A new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal, questions whether diets are actually effective in helping people lose weight, keep it off and decrease risk factors for heart disease. After analyzing clinical trials on four popular diets—Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers and Zone—the study found that these diets helped people lose a modest amount of weight over a year (they lost the most on Atkins—up to 10.3 pounds), there was no marked difference between each diet in improvement in cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar levels or other cardiovascular risk factors. And people did gain back some weight over time.
The researchers conclude that more long-term studies need to be done on diets, and that diets may not be the solution that doctors should recommend to help their patients lose weight and decrease their cardiovascular disease risk factors. What??? Before you throw Atkins to the curb, pick up the phone and order a pizza with a side of cheesy breadsticks, lets look at the facts.
I agree that more long-term, well-constructed trials need to be done on all diets; I don’t agree that “diets don’t work”, as the researchers in this study seem to conclude. This does a disservice to the millions of people struggling with overweight and obesity and the health consequences associated with obesity. Diets do work. The key is finding a diet that you can sustain for the long term while learning the skills of weight loss maintenance. And for many of you, who have lost weight (or are continuing to lose weight), and/or are maintaining your weight loss while enjoying a new and satisfying way of eating that you can live with, the Atkins Diet is the answer. You may have tried many other diets in the past, and as soon as you returned to your old way of eating, of course you gained back the weight.
The benefits of the Atkins Diet are long-standing and consistent. Atkins is backed by an extensive body of research including more than 80 peer-reviewed, clinical, independent studies—and some are long-term studies ranging from 1 year to 3 years. These show that a low-carb meal plan like Atkins can help people lose weight while improving cardiovascular and metabolic health markers.
Most recently, studies are showing that when compared with a baseline diet or other diet plan, the Atkins Diet is, in fact, shown to be associated with significant improvements in body weight, BMI, abdominal circumference; markers of cardiovascular health including: systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, plasma triglycerides, plasma CRP (an inflammation marker), and HDL-cholesterol (LDL cholesterol did not change significantly); and markers of metabolic disease: fasting plasma glucose, glycated hemoglobin, plasma insulin.
All this research aside, a controlled-carb diet like Atkins may be the key to quick, effective and satisfying weight loss. Atkins allows you progressively add carbs in small increments from all of food groups, step-wise, until you identify your own personal carbohydrate tolerance—the point at which you can maintain your weight loss.
As you add back variety in your diet, you learn to make smarter choices about carbohydrates, including high-fiber produce and whole grains, which allows you to consume more carbs without exceeding your personal carb tolerance.
Maybe I should rephrase my statement that diets do work. Diets, when used as a short-term quick fix, don’t work.
But when you change your way of eating, and your way of thinking about eating, a low-carb plan like Atkins, with its abundance of vegetables, healthy fat, lean protein and high-fiber carbs, can become a lifestyle and a sustainable way losing and maintaining your weight loss.
One of the reasons the Atkins Diet is so effective and so pleasurable to do is that you can have a midmorning and a midafternoon snack. That way, you’ll head off fatigue, jitters, inability to concentrate, ravenous cravings for inappropriate foods or overeating at your next meal. But not just any snack will do: They should be made up of fat, protein, and fiber for best appetite control. Vegetables (and later berries and other fruit) are fine , but always eat them with some fat and/or protein to minimize the impact on your blood sugar. These snacks can be assembled in minutes and are perfectly portable. Keep the ingredients on hand at home or in your office so a satisfying and low-carb snack is always available when hunger strikes.
Important for Induction
In addition to an Atkins Advantage low-carb shake or bar, which you can have in any of the four phases, here are 10 guilt-free Induction-appropriate snacks, each with no more than 3 grams of Net Carbs.
