The Atkins Nutritional Approach

a.k.a. The Atkins Diet Plan

Dr. Robert Atkins Creator of the Atkins Diet Revolution

Dr. Robert Atkins

The Basic Principal of the Atkins Diet

The basic principal of the Atkins Diet is to reduce sugar intake (sugar in all its forms, not just pure refined sugars) and to compensate with an increase protein and healthy fat intake. Atkins recognized the relationship of sugar and insulin and how it affects appetite and metabolism. When people consume large amounts of sugar they stop burning fat, accumulate more fat, and feel hungrier quicker after eating. Weight gain leads to a wide range of health problems. All of this can be counteracted by eating less sugar.

Dr. Atkins divided his nutritional approach into four phases. Each phase plays an important role in ensuring that the diet is successful. Generally people that are critical of the Atkins diet are not aware of how the diet works after the short 2 week induction phase.


The Induction Phase of the diet is a ketogenic diet – a high protein, high fat, and very low carbohydrate regimen. The aim of this phase is to induce ketosis, by changing the metabolism from burning sugar as its primary fuel source, to burning both body and dietary fat.

After the induction phase you can eat a wide range of healthy, low GI fruits, vegetables, pulses and nuts. Plus all the meat you want and dairy too. You should still try to keep bread and pasta to a minimum, but that applies to all diets really. Refined flours are our worse enemy. Flour is really just a form sugar, and too much sugar is simply turned to body fat when it is not required to fuel muscle.

The Phases of Atkins

Phase one: Induction

This is designed to force the body into lipolysis, a metabolic state that occurs when there are no carbohydrates left to fuel glucosis. During the induction period, which should last at least 2 weeks, no alcohol or caffeine can be consumed, and carbs are restricted to 20 grams per day.

Phase Two: Ongoing Weight Loss

This is geared toward finding the “Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing Weight.” This process involves increasing the carb intake by five grams per week until a person is within 10 pounds (about 5 kg) of their target weight. Carbohydrates should be in the form of highly nutritious vegetables and not refined sugars.

Phase Three: Pre-maintenance

Like phase two, this phase calls for an increase in carbohydrate consumption. The difference between phases two and three is that this phase is designed to find the “Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance.” So really it is a transitional phase from “weight loss” to “maintenance”. This is a vital phase as without it you are left guessing at how many calories in the form of carbohydrate you can eat before you put the weight back on again.

Phase Four: Lifetime Maintenance

This phase should be continued for the rest of your life. It is important to remind you that this is a well balanced and healthy diet which sees a reduction in sugar and increase in healthy proteins and fats. Dr. Atkins clearly stated that you should still avoid processed meats and favor organic meat wherever possible. To avoid regaining the weight lost during the diet Dr. Atkins also emphasizes making use of the option to return to any of the other phases if weight begins to return -commonly people will do 1 week of induction again to help kickstart fat burning metabolism once again.

The Atkins Diet has helped many people lose weight over the last 40 years, however, it has received a lot of criticism. Some people are mostly concerned with the increased fat and protein consumption, others are concerned that it has simply become a commercial operation and is no longer concerned with helping the individual. For example, Forbes Magazine produced a report stating that people on Atkins that purchased the Atkins Nutritional range of foods to help with their diet spent 80% more on food than non-dieters.

He has authored a number of further books on his diet and nutrition, including Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (1992), Dr. Atkins’ Quick and Easy New Diet Cookbook (1997), and The Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature’s Answer to Drugs (1998).

Who Was Dr. Robert C. Atkins?

If you are planning on following the Atkins Diet (Nutritional Approach) then you should first learn a little bit about the man himself, Robert Atkins, to understand why he created his “diet revolution“.

Dr. Robert C. Atkins graduated from the University of Michigan in 1951 and received a medical degree from Cornell University Medical School in 1955 with a speciality in cardiology.

Dr. Atkins was a working general practitioner that had specialized in internal medicine and cardiovascular biology. For many years before publishing his book he was helping overweight patients to lose weight by prescribing them a low sugar (low carbohydrate) diet. Dr. Atkins was the first person to recognize and successfully promote the health benefits of cutting sugar from diet. New studies are still showing that there is a strong relationship between the consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates and heart disease.

During his 30 years of medical practice, Atkins saw thousands of patients. It was by advising and treating patients, some of whom were diabetic, that he noticed how a lower sugar diet also helps you the manage weight.

Dr. Atkins kept detailed notes and built up numerous case studies of patients who lost weight, lowered blood cholesterol and blood pressure after changing their eating habits. This led to him developing his diet plan and  the Atkins Nutritional Approach was created in the early 1970s.

The Atkins Diet, or Atkins Nutritional Approach, rose in popularity throughout the 1980’s but then saw a decline. It has received a lot of criticism over the years, although to be fair most of this criticism stems from a lack of understanding about the diet. Typical concerns are that the high protein content is bad for health, that it causes heart disease and increase cholesterol levels.

Dr. Atkins Was Misunderstood

Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution book

My Copy of the Atkins Diet

One problem for Atkins is that many people misunderstand it. The media is largely to blame as very rarely are the full details of the diet published. Most people are aware of the strict diet rules during the induction phase (the first 2 weeks) but have no idea what happens after this period.

I have attached my copy of the Atkins diet just to prove that I own a copy, and have read it too. The book is just over 500 pages and is a fantastic resource on human nutrition and health.

A recent example of how the mainstream media get confused over Atkins can be found on the BBC website. The BBC have posted a quiz on diets called 7 questions on Fad Diets. The first question is on the Atkins diet (not a fad diet, but a sensible approach to eating). Dr. Atkins actually referred to the diet as a “Nutritional Approach” to make it clear that it was not a fad diet.

