What Happens if I Mess Up a Day on the Atkins Diet?

Successful weight loss requires a long-term commitment to eating a healthy diet and living an active lifestyle. This can seem daunting, especially if you have a significant amount of weight to lose. Diets such as Atkins, according to experts at Bodybuilding.com, offer a way to jump-start that weight loss and maintain a steady melting of those extra pounds at a quick enough rate to keep you going.

One day of indulgence with sweet treats does not have to ruin your diet for good.
Credit: bit245/iStock/GettyImages

But even the best dieters can get derailed by a bad mood, bad news or by a social event that includes carb-laden goodies too luscious to resist. Falling off the Atkins wagon for one day does not mean that you should give up entirely. Forgive yourself, get back on track and consider creating a plan for handling days when only a doughnut will do for what ails you.

Tips

Depending on the phase of the Atkins diet you're in, you may fall out of ketosis, which is the state you need to be in to burn fat. But as long as you get back to your plan, and drink plenty of water, you should be able to get back on track quickly. Most important, don't let one bad day ruin your weight loss efforts.

Basic Facts About the Atkins Diet

Created in the 1970s by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins, the Atkins Diet requires you to severely restrict all forms of carbohydrates, including alcohol, fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, nuts, beans and grains. While the Atkins diet claims to be a healthy way of eating for life, its restrictive nature means that your diet will mostly consist of protein and saturated fats, warn the health experts at the Mayo Clinic.

Saturated fats are those that remain solid at room temperature, such as butter, lard and the fatty part of meats like beef, pork and poultry. A diet high in saturated fats raises the level of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), or bad cholesterol, in your blood. These LDLs clog up your bloodstream, forcing your heart to work harder to move the blood along through your veins and arteries. This can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancer.

The other issue with the Atkins diet, especially in the beginning, or induction, phase is that if you are eating a high-protein, high-fat diet with no dietary fiber, you put yourself at risk for constipation. Soluble fiber not only helps slow the absorption of sugar, but it supports your immune system when it is fermented by the healthy bacteria in your gut. Insoluble fiber helps move waste through your system to aid in healthy elimination and prevents microbes in your intestines from contributing to your risk of colorectal cancer.

Read more: Pros and Cons of Atkins Diet

How the Atkins Diet Works

The science behind the Atkins Diet, explains the University of Southern California, is that removing all carbohydrates from your diet in the initial phase of the program forces your body into ketosis. This is the state in which your body stops burning its small reserves of glucose for fuel and instead burns your stored fat.

There are several benefits to diets such as Atkins that are very low in carbohydrates. Aside from burning your fat stores, being in ketosis means that you are producing less insulin, so you are not storing new fat as quickly. Protein takes longer to digest, so eating a high-protein diet can help keep hunger at bay. The ketones produced during ketosis are fuel for your brain, so you may feel more alert and be more able to focus.

During the first, or induction phase, of Atkins, you will eliminate almost everything from your diet except for meat, eggs, dairy and a small list of vegetables, such as broccoli and zucchini, for two weeks. After that, you will start slowly adding carbohydrates back into your diet, but you'll still avoid alcohol and all starchy, sugary foods as well as pasta and bread.

Learn How to Count Carbs

There are several types of carbohydrates, explain the diet enthusiasts at Perfect Keto. Simple carbohydrates are mostly sugar. They have a high glycemic index (GI) which means that they have a strong effect on your blood sugar levels. A very high GI food such as a doughnut raises your blood sugar levels very quickly, forcing your body to respond by releasing insulin to mop up the extra sugar.

The resulting sudden blood sugar drop can cause you to become fatigued and may even prompt your brain to send out hunger signals that can goad you into overeating at your next meal or grabbing another doughnut to keep your tummy from rumbling. Constant fluctuations in your blood sugar levels and the repeated insulin response can make it too hard for your pancreas to keep up, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Counting carbs can help keep your blood sugar regulated, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The number of carbohydrates on packaged foods can be found on the label. Some experts recommend that you find out how many grams of fiber the food also contains and deduct the fiber from the carbohydrates because fiber is not broken down into energy in your body. The resulting number is your net carbs.

Some experts deduct the amount of sugar alcohols, but the American Diabetes Association recommends against doing so because sugar alcohols have no appreciable effect on your blood glucose levels. You can deduct them if you like, but it is not strictly necessary.

Understand the Need to Cheat

The key to any successful weight loss plan, according to Dr. Eneida Roldan of Florida International University, is flexibility. The Atkins Diet, especially in the induction phase, is very rigid and that can make it hard to stick to. In addition, giving up sugar can cause withdrawal symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, intense cravings, headaches and sleeplessness, among others.

Given that a lot of weight gain is caused by emotional eating, a commitment to dropping those extra pounds carries some emotional baggage. Change can be a scary thing, especially if you have been using your extra weight to insulate you from the world. Add to that the physical effects of avoiding sugar, and it is easy to see why a moment of temptation can derail your best efforts. This does not make you a failure; it just means that you are a human being.

Cheating on the Atkins induction phase is especially likely because it is so restricted, but don't let it discourage you. One day of messing up does not mean that you cannot successfully complete the program. The whole point of any weight-loss program is less about the actual pounds you drop and more about teaching you a new way of eating so that you can keep the weight off for the rest of your life. Do not dwell on your mistake, because everybody makes them. Simply get back on the plan and keep going.

Read more: The 80/20 Diet Rule

Plan Your Atkins Cheat Day

If you have fallen off your diet and are worried that it might happen again, one way to prevent this is to plan a day when you can relax the rules a bit. Knowing that you have some treats coming to you may help you resist them on a normal dieting day. Planning for your cheat day can also help ensure that you don't get too far off track.

A cheat day does not have to mean a wild orgy of unhealthy eating. Doing so will not only make you feel especially guilty, but it can upset your digestion, making you feel physically ill as well. The best way to handle out of control cravings, according to the fitness experts at Odyssey Online, is to do an Atkins cheat meal instead of an entire day.

Stock up on your cheat meal supplies before the big day so that you will not be tempted to run wild in the grocery store, or at least make a grocery list and stick to it. Another option is to see if your local supermarket has a pickup or delivery service so that you don't have to walk past the bakery or the chip aisle.

Do the best you can to avoid overly processed, sugary foods and instead allow yourself to have extra fruit, even it requires a small scoop of ice cream on top to feel like a treat. Or look for sugar-free options in candy, ice cream and whipped toppings. This is also a good time to try spiralized zoodles or whole-wheat or chickpea pasta rather than running straight to the refined-wheat kind that has a high GI.

Read more: The Art and Science of "Cheat Meals"

Get Back on Track

Because success with Atkins depends on being in ketosis, the faster you get back on the plan, the sooner you will see results. The first step in recovering after a binge, according to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, is to hydrate. Drink as much water as you can to help your liver and kidneys flush out all of the extra salt and sugar you took in during your binge. This will also make you feel better, especially if alcohol was part of your party.

Planning ahead for regular diet days can also help keep you on track. The less time you spend in the grocery store and the easier it is to make food for yourself, the less tempted you will be by those aisles in the center of the grocery store and the drive-thrus you pass on your travels.

If you crave candy bars, keep a supply of Atkins bars stashed in your purse or ready to be tucked into your pocket with your wallet, phone and keys. Keep some in your car and at your desk. Pile some in a bowl next to your TV chair, so you will be less inclined to head to the kitchen for a snack.

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