You may remember the year 2003: the Concorde made its last flight, Finding Nemo became a smash hit...and the Atkins diet achieved popularity for its purported weight loss magic. ‘Popularity’ is really just the tip of the iceberg: at the diet’s peak, a staggering one in eleven North Americans over the age of 18 identified as being on a low-carbohydrate diet (Atkins or similar). Low-carb foods hit grocery store shelves….and a craze was born (that lasted until 2005 or so).
Fast forward to the current year: while the Atkins diet is still somewhat popular to this day (as are low-carbohydrate diets in general), it’s widespread appeal has greatly diminished over time. How, and why, did a diet that one in eleven North Americans claim to be on diminish in popularity so fast? Simply put: Atkins is not as effective, long-term, as it first seems. Yes, you may lose weight. Great, right? Not so fast. The weight loss comes back (for a few important reasons), you can’t follow the Atkins diet forever, and low-carb diets can weaken your body.
Atkins Weight Loss Comes Back
You may have heard the one about the person who was 100 pounds overweight, lost 100 pounds on Atkins, gained back 150 pounds, and lost it all again with Atkins. Back when Atkins ruled the diet game (and 1 in 11 North Americans were taking a stab at low-carb dieting), stories like this were all but commonplace. The weight loss part sounds great, of course...but here’s the rub: the weight comes back like gangbusters. What’s going on?
A low-carb diet like Atkins has strong diuretic effects that result in water weight loss of up to a gallon in water in pounds...in just the first week. While losing so much weight in the first week is highly motivating, it’s not long-term. Beyond water weight, the Atkins diet is not - nor should be - a long haul diet for maintaining optimal health. It’s not feasible to eat an Atkins diet forever...and when the low-carb diet ends, the weight returns. After long periods of not eating carbohydrates, many people break down and cheat on the diet; or when the diet ends, they overdo it. More alarmingly, Atkins and low-carb diets can lead to body changes that reduce your ability to efficiently burn calories…
Atkins Diets Can Lead to Significant Hormonal Changes
One side-effect of a low-carb diet like Atkins is that it can wreak havoc on your hormones. Serotonin levels can sink on a low-carb diet -- and lower seratonin can actually increase your appetite. The next problematic change that can result from a low-carb diet? Thyroid changes...yuck. Studies suggest low-carb diets can inhibit the synthesis of T4 into T3 (aka the active thyroid hormone).
If you exercise regularly, a low-carb diet can result in falling testosterone (important for muscle catabolism) and rising cortisol levels (which can lead to increased fat storage). This is a sticky situation to find yourself in when you’re trying to lose weight: the more muscles you have, the more efficiently you burn extra fat….while the more cortisol you have, the less efficiently you burn off those extra calories.
Bottom line? Low-carb diets simply aren’t a magic cure-all answer to battling the bulge. Time and time again, research shows that healthy diet changes that can be sustained over a long period of time are what helps dieters take, and keep, the weight off. Fad diets may come, and go, and come back again...but a healthy and balanced diet, combined with regular physical activity, are what the research shows actually works.
Ready to Make a Change?
If you’re ready to make significant lifestyle changes for your health, or you just want an easier way to keep eating healthy meals, a meal service like ours is a great, and easy, way to guarantee you are getting the nutrient-rich calories you need. Our 5 Day Revive Meal Plans give you a jump start with 5 full days of balanced meals full of energy-giving foods that will leave you feeling better and starting to see results. If we aren’t local to you, connect with a nutritionist for recommendations on how to start making big changes (and ask about local meal services if you want an easier way to start doing it).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah Ash, Journalist and Blog Strategist, Nutrition Fanatic
JoHannah Ash first discovered the transformative power of nutrition after struggling to shed post-baby weight: today, she is 100% committed to continuously learning about disease prevention, weight loss, and healthy living through the foods we eat. She spent a decade living in Burlington, Vermont, surrounded by pioneers in the 'local foods' and 'farm-to-table' movements -- and is proud to have been one of the first people to purchase (and wear) one of the now-famous 'Eat More Kale' shirts. When it comes to meal planning for her family, her philosophy can be summed up in three words: "Easy. Pure. Tasty."