The Atkins Diet 101 — A Beginner’s Guide
Just about everyone who’s considering dieting has heard of the Atkins diet. In fact, even if you’ve never tried to lose weight you’ve probably heard of it! So what makes this diet so popular that people around the world are still hearing about it, years after its creation?
In this guide, you’re going to learn:
- The basics of the Atkins diet
- Pros and cons of following this plan
- Who should and shouldn’t do the diet – and whether it works
Ready to explore this diet craze that’s been around since the 1960’s? Here’s your complete guide to the Atkins diet.
Official name: Atkins, Atkins Diet
Founded: Developed throughout the 1960s
Country of Origin: United States of America
Founder: Dr. Robert C. Atkins
Good for Weight Loss: Can be
Sugarfree: Low Sugar
Gluten Free: No
Good for Wallet: 5
Easy to Follow: 8
Atkins Diet Pros
- Most dieters on the plan see weight loss
- You don’t have to count calories
- The popularity makes resources easily found
- Easy to follow
- Minimal hunger
- Can be inexpensive
Atkins Diet Cons
- Sugar cravings
- Can be restrictive
- Carb counting
- Can cause unhealthy habits
- Constipation as a side effect
- Pricey prepackaged foods and supplements
1. History of the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet has been around for a very, very long time. In fact, Dr. Robert Atkins first began developing it back in 1955. Atkins was a cardiologist who disapproved strongly of patients being prescribed medications for weight loss. Thinking there must be a better way, he began to develop a healthier, more natural solution.
Throughout the 1960s, Dr. Atkins and a team of executives experimented with weight loss, and found that, ultimately, a low carbohydrate, high protein diet showed great success. From 1963 to 1972, the doctor fine tuned the weight loss plan and developed what became the Atkins diet.
Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution was published in 1972, and the popularity of the diet skyrocketed. Over the years, the Atkins franchise developed supplements, vitamins, foods and more that were designed to help promote weight loss in an easy way.
Today, the Atkins diet is followed by people all over the world, and Atkins supplements and foods are available in supermarkets and online. This huge franchise is one of the most popular in the world.
2. Atkins for Beginners
If you’re new to the Atkins diet, you probably know very little about how it works. There are a few things you’ll need to know before you get started.
- You’ll need to count your carbs
- There are four phases to the diet
- This plan may not be suitable for vegetarians
- You’ll be eating a lot of high fat meats
If you’re not crazy about meat, this probably isn’t the right plan for you. If you love a good steak, though, you’re probably going to love the Atkins diet.
We mentioned that there are four phases to the plan. These are:
For the best results, find yourself a comprehensive book about the Atkins diet to determine how many carbs your body will need in each of the phases. After all, that’s the basic premise of the plan – counting carbs and limiting your intake.
It may be that you don’t really even need to go through all four phases. That depends on your lifestyle prior to starting the Atkins diet. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about how to begin the plan if you’re unsure.
3. Is the Atkins Diet Dangerous?
The Atkins diet is extremely popular – and extremely controversial. Because of its popularity, many arguments have been held about whether the plan could potentially be dangerous. In fact, there are some risks associated with the plan. A high-fat diet can lead to:
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Cardiovascular problems
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers
- High cholesterol
That said, there aren’t too many long-term studies that have been done on the plan. Short term studies show that high-protein, low carb diets can actually help lower cholesterol in obese patients. But the long-term effects of this type of plan are still a little foggy to scientists.
To put it very simply, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the Atkins diet is dangerous – that proof just doesn’t exist. But it’s best to exercise caution and have regular checkups with your physician to ensure that you’re in tip top shape when you’re on this diet.
4. Who Shouldn’t do the Atkins Diet?
As with any diet or lifestyle, the Atkins diet isn’t for everyone. We already mentioned that if you’re a vegan, you’re probably going to be pretty miserable on this plan. Your options are just too limited and you may find yourself eating the same things over and over again.
Other people who should think twice before doing the diet are:
- Women who are pregnant
- Women who are breastfeeding
- People with diabetes
- People with other blood sugar disorders (ie hypoglycemia)
Absolutely everyone should check with a medical pro before starting the diet if you have any concerns whatsoever. This is especially true for children – the Atkins diet may not be appropriate to help kids lose weight.
5. How to do the Atkins Diet Safely
When done right, the Atkins diet is usually safe. Again, there aren’t enough studies on the long term effects of the plan to say otherwise. It’s important, though, that you follow the plan in a safe way. Some tips for doing Atkins safely include:
- Reading about and researching the diet before you begin.
