I hope your New Year has started off with a bang. Today we’re introducing a new strand on Angry Trainer Fitness – Diet Diagnosis – where we’ll be taking a look at some the most popular and in the news diets out there. This strand is right up my alley as I’ve used many of the most popular diet regimens in my own nutritional quest over the years – with mixed results – so I’m definitely speaking from experience. First up, we’ve the perennially popular Atkins Diet.
Atkins is named after its creator, Dr. Robert Atkins and became a craze in the early 1970’s – though it’s stayed massively popular ever since. Most people are attracted by the claims of rapid weight loss, but does the diet live up to the hype, is it sustainable, and is it healthy?
The Atkins Plan is a Ketogenic plan that revolves around severe carbohydrate restriction. What does that mean? When your body is starved of carbohydrates (it’s preferential source of fuel), through metabolic processes your liver will convert fat from both fat stores and what you ingest, into ketones, for use as an alternative fuel source. This happens best when you’re in a low insulin producing state due to no, or very little sugars in the blood stream.
The plan consists of several phases or rungs, starting with the induction, and ending with maintenance. Due to the diet’s metabolic properties, fatty foods like sausage, cheese, bacon and most other artery clogging ingredients are allowed. This is because if a person is in true ketosis, all food will converted to ketones, and can’t be stored as body-fat. If you have excess ketones, you simply eliminate them, most commonly through urination. In fact urinating on a ketone strip is a way for dieters to tell if they are in ketosis.
On the Atkins diet, you can forget most traditional carbohydrates; breads, pasta, fruits, and almost all the good stuff. On most days, you’re limited to just 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, which is only 80 calories! Of course the amount may vary from person to person, but at it’s core, the plan calls for nearly no sugar or carbohydrates of any kind. However you can consume alcohol as it does not raise blood sugar or affect the process of ketosis.
In my opinion the weight loss claims of Atkins, especially in the first week, are due to water loss, not fat loss. Ingested carbohydrates help to hold muscle sugar and water inside the muscle cell for fuel, so when they are reduced significantly, great amounts of intracellular water and sodium stores can be depleted. While at first it sounds appealing to eat fatty foods, and off limits entrees, I can tell you first hand it gets old very quickly. As I’ve said before, the more unrealistic a new eating plan is, the less likely you’ll be to stick with it.
I’m not suggesting that you won’t lose body-fat on this plan. In fact most people will lose weight on virtually any plan due to one reason – they’re more aware of what they eat, when they previously were not. This awareness generally leads to a lower, more appropriate daily caloric intake, and subsequent weight loss.
I used the Atkins diet over ten years ago and I felt horrible; no energy, weak, dizzy, lightheaded (due to no fuel!) and a whole bunch of other side effects. I also lost quite a bit of muscle, due to insufficient energy stores I believe. I’ve heard similar complaints from various people throughout the years so I personally wouldn’t recommend the Atkins diet, especially to active, fitness driven individuals.
Research throughout the years has been inconclusive as to the plans supposed health benefits. Some studies have found increased bad cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease, while others have shown the exact opposite. Plus, it’s one of the top 5 most expensive diets to maintain according to a Forbes analysis of the ten most popular plans. And it’s labor intensive, requiring you to constantly avoid and monitor various foods.
For me, it’s a simple thought process; the human body’s preferential source of fuel is carbohydrates. Nature provides us with fruits, rice, vegetables, potatoes and many other purposeful sources of energy. The idea of eliminating them doesn’t sound like a smart choice to me. I believe that there are better eating plans out there that don’t require starving your body of any of its key components. So therefore I say…