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Determining the Safety of the Atkins Diet

Since its introduction to the public in 1992, the Atkins Diet provided a new albeit controversial approach to weight loss that challenged historical thinking and mainstream wisdom. Although two key components of traditional weight loss philosophy (namely, dietary modification and exercise) remained integral to the Atkins approach, its paradigm regarding food choices and quantities were anything but status quo. Consequently, Dr. Atkin’s alimentary recommendations were oftentimes met with severe criticism and misinformation regarding supposed side effects. Despite these initial, negative receptions by various opponents, the Atkins Diet grew in popularity due to the rapid results that were observed among those who adhered to its guidelines. To date, no study has been shown to support allegations that the Atkins Diet is constitutionally detrimental when applied to a healthy population. However, there are a few short term side effects that require mentioning.
Like almost any restrictive diet, one of the first side effects that one may expect to experience on the Atkins Diet is hunger. Frequently, this hunger progresses into cravings for foods rich in carbohydrates – especially sugars. One benefit of the Atkins system is that it allows you to eat enough to be satisfied. Therefore, true sensations of hunger (not cravings) may be alleviated by a protein rich snack. Conversely, cravings represent an addiction your body has developed to refined carbohydrates which led to your weight problem initially. Satisfying these cravings would be detrimental to the plan and need to be ignored. Drinking cold water, performing moderate exercise, or participating in a favorite hobby are some of the ways that these cravings can be dealt with.
An important, yet frequently misunderstood, concept of the Atkins program is ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body is burning fat stores for energy. This metabolic state is a new one for those who are implementing the diet for the first time, and it is often accompanied by two minor side effects: breath changes and mild nervousness.
As previously stated, ketosis is the end result of fat burning. Compounds called ketones are released into the bloodstream and utilized for the body’s energy requirements. Excess ketones are excreted predominantly in the urine, but to a smaller degree in our breath. One property of ketone molecules is that they have a remarkably fruity smell, and this smell may become present in your breath. Some participants in the Atkins Diet have also described a slight, unremarkable change of the taste in their mouth. These symptoms usually resolve after the initial “induction” phase of the diet which lasts as few as two weeks.
Many individuals describe a high level of energy once they have reached the state of ketosis. Sometimes, this heightened energy level escalates into a mild nervousness or sensation of anxiety. Like the breath changes described previously, this symptom usually lasts only throughout the duration of the induction phase. If the sensation persists or becomes too intense, it can be alleviated by adding a few more carbohydrates to your daily menu. Make sure your carb choices are healthy! Avoid sugars and try to include a small portion of a fiber rich, nutrient dense carb source such as vegetables.
Lastly, a common side effect of the Atkins diet is constipation. The hallmark of the Atkins diet is high protein/low carbohydrate, and therefore does not provide as much roughage as the typical overeater is accustomed to in their diet. Constipation may ensue shortly thereafter. Given time, the body may become used to this change in dietary consistency and develop regular bowel movements after a day or two. If this natural regulation does not occur, it may be encouraged by adding more fiber to the diet. Again, vegetables are a wise choice in this regard. If the addition of a few more vegetables to your meal plan does not initiate the desired results, try promoting regularity with the use of a Psyllium based fiber supplement. Should constipation persist, discontinue the diet and seek medical advice from your primary care physician.
Although the aforementioned side effects are generally mild, brief, and benign in nature, it is important to remember that their persistence in the long term can be significant. One should always consult their doctor prior to a new dietary or exercise program in order to determine the safety and efficacy of the proposed modifications. With proper planning and dietary diligence, the Atkins Diet is a safe and powerful approach to fat loss for the majority of healthy individuals.