- Monitoring how you feel – dizziness, for instance, is a warning sign
- Monitoring any constipation
- Choosing healthy proteins and fats
- Eat regularly and snack often
- Talk to your physician about supplements
A great resource for following the Atkins diet is the Atkins website itself. There, you’ll find meal plans, an online community of other dieters, informational articles and more. Most dieters say the original book by Dr. Atkins is also very helpful when you’re trying to stay safe on the plan.
Most of all, please use common sense. If you don’t feel well, or if you’re having severe problems with, for instance, your digestive tract, talk to your doctor. It may be that you simply need to add a supplement like fiber to your routine, or it could be that you should try another diet.
6. Will I Lose Weight on the Atkins Diet?
Most people who try the Atkins diet do so in order to lose weight. But how much weight can you really lose?
The diet’s website says that within the first two weeks, you can lose as much as 15 pounds. However, that’s not typical and most of that weight is “water weight.” That’s typical of pretty much any weight loss plan, or with a switch to a healthier diet with exercise.
After the initial drop in weight, you can expect to lose anywhere between a half pound to two pounds each week. Now, that doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly, particularly after that first drop in weight!
Experts agree that one to two pounds each week is healthy, though men may lose just a bit more, on average, to start with. If you’re losing less than that, check to ensure you’re following the plan correctly. If you’re still at a plateau, talk to a doctor or nutritionist about changing your weight loss strategy or adding supplements to your plan.
7. Foods to Avoid on the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is different from some other diets. On most diets, you can eat foods like sweet potatoes, whole grain pastas, legumes and fruits. In fact, it’s encouraged. The list of foods to avoid on Atkins is different. You should stay away from:
- Sugar (like candy and soda)
- High carb veggies
- High carb fruits
- Starches like potatoes until later in your weight loss
- Low fat foods (they’re higher in sugar)
- Excessive alcohol
If you need a little help getting the hang of the Atkins diet, scroll down in this guide to the sample meal plan. That will give you a great idea of the foods you should be eating and the ones you should be staying away from.
The great thing about this diet is that there aren’t really too many foods that you can never have. Moderation is the key to Atkins, and counting those carbs to keep them within your limit for the day is essential.
8. Foods to Eat on the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is very flexible – you can eat just about anything you want. You can, of course eat meats and fish, but you can also eat full fat dairy, eggs, low carb fruits and veggies and more!
You don’t need to count calories on Atkins, but you should try to keep your caloric intake within a healthy range. Use a calculator you find online like this one to determine what that range is for you.
Then, eat sensibly and don’t overindulge. Foods you’ll love to eat on the Atkins diet include:
- Low carb veggies like spinach, cucumbers and broccoli
- Low carb fruits like strawberries, raspberries
- Nuts and seeds
The list goes on! Again, you can check with our sample menu below for more ideas, or you can just do a little research online or with Atkins diet books you can get at the library. You’ll find that the list of foods you can eat is actually quite long!
9. What to Drink When You’re Thirsty
You’re going to get thirsty on the Atkins diet, but unfortunately this is where you’re a little limited. If you get thirsty, stick with three main go-to drinks:
- Green tea (unsweetened)
- Coffee (black)
You can’t go wrong with those three things, and all three are actually great fr your weight loss. Water is essential, of course, and green tea and coffee can help you reduce your weight. Both contain caffeine, a stimulant, and green tea contains powerful antioxidants that can help keep you healthy.
In some cases, you may be able to grab a bit of whole milk, and you can also drink wine that has no sugar added. Be sure you count the carbs, though, and remember that alcohol can slow your metabolism so keep it to a minimum.
10. Atkins snacks
We mentioned earlier in this guide that it’s best to snack throughout the day when you’re following the Atkins diet. That’s true, but what should you snack on? You can’t grab a handful of pretzels on the diet, and you certainly won’t lose weight if you reach for cookies or a chocolate bar.
Don’t worry! You’ve got plenty of options! Here are some great ideas for low-carb, high protein snacks you can eat while you’re on the Atkins diet.
- Nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds, etc)
- Berries (be sure you count the carbs)
- Deviled eggs
- Meat jerky
- Cheese (again, count the carbs)
- Celery with cream cheese
- Celery with peanut butter
- Tuna lettuce wrap
- Dark chocolate (count the carbs, please!)
See?! No need to worry – there are plenty of snack options available to you, even if you’re n a low-carb diet! Remember to count the calories you consume, and be mindful that your carbs are within your allotment for the day.
11. Is Atkins Expensive to Follow?
Well, yes and no. Atkins can absolutely be expensive to follow, particularly if you’re buying the franchise’s prepackaged and frozen products. That’s particularly true if you’re eating meals that are different from your family’s. Let’s look at a few examples.
Atkins sells snack products, ranging from shakes to bars. The shakes cost (US prices) a little over $2 each. Compare this to other snacks you could choose.
