Why is the Atkins Diet Not Working this Time?

Two Thick, Juicy Steaks Grilled
Why is the Atkins Diet Not Working this Time?

Most of the comments or emails I get come from people who are not new to Keto. They have previously been on Atkins or some other low-carb diet and returned to carbohydrate restriction because it worked so well for them in the past.

Perhaps you feel the same way.

Your expectations at returning to a low-carb diet that worked before started out pretty high. You strongly believed that Keto would work as rapidly and easily as before. 

However, that isn't happening.

Instead of basking in the glories of easy weight loss, you're frustrated because you've only dropped a pound or two all month.

Regardless of your prior success, the fact is: you aren't losing weight. So what's going on?

Didn't Dr. Atkins promise that if you gave up the carbs, losing weight would be painless and easy? Low carb would change your life once and for all! 

In fact, the Atkins Diet claims to be the most effective ketogenic diet out there. 

Obviously, you're understandably upset. You're feeling frustrated, and struggling to cope with only dropping a pound or two all month. Maybe, you're exercising regularly, but your weight keeps bouncing up and down. 

No matter how hard you try, you're just not getting anywhere with this. Why is the Atkins Diet not working this time around?

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Atkins Nutritional Approach Creates a Better You

Have you been chasing after the secret to easy fail-proof weight loss? 

If so, you are going to search for a long time. 

Low-carb diets are not magic. The Keto diet focuses on correcting metabolic and hormonal imbalances that can block the way of success, but ketosis is not the driving principle behind low-carb weight loss.

That job belongs to portion control.

Coming to the table with unrealistic expectations about how quickly you should shed the pounds sets you up to fail. 

Ketosis doesn't guarantee you'll lose weight. 

Ketones are a by-product of breaking down fat, and ketosis occurs when you burn fatty acids for fuel. But those fatty acids can come from your diet instead of your fat cells.

In addition, fat loss isn't linear. Metabolic issues must be corrected before you'll see much weight loss on the scale.

Low carb the second, third, or even fourth time around doesn't guarantee the same rewards you got as a newbie.

Age, greater insulin resistance, new food sensitivities, a slower metabolism from previous dieting efforts, or age all factor into how quickly the pounds come off.

Stop looking at Keto as the latest miracle drug or super-fast diet fad. The Atkins way is a nutritional approach to living that teaches you how to make better food choices. 

As such, creating a better you will take time.

Dr. Atkins believed so strongly in that point that in 2002, he stopped calling his work the Atkins Diet and started referring to it as the Atkins Nutritional Approach instead:

"For too many people," he said, "the word DIET implies not an approach to eating for a lifetime, but a two-months-on, ten-months-off weight loss game that they play with themselves -- year after year. That is not what this book is about!"

The Atkins Nutritional Approach teaches you how to be as healthy as possible by eliminating the consequences from overeating carbohydrates. It does that by correcting your hormonal imbalances which kick hunger to the curb.

Are You Missing the Point?

Atkins Teaches You to Make Healthy Food Choices
The Atkins Diet is NOT about fast weight loss!
It's about making better nutritional choices.

Rather than worry about how slowly the pounds are coming off, focus on finding low-carb food choices and delicious recipes that can become second nature to you. 

If you enter into the Keto world believing the Atkins Nutritional Approach is only a temporary solution and that the whole idea behind dieting is fast weight loss, you've totally missed the point in coming back.

The secret behind peeling off the pounds is to dump the dieting mindset and start looking at Atkins as a new way to live. 

Since the idea behind this ketogenic diet requires you to find your personalized level of carbohydrate sensitivity as well as correct metabolic imbalances, that personal number will help you fine tune an eating style that caters to your likes, dislikes, and lifestyle.

Boredom is the kiss of death when it comes to carbohydrate restriction, so knowing just how far you can stretch your carb allowance without breaking the diet will help you find unique ways of making this weight-loss program your own.

Is This Why Your Low-Carb Diet is Failing?

Making fast weight loss important sets you up for frustration and tons of anxiety. It also fights against the metabolic changes that the Atkins Nutritional Approach seeks to set up.

People who do well on carbohydrate restriction are those who have problems with insulin resistance, diabetes, or some other metabolic defect. 

People who are hungry on low-fat diets and cheat a lot also have better success on Keto than other weight-loss plans because it helps to control cravings.

Dr. Atkins intent wasn't to create a diet that shed the pounds faster than other programs. He created a diet that produced weight loss without going hungry. 

This happens because the Atkins Nutritional Approach drastically lowers your insulin levels and makes it easier for you to eat at a caloric deficit. With hunger down, energy goes up, and if you're in a fat or calorie deficit, the body starts to burn it's fat stores for fuel.

However, when you stress out about the number on the scale, the body perceives that anxiety as an emergency situation. 

Cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones flood into the bloodstream whenever you feel threatened or attacked. 

Many dieters feel that way about the scale. If the scale isn't doing what they want it to do, they feel anxious, worried, and mistreated.

In the presence of high levels of cortisol, insulin levels soar in order to clear the fatty acids from the bloodstream. These fatty acids are normally used for energy on a low-carb diet.

 In the face of stress, however, cortisol clears the fatty acids from the bloodstream and instructs the body to deposit them inside your fat cells instead. 

Cortisol then signals the liver to dump its glycogen stores into the bloodstream for quick energy. You instantly switch from a fat-burning machine into a sugar-burning one instead.

Got the picture?

When you stress out over your weight (or anything else in your life), fatty acids are no longer burned for fuel. You burn glucose instead.

What are the Consequences of Elevated Cortisol?

When you predominantly use glucose for fuel, you need to drastically lower calories as well as fat intake to see any downward movement on the scale.

If you don't, weight can go up, regardless of your carbohydrate intake.

Like the state of ketosis, there is nothing magical about the number of carbohydrates you eat.

The purpose of carbohydrate restriction and finding your special numbers for weight loss and maintenance is to discover the level of carbohydrate that encourages your basal insulin requirements to go down and stay there.

Focusing on your weight and letting the scale determine how you feel about yourself or the diet will produce the opposite effect of what you want. 

Basal insulin levels go up instead of down. And so does your hunger and anxiety. It's better to skip the scale for a while and work on correcting your unhealthy eating habits while lowering your stress level.

One Quick Way to Get the Fat Coming Off Again

Soft Boiled Egg Cracked Open and Drippy
Eggs are a Fat Fast staple due to their high fat content.
While many people love deviled eggs, you can also
eat them soft boiled with a bit of fat on the side.

Dr Atkins called those who don't lose weight or inches on Atkins Induction extremely metabolically resistant to weight loss. 

This metabolic resistance, however, isn't common. 

As long as you are not overeating, you have to be extremely insulin resistant for the diet not to work. Most people who have trouble losing weight have underlying medical issues like:
  • thyroid problems
  • excessive stress
  • imbalanced gut bacteria
  • a yeast overgrowth problem
  • meds that interfere with weight loss
  • nutrient deficiency
  • PCOS
The body can also be in a state of preservation due to the amount of water lost on Induction. It can temporarily fill your fat cells with water, so it won't have to shrink them.

The recommendation Dr. Atkins made to those who are truly metabolically resistant to weight loss was a one-week Fat Fast. But he also said the Fat Fast is dangerous for those who are not truly metabolic resistant. 

He designed the Fat Fast for those who could not get into ketosis or couldn't lose weight or inches on any other diet program, including his own.

The theory?

Ketosis cannot occur if a significant amount of glucose is available to the cells, so the purpose of this highly restrictive diet was to:
  • curb the appetite
  • get the lipolysis test strips turning pink
  • improve the dieter's well being
  • assist dieters in dropping a few pounds
By eliminating almost all sources of glucose, the Fat Fast forced even the most stubborn dieter to go into ketosis.

Dr. Atkins' Original Fat Fast

The Fat Fast was extremely difficult to follow because of its low protein (only 10 percent of your calories come from protein) and extremely high fat content (90 percent of calories come from fat). 

It is also limited to 1,000 total calories per day.

For that reason, Dr. Atkins recommended that you try to eliminate the salad and vegetables from Induction -- go on a zero-carb diet for a few days, first -- rather than use the Fat Fast. 

This fast was only a last resort.

Dr. Atkins spaced out the calories over five meals. 

Each meal was 200 calories and met the 10 percent protein and 90 percent fat criteria. Examples of such meals from the 2002 version of Atkins were:
  • 2 hard-boiled egg yolks with a tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • 2-1/2 ounces heavy cream, whipped
  • 2 deviled eggs made with 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 ounce of macadamia nuts
  • 1 ounce of tuna or chicken salad with 2 teaspoons mayonnaise and 1/4 avocado
As you can see from Dr. Atkins' meal suggestions above, few people could stick to such a diet for even a week. This isn't a weight-loss diet. It's a kick-start diet for those not experiencing results in the normal way.

After a week, you move back to Atkins Induction and monitor your progress. You do not follow the Fat Fast for more than a week. It's a method of fasting and not a diet. 

Hopefully, those few days of limited protein and hardly no carbs will enable the body to go into the state of ketosis, so that the Atkins Nutritional Approach will start working.

*For those who are truly metabolically resistant and interested in this way of eating, check out the recipes and articles on the Fat Fast at Carb Smart magazine. They offer ideas for a root beer float, coconut sour cream, a cucumber salad, and peanut butter pudding.

