Phase One Overview: Beginning a Low Carb Diet
The purpose of the first phase of the program, known as the Induction Phase, is to jumpstart your weight loss. An all-too-common misconception is that this first phase of Atkins is the whole program. In reality, it's the key to kickstarting your fat burning metabolism. As you move through the diet, you'll find the maximum grams of net carbs you can consume while continuing to lose weight, keep your appetite under control, and stay alert and energized. This is called your personal carb balance.
Learn more about starting a diet with Atkins by following the links below.
A minimum of two weeks, but you may safely follow it for much longer if you have a lot of excess weight to lose or prefer to lose most of your excess pounds relatively quickly. You'll stay in this phase until you're 15 pounds from goal weight.
Shift your body from burning primarily carbs to burning primarily fat, kick-starting weight loss.
Significantly drop your daily Net Carb intake to an average of 20 grams (no less than 18 and no more than 22) of Net Carbs, the level at which almost anyone begins to burn primarily fat.
Have three meals and two snacks a day.
Never starve yourself or go more than three or four waking hours without eating. If you prefer, have five or even six small meals. You never want to allow yourself to become ravenously hungry. That can open the door to eating whatever's at hand. Not a good idea!
Consume 20 grams of Net Carbs a day.
Of these, 12–15 grams should be in the form of foundation vegetables. It's fine to average 20 grams a day over several days, but don't go below 18 grams or above 22 on a single day. Dropping below 18 probably won't make you lose weight any faster and is unlikely to satisfy your vegetable requirement. Going above 22 could interfere with triggering weight loss. Select carb foods from the list of Phase 1 acceptable foods.
Eat sufficient protein at every meal.
As you now know, protein plays a key role in weight loss and protects lean muscle mass, so you lose only fat. Consume three 4-6 ounce servings each day
Don't restrict fats.
Consuming fat is essential to slimming down on Atkins. Fat also heightens the flavor of foods and enables your body to absorb certain vitamins. Always accompany a carb snack with either fat or protein. For example, have cucumber slices with a piece of cheese. Consume 3T of added fat daily.
Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.
Two of these can be replaced with coffee or tea. Another 2 cups can be replaced with beef, chicken, or vegetable broth (not the low sodium kind).
Avoid dehydration or electrolyte imbalance.
The perfectly normal initial loss of water weight can lead to light-headedness and other symptoms and rob you of energy. These symptoms disappear once you're burning primarily fat, but in the meantime, be sure to consume sufficient salt in the form of salty broth, salt, tamari, or soy sauce.
Watch out for hidden carbs.
Read food labels carefully, particularly on condiments. In restaurants, ask for oil and vinegar to dress your salad, request sauces on the side, and feel free to ask the server what's in a dish.
Use sugar substitutes—in moderation.
That means no more than three packets a day.
Use only Atkins low-carb products.
Most of these have been tested to ensure that their impact on your blood sugar level is minimal. The majority of Atkins products containing 3g NC or less are suitable for Phase 1.
Acceptable foods only.
Eat nothing that isn't on the list of Phase 1 acceptable foods, unless you plan to continue on Phase 1 for longer than two weeks. If so, then it is acceptable to add nuts and seeds.
Our low carb food list is an easy guide to your Phase 1 low carb eating plan. Most fish, poultry, and meat do not contain carbs so you can feel free to enjoy them, but use this list of low carb foods to be sure you are getting your 12 to 15 grams of net carbs in vegetables as well.**
All fish including:
All fowl including:
- Cornish hen
All shellfish including:
*Oysters and mussels are higher in carbs so limit to about 4 ounces per day.
All meat including:
*Some processed meat, bacon, and ham is cured with sugar, which will add to the carb count. Avoid cold cuts and other meats with added nitrates, if possible.
Eggs in any style, including:
Eggs are one of nature's most nutritious creations. That's why eggs are a staple breakfast in the Atkins Nutritional Approach.
Feel free to get creative with your eggs: Add mushrooms and onions, or even green pepper. Top the dish off with feta cheese or add basil, oregano and other herbs.