Question 1: Among the most famous diets of the 21st Century is the Atkins diet. Does this fit the high protein, low GI bill recommended by the Danish scientists?

If you answer yes, the BBC says:

“WRONG! It doesn’t, as the emphasis is largely on protein. The GI index applies to foods with carbohydrates – grains, fruit and vegetables. Foods with low GI ratings are digested more slowly, which decreases or delays hunger pangs.”

But the Atkins diet goes into a lot of detail about using the GI to ensure you keep sugar levels down. Atkins is not “high protein” but low sugar, it is the original low GI diet really. The induction phase (that is high protein) only lasts 2 weeks, the rest of the diet lasts the rest of your life.

Dr Atkins Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index – A Beautiful Tool (p.78)

Dr Atkins even advised not to eat processed meat, offal etc. Page 80 of the book (in my 2003 edition) provides a list of low GI foods. Atkins refers to it as “The Glycemic Index – A Beautiful Tool“. Sounds pretty pro-low GI to me. Here is a quote from the book:

By choosing low-glycemic foods you can insure yourself a stable, smoothly running metabolic engine. The low carbohydrate foods you’ll eat during the weight loss phases of Atkins have a good deal of overlap with the low-glycemic foods you’ll see listed on the glycemic index table….

eating foods high in the glycemic index leads to elevated blood-sugar and insulin levels, which in turn leads to hypertension, undesirable cholesterol and triglyceride levels and other risk factors for heart disease.” The Atkins New Diet Revolution, p.79,82, 2003 edition.

Later research has shown that a high GI diet also poses increased cancer risk.

The problem of learning about diets from the press is that they just get it wrong most of the time. I expected better from the BBC though. The lesson for the day – if you chose to follow a diet plan, buy the book and read the book. If you plan to criticize a diet plan (BBC and others) buy the book and read the book first.


Is Atkins Any Better Than Other Diets?

The Atkins approach is by no means the only or the best way of losing weight, but it is very effective, and for many people that have failed a low-fat approach, Atkins can work. It is vital to read the rules, and follow the plan. There are many misconceptions about the Atkins diet, and most negative responses to Atkins actually comes from these misconceptions, rather than direct from the rules of the Atkins Diet Revolution.

Studies have shown that in the long term the Atkins diet is not actually any better than other diet’s systems. Although it has good short term success, after one year weight loss results are more or less the same between all diet plans. Proof really that lifestyle and the individual is the key factor in determining the success of a diet, not the diet plan itself.

Two peer reviewed studies were also published on the Atkins diet, both of which did state that Atkins was a better method of dieting. The New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Medicine stated Atkins is the best diet plan for short-term weight loss. However, they both stated that Atkins dieters do have a greater risk of developing coronary heart disease. Dr. Atkins did touch on this subject though, and it was in his opinion that the positive health benefits of losing weight outweighed the negative effects of increased fat intake.

Nearly forty years later, Dr. Atkins is still recognized for his approach to weight loss. Recently we have started to see diet plans that are very similar to Atkins, but repackaged and marketed. For example, the stone age diet (or caveman diet) is based on the same principals – low sugar, no refined foods, no processed foods, highly nutritious organic vegetables.

If you do decide to “go on the Atkins diet” the single most important piece of advice anyone can give you is this: Go out and buy a copy of the book and read it, understand it and then get to work!

More like this in the Diet and Nutrition section

  14 comments for “The Atkins Nutritional Approach

  1. Tony
    June 12, 2008 at 6:58 am

    thanks for sharing this – it is very helpful as I am thinking about going on a diet.

  2. Scott wright
    July 4, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I would like to put weight on as i have just started the gym 2 months ago and can’t see no progress my friends have told about nap 50s but don’t know what they are can you give me a routine or advice, thanx

  3. MotleyHealth
    July 15, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Hi Scott, you need to increase protein intake and eat nutritious carbohydrates and drop empty carbs, i.e. bread and pasta. Not sure what nap 50’s are either!

  4. MotleyHealth
    August 8, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Really good carbs are all those from fruits and vegetables, and bad ones are the refined ones in bread, cookie, cakes etc. Junk food is laden with bad carbs.

    Another way to explain is that bad carbs are also “empty carbs”. They contain nothing of any nutritional value, just energy.

    A good alternative to going on Atkins is to eat a low GI diet (essentially a low sugar diet). Once you lose weight you can then eat medium GI foods in and even high moderation.

  5. Taylor koontz
    August 8, 2010 at 3:48 am

    I’m becoming very frustrated. My upper stomach muscles or kinda toned and fine, but it’s just my lower stomach fat will not go away! How can I get some sort of jump start that will help get the excess fat off?

  6. MotleyHealth
    August 8, 2010 at 3:51 am

    Taylor, have you tried Atkins? It is a good way to jump start weight loss, just make sure you read the rules of induction first and do not try to guess what the rules are (people often do this then claim that the diet does not work).

    Basically you need to cut sugar from your diet.

  7. Taylor koontz
    August 8, 2010 at 3:55 am

    Truthfuly no, my main reason is I don’t understand good carb VS bad carb. I’ve been trying to work out and whatnot but it’s frustrating when you don’t See results.

  8. jack
    August 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    people go throught diet and pills for weight loss, while they ignore sports!

  9. MotleyHealth
    August 12, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Yep. In fact, Atkins also emphasis the importance of exercising in his book, but most people miss that part too. Exercise and diet must be done together for weight loss.

  10. jack
    August 24, 2010 at 4:48 am

    yes indeed but once you are doing the Atkins diet it would be difficult to perform sports! since you need glycogen for muscles functioning for the start than you could use fats!

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