11 Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Atkins

Mardi Gras Parade with Huge Clown-Like Float
After losing over 100 pounds,
I didn't expect to look like I did.

[Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after using one of those links, I might receive a small financial compensation, at no cost to you.]

Few bloggers discuss the real-life results of losing over 100 pounds, as well as what's really going on in the low-carb science field today, so in this post, I'm going to share with you what you can expect if you have a lot of weight to lose.

I first became acquainted with the Atkins Diet in 1975. I ran into a paperback copy of Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution in the library, what's known as Atkins 72 today.

At the time, I had been reading several weight-loss books, looking for something new that would give me the answer to my weight problem.

I didn't want to hear that it was all about the calories. I didn't want to ditch the meat and go vegetarian. I wanted a miracle diet that would fit with my current lifestyle.

My now ex-husband was a meat-and-potatoes guy, and even though Dr. Atkins advised me to steer clear of the potatoes and gravy, along with most of the other foods I enjoyed, I could still eat all of the meat I wanted, plus a few side dishes like cottage cheese and strawberries.

It wasn't difficult to drop the weight.

The pounds came off quickly and easily, but my mind wasn't really in the game.

My worldview was still distorted even after I was thin. I didn't experience a massive upswing in self-confidence, and I didn't automatically overcome the strong need to avoid confrontation. All that had changed was my body size.

Inside, I was still me.

Wooden Chess Piece with Golden Crown
After dropping over 100 pounds,
I didn't feel any different. I still felt like ME.

As the years went by and I attempted to diet again and again, habitual thought-forms and patterns began to take over the dieting experience.

The body began defending its fat stores, low-carb products triggered celiac disease symptoms, and when I tried to force the body to give up more fat than it was comfortable doing, the whole dieting process backfired on me.

With no rhyme or reason, I began to gain weight like crazy.

The dieting mindset is not your friend. The dieting mindset is your enemy. It fights for life at your expense.

So, to help you understand where I went wrong, and to show you the booby-traps you need to watch out for as you move through the four phases of the Atkins Diet, I have put together this list of 11 things I wish I had known before I ever tried doing Atkins.

Pinterest Image: Mardi Gras Mask

1. Not Everyone Loses Their Taste for Carbs

In the 1972 book, Dr. Atkins made it seem like eating this way would somehow eliminate your desire to return to a higher carb diet. In his mind, the easiness of the way and the lack of hunger that he experienced on low-calorie diets was enough to extinguish all temptations.

Over the years, many souls have testified about the accuracy of this assessment.

When they reached a point where they couldn't stand the feelings of deprivation any longer and went face down into the chocolate cake, they reported that it didn't taste as good as they remembered it. Some even went so far as to say that carby foods were bland and tasteless.

Not in my experience!

No matter how long I went without carbs, no matter how low in carbs I ate, I never lost the desire for ice cream and chocolate. I have serious emotional attachments to those foods, and low carbing was not a realistic method of dissolving them.

For me, temptation never died. I always had cravings for carbs and those foods DID taste as good as I remembered.

In fact, many of them tasted even better, so lying to yourself isn't the best way to handle the reality of temptation. You're much better off reassessing your priorities and learning how to put the ice cream and chocolate cake in their proper place.

You didn't get fat eating chocolate cake.

You got fat because you consistently took in more energy than your body could use.

2. Low-Carb Products Triggered Celiac Disease Symptoms

Whole-Grain Wraps
Low-carb tortillas and other products are made with
vital wheat gluten, wheat starch, and other
high-gluten ingredients low in carbs.

Low-carb products were not available in 1975. They didn't surface in full-force until shortly after Dr. Atkins died. The products available in 2004, however, were not formulated in the same way as low-carb products are today.

Today, low-carb baked goods and alternative flours are high in wheat protein and modified starches, while in 2004, they were mostly made with soy flour and protein powder.

Since yellow soy flour can be bitter, many dieters didn't like these initial low-carb products, so the New Atkins Revolution didn't last more than a year or two, except among serious dieters who began experimenting with almond flour and protein isolates.

Once manufacturers figured out how to use products like vital wheat gluten and wheat starch in their baking mixes and packaged foods, the low-carb product market took another upswing. At least, among those who hung out at the popular low-carb forums and message boards.

Thanks to creative cooks, who figured out how to use these new ingredients and taught others how to make low-carb breads, pancakes, cakes, and cookies that actually tasted good, those of us who had never lost their taste for carby foods began experimenting with products like Carbolose flour and Carbquick Baking mix.

Some of the forum members also learned how to create their own flour mixes and sugar substitute combinations that came pretty close to the real thing.

The downside for me wasn't losing control and eating too many low-carb cookies.

Steak and Avocado Burrito
Low-Carb Tortillas, Flatbreads, Bread and other
store-bought products are super high in gluten.

