Weight loss is not a new game for me. I’ve lost 30 pounds a couple of times. Then, when I ballooned to sizes that required shopping at a plus-size store, I eventually lost about 100 pounds. And I didn’t use any particular diet to do it.
But then, slowwwwwly, over the past seven years, almost 30 pounds crept back on. Ten or 15? That’s fine. But 30—unacceptable.
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So I decided to try the Atkins diet, despite having previously dismissed it as a fad. For me, vyying for Atkins-diet results was not only about fitting into the jeans that make me feel like a million bucks. It was for my health. The lab results from my most recent physical exam showed that I was pre-diabetic. That was no joke. I needed to do this.
I figured the low-carb Atkins plan would be good for me, given my pre-diabetes and the fact that sugar is my nemesis. We battle daily. (Oh, how I love/hate my sweet, creamy surrender to pistachio gelato… and dark chocolate fudge and pumpkin cheesecake!) And research consistently shows that low-carb approaches are helpful in managing pre-diabetes and diabetes.
My mission was to try the Atkins diet for a minimum of two weeks and analyze its effectiveness. I had already lost 15 pounds in the last month—the first nine pounds melted off after two weeks of the keto diet, a very high-fat, very low-carb diet which puts your body in ketosis so that you burn fat instead of carbs for energy. Atkins is a type of ketogenic diet, but with more food choices and a greater balance of macronutrients. It’s supposed to be a little more moderate, allowing you to eat more carbs while still losing weight.
The Atkins diet happens in phases. During phase one, or the introduction phase, you aim to eat either 20 or 40 grams of daily net carbs (depending on if you want to take a more drastic or moderate approach), with net carbs being total carbs minus all carbs from fiber and sugar alcohols. (For comparison’s sake, current dietary guidelines recommend consuming between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates per day.)
After a minimum of two weeks, once you’re close to your goal weight, you’re supposed to move onto the second phase, adding about 10 net carbs per day, including a bit of fruit and complex carbs, to your plan. Gradually, you add more and more, until you’re in the fourth and final phase, in which you’re expected to have figured out what you can and can’t eat to maintain your current weight. That final phase is basically the lifestyle that you’re expected to maintain for the rest of your life.
Doctors and dietitians don’t agree on the sustainability of this diet. Karen Lesley, R.D., in Fort Myers, Florida, was skeptical when I told her I was trying it. Besides being a dietitian, she’s also a passionate triathlete. “It was a fad diet. Anybody who can eat a pound of bacon on a diet is ridiculous,” Lesley said. “It’s unbalanced.”
Meanwhile, when I told my friend that I was doing this diet, the first thing she said was: “Didn’t that guy die?”
The creator of the Atkins diet, Cornell-educated cardiologist Robert Atkins, M.D., died in 2003, and his cause of death has been quite the controversy. Critics, including many doctors and medical experts, say he was overweight and had heart problems, which might’ve led to his death at 72. His family and company say he died from brain injury complications after falling.
Regardless of the real reason, does a diet’s founder need to be a personal diet success story for the plan to be good? Yes and no. It did make me pause, but then I tried it anyway because I needed to purge sugar and excess carbs from my life for good.
So, I trudged on, telling myself I wouldn’t use the diet as a license to gorge on crazy amounts of fatty meats and cheeses, with few vegetables. The modernized version of Atkins calls for a foundation of vegetables anyway. To get with the program, I looked up recipes, downloaded the Atkins Carb Counter app, and logged my daily food intake.
Two weeks later, here’s what I learned: