The Atkins Challenge
12 September 2014
Its undoubtedly the most controversial diet out there - not only radical, but seemingly paradox. Putting all those fatty foods on your TO DO list - that are strictly forbidden under other diet plans. Not counting any calories, and not only drastically reducing the carb intake, but practically banning it (during Induction phase 1) so that not even fruits, berries & nuts can be consumed. How CAN this possibly work? How could it possibly be good for our health?
I TRIED IT for one MONTH - because I wanted to finally find answers to these questions!!
It took me a portion of courage - and two failed attempts - until I could pull it off. The first attempt failed before it had even started. I wanted to go to the book store to buy the Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution - I didn´t find it in the shelves of Orell Fuessli & so I asked the Lady working there if I could order it. She frowned at me, eyed me up and down, and replied:
"Dr. Atkins? I don't think we offer this book. He died of this Diet actually."
Aha... - I felt stupid standing in front of her eyeing the size of my legs. She must think I have gone completely nuts. I didn´t want to start explaining my motivations to her and I lost the courage to ask for the book anywhere else. I felt a bit like asking for Mein Kampf or something.
I didn't stop looking though, & fortunately a few months later, I found a copy at another bookstore. At the cashpoint I was, again, extensively scrutinized - but finally given the book.
Phase 1 - Induction Phase
Going Foodshopping for the first time was an eerie experience. The absolute reverse of everything I was used to. I was buying all the food I normally never buy & vice versa had to skip the food I was used to buying. Full fat everything, meat, cheese, eggs, butter, cream and the "allowed" greens during induction phase. To count the Carbs I used the "my fitness pal" app on my phone which I always use for monitoring what I eat. It gives me a complete chart at the end of each day showing exactly how many grams of fat, protein, carbs, sugar & fiber consumed.
I started my day with eating eggs and some onion, tomato or spinach (only about half an onion was allowed - I weighed everything meticulously to try and keep the allowed 18g of Carbohydrates per day). Lunch and dinner consisted again of meat and some low carb green side dishes, as a snack I ate cheese (only 100g of cheese per day is allowed).
On the first three days I felt weak, not hungry but just weak and tired. I felt that I ate a lot, but still only managed to eat around 1500kcal a day - more was not possible.
MYTHBUSTER No. 1 - with Atkins you can eat as many calories as you like - No! By cutting the carbs the body simply can not eat that much fats and protein to reach more calories because the fat saturates you so much.
MYTHBUSTER No. 2 - when on Atkins you don´t consume enough vegetables or fibre - Not true! When eating the Vegetables on the list of allowed greens and making sure to reach the minimum of 18g (these must be reached according to the book) - you eat around 500g to 1 kg of green vegetables a day, depending on what you choose from the list. The iron and vitamin C levels, as well as most other vitamin daily targets are absolutely reached - even during the highly restrictive Induction phase.
After day 3 I felt better, but still not super energetic. But I did not feel any more cravings for sweets or carbohydrates, not even fruits. It felt easy to adhere to the eating plan. I must note that on the first three days I cheated one time every day - one day 1 it was eating an apple, on day 2 it was Peanut butter, and on day 3 I ate too much cheese - still I lost 1 Kg after the first three days. It was crazy. I started the diet ready to commit to the experiment and expecting my weight to - aehm... double... in the first week. This was not the case. By week one I had lost 3 Kg and needed to quit the Induction phase and move to phase 2.
Note: This was an experiment, I never actually intended to change my weight longterm. I was from the beginning mentally prepared to go back to my initial weight after the experiment is over - because I feel, that it is the ideal weight for me.
