Effective Weight Loss First Requires a Healthy Diet

Salmon and Salad Makes a Great Atkins Induction Meal
Credit: Public Domain

I used to think that major newspaper reporters were objective about what they report, but that immature ideal quickly faded after I gained a bit of real-life experience with low-carb and gluten-free diets. What I've learned over the years is that the bulk of what the media presents as news is nothing more than biased mind-games carefully designed to convince the reader that the reporter's opinion is the one-and-only truth.

If your personal experience with low-carb diets differs from what the author says, you're made to feel out of touch with reality, even if what the majority of society believes isn't true.

A lot of science supporting the effectiveness of low-carb approaches to weight loss have come out over the past 5 years,[1][2] with some of those studies focusing on Atkins Induction Diet macros. Yet, news reporters and online articles continue to criticize low-carb diets for being among the latest unhealthy fads, or even worse -- dead.

While I'm not sure if that speaks to the gullibility of the article's author or their readers, the truth is:

Carbohydrate restriction continues to be very popular among dieters.

In fact, out of the top 10 most Googled diets for 2015, three of the diets searched for above all others fall solidly into the carb restriction category:

  • The Carb-Cycle Diet came in at number 2.
  • The Atkins Induction Diet came in at number 6.
  • The Zero Carb Diet came in at number 9.

Low-carb diets are not dead.

They are alive and well, despite the propaganda, misconceptions, and outright lies spread by those who have a financial interest in you eating an excessive amount of carbs.[10] The problem with low-carb diets isn't whether carbohydrate restriction is harmful or not. When followed correctly, low-carb programs include a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods and, overall, a lower fat content than most dieters ate before starting these programs.

No. The real problem is the same problem as with all diets:

How do you make your diet of choice enough of a lifestyle that you can successfully shed the excess pounds and keep those pounds from coming back?


Where Did the Atkins Induction Diet Actually Come From?

Low-carb approaches are not new. Developed in the 1960s and published for the masses in 1972, Dr. Robert C. Atkins' original low-carb diet (today called Atkins 72) simply used a different technique than other low-carb programs popular during that time. In the 1960s:

  • the Stillman Diet
  • Air Force Diet
  • Drinking Man's Diet
  • and Life Without Bread

attempted to get the sugars and starches out of the typical American lifestyle, bringing total carbohydrates in the diet back down to a reasonable level.

Dr. Atkins, however, found that for those with a strong metabolic resistance to weight loss, blood glucose issues, and cholesterol irregularities lowering your carbohydrate intake to 60 grams a day wasn't restrictive enough to eliminate hunger.[11]

Since Dr. Atkins had no willpower and couldn't tolerate being hungry, even while waiting for a table in a restaurant, he started to search through the scientific literature for answers to his own weight problem. He had tried low-calorie diets recommended for the masses before, but for him, cutting down on portion sizes was a lost cause. He couldn't make it through a single day without caving in. Hunger always defeated him.

One night, he ran into a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania by Dr. Garfield Duncan. Although the research was on nutrition and the effects that fasting has on the body, Dr. Atkins was shocked to learn that after going 48 hours without food, hunger actually disappeared. Armed with that knowledge and a strong desire to know why, he continued to search for the missing pieces to the ultimate weight-loss diet that could produce success without hunger.

Eventually, he ran into the idea that it was a lack of carbohydrates that caused hunger to fade.

At the same time, the DuPont Company was conducting investigations of their own as to why low-calorie diets were not successful. Dr. Alfred W. Pennington was placed in charge of that research and hypothesized that perhaps there was some type of metabolic defect that prevented those who were overweight or obese from effectively utilizing the carbohydrates they ate.

To test that theory, participants were placed on a diet that eliminated all sugars and starches. Instead, they were instructed to eat as much protein and fat as they wanted -- with no calorie limits. Since the participants were not hungry and all of them lost weight over that 3-1/2 month trial period, Dr. Atkins was encouraged by their success.

However, it was the ketogenic diet designed by Dr. Walter Lyons Bloom that sparked Dr. Atkins into action.

Dr. Bloom wanted to test the metabolic changes that occur when someone eats a zero-carb diet, so his menu consisted of bacon and eggs for breakfast, with ample servings of meat and a small salad for both lunch and dinner. Although he included salad with two of the meals, the diet still eliminated hunger, so Dr. Atkins ignored the rush of articles that disputed Bloom's findings, a common practice that tended to happen right after something outside common thought was published.

In 1963, Dr. Atkins decided to give Dr. Bloom's ketogenic diet a try.