The downside was that since I had undiagnosed celiac disease, eating all of those high-gluten products and home-baked goodies triggered digestive distress and bathroom issues I had never experienced before.

This is because most people who have celiac disease do not experience symptoms, and therefore, do not know they have the condition! Symptoms tend to surface after a lot of physical damage has been done.

Eating high-gluten alternative flours and starches will cause an upswing in the damage to your small intestinal tract, which can result in reacting to gluten in ways that you never did before.

Whether you suspect that you might be gluten intolerant or not, it's always a good idea to introduce high-gluten low-carb products gradually, so you can monitor the body's reaction.

3. The Insulin Hypothesis is Just a Theory

Low carb science is not science -- yet.

Most of it is based on hypothesis, theory, and partial truths that have not been proved scientifically or even experienced. Studies used to support various claims are often cherry-picked out of the midst of dozens of others that disagree.

Yes, low carb works. I'm definitely not saying that it doesn't.

But, the reasons why low carb works isn't the reason given by low-carb gurus and so-called experts in the field. Most of these individuals have simply shared their best guess for the information available. Human nature likes to fill in the blanks with fantasies, and low-carb influencers are no exception.

Many of these ideas have plot-holes.

For example, if high insulin levels lock up the door to your fat cells, then why do people on low-calorie diets lose weight? If body fat was really not accessible, they wouldn't.

If high insulin levels are a sign of insulin resistance, and the liver can't see all of that insulin floating around in your bloodstream, then wouldn't the body respond to insulin resistance the same way it responds to no insulin at all?

Those with insulin resistance should lose body fat more easily than others when restricting carbohydrates.

In the latest scientific study funded by Gary Taubes and other low-carb experts, insulin level was not relevant to fat loss. In fact, the study participants lost twice as much body fat when their insulin levels were high and their dietary fat was low, then they did after moving to a low-carb high-fat diet.

On low-carb, high-fat, the fat loss slowed way down.

However, these participants were eating almost at maintenance calories, so they were consuming a tremendous amount of dietary fat.

For that reason, I am not going to tell you that I understand what the slow-down during low-carb eating actually means. More studies are obviously needed before one can draw appropriate conclusions to what was going on during the study, but the point is this:

We honestly do not know WHY a low-carb diet works.

Pretending that we do is only harming the cause, not helping it.

[A recent meta-analysis conducted by Kevin Hall and one of his associates found that there is no advantage of carbs over fats, when calories are carefully controlled. He suspects that protein might be the real driving factor here because some studies have shown that there is a metabolic advantage by up to 150 calories a day with higher protein diets.]

4. All Overweight People are Not Insulin Resistant

If your mindset is glued to the Insulin Hypothesis, you probably also believe that everyone who is overweight or obese has insulin resistance.

This is definitely not true.

In animal studies so far, fat cells don't become insulin resistant until after they grow large enough to attract macrophages. These macrophages are a certain type of immune cell that produce inflammatory chemicals, resulting in a low-grade inflammation.

The inflammation produced by macrophages results in insulin resistance, which appears to be some sort of body defense against further weight gain.

Inflammation is how the body responds to a threat.

Notice it was an immune system response that moved the macrophages into your body fat, resulting in inflammation. The inflammation didn't come from your fat cells themselves.

Likewise, cytokines, the chemicals released by the macrophages, are also seen during periods of stress.

Regardless of the reason for the stress:
  • cold air
  • excessive heat
  • infection
  • pollution
  • or even worry
(the activation of the "fight or flight" response, with it's onslaught of stress chemicals like adrenaline and glucagon)

The results are systemic inflammation and some degree of insulin resistance, but this insulin resistance is only temporary. Control stress and the inflammation quiets down.

Insulin resistance is what happens when the body loses insulin sensitivity, and currently, it's thought that the resistance occurs due to a buildup of fat inside the muscle cells. But this is only a guess.

When muscle cells are loaded with fat, they become insulin resistant and stop soaking up glucose from the blood.

Since low-carb diets burn fatty acids as a major fuel source, it can help reverse insulin resistance, but if you don't have excessive fats built up in your muscles before hand, you'll be insulin sensitive, rather than resistant.

There are a substantial number of overweight and obese individuals who remain insulin sensitive. And insulin sensitivity will affect the way your body responds to a low-carb diet like Atkins.

5. Salt Cures the Atkins Flu

The Atkins folks have been saying for a long, long time that the flu symptoms you get on Atkins Induction can be reversed by simply upping your salt intake and making sure you're getting an adequate supply of potassium and magnesium.

Even so, most low-carb circles continue to proclaim that the Atkins Flu is a form of sugar withdrawal that you have to grin and bear until it passes.

Not so.

