Restricting carbs forces your body to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose, which is how a low-carb diet helps you drop pounds quickly. The Atkins and South Beach diets are two of the most well-known low-carb diets that can help you get the results you want. If you're anxious to drop weight quickly, consult with your doctor to discuss whether a low-carb diet is a good option for you based on your health.
Very-Low-Carb Diets Produce Rapid Weight Loss
In general, it seems that low-carb diets work better and faster to help people lose weight than other weight-loss diets -- such as low-fat or moderate-carb diets -- according to 2007 study published in JAMA. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of a high-protein, very-low-carb diet to a moderately low-carb diet on weight loss in a group of obese men. The very-low-carb dieters lost about 14 pounds in four weeks while those on the moderately low-carb diet lost about 10 pounds. Both were successful weight-loss endeavors, but the more severe carb restriction produced faster results.
Low-carb diets work by altering your metabolism -- with few carbs available, your body burns fat for energy. Limiting carbs also decreases appetite, according to the researchers who did the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. Despite being allowed to eat as much as they wanted, the participants in the 2008 study following the very-low-carb diet ate less and reported less hunger, which likely also benefited their weight loss.
The Atkins Diet
This low-carb Atkins plan, which has a 40-year history, offers two ways to lose: Atkins 20 and Atkins 40. The original program, Atkins 20, is meant for those who need to lose 40 pounds or more. This weight-loss plan is divided into four phases. During the first phase you're restricted to 20 grams of net carbs -- total carbs without the fiber -- each day and eat mostly animal proteins, low-carb veggies, nuts and seeds. You advance to each phase as you lose the weight, upping your daily carb allowance and adding more carb choices such as fruit, beans and whole grains. During the last phase of the plan, you're up to 80 to 100 grams of net carbs a day and working toward weight maintenance.
If you don't need to lose as much as 40 pounds, you might consider Atkins 40. On this less restrictive plan, you start with 40 grams of net carbs a day and include foods such as fruits, pasta and potatoes right away, along with your animal proteins, low-carb veggies, nuts and seeds. When you're 10 pounds away from your goal weight, you can add carbs in increments of 10 grams each week. Once you've lost all the weight, adjust your carb intake to find the right balance that helps you maintain your weight loss and keep you satisfied.
South Beach Diet
Similar to Atkins 20, the South Beach Diet is divided into phases. Although you're not counting carbs on this plan, you're limited to specific very-low-carb food choices during the first phase of the program, including lean sources of meat such as poultry and fish, low-carb veggies, cheese, nuts and seeds. You're only on this phase of the diet for two weeks. As you progress through the phases, you add other sources of carbs to your diet, including fruits and starchy veggies during the second phase, then dairy and whole grains during the third phase. Unlike Atkins, the South Beach Diet also restricts saturated fat intake, encouraging you to choose healthier proteins and fats such as salmon and olive oil.
What You Eat
You don't have to follow Atkins or South Beach to lose weight quickly on a low-carb diet. If you're looking for one-on-one help, a registered dietitian can develop a low-carb plan that meets your specific health needs.
A menu for a diet of 20 grams of daily carbs might include a breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, 1/ 2 cup of sliced cucumbers, five cherry tomatoes and half a Haas avocado. For lunch, you could have a turkey cheeseburger served with 2 cups of raw spinach topped with 1/2 cup of sliced red peppers, sliced hard-cooked eggs, bacon and a tablespoon of ranch dressing. Pork chops with 2 cups of broccoli sauteed in olive oil make a good low-carb dinner. Snacks might include 1 ounce of almonds and 1 ounce of Swiss cheese.
- Atkins: Find the Right Diet Plan for You
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effects of a High-Protein Ketogenic Diet on Hunger, Appetite and Weight Loss in Obese Men Feeding Ad Libitum
- JAMA: Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women The A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Diet Nutrition and Metabolism
- Diets in Review: South Beach Diet
- Atkins: Phase One List of Acceptable Foods
- Atkins: Atkins 20 Plan: How Does It Work?
- Atkins: Atkins 40 Plan: How Does it Work
- South Beach: What Can I Eat?
- Atkins: What Are Net Carbs?