Have you decided that you want to give the Atkins Diet a trial run? Are you a bit hesitant? Do you worry about the health effects, warnings, and sustainability of restricting the carbohydrates in your diet? If so, this beginner’s guide to Atkins Induction will arm you with the information you need to turn your dieting experience into a successful low-carb lifestyle.
Atkins Induction is Only the First Phase
There are a lot of myths and misinformation surrounding low-carb diets. These inaccuracies sometimes focus on the super-restrictive nature of Atkins Induction and assume that the first phase of the diet is the diet itself. It’s not.
Although some obese individuals do choose to follow the Atkins Induction Diet for longer than the recommended 14 days, the goal of Phase 1 isn’t weight loss. The goal is to lower your basal insulin levels, correct any glucose issues you might have, eliminate food sensitivities, and switch your metabolic pathway to a pathway more likely to burn your body fat stores for fuel.
During this introduction to low-carb diets, the Induction Phase of Atkins focuses on correcting metabolic imbalances. That’s the purpose for initially lowering your carbohydrate intake to a mere 20 grams per day. For those used to eating 300 to 400 grams of carbohydrates daily, that restriction can appear excessive, but 20 grams isn’t magic.
Why 20 Net Carbs Per Day?
Atkins Induction starts you off at 20 grams per day because it was based upon a ketogenic diet that Dr. Walter Lyons Bloom created, studied, and reported on in the scientific literature in the early 1960s. That diet’s purpose was to observe the metabolic changes of a no-carb diet. It wasn’t to treat patients. The study showed that the disappearance of hunger that occurred during fasting also occurred for those on a no-carb diet.
This ketogenic diet consisted of bacon and eggs for breakfast, and meat and salad for lunch and dinner. Dr. Bloom’s diet is what many low-carb opponents claim the Atkins Diet is today, but that diet was far lower in carbohydrates and made no allowance for individual differences in metabolism.
Through trial and error, Dr. Atkins discovered that he could add 10 or 15 grams of carbohydrate to Dr. Bloom’s diet after that zero-carb start and still stay in the state of Ketosis. Although Dr. Bloom’s diet did contain salad, it was less than 10 grams of carbohydrate per day, which the body treats as essentially zero. As Dr. Atkins experiments continued, he discovered that he could personally go as high as 40 grams per day provided he returned carbohydrates to his diet slow enough.
Dr. Bloom’s ketogenic diet was the foundation Dr. Atkins used to create his unique low-carb nutritional approach. Unlike other low-carb diets, today you start out on what he called Induction at 20 net carbs per day, and then return carbohydrates to your diet slowly until you find your own personal carbohydrate tolerance. The Atkins Induction Diet is only the first phase of the diet. It is not your lifelong way of eating. There are actually four complete phases. The low-carb path only begins at Induction.
Commit to Following the Plan as Written
If you haven’t read at least one of Dr. Atkins’ books, you won’t have enough knowledge or scientific understanding about why and how low-carb diets work to sustain you through the first 14 days of the program. While you might achieve some level of success, you’ll find yourself stumbling around, especially when it comes to low-carb opponents and the inaccuracies that those who prefer their own diet plans will throw your way.
Switching to a low-carb lifestyle is a radical change. There’s no doubt about that. Most people, including those on low-calorie diets, have no clue how much sugar they are actually eating on a daily basis. So you’ll want to pick up a copy of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution or the latest update supported by the Atkins Nutritionals company, The New Atkins for a New You.
Both books will give you an adequate foundation for your new low-carb lifestyle. In fact, even Dr. Atkins’ older versions of the diet also work well provided you commit to following them as written, but don’t look on them as absolutes. They are simply a starting point upon which to build. They are not the Atkins Diet itself.
The Atkins Diet is a personal diet program you tweak to fit your metabolism, carbohydrate tolerance, dietary fats tolerance, and food sensitivities. In fact, the older versions of the Atkins Diet are far more strict than the newer versions in terms of Phase 1, but if you have a large number of food sensitivities, they can often be a better choice.