Fats and Oils
There are no carbs here, but keep in mind that the serving size is approximately 1 tablespoon.
- Mayonnaise – make sure it has no added sugar
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oils – Those labeled "cold pressed" or "expeller pressed" are especially good and olive oil is one of the best.
- Grape seed*
*Do not allow any oils to reach overly high temperatures when cooking. Use olive oil for sautéing only. Use walnut or sesame oil to dress cooked veggies or salad, but not for cooking.
Sucralose, saccharine or stevia – one packet equals 1 gram of net carbs
- Clear broth/ bouillon (make sure it has no sugars added)
- Club soda
- Cream, heavy or light
- Decaffeinated or regular coffee and tea*
- Diet soda (be sure to note the carb count)
- Flavored seltzer (must say no calories)
- Herb tea (without added barley or fruit sugar added)
- Unflavored soy/almond milk
- Water – at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day including...
- Filtered water
- Mineral water
- Spring water
- Tap water
* One to two cups of caffeinated tea or coffee is allowed as desired and tolerated by each individual. If you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia or cravings as a result, do not use caffeine. If you have a true caffeine addiction, it is best to break the habit during the induction phase.
* Limit lemon and lime juices to 3 T per day
* Limit cream (heavy or light) to 3 TBSP or 1.5 fl oz per day
Serving SizeNet CarbsParmesan, grated1 TBSP.2Goat, chevre1 oz.3Bleu cheeses2 TBSP.4Cheddar1 oz.4Gouda1 oz.6Mozzarella, whole milk1 oz.6Cream cheese, whipped2 TBSP.8Parmesan, chunk1 oz.9Swiss1 oz1.0Feta1 oz1.2
Serving SizeNet CarbsAlfalfa sprouts (raw)1/2 cup0Chicory greens (raw)1/2 cup.1Endive (raw)1/2 cup.1Escarole (raw)1/2 cup.1Olives, green5, each.1Watercress (raw)1/2 cup.1Arugula (raw)1/2 cup.2Radishes (raw)1, each.2Spinach (raw)1/2 cup.2Bok choy (cooked)1/2 cup.4Lettuce, average (raw)1/2 cup.5Turnip greens (cooked)1/2 cup.6Heart of palm1 each.7Olives, black5, each.7Radicchio (raw)1/2 cup.7Button mushroom (raw)1/2 cup.8Artichoke (marinated)1, each1Celery (raw)1 stalk1Collard greens (cooked)1/2 cup1Pickle, dill1, each1Spinach1/2 cup1Broccoli rabe (cooked)1/2 cup1.2Sauerkraut (drained)1/2 cup1.2Avocado, Haas1/2 fruit1.3Daikon radish, grated (raw)1/2 cup1.4Red/white onion, chopped (raw)2 TBSP1.5Zucchini (cooked)1/2 cup1.5Cucumber, sliced (raw)1/2 cup1.6Cauliflower (cooked)1/2 cup1.7Beet greens (cooked)1/2 cup1.8Broccoli (cooked)1/2 cup1.8Fennel (raw)1/2 cup1.8Okra (cooked)1/2 cup1.8Rhubarb (raw)1/2 cup1.8Swiss chard (cooked)1/2 cup1.8Asparagus (cooked)6 stalks1.9Broccolini (cooked)3, each1.9Bell pepper, green, chopped (raw)1/2 cup2.2Sprouts, mung beans (raw)1/2 cup2.2Eggplant (cooked)1/2 cup2.3Kale (cooked)1/2 cup2.4Scallion, chopped (raw)1/2 cup2.4Turnip (cooked)1/2 cup2.4Tomato, small (raw)1, each2.5Jicama (raw)1/2 cup2.6Portobello mushroom (cooked)1, each2.6Yellow squash (cooked)1/2 cup2.6Cabbage (cooked)1/2 cup2.7Green beans (cooked)1/2 cup2.9Bell pepper, red, chopped (raw)1/2 cup3Leeks (cooked)2 TBSP3.4Shallot, chopped (raw)2 TBSP3.4Brussel sprouts (cooked)1/2 cup3.5Spaghetti squash (cooked)1/2 cup4Cherry tomato10, each4.6Kohlrabi (cooked)1/2 cup4.6Pumpkin, mashed (cooked)1/2 cup4.7Garlic, minced (raw)2 TBSP5.3Snow peas (cooked)1/2 cup5.4Tomato (cooked)1/2 cup8.6
Serving SizeNet CarbsCrumbled bacon3 slices0Hard-boiled egg1 egg.5Sautéed mushrooms1/2 cup1.0Sour cream2 Tbsp1.2Grated cheeses(see above carb counts)
Herbs and spices