Typical Atkins Induction Breakfast: Bacon, Eggs, Cheddar Cheese
Credit: Vickie Ewell

How Dr. Atkins Used Dr. Bloom's Ketogenic Diet

If you look at Bloom's diet, you'll quickly see that the original Atkins Induction Diet, as published in 1972, wasn't something that Dr. Atkins just made up. It was the exact same diet used in Dr. Bloom's metabolic study. For Atkins, the Bloom Diet was a starting point from which he could design his own personalized low-carb diet with the help of diabetic tablets that measured the amount of ketones his body was throwing away in his urine.

The tablets, actually designed to catch ketoacidosis in diabetic patients, gave Dr. Atkins the opportunity to experiment with various carbohydrate foods in different amounts.

His discovery?

By starting at essentially zero carbs, which the Induction diet does, he could add 10 to 15 grams of carbohydrates back into his diet without lessening the amount of ketones his body was throwing away. He could literally snack on cold cuts, cheese, shrimp, cottage cheese, and still have a filling salad with lunch and dinner without affecting the degree of ketosis that results from a zero-carb diet.

By trial and error, he was able to add 35 to 40 grams of carbohydrates per day and still not be hungry, provided he added them gradually enough. Those few extra carbs made room for the vegetables, strawberries with whipped cream, and melon balls that he had been missing. He was even able to indulge in an occasional Scotch before dinner without affecting his rate of weight loss.

To Atkins, it felt like he was eating all day, so he wasn't hungry, and therefore, he didn't feel deprived. That was the type of diet he was looking for. Even better, despite his huge appetite, which included snacking several times a day, by the end of 6 weeks, he had lost 28 pounds. That was all it took to convince him that he had found the ultimate diet that could eliminate hunger as well as shed the excess pounds.


A Realistic Look at the Atkins Induction Diet

After experimenting with a group of AT&T employees, as well as his own patients, Dr. Atkins published his low-carb diet in 1972. Criticism was heavy, and the backlash was greater than he expected, due to the book's lack of scientific evidence, but his intent was to offer the American people the same thing he offered his patients on a daily basis:

A successful plan for getting rid of your overweight once-and-for-all without having to endure the hunger and deprivation that low-calorie diets are known to cause.

Atkins Induction is an introduction to the low-carb style of eating that Atkins recommended to his patients with metabolic defects or inflammatory bowel conditions. Initially designed to last only 7 days, the purpose of the original Induction Diet was to reduce your cravings for sugars and starches while quickly and dramatically moving the body from predominantly burning glucose into the state of dietary ketosis where fatty acids are predominantly used for fuel instead.

What Dr. Atkins had on his side was that he had experimented with very few weight-loss diets, so his body had never been exposed to calorie deprivation for more than few hours. As a result, his survival mechanism was still infantile, in that it didn't really know how to handle the famine situation known today as dieting.[3] It didn't know if carbohydrate restriction was going to continue for more than a few days, so his liver simply pulled ample fat from his fat stores to supply the body with the energy it needed to survive.[4]

Making an overabundance of ketones is quite common before ketone adaption takes place. As fat is broken down, more ketones than needed are created because the body doesn't know how many to make. Since there are too many ketones in the initial stages of the diet, the excess is gotten rid of, so they won't back up in the bloodstream.[4] This is an important point for new dieters to be aware of, as well as those who are returning to Atkins for a second or third time.

Why? Because, for those new to dieting, fat loss can be easy and quick during Phase 1, especially if you stay on Atkins Induction for an extended period of time. As time goes on, however, the body learns how much fat it takes to fuel the body. As ketone production slows down, so does weight loss. If you only have 30 or 40 pounds to lose and your dieting history is skimpy like Dr. Atkins' weight-loss history was, you can easily shed the pounds before full adaption takes place.

For those individuals, a low-carb diet can appear to be magic.

If this isn't your first attempt at dieting, and especially if you're a yo-yo dieter, the experience you have with Atkins Induction, as well as the later phases of the diet, might not be as spectacular as Dr. Atkins experience was because your body will already have a certain degree of survival knowledge that will kick in as soon as you go into a calorie deficit. Weight loss can be slow, excruciatingly slow, so you need to keep that in mind: past dieting history makes a difference in how quickly you can shed the pounds.


Weight Management is Harder than Weight Loss

Age is also a strong factor in how quickly the pounds come off since younger people tend to have less metabolic damage than older folks. When I was in my 20s, although the Atkins Diet wasn't my first weight-loss diet, it worked just as well for me as it did for Dr. Atkins. Better, actually, because I lost 40 pounds in 6 weeks. I was at goal weight long before my body adapted to the state of ketosis. The excess body fat just fell off. It was my One Golden Shot at achieving a healthy weight, so for me, the Atkins Diet lived up to its promises.

However, what the Atkins Diet couldn't do was manage my weight for me.