Water Losses and Fat Losses on Induction
At 20 net carbs per day, you’ll be eating mostly protein foods, some forms of dairy, and getting most of your carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables. This Induction design is set up in such a way that almost all dieters will be able to go into a state of Ketosis within three or four days.
The state of Ketosis merely means you are predominantly burning fats for fuel rather than glucose. If your intake of dietary fats is less than the amount of fats your body needs for fuel, you are going to burn a portion of your excess body fat to make up the difference. However, when you begin a low-carb diet, before you switch metabolic pathways, the body will use its glycogen stores to keep your blood glucose levels from falling too low.
Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates. The body stores glycogen in your muscles and liver. Liver glycogen is converted into glucose when you restrict starches and sugars. Along with that glycogen, the body stores a large amount of water that’s needed to process it into glucose. Most of the drastic weight losses you will see on Induction come from glycogen and water.
Low-carb opponents will try to tell you that all of the weight loss on a low-carb diet comes from water, but that isn’t true. Yes, you can lose around 5 to 20 pounds of glycogen and water within those first 14 days, depending on how much lean body mass you have, (everything in your body that isn’t fat), but once your glycogen stores empty about half-way, you begin burning body fat for fuel.
When you stop restricting carbohydrates during Induction, soon thereafter, or go over the number of carbohydrate grams it takes to maintain your current weight, the body will refill its glycogen stores with those carbohydrates. That will result in weight gain due to glycogen and water, but it’s not body fat. Body fat storage due to carbohydrate consumption only occurs if your glycogen stores are full.
Typically, Induction will result in about 2 to 4 pounds of body fat loss. This fat loss comes as the liver needs to fuel its backup pathway for glucose production from amino acids with fats. These fats can come from dietary fats or body fat.
However, Phase 1 of a low-carb diet isn’t the time to worry about weight loss. It’s a corrective phase. Since low-carb diets are not temporary solutions to overweight and obesity, it’s best to give yourself time to adjust to the dietary changes and worry about the amount of fats, calories, and protein you’re eating once you move into Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss.
Measuring Your Weight Loss Success
Most people who choose to go onto a diet measure their success by how much they weigh on the scale. Because of that, they like to set a weight-loss goal. Yet scale weight is not an accurate assessment of what’s going on internally. Low-carb diets have been shown to maintain larger amounts of lean body mass than standard weight-loss diet programs, so the number on the scale can often be misleading.
Since muscle mass takes up less space than fat mass does, you can actually find yourself weighing 10 or even 20 pounds more than someone else does at the same size. A better diet goal is to set a goal for the size you want to be, rather than how much you want to weigh.
For that reason, you’ll want to take your measurements and a couple of “before” pictures before you begin the Atkins Induction diet. If you don’t, you’ll probably regret it later on, because measurements and pictures will more accurately reflect your success.
Pictures can give you the motivation to keep going and show you have far you’ve come. Measurements can help you when you reach places in your path where the number on the scale isn’t moving. When you burn visceral fat or your body is placing water inside your fat cells to prevent them from shrinking, you’re going to need additional ways of measuring success other than a scale.
The Atkins Flu
There are a lot of myths surrounding what’s called the Atkins Flu even among low-carb dieters. One of these myths is that the Atkins Flu is a result of carbohydrate or sugar withdrawals and that those who suffer such symptoms should rejoice because it means the body is cleansing itself. While some people will experience withdrawal symptoms when they eliminate a particular food they’re intolerant of, the Atkins Flu is more often caused from unbalanced electrolytes rather than allergens.
When large amounts of water leave the body, sodium and potassium travel with it. That leaves the body in a state of serious unbalance if that potassium and sodium are not replaced.
There seems to be a large fear of salt and sodium among all types of dieters. That fear generally appears in those who use the scale as a measure of success because if you over-consume sodium, the body will hold onto water to dilute the amount of sodium in the blood. This is only a temporary situation, but dieters who stress over every single pound they lose or gain will mistakenly cut back on their salt intake thinking they are helping their weight loss efforts.
