The Atkins Diet: Does It Work?

Brandon and I are engaged, and are doing what most couples do when planning for a wedding: diet.

(Read our engagement story HERE)

Being the meat-eaters that we are, we decided to do the Atkins diet. Let me start by clearing up a common misconception:

You are allowed to eat carbs on the Atkins diet.

In fact, you need to eat carbs. The problem is, most of us just eat too many.

The idea behind the Atkins diet is to start drastic. Shock your body into it. You do this by not just eliminating most carbs, but by eliminating a lot of foods as well. Those first two weeks are a bunch of veggies and protein. Daily net carb intake is around 22 grams. That's not a lot.

As time goes on and you get closer to your weight loss goals, you introduce more carbs. Eventually, you figure out how many carbs you can/should consume daily in order to maintain a healthy weight. It's intended to be a lifestyle change.

The first few days suck.

I mean, really suck. You're basically just starving all day, every day. Which is actually another common myth:

You do not get to eat as much as you want.

Yes, the types of food you can eat are limited, but your portions should really be limited, too. If you eat 2 lbs of cheese every day, you're not going to lose weight.

So the first few days are limited carbs, and small meals. I was hungry, tired and grumpy. That being said, the food you can eat is great!

Brandon actually started getting extremely sore as well. Ordinary activities would leave his muscles very tender. We did a little research and found out that it was being caused by a mineral deficiency because of the change in diet. He supplemented with Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium and he felt instant relief.

I felt better around Day 4.

This is when I started to feel less hungry and get some of my energy back. I learned tricks that worked for me, for example: the later I eat my breakfast, the better I do throughout the day.

The earlier I ate, the earlier I snacked, the earlier I was hungry. I could generally go between 2-3 hours between meals, so eating earlier in the day meant the time between my afternoon snack and dinner was verrryyyyyyy long.

The Meals

As I had mentioned before, most of the food is great.

One of the reasons I really liked the diet was because of the convenience. Atkins makes frozen meals, snacks, protein shakes, even dessert! Being able to just grab a snack I knew fit the diet made it much easier not to cheat. But the prepared meals get old.

Luckily, Atkins has great recipes, and plenty of them on their website. I tried really hard to always make something for dinner, and breakfast when I could. That way we got some decent variety and didn't tire of the frozen meals as quick.

My one complaint about the recipe section of the Atkins website is that it's really not user-friendly. You can search by:
  • Phase (this lets them know how many carbs you can have)
  • Keywords
  • Type of meal (snack, entree, breakfast, etc.)
All of those things are nice, but then I would frequently run into these issues:
  • Recipes calling for Atkins Baking Mix
    • No idea what that was, it's not something you can buy in stores, it's actually another recipe in and of itself.
  • Multiple versions of the same recipe
    • So I would look up the ingredients for a recipe, buy them, look up the recipe again and find that I was missing an ingredient, or bought too many. And then the cooking instructions would be slightly different.
  • Unclear measuring units
    • Instead of cups, tablespoons, etc., some recipes would call for servings or units.
    • One recipe I looked up, in the directions, said it required 2 cups of Atkins baking mix (please see first bullet), but that amount never changed, regardless of how many servings you said you were making. Since this ingredient wasn't actually listed on the list of ingredients, I was very unclear on how much I really needed.
  • Recipes are listed in alphabetical order
    • It sounds convenient, but it's not. When I would browse through the recipes for dinner ideas, there would literally be 17 pages of recipes, but not wanting to click through every single page, I would basically only see the recipes from the first 4 pages.
Since then, I've just started Googling low-carb dinner ideas and gotten some really yummy recipes.

I should also mention two other things I've discovered:
  • Eating healthy is very expensive. Many of the recipes I use call for crazy ingredients I've never heard of (there is an incredible variety of flour out there) and a lot of these ingredients can only be found at specialty stores like Whole Foods.
  • GLUTEN FREE FOOD IS HIGH IN CARBS!!! Sorry, gluten-avoiders! There are SO MANY gluten-free options out there, but the amount of carbs in a lot of those foods is outrageous.

Our Results

We're still going, but results have been good, so far. Brandon, who was already thin to begin with, lost 14 lbs in the first two weeks.

My results have come much slower. I lost about 5 lbs the first two weeks, but have been slowly dropping a pound or two at a time. A month in, I'm about 10lbs down.

Is it Sustainable?

I would say long as you're flexible.

Life isn't always going to provide you with low-carb options. Brandon and I just went to Mexico and were very hard-pressed to find low-carb options. A lot of the fish was breaded, and tacos are served guessed it...carb-packed tortillas! (We weren't about to go to Mexico and not eat tacos.) So we ate a little less and made sure to spend time at the gym or swimming to work it off a little.

It's a balancing act and a lifestyle choice. Smaller portions, fewer carbs. I would still never turn down a slice of pizza, but I have the discipline to trade my side of french fries for a healthier option. You have to be realistic and make choices that will work for your lifestyle. As another example: it's just not realistic to say that Brandon and I will stop drinking. And alcohol has a lot of carbs! We tried vodka for a while, but that's just plain dangerous! So that's where we know we're getting our fair share of carbs - in our (red) wine and (low-carb) beer. It means a lot of salads for dinner, but it works for us.

And people have gotten so creative these days that there's really not a whole lot you can't have. I just had pancakes for breakfast! They had a bunch of difficult-to-find ingredients, but they were delicious. And you can make just about anything out of cauliflower. It's not always good, but it is what it is.

Do you have any Atkins wisdom you'd like to share? Comment below.

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