Are You Resistant to Weight Loss? Here are Dr. Atkins Suggestions

Girl Doing a Hand-Stand on the Beach
Think you might be resistant to weight loss because
the pounds won't come off no matter what you do?
Try looking at the problem from a different perspective.

Dr. Atkins believed that some individuals have a severe metabolic resistance to weight loss.

No matter how strictly you follow your low-carb plan of choice, the scale doesn't budge. And neither does the tape measure. Some of the emails I get are from people who are also restricting calories, but not losing weight.

If you think you might be resistant to weight loss, this post is definitely not going to oppose your perspective.

However, real metabolic resistance to losing weight is not as common as you might think.

This is because insulin sensitivity improves when you lower your carbs during Induction.

In fact, those with high insulin levels tend to be easy losers on Atkins. The nature of insulin resistance is that the body doesn't see those excessive insulin levels, so switching from glucose to fat oxidation brings excellent results!

If you didn't lose weight on Atkins Induction, or if you have stalled partway to goal weight, there are many reasons why that might be.

Resistance to weight loss is one of those reasons, so in this post, I'm going to share the two tests Dr. Atkins gave for determining if you're really resistant to weight loss, and I'll also reveal what you can do to get things moving again -- if you are not.

Pinterest Image: Girl doing hand-stand on the beach

The Body Defends Its Fat Stores

I know that I say this a lot.

But it's true.

The body defends its fat stores as if its life depends on it, because -- it does.

While you might be doing Atkins to get thin and trim, improve your self-image, and reclaim your health, your body doesn't see the body fat it has stored as a problem.

It doesn't judge itself to be ugly when carrying out that purpose. It simply stores the energy it can't use because that's what the body is designed to do.

Energy cannot be destroyed, so excess energy has to be used or stored in some way.

Body fat is not a threat to your survival.

I know that a lot of people think it is, but it's not.

The body adapts to extra weight by adding bone, muscle, and other structures to support the additional weight.

If you have health conditions like celiac disease that interfere with the body's ability to build up bone mass, due to a nutrient deficiency, or if you're abusing the body by pushing it beyond its physical endurance, then extra weight might be problematic.

But that's not typical.

What's dangerous is visceral fat, the fat that's stuffed into your liver cells or packed around your organs because your liver and organs won't work optimally if they are clogged with triglycerides.

If you have a lot of belly fat -- not just a pudgy stomach -- that is often a signal that you're insulin resistant and heading toward diabetes.

However, most people who have insulin resistance never do go into full-blown diabetes because the body solves the problem by creating more insulin.

High insulin levels isn't the problem.

High insulin levels are the solution the body has come up with to solve the problem of elevated blood glucose levels. It's the solution that people don't like.

Today, we know that most of what Dr. Atkins was talking about when he referred to metabolic resistance is the way the body defends its fat stores and adapts to calorie and carbohydrate deprivation, even though he never spoke of it in exactly those terms.

In those days, adaptive science was only real among certain spiritual traditions because hard science is materialistic. What a scientist can't prove in a lab or research study doesn't exist.

There are theories, of course, like the Insulin Hypothesis, but most of these ideas don't fit into ancient spiritual traditions because they are trying to explain a physical phenomenon they don't understand.

Spiritual adaptive science is about how the body, mind, and emotions deal with stressful situations. And today, these ancient ideas are supported by science.

What I Learned Re-Reading Atkins 92

In 2007, I wasn't looking for information on weight-loss resistance.

I was looking at the 1992 Atkins book for ideas and thoughts on the minimum amount of fat you need to eat on a ketogenic diet to be successful, hoping for some solid research I could look into, but I didn't find anything on specific amounts of dietary fat.

The chapter on fat was a bit of a disappointment.

Not because it lacked any substance or merit, but it just didn't cover what I hoped it would.

It was more of a defense toward some of the accusations of heart disease and breast disease that people were throwing at low-carb diets whenever they heard the word Atkins.

That's where Dr. Atkins' head was at. He spent a lot of his time defending his perspective on weight loss.

However, what I found in the chapter about Metabolic Resistance really blew my mind. It was so contrary to what the low-carb community preaches about dietary fat and calories today that it totally changed my whole outlook on low-carb diets and weight loss.

What to Do When You Reach a Weight-Loss Plateau 

The chapter on Metabolic Resistance wasn't written for only those who couldn't get into ketosis or who stalled shortly thereafter. The chapter was also written for those who got stuck part way to their goal weight.