If you reduce the amount of salt on your food during Induction, you will start to suffer from symptoms known as the Atkins Flu. Some of these symptoms include:
- achy joints and muscles
- night sweats
Basically, you’ll feel like you have the flu but without the congestion and coughing. While some physical discomforts can result from your body transitioning from burning predominantly glucose to burning predominantly fats, most symptoms are due to a lack of sodium.
The Atkins Nutritionals website recommends that you get at least 1/2 teaspoon salt or 2 tablespoons of soy sauce per day. You can also increase your sodium intake by drinking a couple of cups of warm chicken broth or beef broth.
Benefits and Challenges of Low-Carb Diets
Dr. Atkins spent a lot of time searching the medical literature in the 1960s for a diet that would curb his hunger without having to drastically cut down on the amount of calories he ate. As a result of that drive, he was able to come up with a program that works for almost everyone because it’s specifically designed to address your individual intolerance to carbohydrates. It’s also designed to eliminate:
- uncontrollable hunger
- feelings of deprivation
- metabolic imbalances
- blood glucose swings
- high cholesterol levels
- food intolerance symptoms
Atkins Induction also tends to bring an upsurge in energy and feelings of well being. Most people find their appetite is completely under control within only a few days, but that depends on the type of Induction foods you choose.
Low-carb products may be low in carbohydrates, but they can sometimes seriously interfere with your appetite and even fat loss. Trying to replicate the same diet that was responsible for your overweight or obesity is only asking for trouble, and looking at the Atkins Diet as only a temporary solution is also fighting an uphill battle.
There is no miracle diet that will cure your weight problems, and that includes low carb. The only answer to overweight and obesity is to enter into a complete lifestyle change.
The Atkins Diet Offers a Personalized Path
The Atkins Diet offers a unique, personalized path that can help you learn how to correct or improve:
Since it lowers insulin levels naturally, it can also correct a host of other physical conditions associated with elevated insulin or blood glucose levels, but it starts with dramatic change. A low-carb lifestyle isn’t just about weight loss. It’s also about improving your health.
For that reason, it’s often best to ignore what your weight is doing for the first 14 days and focus on avoiding the pitfalls that come with dieting itself.
If you’re used to eating bread, fruit, whole grains, starchy vegetables, and low-fat products every day, you’re going to have enough of an upset to your daily routine and meal plans without having to worry about what the scale is doing.
Plus, hidden carbohydrates can also be problematic if you’re used to going out to eat once or twice a week, or grabbing a quick sandwich for lunch at the café near the office. Restaurants are notorious for sneaking sugar into their food where you least expect it. Even salad dressing can be loaded with carbohydrates in the form of sugar and starches.
Improving Your Chances for Success
Start by taking a good look at the foods allowed on Induction. Don’t think about calories or portion sizes. Just zero in on the foods themselves. Acceptable foods include:
- hard cheeses
- crumbly cheeses such as Roquefort
- blue cheeses
You can have salads and salad vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, herbs and spices. You can have lemon or lime juice, heavy cream in your coffee or tea, and a controlled amount of sugar substitute. Fats that are generally considered off-limits when dieting are now allowed and encouraged. That means:
- olive oil
- cold-pressed oils
- real butter
- coconut oil
They no longer have to be measured or restricted. You can sprinkle your salad with crumbled bacon bits, sliced olives, and grated cheese. You can even use real sour cream on your taco salads with a handful of pork rinds rather than tortilla chips on the side.
The trick to a successful Induction is to place your focus on what you can have, rather than what you can’t. It can also make things easier if you keep your meals simple such as well-seasoned baked chicken legs with a nice salad, homemade dressing, and a side of steamed broccoli. You could throw a roast into the crock pot with some chopped green onions, red salsa and minced garlic that you simply serve in bowls topped with grated cheese and sour cream.
The idea isn’t to spend all of your free time in the kitchen, although there are some great websites online where you can find delicious Induction-safe recipes. The goal is to learn the basics of a low-carb diet with the intension of using this Induction plan as your foundation for the healthier lifestyle to come.