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Do's & Don'ts of the Atkins Diet

By Kelsey Casselbury ; Updated July 18, 2017

Low-carb diets such as Atkins are controversial, given the near-elimination of an entire macronutrient from your diet. However, when it comes to weight loss, Atkins might help you find success. A study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" in 2003 found that severely obese participants lost more weight on a carbohydrate-restricted diet than on a calorie- and fat-restricted diet. You just need to follow the guidelines properly.

Getting Started on Atkins

Learn the basics of Atkins before committing to it -- it's not an eating plan that's easy for everyone to follow. Eric C. Westman, associate professor of medicine at Duke University Health System, told "The New York Times" that Atkins promotes healthy whole foods that don't raise your blood sugar significantly. The diet consists of four phases, beginning with the induction phase, which restricts carbs to 20 net grams a day. As a result, you eat more protein and fat. As time passes, you move through the phases, adding additional carbohydrates into your diet as long as they don't stall or reverse your weight loss.

The Do's of the Diet

While on the Atkins diet, eat three meals and two snacks a day. You should never go more than three to four waking hours without eating. While in phase 1, limit yourself to 20 grams of net carbs a day; 12 to 15 grams should be from nonstarchy vegetables. Drink plenty of water each day -- Atkins recommends eight 8-ounce glasses a day; however, you can also drink two glasses of coffee or tea a day and beef, chicken or vegetable broth. In subsequent phases, continue to eat at least 12 to 15 grams of carbs from vegetables, and add carbs back in 5-gram increments so you can determine how they affect your body.

The Don'ts of the Diet

Atkins differs from other diets in a very significant way -- you don't restrict fat intake. The Atkins website says that consuming fat is vital for losing weight on the diet. Additionally, don't stray from the list of acceptable foods for each phase, particularly in phase 1 when you're kick-starting weight loss. As you're moving through the phases, don't be too eager to add in a bunch of new foods all at once. Instead, add the food groups allowed in that phase one by one. You can do this every week, every couple of weeks or wait even longer before reintroduction.

Do's and Don't for Maintenance

Once you reach phases 3 and 4, you switch into premaintenance and lifetime maintenance modes. The focus moves from losing weight to maintaining your weight loss and making your eating habits a permanent lifestyle. During phase 3, determine the number of net carb grams you can eat per day while maintaining your weight. In the final phase, stick to this number and resist "carb creep," meaning you slowly add in too many carbs and go beyond your personal threshold. Do eat 4 to 6 ounces of cooked protein at each meal and 12 to 15 grams of net carbs from vegetables, but don't eat more than two servings of fruit a day. Don't let yourself gain more than 5 pounds from your goal weight without reverting back to an earlier phase to shed that weight.

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