• An ounce of string cheese
• Celery stuffed with cream cheese
• Cucumber “boats” filled with tuna salad
• 5 green or black olives, perhaps stuffed with cheese
• Half a Haas avocado
• Beef or turkey jerky (cured without sugar)
• A deviled egg
• A lettuce leaf wrapped around grated Cheddar cheese
• Sliced ham rolled around a few raw or cooked green beans
• Two slices of tomato topped with chopped fresh basil and grated mozzarella and run under the broiler for a minute
Awesome for Ongoing Weight Loss
You’ll continue your midmorning and midafternoon snack habit in OWL, but in addition to the snacks suitable for Induction, most people can now branch out a bit more, including Atkins Endulge bars. None of these 11 sweet and savory snacks contains more than 5 grams of Net Carbs:
• A half cup of unsweetened whole milk yogurt mixed with 2 tablespoons no-added-sugar grated coconut and 1 packet sweetener.
• Celery sticks stuffed with peanut or another nut or seed butter.
• Cucumber “boats” filled with ricotta and sprinkled with seasoned salt.
• 2 chunks of melon wrapped in slices of ham or smoked salmon.
• “Kebab” of 2 strawberries, 2 squares Swiss cheese, and 2 cubes jicama.
• Nutty Cheese Dip: Blend 2 tablespoons cream cheese, 1 tablespoon grated sharp cheddar, a few drops of hot pepper sauce, a pinch of paprika, and 1 tablespoon chopped pecans. Serve with red pepper strips.
• Blue Cheese Dip: Blend 2 tablespoons blue cheese into 3 tablespoons unsweetened plain whole milk yogurt. Serve with zucchini spears or another vegetable.
• A scoop of cottage cheese topped with 2 tablespoons no-sugar-added salsa.
• Mix 4 ounces tomato juice and 1 tablespoon sour cream in a bowl, and you’ve got yourself a refreshing cold creamed soup. Top with chunks of avocado if desired.
• Mash ¼ cup blueberries with 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese and top with flaxseed meal.
• You can also enjoy a ¼ cup blueberries while munching on a piece of string cheese.
Perfect for Pre-Maintenance and Lifetime Maintenance
In addition to all the snacks listed above, most people in the last two phases can enjoy the following:
• Fruit other than berries, cherries and melon, as long as they’re eaten with some cheese, cream, plain whole milk yogurt, nuts or protein. Try ½ cup red or purple grapes with a couple slices of sliced turkey. Or an apple with almonds.
• Hummus with vegetables or low-carb crisp breads
• Baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) with vegetables
• Homemade popcorn with butter, olive oil or grated cheese
• Carrot sticks with aioli
• Soy chips
With all the little goblins and ghouls begging for candy at your door (or, if they are your own goblins and ghouls, bringing bags of it into your home after a successful night of trick or treating), Halloween can become a horror story, especially if you’re trying to stick to a low-carb diet. Here are some of my tips for making it through the night without getting spooked:
Buy candy you don’t like. This way you won’t be tempted to sneak a treat every time you pass the bowl of Halloween goodies.
Hand out an alternative to candy. Options include small oranges and apples or Halloween-themed stickers, pencils or erasers.
Go nuts. When your sweet tooth is tempting you, dig into a portion of nuts instead of the Halloween candy.
Make your snacks and meals count. Start the day with a filling breakfast (such as a couple eggs scrambled with some veggies and cheese), don’t forget lunch (such as a spinach salad, more veggies, grilled chicken or salmon, topped with a balsamic vinaigrette), and include a couple satisfying snacks so that you are not starving to death before darkness falls and the Halloween festivities start.
Take a walk! You can kill two birds with one stone: Volunteer to escort your neighborhood trick-or-treaters, and you’ve squeezed in a little more activity into your evening. Even better: Offer to carry their heavy bags of candy while you walk.
Don’t forget dinner. Serve up a hearty low-carb meal (such as chili, stew or soup) for your little trick-or-treaters to enjoy before they head out (to keep hunger at bay and binging on candy to a minimum) or have a meal simmering and ready when they return. There are plenty of low-carb options (including some delicious new Halloween-themed recipes) that will satisfy your whole family—and any visitors. If you’re hosting a crowd, you can include meat and cheese platters, meatballs, sliced veggies with dip, olives, nuts, pumpkin seeds and deviled eggs. Visit www.atkins.com/recipes, and you can start planning your Halloween party menu.