I had to do that myself, and like so many others, I didn't understand the importance of staying aware of what I was eating. Nor did I have a solid maintenance plan set up. In a way, you could say that I didn't have my priorities straight.

I was very active in my 20s. Even so, I quickly slipped back into an unconscious eating pattern, thinking that I'd be able to maintain my goal weight effortlessly without having to continue counting carbohydrates for the rest of my life. I didn't understand the magnitude of metabolic syndrome, nor that insulin resistance is a life-long problem that gets continuously worse as you age.

Although I managed to keep the weight off for several years, eventually, I learned the hard way that excess fat accumulation is a symptom of a metabolic disorder that going on the Atkins Diet cannot cure, so if your attitude, mindset, and eating patterns do not permanently change as your weight does, getting slim and trim won't make your metabolism normal again.[11]

Biochemical responses, hormones, and excessive insulin release when overeating carbohydrates do not magically reverse just because you managed to cast off the pounds before your body caught on to what you were doing.

You will never be able to eat what thin people eat if you want to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

It's a matter of priorities. However, what the Atkins Induction Diet can do for you is:

  1. Assist you in lowering your basal insulin level
  2. Stop cravings for sugar and starches
  3. Balance blood glucose levels
  4. Correct cholesterol problems
  5. Give you an opportunity to shed excess pounds
  6. Without having to go hungry

It will also give you a solid nutritional foundation from which you can design your own personalized healthy diet, tailored to stay within your personal carbohydrate tolerance level, enabling you to reach your health and weight-loss goals.

Push Toward Whole Grains Came from the Food Industry
Credit: Vickie Ewell

Atkins Induction Diet Misconceptions

Most of the nutritional knowledge that makes its way into mainstream thought and belief originally came from the food industry. The push toward eating more whole grains on a daily basis is a good example of that. It began as an advertising campaign created by the Whole Grains Counsel to beef up sales.[7] The same goes for the more recent gluten-free foods are more healthy campaigns.

Marketing experts have done an enormous amount of research on what you buy and why you buy. They sell that data to manufacturers along with ideas on how to market their products, so those products will fit in with what you believe. Eating a low-carb diet doesn't profit the food manufacturing industry, especially if you stay on Atkins Induction past the introductory period and choose to give up all whole grains.

Phase 1 of the Atkins Nutritional Approach contains only a minimum amount of carbohydrates and few processed foods, so it's also the phase that is the most misunderstood.

I can still remember the news segments that used to run on television during the late 70s. Even from the Atkins' Diet's humble beginnings, it was presented by the media as an unhealthy diet, a way to eat all of the bacon and eggs you wanted. Men who weighed over 350 pounds were shown on camera with huge frying pans filled with slices of raw bacon and 3 or 4 hamburger patties smothered in melted cheese. Shopping carts were depicted as being filled to the brim with bags of pork rinds and cartons of heavy cream. Vegetables were never mentioned.

The same thing continues today.

Although Atkins Induction has always been a 1 to 2 week diet, depending on the version you're following, the media loves to present the regular Atkins Diet as being a meat-and-fat banquet, with no fruits and vegetables, putting you at risk for heart disease and other health problems. Even though scientific research studies have proven those ideas to be false,[1][8][9] and many cardiologists and surgeons believe the Atkins Diet to be optimal nutrition, including my own, the misconceptions and inaccuracies presented by the media continue to spread, even among low-carb dieters.[5][6]

The Atkins Induction Diet forms the foundation upon which you build your own personalized low-carb eating plan, after entering into the dietary state of ketosis. Phase 1 introduces you to the possibilities that a low-carb diet holds. You watch your hunger and cravings disappear. You have an upsurge in energy. You even get to eat things normally shunned in low-calorie diets.

However, Atkins Induction is NOT the Atkins Diet. It's simply the fastest way to assist you in getting into ketosis where fats are burned for fuel rather than glucose. While some people do choose to stay at an Induction level of carbohydrates, the Induction phase isn't a zero-carb diet anymore. In fact, a zero-carb diet is only appropriate for those who are so severely insulin resistant that a typical low-carb diet plan of 35 to 60 net carbs per day doesn't work.[11]


How the Atkins Induction Diet Has Evolved

In 1972, the only thing green you were allowed to eat was 2 cups of loosely packed salad dressed in an oil-and-vinegar dressing. However, when Dr. Atkins discovered that many of his patients were "cheating" on his Induction diet -- by adding a half a cup of steamed vegetables to lunch and dinner -- he modified the Induction diet to contain 2 cups of salad and 2/3 cup of vegetables per day. He also lengthened the time you spent on Induction from one week to two.

