Is the Atkins Diet Healthy?

The Atkins diet is a fad diet that has been around for a long time. Sometimes the pressure to lose weight or being thin can lead to dieting. As with any diet, it’s important to consider if the Atkins diet is actually healthy or not if you’re considering doing it.

What You Can Eat on the Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is a low carb diet that was developed by a cardiologist, Dr. Robert Atkins. [1] This diet is designed to help people lose weight. On the Atkins diet, you are allowed to eat: [1]

  • Protein, such as beef, poultry, eggs, and fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fats, such as olive oil and cheese
  • Non-starchy vegetables, like radishes or mushrooms

If you are following this diet, then the following foods are not allowed: [1]

  • White bread, pasta, and other non-whole-grain wheat products
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol

While the following foods are allowed, they’re meant to be limited. These are: [1]

  • Fruit, such as berries, cherries, and melons
  • Legumes, such as beans or lentils
  • Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn
  • Whole grains, like quinoa or oatmeal

Phases of the Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet occurs in four phases. The phase you’re in will determine how many carbs you are allowed to eat. The four phases of the Atkins diet are: [2]

  • Phase One: Induction. During this phase, you would be allowed to have up to 20 grams of carbs in a day. These carbs would need to come from non-starchy vegetables such as salad.
  • Phase Two: Weight loss. This phase allows you to introduce more carbs into your diet. The amount of carbs is still limited because the goal in this phase is to continue to lose weight. This phase is aimed at integrating some carbs back into your diet as long as you continue to lose weight. However, certain carbs are still considered off limits.
  • Phase three: Premaintenance. Weight loss will begin to slow down as you integrate more carbs into your diet. Certain carbs, such as lentils, beans, fruit, and starchy vegetables can be integrated back in.
  • Phase 4: Lifetime maintenance. During this step, you can expand the types of carbs you eat. However, you would still need to continue to monitor how many carbs you eat in order to avoid weight gain.

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Risks of the Atkins Diet

Any change in your diet can have consequences on your health—good or bad. The Atkins diet was created to help people lose weight and support long-term wellness, primarily to lower the risk of disease. [1,3] However, research shows there are some risks of the Atkins diet, including: [3]

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breathe

These side effects are primarily due to the bodily changes that occur when your body goes into ketosis. [3] Ketosis occurs when your body starts using fat for fuel rather than glucose. [3] Researchers suggest that the ketosis process is primarily what makes the Atkins diet unsustainable. [3]

Researchers are not entirely sure on all the long-term effects of low-carb diets like the Atkins diet. However, some potential long-term effects include: [4]

  • Constipation, which can cause bowel problems
  • High cholesterol
  • Kidney problems
  • Osteoporosis

Another risk of the Atkins diet that is universal for all restrictive, fad diets is that it can increase the risk of someone becoming a “yo-yo” dieter. Yo-yo dieting refers to someone who goes on and off diets and as a result goes through cycles of losing and gaining weight. In fact, 95% of people will regain the weight they lost from a diet within one to five years. [5]

Diabetes and the Atkins Diet

The metabolic changes that can occur due to the Atkins diet can be dangerous for people with certain conditions, such as diabetes. [4] Some research shows that certain types of grains are beneficial for people with diabetes. [1]

Under the Atkins diet, carbs are severely limited. It’s important if you have diabetes to talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about your unique nutritional needs if you are considering going on the Atkins diet.

The Atkins Diet and Diet Culture

Diet culture is a term used to refer to the societal value that is placed on thin bodies. The belief that thin bodies are somehow better creates a culture where people disregard their overall health and well-being in order to be thin. This creates a culture obsessed with dieting.

While the Atkins diet was created with the intention of helping people achieve health, one of it’s primary goals is to help people lose weight.

Related Reading

Diet Culture and Eating Disorders

Diet culture is known to contribute to the development of eating disorders. [edu article] While there are many people who diet and don’t develop diagnosable eating disorders, some people do.

In fact, about 20 to 25% of diets turn into eating disorders. [edu article] Some people may also turn to diets, like the Atkins diet, due to disordered eating behaviors.

If you are considering going on the Atkins diet as a way to lose weight, you might ask yourself why that feels important to you. Is it coming from a true medical need or is it coming from some feeling that if you were thinner you would somehow be better?

This might take some unpacking to figure out your true intentions. Getting to the root of your intentions can help clarify whether going on the Atkins diet is the right thing for you physically and emotionally.

If you are currently in eating disorder recovery and considering going on the Atkins diet, it might be helpful to talk about this with an eating disorder therapist or registered dietitian.

It can be tricky to sort through the different beliefs and motivations for wanting to diet or change you eating patterns, especially if you have an eating disorder. Guidance from a qualified professional who has your unique mental and physical needs in mind can be helpful to make sure your needs get met.


[1] U.S. Health & News. (n.d). Atkins diet. Retrieved March 29th, 2022 from

[2] Brazier, Y. (2020, January 30). Atkins diet: What is it, and why should I try it? Medical News Today. Retrieved March 29th, 2022 from

[3] Mahdi, G. S. (2006). The Atkin’s diet controversy. Annals of Saudi medicine, 26(3), 244-245.

[4] Better Health Channel. (n.d). Weight loss and carbohydrates. Retrieved March 29th, 2022 from

[5] National Eating Disorders Association. (2005) kNOw dieting: Risks and reasons to stop. Retrieved March 26th, 2022 from


The opinions of our writers do not necessarily reflect the views of Eating Disorder Hope

Author: Samantha Bothwell, LMFT