Serving SizeNet CarbsBasil1 TBSP0Cayenne pepper1 TBSP0Cilantro1 TBSP0Dill1 TBSP0Oregano1 TBSP0Tarragon1 TBSP0Parsley1 TBSP.1Chives (fresh or dehydrated)1 TBSP.1Ginger, fresh, grated1 TBSP.8Rosemary, dried1 TBSP.8Sage, ground1 tsp.8Black pepper1 tsp.9Garlic1 clove.9
Serving SizeNet CarbsRed wine vinegar1 TBSP0Caesar2 TBSP1Ranch2 TBSP1.4Lemon juice2 TBSP2.0Bleu cheese2 TBSP2.3Lime juice2 TBSP2.4Balsamic vinegar1 TBSP2.7Italian, creamy2 TBSP3
** If you have decided to stay in Induction longer than 2 weeks, you may swap out 3g NC of other foundation vegetables for 3g NC of nuts or seeds. Do not let your Foundation Vegetable levels drop below 12g NC.
Do I have to start Atkins in Phase 1?
No. You can start in any of the first three phases. If you have just a few pounds to lose, up to about 15, you can probably start in Phase 2 at 25 to 30 grams of Net Carbs a day. If you are heavier, you can also start here, but it may take a little longer to lose weight without the kick-start that you get in Phase 1. You can also begin in Phase 3 at, say, 40 grams of Net Carbs a day if you have less than 40 pounds to lose.
Do I have to count carbs if I follow the meal plans exactly?
No. However, it's unlikely that you'll follow them to the letter day in and day out unless you eat every meal at home, so it's a good idea to use the Atkins Carb Counter. Also, if you aren't precise about serving size, you may be consuming more carbs than the meal plan indicates. In any case, it's important to know how to count carbs (actually, grams of Net Carbs) as you start to add back more foods. Counting provides a double check that improves your likelihood of success from the start.
Must I have two snacks a day?
Not necessarily. If you're having four or five small meals a day, you may not feel the need for snacks, but be very careful not to go more than four to six hours between meals. Instead, have a hot drink, perhaps a cup of broth.
What is water weight loss?
The first few pounds you lose on any weight-loss program are primarily water, and Atkins has a particularly diuretic effect. That's why it's essential to drink plenty of water and other fluids, eat your foundation veggies, and take a multivitamin-mineral supplement to replace the electrolytes you'll be flushing out of your body along with the excess fluid. After the first few days you'll be losing primarily body fat.
Can I eat as much protein and fat as I wish?
No. Eating excessive protein will make you sluggish and interfere with weight loss. Overeat fat and you'll create a calorie bomb and may slow down weight loss.
Why do I have to drink so much water?
Most people are borderline dehydrated all the time. Drinking enough fluid helps flush toxins from your body, combats constipation and bad breath, lubricates your joints, and is important to your overall health. Staying hydrated also assists with weight loss. Remember, some of your water requirement can be satisfied with coffee, tea, or other clear beverages, including broth.
Most bacon is sugar or maple cured. Does that mean I can't eat bacon?
Bacon is fine in moderation. Any residual sugar from the curing process in bacon, ham, or other pork products is burned off when you cook it.
Why do the carb counts for some vegetables differ depending on whether they're raw or cooked?
Cooking compacts vegetables such as spinach or cabbage significantly. Carb counts reflect the cooked amount. Chopping or grating a vegetable also compacts it more than slicing does, and that impacts the carb count as well.
