Any weight loss website would be amiss if it did not cover the extremely popular Atkins' weight loss plan. As many already know, the central theme Atkins is the restriction of most types of carbohydrates, especially the refined carbohydrates. This article will not go in depth into the Atkins plan, simply visit their website to find out more.

The idea of a low carbohydrate diet is not anything new. The Frenchman Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published the book Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste) back in 1825 clearly advocating cheeses and protein-rich foods over sugar, white flour and other starches. What is remarkable is that this book came out two years before William Prout's work on food classification in 1827, which was when food was first divided as macronutrients into carbs, fats, and proteins. Brillat-Savarin's book and thus plan never did become very popular, being people were more interested in his personal life than his scientific views. In 1863, in the UK, an overweight undertaker by the name of William Banting wrote "Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public", in which he described a weight loss plan where one gave up sugar, breads, potatoes, and dairy products. So obscure was Brillat-Savarin's book, it is Banting who history credits with the first low-carb diet, while Banting's publication was widely read. Indeed, so well known was "Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public" that Banting's name became synonymous with dieting. It was not for more than a hundred years before another low-carb diet was introduced, this time by Dr. Irwin Stillman, where he proposed a both low carb and low fat diet. The first Atkins book was released in 1972, a second edition was later released in 1994. The Atkins plan became a cultural phenomena in the US, to the point were low carb dieting is synonymous with Atkins and having a huge impact on the food industry. One simply needs to visit a supermarket and see all the "Atkins Friendly" versions, or to many restaurants and see Atkins friendly selections. The influence of Atkins has now spread to outside the US and into many countries.

There are four phases of the Atkins plan. The first phase is called the induction phase, it is the most restrictive in terms of carbohydrates. For the first two weeks, carbs are to be limited to 20 grams per day, and only from fiber-heavy vegetables such as lettuce or broccoli. Note, this phase is only the first two weeks, not the entire Atkins plan, as many people mistakenly believe. The subsequent phases one is permitted to increase carb levels gradually. The goal is to slowly increase daily carb intake until an optimal level is found for the individual, known as the Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium (ACE). During all phases, one is still highly encouraged to refrain from eating fruits, grains, and many types of vegetables, though in the 3rd and 4th phases there are some provisions for fruit. The 4th phase is the lifetime maintenance phase, and does allow for very active people to eat as much as 90 grams of carbs per day.

The way I see it, there is some merit to controlling intake of carbs, especially refined carbs. Obviously I did not get fat because I was eating too much oatmeal, salads, and chicken breasts. No, it was the calorie-loaded, highly refined junk food, some of it cooked in lard. Not to mention daily trips to fast food places. Along with doing little exercise. However, the carbohydrate restrictions placed by Atkins seem too restrictive. For instance, there is no way I can at my current activity level I could skate by with only 90 grams of carbs per day. My post workout shake has 75 grams of dextrose alone, not considering the carb value of one cup of blueberries. This does not include my two slices of whole grain toast either. Even so, it is barely enough to support my cardio regimen. Additionally, the Atkins indiscriminate approach towards all carbs is actually unhealthy. Our cells depend on carbs to stay alive, even when we are "burning fat", our body is simply converting fat to glucose - a simple carb - and the glucose actually gets burned. Furthermore, avoiding fruits, though they are rich in carbs, means depriving body of important nutrients (they even tell you to take vitamin pills!) as well as very useful antioxidants. Whole grain carbs also provide stability to blood glucose levels, providing one with more consistent energy level for a longer period. Eating carbs is not the enemy of weight loss, over eating refined/processed carbs without counterbalance of physical activity is.

And at the same time, indiscriminate approach to reducing fats is not good either. Indeed research suggests that a low fat diet may be more harmful in the long-term than a low carb diet, due to the body's need of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make and therefore must get them from diet. The first version of Atkins for the most part gave a free reign on fat consumption, which can be as bad as a free reign on carb consumption. In the second publication, fat consumption is more moderated.

In conclusion, it might be necessary to cutback on one's consumption of carbohydrates if they are currently eating a lot of carbs. It certainly was in my case. Eating too much refined carbs is not really good for anyone, though an occasional treat will not hurt; even excess carbs from whole grains and fruits can lead to weight gain. And having a low fat diet could cause a person to not get the essential fatty acids, some of which actually cause the body to burn more fat. However, I found the restrictions outlined by the Atkins diet simply too restrictive, and unnecessary in my own personal weight loss experience. Even the Phase 4 limits are too low to support my current activity level. Many cultures have high carb diets (and many have high diets high in fats) without correspondingly high obesity rates; the Japanese consume lots of carbs, particularly white - not brown - rice, yet have the lowest obesity rates of all industrialized nations. Simply eating balance meals, avoid overeating refined and processed foods, and engaging in moderate physical activity are enough to have a safe, healthy, and lasting weight loss.
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