What You've Got to Know About Low-Carb Diets

You Can't Eat All the Fatty Pork Ribs You Want and Still Lose Body Fat
The truth behind Keto isn't always what
you want to hear. Weight loss will not keep the pace
you saw during Atkins Induction. That's not realistic.

Low-carb diets work by depriving the body of glucose. That's the same thing that happens during a famine or fasting.

When carbohydrates are too low to keep your blood glucose within a tight, safe margin, the liver converts glycogen (your carbohydrate stores) into glucose and dumps it into the bloodstream. 

Turning glycogen into glucose requires a lot of water, so people can often lose a hefty amount of weight within the first few days after going Keto.

The weight you lose during that first week is water, glycogen, worn-out protein structures, and muscle. 

It is not body fat.

As glycogen stores deplete, the body looks around for a different fuel source to keep the brain alive. It first increases protein oxidation, but as the days turn into a week, the body has no choice but to start creating ketones to fuel the body instead.

Ketones come from breaking down adipose tissue (triglyceride) into fatty acids. They are incompletely burned fragments of wax. 

The liver also begins to convert the glycerol backbone attached to triglyceride into glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogensis recycles some of the unused glucose to support the body cells that can only use glucose. 

If you don't eat enough protein for those first three weeks, the body will steal the amino acids it needs from your muscles. You'll lose weight that way, but it won't be body fat. It will be muscle.

The first time you go on a Keto diet, the body has no idea how many ketones the brain needs to function. Most of us have never been in a famine situation before, so the liver creates more than it needs. 

Some of the excess is tossed away in the urine as ketones begin building up in the kidneys. For a newbie, that can be quite a lot. For second or third timers, not so much.

As the body learns how to survive on this new diet, it files away the information for the future. If you are a second or third timer, the information the body needs is already available. 

Because of body memory, you won't make as many ketones on Atkins Induction as you did as a newbie. 

Your body will already know how many to make.

Hence, you won't lose as much body fat during the first month as you did before. But the payoff is that the brain will adapt to using ketones quicker.

The longer you stay on this diet, the tighter that margin becomes because the body will eventually become proficient at using ketones and will no longer have to dump them. 

At that point, you will no longer turn the ketone testing strips pink.

Once the body adapts to ketosis and learns how many fatty acids it takes to support your daily activities, weight loss will drastically slow down and fat loss will be comparable to any other diet.

If this isn't your first time on a low-carb diet, your body will already know how much that is and adaption won't take as long. In that case, fat loss can be slow from the very beginning.

Physically active dieters will burn more fatty acids, of course. Sedentary individuals won't need as many. That's one reason why a low-carb diet is fine-tuned to fit metabolic irregularities and activity level. 

If you're eating a high-fat diet and your daily fat intake supplies all of the fatty acids and calories your body needs to run on, it won't need to go into your fat stores for more. Hence, you won't see any weight loss.

All diets work by setting up an energy deficit.

A low-carb diet simply makes that deficit easier to live with because you don't experience the hunger and cravings that people experience on low-calorie diets. Fat is carbohydrate free, but that doesn't mean you can eat all you want. 

What the body cannot use stays on your hips and belly.

In people with healthy metabolisms, the body finds alternative methods to burn those extra calories, but most overweight people do not have healthy metabolisms. For that reason, it's important to eat reasonable portion sizes as well as restrict your carbs if you want to see an appropriate rate of fat loss.

Low-carb diets work best when you eat just enough to keep hunger away.

Additional Articles You Might Find Helpful

31 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight on Atkins (Our MEGA Guide)
Is the One Golden Shot Theory True?
Dr. Atkins Suggestions to the Metabolic Resistant
Why Am I Not Losing Weight on Atkins 40?
Portion Control: Do Calories Really Matter?

Vickie Ewell Bio


  1. This post is very timely for me as I am going low carb for a second time. Twenty years (!) ago, my husband and I did the Atkins Plan with wonderful results. The plan had me losing weight and feeling kind of smug - lol- about what I was accomplishing. I ate well, exercised, and was fully committed by learning about insulin, proteins and carbohydrates. Then came the really hard part, maintenance. I failed to properly think through this important part of the plan. After a while, along with my Atkins' food, I was eating pasta, bread, desserts, etc. The weight slowly came back. So here I am, going down the low carb path again and determined to do it right. Healthy food is the best medicine for what ails a person. I've lost three pounds this week, (water weight, probably), but, hey, I'll take it.

    1. That's nice to hear that it's working for you. The first time I did Atkins was in the 70s, and I did exactly the same thing. I didn't understand how important it was to maintain those losses. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn. One that keeps repeating itself. Sigh. The 2nd time for me was slower, but it still came off quick enough. Just be patient.


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