In 2007, I put this to the test and was amazed at just how well it worked. I honestly, wish I'd know about it in 1975 and 1999 because those mid-night leg cramps and flu-like symptoms can be bad enough to literally scare you away from a healthy low-carb lifestyle.

Dr. Phinney says the kidneys will dump extra sodium when you're restricting carbs, so the Atkins Flu isn't limited to only Induction. You can actually come down with it anytime your electrolytes go out of balance.

I see people on low-carb forums scaring people away from using salt and salty foods all the time. Avoiding processed meats, pickles, and other salty foods will only increase your risk of getting the Atkins Flu.

6. Some People Can Break Down Fiber

Assorted Vegetables: zucchini, peppers, tomatoes
Some people actually breakdown the fiber in vegetables,
resulting in higher glucose levels.

I recently ran into the idea that some people can actually break down fiber into usable substrates, which means net carb calculations won't work for everyone. 

While Dr. Eades has always said that fiber is broken down in the colon into essential fatty acids, generating calories, this idea of fiber break-down is the main reason why Dr. Westman doesn't use net carbs with his patients.

In 1972 to 1999, Dr. Atkins didn't either.

However, when I returned to the fold in 1999, I caved into the peer pressure and went along with the latest low-carb trend of using net carbs.

Today, I wish I would have kept the original principles of the Atkins Diet intact in my life. They worked much better than any of the later additions.

While some of the changes have been benign, like upping heavy cream from 4 teaspoons to a more realistic 2 tablespoons a day, other changes like moving to net carbs have opened the door to a list of non-effective carbs -- simply because they don't raise blood sugar.

At one point, I thought the vegetable irregularities I was seeing in 2007 was from the glucose in vegetables, but it might actually be due to the ability to break down fiber, at least to a partial degree.

If you're unsure about whether you break down fiber, or not, try using total carbs instead of net carbs and see if your weight loss picks up speed.

7. There is No Magic in Eating at 20 Carbs a Day

In 1999, very few individuals stayed at 20 carbs a day. Most people increased the carbs in their diet to match their carbohydrate tolerance level. On average, people were eating at 35 to 60 carbs and losing weight just fine.

I was one of them.

But today, 20 net carbs has reached worship status.

The greater majority of the low-carb community has chosen to stay at 20 carbs until maintenance. Very few eat to tolerance. Some people believe they will lose faster eating fewer carbs, despite their calorie or fat intake, while others believe there is something magical about the 20-carb figure.

These people start beating themselves up if they happen to eat 22 or 23 carbs on any given day.

There is nothing magical about 20 net carbs.

It is an outgrowth of what the majority of people have been able to eat during Induction and still get into ketosis just fine. Going down to 20 carbs a day will trigger ketosis for most people, but after you trigger ketosis and the body begins using ketones and fatty acids for fuel, you don't have to stay at 20 net carbs if your tolerance is higher.

Find the best carb level for you. That may be more than 20, but it might also be less.

Any level less than 100 carbs per day (400 calories worth of carbs) will require the liver to create ketones to supply some degree of alternative fuel for the brain. Burning body fat is a matter of eating fewer calories, not increasing ketones beyond the brain's need for them.

Fat calories is how you adjust how quickly the fat comes off.

While the brain does use 20 to 25 percent of your total daily calorie need, most of the deficit that causes the liver to dip into your fat stores come from activity and daily metabolism. If you want to lose weight faster, eat less fat and keep busy.

8. Natural and Organic Foods Won't Fix Your Health

I realize this one is controversial, due to a huge whole-foods movement within the low-carb community, but honestly? When I tried eating this way, it had absolutely no effect on my overall health.

This also includes giving up aspartame.

Diet Dr. Pepper with a Slice of Lemon
Giving up Diet Dr. Pepper
didn't improve my health.

I went without aspartame-sweetened sodas and sugar substitute for over 5 or 6 years and NOTHING in my health status improved.


Now that I've returned to drinking Diet Dr. Pepper again and not so concerned about whether a food is natural or organic, my health status has not deteriorated even a little bit, and I have dropped over 30 pounds.

I'm not going to say that diet soda or sugar substitutes cannot make you fat. People who are sensitive to corn will certainly react to them. Plus, some people over secrete insulin when they just taste or even think about something sweet.

But I am over and done chasing after what other people believe I should be eating, instead of listening to my own body.

This doesn't mean that YOU should not be eating natural and organic foods. I'm only sharing my own experience with this.

The natural and organic foods industry is huge and funded by Big Business, who bought out the little guys years ago.

Enough said.

9. How to Get Your Ketostix to Last Twice as Long

You Can Get Ketone Test Strips at Amazon

This tip is short and sweet. I wish I would have known about it in 1975. To make your urine testing strips last twice as long, you can simply cut the strips in half lengthwise. Instead of 100 tests, you'll now have 200.