- Sunflower seeds – less than a dollar per 5 ounces
- Peanuts – around $3 for a whole pound
- Tuna lettuce wrap – 5 ounces of tuna for $1 – leaf of lettuce a few cents
- Celery with cream cheese – celery is a few cents per stalk – cream cheese $3 for name brand 8 ounces
- Deviled eggs – less than $.50
- Avocado – depends on the season, but US national average for whole avocado is $2.10
Atkins sells meals, as well. The price and availability of these products will vary depending on where you live, but the price you pay is usually around $4 for a single serve package. Three of those per day and you’re feeding just one person for $12 daily, plus the price of snacks, which are pretty pricey as well.
To be honest, in a comparable market you can feed an entire family for that much, and still follow the Atkins diet. For instance:
- A pound of ground beef costs less than $5
- A whole roaster chicken is less than $10
- You can buy a head of lettuce for less than $2
- A dozen eggs can cost less than a dollar
- A box of pasta, too, can be found for a dollar or less
So you see, you can buy quality, Atkins-friendly foods that the whole family can eat for much, much less than the prepackaged Atkins foods.
12. Results from this Diet
You hear a lot of people talking about the Atkins diet, but are they actually losing? What kind of results can you expect when you follow this diet?
Well, results vary. We scoured for reviews of the Atkins diet by people who had actually followed it. Results ranged from 22 pounds of weight loss in a month to other reviews that state they didn’t lose anything at all.
That, though, is true for just about any diet you follow. And it’s going to depend a lot on whether you’re following the plan meticulously or just taking a “meh” approach to your plan.
There’s no strict caloric intake you have to aim for on the Atkins plan, so that can affect your results, too. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate number of calories you’ll need to reach your goal quickly and safely.
In short, the Atkins diet results you’ll see are going to be unique to you, your physiology and your lifestyle.
13. Training on Atkins
You may be wondering if it’s safe to train while you’re doing the Atkins diet, and the answer is, simply, yes! You can safely exercise while you’re on this plan, and it will only serve to increase your weight loss!
One thing to be mindful of is how you’re feeling while you exercise. Because this is a low-carb diet, you may be more likely to feel dizzy or even lethargic. Talk to a personal trainer or your doctor about how to remedy this, or whether you should add more carbs to your diet.
The Atkins website says it’s not imperative that you work out while you’re on the plan, that you can still lose weight without exercise. However, you know very well that you’re going to lose more effectively if you burn some calories through exercise.
14. Atkins Diet and Supplements
We’ve mentioned that Atkins sells its own supplements and snacks. But there are no supplements available by the company at the present time. Therefore, you may be interested in adding a weight loss supplement to your plan. Check with your doctor, then choose from:
- Appetite suppressants
- Fat burners
- Fat blockers
- Prescription weight loss medication
It’s up to you whether you want to add a supplement to your day when you’re on the Atkins diet. It’s best, though, to check with your doctor before you begin taking any pills or supplements. Some may cause side effects you don’t love or can even interfere with your current medications.
15. Diet for Weight Loss
The Atkins diet is a go-to plan for a lot of people, whether they want to improve their lifestyle, lose weight or maintain their current weight. If you’re using this diet for weight loss, there are a few things you should remember.
- Get a good idea of how many calories you should consume on a daily basis
- Exercise will only further your weight loss, so get moving!
- It’s important to be mindful of how you feel – if anything feels strange, talk to a doctor
- Be sure to drink plenty of water!
- It may help you to keep a food diary and track all the calories you eat – don’t forget your drinks!
- Oh, did we mention exercise? Do it!
- Decide with a doctor if taking a weight loss supplement is a good option for you
You can lose weight on the Atkins diet if that’s your goal. Stick with it and lower your BMI in a healthy way!
There are hundreds upon hundreds of recipes you can choose when you’re following the Atkins diet. To list them here would make this a book, not a guide! To give you an idea of the types of foods you can create for your Atkins menu, scroll through the following list. If something catches your attention, just do a Google search and find great recipes that are easy to follow and oh-so-yummy.
- Cranberry trail mix
- Low carb peanut butter fudge
- Broccoli and cheese slow cooker soup
- Zucchini and beef skillet meal
- Low carb bean-free chili
- Bacon wrapped cheese sticks
- Homemade egg noodles
- Chicken green bean casserole
- Salt and vinegar chicken wings
- White chicken chili
- Spaghetti squash alfredo
- Bacon-wrapped egg muffins
- Instant pot meatloaf
- New England clam chowder
This is just a tiny sampling of all the scrumptious foods you can enjoy on the Atkins diet. Once you’ve been on the plan for a while, it will be easy for you to create your own or to find recipes online and in cookbooks that your whole family will enjoy.