Anywhere along the way, in fact.

Women Weighing Herself, Frustrating With the Scale
Dr. Atkins simply defined metabolic resistance
as resistance to ketosis, rather than weight loss.

This was an important point.

Despite Dr. Atkins' simplified definition of weight-loss resistance being resistance to ketosis, he recognized that there was a large percentage of folks who initially go into ketosis quite easily during Induction, but then later on, they stop losing weight.

And this can happen even if you are only eating 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.

In the 1992 book, these individuals were counseled to carefully read and study the principles found within the chapter on the Fat Fast

So that is what I did next.

What Causes Weight-Loss Resistance?

The chapter began with a couple typical questions:
  • Do you take medication?
  • Have you had your thyroid checked lately?
In addition, there were two simple tests you could perform on yourself to find out if you fit into the metabolic resistant category. I will talk about those two tests in just a moment, but basically, in Dr. Atkins professional experience, these are the two major causes of real metabolic resistance:

Taking medication that interferes with the way the body mobilizes and processes body fat; and thyroid issues.

In the 2002 version of the diet, these two issues were expanded to include excessive insulin resistance, such as PCOS, and yeast overgrowth like Candida.

Other problems that are often cited today by those who clinically treat those with weight-loss resistance, include:
  • lack of sleep
  • adrenal fatigue
  • chronic stress
  • build-up of toxic substances
  • leptin resistance
  • food intolerance
  • excessive cardio
  • elevated testosterone
  • neurotransmitter imbalance
  • digestive disturbances
  • chronic inflammation
All of these things can affect the rate at which you lose weight. However, according to Dr. Atkins' experience, as long as you're eating at a caloric deficit and your carbs are beneath your carbohydrate tolerance, they don't affect the results of being in ketosis in the same way that certain medications and your thyroid do.

Most of the issues I mentioned above all boil down to physical, mental, or emotional stress, so they create an excessive amount of energy that the body has to deal with in some way.

For many people, a low-carb diet lessens the stress you place on the body, so most of the above conditions won't interfere with weight loss, especially if you decide to use one of the three methods of dietary correction I plan to talk about in this post.

Dr. Atkins said that there were basically only two effective techniques for losing weight, and for those with weight-loss resistance, these two techniques (and one bonus technique I talk about at the end) were valid methods to use.

If you are metabolic resistant, they will still work. They just might not be as pleasant or as fast as you want them to be, but the weight will still come off.

Dr. Atkins Specific Definition of Metabolic Resistance 

First, let's look at Dr. Atkins specific definition for metabolic resistance because within that definition are the two keys to successful weight loss. 

Please note that this definition was removed from the 2002 version of the diet and more emphasis was placed on overcoming yeast overgrowth, thyroid irregularities, and medications because for most people, that's all that's needed to get the scales moving downward.

For those it doesn't help, metabolic resistance to weight loss is specifically defined as:

"The inability to lose weight, or to continue to lose weight until a reasonable goal weight is reached, on either a diet of 1,000 calories or on a 25 gram carb diet."

This in-depth definition is important because most people, including the low-carb community, do not believe that a 1,000 calorie per day diet is safe or recommended, even for those who are very short or have weight-loss difficulties.

Yet, here we have Dr. Atkins telling you flat-out that his definition for metabolic resistance is an inability to lose weight while eating only 1,000 calories a day or an inability to lose weight while eating only 25 grams of carbohydrates per day.

In other words, there is no way to know if you are metabolic resistant to weight loss unless you've personally tried to eat at 1,000 calories a day and still can't drop the weight. This is the real reason why the Fat Fast contains only 1,000 calories a day.

It's a test to see if you can lose weight eating at a bare minimum of calories, or not.

There's also no way to know if you are metabolically resistant to weight loss unless you've been eating at 20 carbohydrates for a few weeks now, and not just for your initially two-week Induction.

Since this is what I was doing when I lost over 100 pounds doing a tweaked version of the Atkins Diet, eating at just below 1,000 calories and 20 carbs, I would not be considered resistant to weight loss in Dr. Atkins opinion because I CAN lose weight eating at 1,000 calories a day.

I just can't lose weight quickly if I eat much more than that.