In addition, he offered an alternative Induction plan that allowed you the freedom of making up your own Induction diet. In 1992, you could use any low-carb foods you wanted, provided your didn't go over 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.

In 2002, the freedom of creating your own Induction Diet was stopped, and the cooked vegetable limit was increased again. That version allowed 2 cups of salad, 1 cup of steamed low-carb vegetables, and up to 1/2 of an avocado per day if your carbohydrate tolerance could handle that much. You were still held to 20 carbs per day, but you could now deduct the fiber content of your vegetables, since fiber doesn't affect blood glucose levels.

After Dr. Atkins death, Atkins Nutritionals changed the Induction Diet again. This time, they made it a rule that you use 12 to 15 of your 20 net carbs per day on vegetables and salad, no matter how many cups that was. Later on, they refined that rule to 6 cups of salad and up to 2 cups of cooked vegetables, depending on which vegetables you picked, but those measurements were just approximations.

Today, you are still required to eat at least 12 to 15 net carbs of vegetables, although the Atkins Diet has changed its name to Atkins 20.


Purpose of the Atkins Induction Diet

The Atkins Diet has always been divided into four phases:

  1. Atkins Induction
  2. Ongoing Weight Loss
  3. Pre-Maintenance
  4. Maintenance

Each phase has a particular objective. Once that objective is met, it's time to move on to the next phase of the lifestyle. However, it's easy to get caught up in the desire for fast weight loss. Since the introductory period includes the process of shedding a lot of water weight along with your glycogen stores, the storage form of carbohydrates, many dieters are reluctant to leave Phase 1 behind. They want fast weight loss to continue, so they avoid moving into Phase 2.

This can be a big mistake.

Although Dr. Atkins allowed obese dieters to stay on the Induction Diet for longer than two weeks, he also recognized that for many people, Induction can ignite a crash diet mentality. Since the Induction Diet provides lists of acceptable foods and can be simplified nicely into a protein-salad-vegetable template way of eating, it's easy to lose track of the purpose of Induction.

If you begin Atkins Induction with the idea that low carb is a quick and painless way to achieve your weight-loss goals, you're missing the whole point of what a low-carb diet is all about.

Kent Altena is a notable member of the low-carb community. He is a good example of what you can accomplish if you get your mind into the program and work through the four different phases as Dr. Atkins intended. Although he didn't lose the weight overnight, he managed to shed over 200 pounds and literally changed his life for the better, as the following video of his Atkins weight-loss success shows:

Atkins Diet Success Story: Kent Altena

He Lost Over 200 Pounds and Changed His Life for the Better

Kent's story is not an isolated case. His experience is not a "these results are not typical" weight-loss disclaimer like the disclaimers that weight-loss commercials carry on television. Whether you can achieve these types of results yourself depends on your ability to adapt to carbohydrate restriction and how important being healthy is to you. It will also require you to make adjustments to your eating plan as the weight comes off.

While weight-loss stalls are quite common, regardless of which weight-loss plan you choose to implement, the Atkins program is a lifestyle commitment.

It is not a diet.

Once you enter the low-carb path, you can't go back to eating what other people eat without suffering additional metabolic consequences. It's your habits, misconceptions, and food addictions that got you into the condition you're in. The only way out is to do something different. Atkins Induction offers you an alternative way to eat that can make healthy eating less painful and uncomfortable, but you have to want to do what's necessary to make that happen.

Success comes when you stop seeing the Atkins Diet as deprivation and begin using the Atkins Nutritional Approach appropriately, moving through the four phases as designed.

The purpose of Induction isn't to lose a ton of weight, although that might happen if you're brand new to low-carb diets. The purpose of Atkins Induction is to get you into the state of ketosis, so that your body can begin to heal itself from all the damage caused from eating a typical, unbalanced, standard American diet.

The objective is to correct hormonal imbalances that are interfering with proper weight management, which requires you to eat an adequate amount of protein foods, limit your carbohydrate intake, and eat enough healthy fats to supply the energy your body needs to function optimally. For that reason, Induction does not curtail calories. Weight loss isn't the goal. It's a by-product of balancing your hormones and making it easier for the body to access its fat stores, as needed.

The difference between a successful Atkins Induction plan and one that ends in disaster is how you choose to think about what you're doing. If you're using Atkins Induction to achieve some ideal or level of happiness, you'll be disappointed and hurt when it doesn't meet your expectations. Developing a permanent way of eating doesn't have to be a struggle. Accepting it for what it is can be far more pleasant and productive. Responsibility isn't easy, but it takes lots of planning and hard work.

The idea is to learn how to eat for the rest of your life, but unlearning everything the food industry has taught us isn't quick. Even so, Atkins Induction is a great way to kick-start yourself into a new way of eating that can improve your health and well-being in the process.