Phase 2 - Balancing Phase
Here it starts getting interesting. After completing Induction and "reprogramming" your metabolism to fatburning, in Phase 2 step by step the Carbs get integrated back into the eating plan. Starting with Seeds, Berries, Fruits and Nuts and more Vegetables the diet gets diversified and enriched without loosing the benefit of fatburning (Ketosis). It was when I reached this phase, that I started feeling really good. Allowed to eat more carbohydrates let me feel energised and I actually needed less sleep. I was more active in the morning (think waking up before your alarm rings EVERY day!!!) and kept a clearer head. I slowly and intuitively built up my diet to eating things such as lentils or quinoa and chickpeas - even green smoothies and juices or a piece of dark chocolate. I was still eating all the fatty foods though and not gaining any weight. On my daily nutrition charts I went from eating around 15% carbs to around 30 or 40 - without much conscious counting. This turns out to be a pretty balanced diet - the type of food ratio that a nutritionist will recommend you.
Phase 3 & 4 - Pre maintenance & Maintenance:
I never actively transitted to Phase 3 or 4 - I just gradually built up & expanded my list of food intuitively. After 4 weeks I was eating the odd piece of Bread along with my salad, or tried a piece of sushi here and there. I didnt feel any effect on my metabolism and still never felt any food cravings. I also, without calory counting, never exceeded a daily intake of kcal 1500 - sometimes staying below kcal 900.
For reference: one Pizza contains kcal 1800, a MacDonalds Cheese burger kcal 350, and a Big Mac around 900 - of course all of this Foods are something I would never eat anyways (with few very very rare exceptions).
When doing Aktins, precision is ABSOLUTE Key! Sugars today are hidden everywhere, in sauces, soups etc. Its essential to either cook at home, ask specifially to the waitor, or order "safe" foods like sashimi - where no ingredient can be hidden. The book offers all the tipps on how to behave at the restaurant & how to count the carbs etc. Doing a diet, is like doing any other Job - if you don't do it accurately your result will be sloppy. If you are not prepared to do it correclty - please dont do it at all! Your metabolism will not be "rebooted" & you will just be eating a lot of fat.
Back to Refined Carbs:
After roughly 5 Weeks I wanted to know what would happen if I did it! And by doing it, I mean - eating the pain au chocolat in the morning on an empty stomach before going to the office. Just Bread and Sugar - very sweet, very refined, very prohibited. I went to the bakery and got the evil thing - ate it. In the beginning feeling a rush of energy and the feeling of having eaten something incredibly great - was followed by me feeling so terrible I contemplated going to the doctor and calling in sick. NO ENERGY - felt like I was coming down with a flue, literally. It was my blood sugar levels that rocketed skihigh after eating the bread & then plummeted into nothingness - draining me of all my power. Not something I plan to repeat!
So whats the resume of this Diet Experiment? I feel the Atkins Diet is in sense a way to "reprogramm" your metabolism and eating habits. Similar to your computer - you first erase all the contents that is there (Induction) and then slowly start to add back what is essential for proper functioning. Another example: When dusting your bookshelf, its best to remove the books before cleaning it - rather than dusting around the books - its the more efficient method. Still it is absolutely essential to put the books back inside - its not the idea to throw them away - this would also destroy the function of your bookshelf.
Clearly Induction is radical, and as much as you cannot work with an empty computer with no software or content on it - you cannot use the Induction Diet for a longterm lifestyle. Its an act of "cleaning" out your habits. In many ways its similar to a detox or a juice cleanse, only that you do not experience any type of hunger, and you have the benefit of teaching your body to use its fatburning mode. I think Juice cleanses and Detoxing is more of a gastrointestinal cleanse rather than a metabolic one. It will let you feel light and clean out toxins - but will not serve much of an effect on your ability to burn fat.
With many people suffering from weight problems, due to their inability to switch efficiently to Ketosis - the Atkins can provide the tools to teach the body how to make this transition.
But like with every Lifestyle decision - the top Number one Priority is to follow YOUR OWN intuition and listen to the Body.
We are all different and not every Body will react the same.
Still I hoped to have provided some useful insight or motivations by sharing my personal experience with this approach to dieting.
If you have any questions or thoughts - please share!
I am now already planning my next Super Foodie Self Experiment / Challenge - SUPERFOODS!
Acai, Goji, Chia & co. are waiting to invade my Kitchen.
Coming Soon <3