We find that, especially in the beginning stages of your diet, it’s best to create a weekly menu for yourself and your family. It will be easier for you to stay on the plan if you’re prepared, and it will help you grocery shop as well!
For the best success, sit down with your family over the weekend and ask them for their input. What foods would they like to have or try during the week? Are there family favorites that maybe you can alter to make them Atkins-friendly and low carb?
The more everyone is involved in making the menu, the better your success will be and the happier dinnertime will be as well.
18. A Sample Atkins Menu for One Week
Want to see what a sample menu looks like? Here’s what a typical Atkins week will look like.
Breakfast: Veggie omelet with ham cubes
Lunch: Tuna salad wrapped in lettuce, sunflower seeds
Dinner: Baked salmon and asparagus
Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
Lunch: Shrimp salad with vinaigrette
Dinner: Steak and broccoli
Breakfast: Pork sausage and strawberries
Lunch: Chicken strips and veggies
Dinner: Lamb chops with mint jelly and spinach
Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
Lunch: Leftovers from dinner
Dinner: Bean-free chili with cheese and sour cream
Breakfast: Deviled eggs
Lunch: Bean-free chili
Dinner: Meatloaf and veggies
Breakfast: Jalapeno cheddar cauliflower muffins
Lunch: Chicken, bell pepper and cheese lettuce wraps
Dinner: Asian steak salad
Breakfast: Pork sausage and eggs
Lunch: Buffalo chicken salad
Dinner: Artichoke-parsley cheese squares and salad
Sounds pretty good, huh? You can find tons of recipe ideas online, or invest in a good cookbook that will teach you how to creatively feed your family while still sticking to a low carb diet.
One of the trickiest meals of the day for some Atkins dieters is breakfast. After all, just how many eggs can you eat in one week? If you find that you’re struggling to come up with good breakfast ideas, you’re not alone.
Thankfully, you can find plenty of ideas online and in Atkins forums. If push comes to shove, keep a supply of Atkins shakes in your pantry that you can reach for in a pinch. Other ideas for breakfast include:
- Homemade trail mix
- Cottage cheese pancakes
- Veggie omelets (yes, we know they’re still eggs)
- Bell peppers stuffed with sausage
- Cauliflower pancakes
- Breakfast lasagna
There are oodles of options out there – just use your imagination! Breakfast on the Atkins diet doesn’t limit you to eggs. Get creative and get Googling!
Dinner is actually pretty easy to come up with on the Atkins diet, but you may be wondering if there are meals you can prepare that the whole family will love. The answer? Of course there are!
Here are a few examples:
- Baked salmon with bok choy
- Baked catfish with broccoli
- Homemade meatballs – the kids will love to help make them!
- Tamari-lemon pork chops
- Bacon-wrapped chicken kebobs
- Barbecue-glazed ham
- Air fried chicken wings – you choose the flavors!
- Broccoli, ham and swiss casserole
We strongly recommend you let the family in on the cooking fun, too. The more involvement you get, the more likely your picky eaters are to enjoy the meal. Make it a family thing – each of you can help and even the youngest chefs can play a role.
Atkins popularity has resulted in the diet being one of the most widely studied plans out there. So what are the studies saying? Well, the news is mostly good!
Stanford University studied the diet back in 2007 and found that women who followed the Atkins diet lost more than women who followed other plans. There were also other health benefits, such as lowered cholesterol and blood pressure.
The University of Florida studied the plan, as well. Seven diets were studied, and the Atkins diet followers were the most successful. This is in comparison to popular diets like the Paleo diet, the Zone diet and the Mediterranean diet.
As you can see, more than one research study has shown that the Atkins diet can be effective. We must stress, though, that the diet only works if you follow it the right way!
22. An Atkins Shopping List
If you’re confused about what you should buy when you go the grocery store, we’re here to help. There are staple every Atkins kitchen should have, so before you go to the store each week be sure you check that you’ve got those staples.
Your fridge, freezer and pantry should be well stocked with:
Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, shrimp,
Poultry: Chicken, turkey, duck
Fish: Salmon, trout, mackerel, cod, catfish
Fresh vegetables: Kale, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, asparagus
Frozen vegetables: Broccoli, mixed veggies, spinach, edamame, eggplant, string beans
Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, oranges, avocado
Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, Raspberries
Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts
Spices and seasonings: Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic, parsley, etc.
If you’re thinking about starting the Atkins diet but don’t know where to start, we hope we’ve helped! Atkins is one of the most popular diet plans in the world, and many people have had much success with it, too! Follow this guide to make the most of your diet and don’t forget – chat with your doctor before you begin any weight loss plan.