There are Only Two Effective Weight Loss Methods

Once you understand Dr. Atkins definition for resistance to weight loss, you hold the keys to the only two effective weight-loss methods there are:

1) Drastically restrict calories


2) Drastically restrict carbohydrates

With all of the controversy over calories within the low-carb community, this really caught my attention because up to this point in my weight-loss journey, the conversation regarding calories was always within a moderate-fat context.

It was about how to follow the guidelines of the Atkins diet, where you let your hunger level naturally cause you to eat less than you did before.

But here, Dr. Atkins is addressing an overlooked truth for those who find their unconscious eating habits are getting in the way of ditching the weight, especially those who have been on several weight-loss diets in the past.

What Can You Do If You Suspect that You are Metabolically Resistant to Weight Loss? 

In 2002, Dr. Atkins called the Fat Fast the ultimate diet for overcoming metabolic resistance.

Calories are only spoken of in that book in connection with the Fat Fast. You're told to try to get your doctor to prescribe a different medication, take the steps necessary to correct a gut imbalance, and take supplements like:
  • L-carnitine
  • co-enzyme Q10
  • chromium
  • alpha lipoic acid
  • glutamine
  • phenylalanine
  • combo of inositol, choline, and methionine
These supplements are thought to help the body deal with free radicals and toxicity. Glutamine can help heal a leaky gut. Co-enzyme Q10 raises energy levels and chromium can help with unstable blood sugar.

These are all things that might be slowing down weight loss.

But in 1992, Dr. Atkins recommended something entirely different.

Dr. Atkins Number One Suggestion

For those who didn't lose weight on Atkins Induction, or stopped losing weight shortly thereafter, or if you have stalled partway to goal:

"You might study your response to eating less food, smaller portions, fewer calories, less caloric-dense foods (ex low fat). 

[And yes, he really said low fat in 1992. The high-fat craze didn't come through the father of low-carb diets. It came from people who were desperate to lose weight.]

Chili-Garlic Chicken Stir Fry is Made with Chicken Breast
Old-School Atkins was much lower in fat and calories
than today's Atkins 20 and Atkins 40.

"Perhaps you were seduced by the concept of eat all it takes, which you may have interpreted as eat all you want, and the two means of determining your optimal quantities may be quite different.

"For you, the most effective strategy might be to say to yourself 'I'll eat just enough that I'm physically free of intolerable hunger signals, and no more.

"No question, for the person who is stuck, that's the first thing to try. 

"So do that, and come back to this section after you've given your new quantity concept a fair try (several weeks perhaps).

Dr. Atkins' nurse, Jacqueline Eberstein continues to share this technique today. She is always saying that Atkins works best when you eat just enough to remain free of hunger pains, and no more. 

Once you have put that strategy to the test for several weeks, and not just a day or two, Dr. Atkins revealed what you can do next, and it's this second step that holds the magic to breaking through your stall:

"You now have to answer these questions:
  • Is the newly modified diet working now?
  • If so, am I as happy as I was on my Induction diet?
  • Do I feel well?
  • Can I do this for a lifetime?
"If the answers are yes, then do it -- you've found your answer."


If a low-fat and/or low-calorie Atkins works for you, keep doing it for the rest of your life. That was Dr. Atkins' advice to those who were having difficulty losing weight on a standard Atkins Diet.

Dr. Atkins Number Two Suggestion

But hey, Suggestion number two gets even better:

"The second principle of weight loss we work with (and the number one principle overall) is carb restriction. I placed it second here merely because if you are on the Induction diet, you are already quite restricted in carbohydrate.

"Of course, you're not at absolute zero in carbohydrate -- there are veggies, the salad, the lemon juice, and the other low-but-not-zero-carbohydrate items that make this diet so livable.

"What would happen if you cut way down on them? Well try retreating to zero carbohydrate, and then ask yourself the same question:
  • Does the diet now work?
  • And do you feel well?
  • And are you happy?
  • And could you spend your life on it?"
Dr. Atkins recommended an all meat diet to his metabolically resistant patients in 1992. And even recommended that you continue eating that way for life, if need be.

Two Tests for Determining Resistance to Weight Loss

Remember me talking above there being two tests to discover if you are metabolically resistant to weight loss?

Well, here they are:

Test One: 

The first test is to eat at 1,000 calories a day, or a little less, for a few weeks and see if your low-carb diet starts working, or not. If the weight starts to come off, this tells you that you are overeating on calories. Adjust them accordingly.