Can I have dessert in Phase 1?
Yes, as long as you get your quota of foundation vegetables and don't exceed your Net Carb daily limit. A dessert should contain no more than 3 grams of Net Carbs per serving. An Atkins Endulge bar or one of our dessert recipes is a good choice.
Can I eat more carbs one day if I cut back the next?
By maintaining a constant level of carb intake from day to day, you're more likely to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. But a range of 3 or 4 grams of Net Carbs from one day to the next should not create a problem as long as your average intake is consistent. If you do overindulge one day, simply return to your current level the next day.
Why can't I do Atkins during the week and then take the weekend off?
Doing so will mean that you're consistently returning to a primarily blood sugar metabolism for two days. It then takes several days to reignite your fat-burning engine. Stopping and starting, known as “carb cycling," will lessen the likelihood that you'll lose weight or keep it off.
Will drinking caffeinated beverages interfere with weight loss
Although the initial guidelines of Atkins advised individuals to eliminate caffeine without exception, the guideline has since been liberalized to advise avoiding excessive consumption and the guidelines include caffeine as desired and tolerated by each individual.
After two weeks on Atkins, it's decision time. Assuming you've been following the program correctly and have lost weight over the last two weeks, you can choose to remain in Phase 1 (Kick-Start) or transition to Phase 2 (Balancing).
The Fast Track
If you're motivated by quick weight loss and thrive on structure and a minimum of choices, you may choose to stay in Phase 1 beyond two weeks. To make this process easier, as well as set the stage for when you do decide to move on:
- Continue to consume 20 grams of Net Carbs a day beyond the first two weeks.
- Try adding nuts and seeds to your list of acceptable foods. Nuts are full of protein and healthy fats and are relatively low in Net Carbs, thanks to their high fiber content.
To make it easy, swap out 3 grams of Net Carbs from other foods, such as 1/2 cup of green beans, a smallish tomato, or 11/2 cups mixed greens, for 3 grams of nuts or seeds, but without letting your intake of foundation veggies dip below 12 grams of Net Carbs. (You'll still have 5 grams for Atkins bars and shakes, sweeteners, dressings, or condiments.)
As a quick guide, 3 grams of Net Carbs of nuts or seeds translates to 30 almonds, 3 tablespoons macadamia nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons pistachios, or 4 tablespoons shelled sunflower seeds; 24 walnut halves come in at 3.4 grams. Portion out nuts and seeds in advance to avoid overeating. A couple of tablespoons of walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pumpkin seeds make a great snack.
Transition to Phase 2 (Balancing) no later than when you're within 15 pounds of your goal weight. At that point it's time to start transitioning to a permanent way of eating by introducing foods higher up the Carb Ladder.Or top a salad with sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts. You can also now have other nut and seed butters (stuff them into celery sticks) or coconut, almond, and other nut flours (available in the baking section or specialty foods aisle of the supermarket).
Slow and Steady
Alternatively, you may choose to lose the bulk of your weight in Phase 2 (Balancing). If you're comfortable with a slower, steadier rate of weight loss, after two weeks (or a few more) start to climb the Carb Ladder. You begin adding Balancing foods in 5g increments. The gradual increase in Net Carb intake and reintroduction of new foods allows you to continue to shave off pounds and inches, maintain appetite control, and feel energetic. You'll also gradually come to understand which, if any, foods trigger cravings for more of the same and/ or interfere with weight loss.
You may find that you're comfortable at a relatively low level of Net Carbs a day, perhaps 25 to 35 grams, which is not all that different from Kick-Start but does allow you to eat such delicious, nutritious food as nuts and seeds and then berries, melon, and cherries. Next you'll move on to Greek yogurt and fresh cheeses. Or you may find you can go considerably higher, say 50 or 60 grams of Net Carbs or even more, which will allow you to include legumes and some vegetable juices
The balancing process enables you to find what works for you. Understanding your carb tolerance is the bridge from a weight-loss diet to a diet for life.