10. Don't Expect to Look Hot! There's No Fairy-Tale Ending!

Losing over 100 pounds was quite shocking for me.

Most of what you see in magazines isn't real-life. The truth is hidden under clothing or camera angles, so I didn't expect to look like I did. While people talked about loose skin on low-carb boards, the reality of what having loose skin for myself actually meant had totally escaped my understanding.

I had no idea what I was doing to myself by losing so much weight.

Society and doctors try to make you feel like a failure for not being able to drop the weight, but what happens to you after you do?

I had:
  • varicose veins that were more prominent than before
  • additional stretch marks (that didn't come from being pregnant)
  • arm skin that hung down like bat wings
  • drooping thigh skin, folds, and wrinkles
  • huge wrinkles and folds across my abdomen
  • I had to pick my abdomen up to stuff it into my jeans
  • lumps where they didn't belong
  • and crepey skin all over
What I ended up with, after all of that work, was not distorted body perception issues.


This was real-life. I didn't go from obese to hot.

Today, I know there is no such thing, unless you can afford to spend thousands of dollars on reconstructive surgery. Even then, you'll be left with physical scars for life.

There is no way to totally leave your old lifestyle behind. This is the cold, honest truth. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you will not like what you look like. You'll find yourself wondering if you're doing the right thing.

I often wondered if I should just gain back some of the weight, to plump out some of those wrinkles, so they wouldn't look as bad because:

Everything sagged.

Clothes still didn't fit well. I still bulged out over the top of my jeans due to all of the excess skin. In my case, I had a difficult time hiding what I looked like even with my clothing on.

From somewhere in the midst of all of this, reality struck:
This wasn't what I thought it would be like. My ideal was shattered.

Plus, I ended up with a new-found insecurity.

Instead of being subconscious about all of the rolls of fat, I was subconscious about all of the yards of drooping, folding, crepey skin.

I still would not wear a bathing suit.

I wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of summer shorts or even a tank top. I wore capris and tee-shirts instead.

11. Weight Loss Doesn't Bring Happiness

Your overall body gets smaller, but your mind and emotional state stay exactly the same. Your awareness doesn't automatically change just because you've dropped some weight. I felt no different at 145 than I did at 256 pounds.

I was still me.

I walked around in a stupor most of the time, confused as to what was supposed to be so different now. Why was this thinner state better than what I had before?
  • My health was exactly the same.
  • I still had vertigo, neuropathy, and wonky blood sugars
  • Autoimmune disease didn't magically disappear
  • I lost all of my physical things during a family argument
  • I started reacting to dairy, corn, and sugar substitutes
  • Had to quit a job I loved due to the celiac disease
The black cloud that hangs over my head and follows me around wherever I go was still there.

My weight had stalled again because getting to where I thought I wanted to be would mean living on 800 calories a day for the rest of my life, and I honestly wasn't willing to do that.

There was no happiness that I didn't already have before.

There was no ecstasy for a job well done. No reward other than the work itself.

Yes, I had lost over 100 pounds, but losing the weight didn't bring a greater degree of happiness. My family still didn't talk to me very much. I rarely heard from my kids. And, I was still limited by the vertigo.

I also didn't go from invisible to being visible that people who lose a lot of weight talk about. There was no added attention, approval, or sense of importance. I didn't find the weight loss awesome and life-changing.

For me, I found losing over 100 pounds to be the exactly the same as I felt after losing that first 40 in 1975. Everything was exactly the same as it was before.

Dieting Mindset is Not Your Friend

Two Girls Walking Hand-in-Hand: FRIENDS
The Dieting Mindset is not your friend.
It's more like your enemy.

The dieting mindset keeps you focused on the end-game.

It tricks you into setting up an ideal, an image in your mind as to what you believe being thin is going to be like.

As such, the dieting mindset is not your friend, because at some point in your journey, you're going to be disappointed and hurt when things don't turn out as well as you hoped.

Ditching the ideal and taking life as it presents itself to you is a less stressful way to live. I understand that now.

I also understand that the mind and emotional state must evolve right along side of your physical body, or you'll be just as unbalanced when you reach your destination as when you started.

This is why, this time it's different.

This time, I'm moving forward without the dieting mindset stuffed into my pocket.

I have no pre-set image in my head as to what it's going to be like when I reach 165 pounds. This time, I'm living my life one day at a time and just accepting whatever comes my way -- today.


  1. Wow very good article that talks about realistic things we don't think of when losing weight!

    1. You're welcome. Glad to hear that you like it.


Post a Comment

I'm sincerely interested in your thoughts and questions, but due to a spam issue lately, I've put comments on moderated status. I will approve your comments as soon as possible.