Plan beyond Halloween. Halloween could be considered the sugary kick-off to the holiday season. Now is the time to decide how you want to approach the most food-focused time of the year. Depending on where you are on your weight-loss journey, I suggest two options:
1) Stick with your personal carb balance, which will allow you to maintain the weight you’ve already lost, even through the holiday season.
2) Stay right below your personal carb balance and continue to lose weight.
As long as you’ve set some goals and have a plan in place, you should be able to enjoy this time of the year without gaining too many excess pounds.
One of the biggest misconceptions among low-carb dieters is that you can eat whatever you want as long as it's low carb. I’ve had countless clients come to me, complaining that Atkins isn’t working. When I ask what they are eating, they list a day's worth of high-protein, high-fat food (which rarely includes vegetables and which typically totals to about 4,000 calories a day).
No wonder it didn't work.
It’s true that Dr. Atkins and many low-carb experts told us not to worry about counting calories in the beginning—but that doesn’t mean that calories don’t count. Because they do. If you eat too much of anything (even food low in carbs), you will not lose weight. And you can also eat too few calories, which will slow down your metabolism, putting the brakes on your weight loss.
The reason for the original advice about not counting calories had to do with the fact that a low-carb approach concentrates on managing blood sugar and insulin. You are encouraged to eat whole foods—protein such as chicken, beef, pork and fish, healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, butter, and fiber from vegetables—that naturally satiate your appetite and send hormonal signals to your brain that you're full. That's why it's easier to stay on a lower-carb diet featuring whole foods than a high-carb diet full of processed food, which stimulates hunger and cravings.
And that's why we tell you, in the beginning, don't worry about calories. Just worry about eating the right kinds of foods and your appetite will, hopefully, take care of itself.
But because calories are not the whole picture—the way they have been in many other weight-loss programs—does not mean they're out of the show. They've just been moved from a starring role to that of a supporting—but important—player.
This was never better illustrated than in a study done a while ago at Harvard University by Dr. Penelope Greene. Dr. Green took three groups and divided them into three different diets. Group 1 got 1,500 calories of low-fat food. Group 2 got 1,800 calories of low-carb food. (I'll tell you about Group 3 in a minute). Group 2—the low-carb higher-calorie group—lost more weight. (If it was all about calories, the higher-calorie low-carb group should have gained weight, not won the weight-loss contest.)
But then Dr. Greene threw in a third group. The third group also got low-carb food, but this time they got the same lower calorie amount that the low-fat group got: 1,500 calories.
And this group—the lower-calorie, low-carb group—lost the most amount of weight of all.
The point is: Calories aren't the whole story—but they do matter. If you're stuck at a plateau and have stopped losing weight on your low-carb plan, maybe it's time to do a little digging and see just how much food you're actually consuming. Keep a food diary and make sure your carbs are where they are supposed to be and your calories are around the 1,500- to 1,800-calorie mark for women and 1,800 to 2,200 for men. (The optimal number is highly individual. This is just a sample range for the minimum intake because too few calories can be an issue as well.)
Your office can be a danger zone full of processed carbs and sugary treats. Whether you’re encountering doughnuts in the break room or it’s the boss’s birthday and everyone’s going out to celebrate at lunch, there are temptations at every turn. Maybe it’s lunchtime, and fast food is your only quick option. Or you’re too busy to leave your desk, so you’re going to have to brown bag it. Or you’re working overtime, and everyone decides to order out for pizza. How can you possibly stick to your low-carb way of eating and still survive at work? Answer: It’s easy—all it takes is some will power and advance planning. Here’s how to avoid the high-carb and sugary traps that lurk in most offices and other work environments:
Conquering Coffee Breaks and Surviving Snacks
Your office vending machine is full of sugary soft drinks, cookies, candy and other high-carb snacks. The break room adds a minefield of doughnuts, muffins and pastries. Don’t even consider them! Also, remember that too much caffeine intake is not good either. If you have already had your morning coffee, decaffeinated coffee or tea or herbal tea are better bets. Keep a water bottle filled and by your side at all times so you stay hydrated; sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger.
