The Atkins diet is the high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate weight-loss program that has garnered attention since the release of “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” four decades ago. Atkins promotes a change in eating habits to lose weight. Contrary to popular belief, the diet does not call for complete restriction of carbohydrates for the duration of the diet. The official Atkins website refutes claims that the plan allows you to eat all the bacon you want in lieu of fruit. Rather, it says the diet advocates eating nutrient dense foods is a natural weight loss approach.

Atkins’ selling pitch is — a diet that is low in carbs causes your metabolism to shift from using carbs as its energy source to burning excess fat. You want your body to create less insulin so your blood sugar remains steady and you are not as hungry at meals.

The Plan
The diet involves four phases. You can jump in during any phase, depending on how much weight you have to lose.

Phase 1: This is the phase to start weight loss. During this period, you will restrict your carb intake to 20 net carbs (subtract the grams of fiber from the grams of total carbohydrates). You can choose to eat three bigger meals or four to five smaller meals each day. Stay with this phase for two weeks, unless you have not lost more than two pounds or are still hungry from the lack of carbohydrates. If you think you are ready, make the leap to phase two.

Phase 2: During this phase, dubbed OWL or ongoing weight loss, increase your total net carbohydrate intake to 25. The average weight loss for this stage is two to three pounds per week. You can start incorporating servings of nuts, seeds and berries back into your diet.

Phase 3: You can make the transition to this phase, also known as pre-maintenance, when you are 10 pounds from your goal weight. You can start playing around with your carbohydrate threshold and discover your Atkins carbohydrate equilibrium (ACE), or the number of grams of net carbs you can eat daily without gaining weight. You can also start reintroducing whole grains, starchy vegetables and high-carb fruits. Maintain your goal weight for a month before proceeding to the final phase.

Phase 4: You’ve reached your goal and are comfortable with your determined level of carbohydrate intake. Now you can move into the lifetime maintenance stage. You’ve lost the weight, so now you should stick to your ACE and make modifications.

The American Heart Association does not recommend nutritionally unbalanced, high protein diets as a method of weight loss. Low-carbohydrate diets have come under fire because they could lead to nutritional deficiencies. There may be long term side effects, as the brain needs the proper amount of glucose to function. In general, scientists and doctors disagree on the long-term safety and effectiveness of the Atkins diet. However, until more studies favor one school of thought or the other, Atkins and other low-carb are sure to stick around.