil, nuts, etc. 

The Atkins Diet has several positives and negatives that have been attributed to it. Some of the positives include:

  • Rapid loss of weight - Although during the first few days the majority of weight lost is water, your body does indeed become more efficient at burning fat. 
  • Fewer energy or mood swings - Eating carbohydrates can lead to frequent energy and mood swings. These wild swings are often manifested in the typical post-lunchtime or mid-afternoon energy crash. When you stop eating carbs, you eliminate the source of this problem.
  • You eat fewer refined foods - Highly refined foods are the source of a host of health problems. The more a food is processed, the less nutrients are left in it. The Atkins Diet encourages you to focus on eating more natural state foods, especially fish, lean meats, vegetables, eggs and healthy oils.
The negatives that have often been attributed to the Atkins Diet include:
  • Rapidly regaining the lost weight - This frequently happens when a person stops using the Atkins Diet. They usually regain most (if not all) of the weight they lost by using the Atkins Diet.

    This is due to the fact that when you stop consuming carbs for a long period of time, your body adjusts and becomes more sensitive to them.

    So when you go back to your old eating habits, your body reacts more intensely to the sugar and carbohydrates in your foods, leading to eventual weight gain. But this "rebound" weight gain can be minimized by easing off the Atkins Diet gradually instead of stopping abruptly. 
  • Lack of realistic food choices - It can be hard to find things to eat that are low in carbohydrates. Most grocery stores prefer to stock carbohydrate-laden foods, and it can get pretty boring eating the same meals over and over again.

    But these days, given the popularity of the Atkins and other low carb diets, there are quite a few great-tasting recipes available to help you minimize this boredom. 
The Atkins Diet, in its entirety, may not be for you. But if you incorporate some of the principles in it, such as lowering your consumption of carbohydrates and eating more natural-state foods, you'll likely find that you can achieve pretty good results without having to deprive yourself.

It may take a bit longer to achieve the results you want, but the results will be more permanent because it is more of a lifestyle change than a diet.

Nick Nilsson is Vice President of online exercise, fitness, and personal training company BetterU.

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