Eat a satisfying, low-carb breakfast before you go to work so you aren’t tempted at break time. If mornings are too rushed to prepare a nutritious meal, have an Atkins Advantage Bar or shake, or an Atkins frozen meal, which heats up in minutes. You can even throw any of these options in your briefcase or purse and eat them at work. The key is to start the day off right. A breakfast with sufficient protein and fat not only sets you up for a positive and productive day, it keeps you from experiencing an energy dip and being ravenous by mid-morning.
Low-carb snacks are important for keeping your hunger in check and making sure you are less likely to succumb to the temptations in your office. Make sure you have some easy low-carb snacks on hand when hunger hits at mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Good, convenient choices include wrapped individual cheese portions or homemade snacks as hard-boiled eggs or celery sticks filled with cream cheese or ham or turkey rolled up in romaine lettuce leaves with a little mayo and cheese. Once you're beyond the Induction phase, your can have low-carb snacks such as nuts and seeds and some fruits, like berries. And when it’s your turn to bring in the doughnuts, instead provide a healthy low-carb alternative, such as a crustless quiche, that everyone can enjoy. You can even find delicious low-carb recipes for doughnuts at www.atkins.com/recipes.aspx. Your co-workers may never know the difference!
You should be able to get a suitable lunch at the company cafeteria. Skip the fried foods, sandwiches and desserts. Instead, scrutinize the hot entrées, the salad bar and the grill section for good low-carb lunch choices. Ask to substitute extra veggies for high-carb sides. Or exercise a host of options by bringing your own meals. If a refrigerator is not available, pack your homemade lunch in an insulated bag or small cooler. Transport tuna fish, chicken or egg salads in plastic containers; green salads can travel in a zip-strip plastic bag with dressing on the side. Baked chicken legs, slices of roast beef or turkey and steamed shrimp are also highly portable. (These foods work equally well if your job involves frequent car travel.) And don’t forget your leftovers. Make extra portions of your low-carb dinner recipes and pack them up for lunch.
When dining out with co-workers or a client, you should be able to find plenty of alternatives to carb-heavy foods on the menu of just about any restaurant. Instead of something breaded or fried, order a baked or broiled dish. Ask to substitute extra veggies or a salad for starchy side dishes such as rice or potatoes. Pass on pastries and other sweet desserts; instead, choose berries with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Business lunches used to routinely include alcohol, but in today's work environment it's perfectly acceptable—even preferable—to skip the booze. While alcohol is not that high in carbs, mixers often are. Moreover, your body burns alcohol for fuel before fat, so that drink will slow down your fat-burning process.
Sometimes fast food is all that's available or all you have time for, but it's not impossible to get a good low-carb lunch at many of these places. Your best option at a hamburger restaurant is to order a couple of cheeseburgers (banish the buns) along with a side salad, or to try one of the larger lunch salads with some grilled chicken. Make sure you watch the grams of Net Carbs in the salad dressings that accompany these salads. Pass on the French fries. No matter how pressed you are for time; don't skip lunch—you'll only be more tempted to eat carbohydrates later in the day when your energy level nosedives.
Overtime carbs may be the hardest of all to avoid, especially if you weren't able to plan ahead by packing dinner or an extra snacks. As your workday stretches out even longer, your level of stress rises—as does your desire for something sweet or crunchy. Create an emergency stash of low-carb snacks and bars so before you get to this dangerous point you can dip into it instead. When your coworkers are sending out for dinnertime food, go ahead and join in, making the best choice you can from the available menu. If your office has a freezer, make sure to stash a supply of Atkins frozen meals, so that you always have a low-carb meal at your fingertips.