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home | Feature Articles | The Diet Series Part One The High Pr . . .

The Diet Series Part One The High Protein Diet
Barb Hyland


The High Protein Diet 

In 1863, William Banting published a brochure entitled "Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public," in which he described a diet for weight control giving up bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer and potatoes.  

In 1967, Dr. Irwin Stillman published The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet, which was a high-protein, low-carb, low-fat diet. 

In 1972, Dr. Robert Atkins published Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, a low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet.  

In 1996 Dr. Michael Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades published Protein Power,  a high-protein, low-carb diet. 

As you can see, the high-protein, low-carb diet has been around for many, many years. This article will focus on the most famous of these diets, the Atkins Diet. 

The Atkins Diet 

Why is the Atkins diet still going strong even though it has been considered controversial

for so many years? Because it works? 

A number of recent studies since 2002, including those funded by the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the Philadelphia Veterans Administration, demonstrate benefits of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet -- especially when weight-loss results achieved with a diet like the Atkins plan are compared to weight-loss results on other diet plans. 

Today there are millions of diabetics in this country. They're calling it an epidemic. Dr. Atkins originally came up with his diet, not so much to help people lose weight, as to help those who had diabetes and couldn't control the disease with the diets that were available at that time. 

My Story 

In 1997, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. My doctor and my nutritionist told me I would have to follow the American Diabetic Association (ADA) eating guidelines for the rest of my life. They made sure I knew the consequences of allowing my diabetes to get out of hand. Scary stuff! 

For the first year I was too scared to do anything other than follow the ADA diet to the letter. But no matter what I did, my blood glucose numbers just kept getting higher and higher. Then I decided to take my life into my own hands. I had heard a lot about the Atkins diet from people who were trying to lose weight, but when I read Dr. Atkins' book, it was mostly about the health benefits of his diet -- especially for diabetics -- so I decided to try it.  

Within SEVEN DAYS my blood glucose came down to almost normal. Within FOUR MONTHS I went from a size 24 to a size 14. I had people asking me if I was sick I was losing fat so fast! And my energy level soared! 

The Science Behind the Atkins Diet 

Our bodies burn both fat and carbohydrates for energy, but carbs are used first. By restricting carbs to a fraction of that found in the Standard American Diet, your body goes into a state of ketosis, which means it burns its own fat for fuel. As a result, your body changes from a carbohydrate-burning engine into a fat-burning engine, and you lose the fat from those popular fat-gathering spots -- hips, belly, and thunder thighs.  

What happens when you eat a high-carb meal? The carbohydrates very quickly turn into glucose (sugar). This immediately enters the bloodstream. To keep the blood sugar from rising too high, your body secretes insulin. Insulin allows the extra sugar to be stored in the liver and the muscle as glycogen, but these stores are rapidly filled to capacity. The insulin then converts any extra sugar to fat -- the stuff we're trying so hard to get rid of.

If your body keeps on making insulin as it tries to deal with the overload of sugar, it may become less responsive to insulin and eventually develop the metabolic disorder, diabetes.  

I was on the low-fat diet for years -- lots of carbs, very little fat -- the result was diabetes. Today there is an epidemic of diabetes. Could it be for the same reason I became diabetic? 

What is a Diet? 

People talk about "a diet" as a short-term system for losing weight. But the first definition of diet in Webster's dictionary is: A system of food; what one habitually eats and drinks. A diet is a way of eating that should keep you healthy for the rest of your life.  

What is the Atkins Diet? 

What most people have heard is that the Atkins diet is one of pure protein -- no fruits, no vegetables, no carbohydrates, no desserts, no fun. But that's not what Dr. Atkins advocated at all. He insisted that people should eat for pleasure as well as for health.  

The Atkins diet sets few limits on the amount of food you eat, and you don't have to abstain from the "rich" foods -- juicy steaks or bacon and eggs or cheese or whipped cream. You can cook with butter, have mayo with your tuna, and put olive oil on your salads. 

However, it does restrict certain kinds of food: no refined sugar, no milk, no potatoes, no pasta, and no rice. Unless you learn how to substitute the healthy, low-carb foods for the high-carb ones, the Atkins diet can seem terribly limiting. 

How Does It Work?  

The Induction Phase 

In the first two weeks there are almost no restrictions on proteins or most fats, but carbs are restricted to about 20 grams of net carbs per day. (Net carbs are total carbs minus fiber and/or sugar alcohols) Leafy greens and other non starchy vegetables are the primary source of carbs during Induction.  

Once you slow down your carb consumption, your body jump-starts the fat burning. This takes about 48 hours to occur. It's a dramatic shift and you may feel hungry or out of sorts for first the few days until the fat burning energy kicks in. Don't give up! 

This is the phase that so many people believe is the "Atkins Diet." It's not. It's just the first, very short phase to get your metabolism revved up.  

Exercise in this and all the phases is emphasized as part of a healthy lifestyle. 

Ongoing Weight Loss 

After the initial two-week Induction phase, you enter the Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL) phase. The carb allowance is increased to 25 net carbs daily in the form of fiber-rich foods, including the addition of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. Gradually your daily carb tally is increased, in 5-carb increments, until your weight loss slows. 


When you are within 5 to 10 pounds of your goal, you enter the Pre-Maintenance phase. This phase allows you to take your carb level up a notch while still losing weight. Each week in Pre-Maintenance you can bump up your daily allotment 10 more grams of net carbs, as long as you continue to lose those last few pounds. The carb count continues to go up until you reach your goal weight and maintain it for one month.  

Lifetime Maintenance 

This is when you start your Lifetime Maintenance phase, your individual level of carbohydrate intake at which you neither gain nor lose weight. By now you should have experimented with low-carb recipes until it's second nature to think low-carb whenever you see a new dish. 

What's Available Today? 

When I started on the Atkins diet, there were so few low-carb ingredients for sale that it was really difficult to find substitutes for the foods I had been eating. In fact there were so many people who just didn't know what to eat, that Dr. Atkins had to start his own line of low-carb foods. 

Back in the '90s, if you wanted something low-carb you had to go online for it. Since low-carb menus have been used for people with epilepsy for so many years, the low-carb items were called "ketogenic," so it was possible to find some low-carb items.  

Today food companies have found a large enough market that the choices are almost as great as for low-fat foods. I can even find one of my all-time favorites -- French Mint Chocolates at 1 g of net carbs per piece. 

I now have recipes for foods you wouldn't think could possibly be low carb: decadent no-flour cakes, cookies, smoothies. And I've learned to adapt almost any recipe to low carb. Local grocery stores now carry many items from sugar-free pudding and gelatin, to sugar-free jams and jellies, to sugar-free hot chocolate, to sugar-free ice cream, to sugar-free sugar! 

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I thought I'd have to eat food that tasted like cardboard for the rest of my life, and I'd never be able to eat anything sweet ever again. With the Atkins diet I've learned that I'm able to eat wonderfully delicious foods, including sweets. The Atkins diet may not be perfect, but for me it has been a godsend.

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·  The Diet Series Part Four; In Conclusion
·  The Diet Series Part Three The Traditional Diet
·  Diet Series Part Two The Raw Diet