If test number one fails, or if you don't want to try that one just yet, move on to test two. Feel free to do these two tests in reverse if that is more appealing to you.

Test Two:

The second test is to go on a meat-and-eggs fast. Have no salad, no vegetables, and no other carbs but the carbs in the eggs. This is essentially a zero-carb diet and will tell you if you are overeating on carbs.

If this starts to work for you, then you can experiment with low-carb dairy products, but add them back only one at a time, so you can keep a close eye on them.

Dairy tends to be inflammatory for a lot of people and can cause insulin spikes in sensitive individuals. Try to limit your diet to 5 carbs a day, or less.

Platter Filled with Assorted Luncheon Meats, Hard Boiled Eggs
Dr. Atkins had 2 tests for metabolic resistance.
If you started losing weight with either one,
his advice was to keep doing what's working for you.

If you are actually metabolically resistant to weight loss, you won't be able to lose weight even on a low-fat Atkins Diet that provides less than 1,000 calories a day. You also won't lose weight by dropping your carbs down to zero.

If you CAN lose weight on a low-fat Atkins Diet of less than 1,000 calories a day, or you CAN lose weight on a zero-carb diet, then you are not metabolically resistant to weight loss. You might be especially sensitive to carbs, but that isn't the same thing.

In essence, you are overeating carbs or calories.

Bonus Method: Dr. Atkins Perspective on Water Fasting

What if you don't want to do a zero carb or low-calorie Atkins? Is there another way?

Yes, there is.

In addition to calling a low-calorie or zero-carb diet viable alternatives to Atkins, the most eye-opening quote I ran into had to do with water fasting.

Although, water fasting is the latest, hottest trend within the low-carb community to catch fire, fasting isn't new. Dr. Atkins was recommending it in 1992:

"There was a time when I used to say to people, 'Well, you can always cut down calories and carbohydrate, and go all the way down until you are on a fast.' Not as bad an idea as it might sound to someone who has never tried it. 

"The fasting state, once induced, is full of self-protective devices. A person on a fast liberates more FMH [fat mobilizing hormones] and other lipid mobilizers than on almost any other diet, and the FMH leads to Ketosis/Lipolysis, loss of hunger, and a variety of other benefits that make the average fasting person comfortable and often exhilarated. 

"The beautiful fact about fasting and the Atkins diet is that one can use the Induction diet to create a maximal outpouring of FMH and then, without interruption, switch into fasting without going through the hunger/discomfort that characterizes the first two days of a fast. 

"So by doing two days of a nothing but meat, eggs, fish, and fowl diet, you can begin your fast already in an effective state of Ketosis/Lipolysis."

Since I'm not a doctor and don't have any medical training, I've included the entire quote from the 1992 Atkins book on fasting. These are Dr. Atkins words and not mine.

It seems to back up a lot of Dr. Fung's theories about protective mechanisms during fasting, as well as the idea of going into ketosis first to make fasting a more comfortable experience.

The Bottom Line

From my own research and personal experience with severely limited diets, the body will try to adapt to whatever you choose to do to it.

When I was growing up, we used to fast for two meals -- one Sunday a month -- and even though we were protein deficient, I saw no ill effects from the fasting.

I read a book when I was younger about how to save money on groceries, and the author claimed to have lost all of his excess weight by fasting one day per week.

According to the author of that book, fasting helped to keep his appetite in check.

But I have no idea if he really did that, or not.

It was an option that Dr. Atkins gave to his readers and patients who were resistant to weight loss.

Some people can handle calorie restriction better by completely skipping meals than cutting back on portion sizes or eliminating the heavy cream and cheese that are used heavily in low-carb recipes.

I think that's what Dr. Atkins was trying to say.

If calories or too much fat is the problem, eat fewer calories and less fat. If carbohydrates are the problem, cut back on them, even if you have to go down to zero.

Do what's best for you, and let everyone else stay right and fat.

Vickie Ewell Bio


  1. I ABSOLUTELY have to watch BOTH calories and carbs - I couldn't lose a darn thing unless I ate less than 5 carbs a day and with my 100hr a work week type of weeks, that's totally unrealistic (having to catch meals out a lot).

    I now eat about 1400 calories a day and under 40 carbs a day and lose just fine. Of course 1400 is probably a lot to some, but it's tricky doing both low calories and low carbs and maintaining taste! LOL But the first thing I do is reduce a bit of fat and it "naturally" brings the calories down.


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