Many words have more than one meaning. You lean down to pick up a child, but you may or may not be lean. You may prefer to ride in the bow of a boat, you used to tie a bow in your daughter’s hair and you’re quite accurate with a bow and arrow. Words with the same spellings but different meanings are called homonyms.
The word diet is not strictly speaking a homonym, but it has two distinctly different meanings. And therein lies an important truth about the Atkins Diet. While many people think of it purely as a way to quickly shed weight—and it most certainly does that—it is more importantly a permanent lifestyle that enriches your life in many ways. Getting hung up on the word’s the fourth definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary—“a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight”—is why most diets fail—and I’m talking about all weight-loss diets. That short-term thinking is what has gotten so many “dieters” into the same bind: we call it the diet roller coaster. On again, off again: on the diet, off the diet; off with the pounds, then on they come again after you return to your old way of eating with perhaps a bonus of a few more. If this has been your M.O. in the past, I suggest you focus on the primary meaning of the word diet, per Miriam-Webster: “food and drink regularly provided or consumed.”
Phase 1 Is Just the Launching Pad
I used to be of the mindset that you could stay in Induction as long as you wanted as long as you didn’t get bored with the food choices. After all, there’s no health risk associated with staying in Induction indefinitely. However, after more than 20 years of helping people lose weight on Atkins—and keep it off—I’ve come to the conclusion that Phase 2, is the best place to lose the bulk of your weight. No wonder Dr. Atkins dubbed it Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL). You may stay at a relatively low level, perhaps 25 to 35 grams of Net Carbs a day, which is not all that different from Induction, but it does allow you a bit more flexibility to eat such delicious, nutritious food as nuts and seeds, berries, melon, cherries, whole-milk yogurt, and cottage cheese. Or you may find you can go considerably higher, say 50 or 60 grams of Net Carbs or even more. I’ve also come to believe that moving up the Carb Ladder every couple of weeks or even longer is also a better approach than doing so each week.
You can certainly hang out in Induction longer than two weeks if you have a lot of weight to lose, but don’t get stuck there. Of course, weight loss typically slows after the initial dramatic weight loss that occurs when you first switch from burning primarily glucose (from carbohydrates) to burning fat for energy. But that’s actually a good thing, as we’ll discuss below. In addition to reducing the possibility of boredom, there’s another reason why I believe you should bid adieu to Induction after two weeks or perhaps a month or so and move on to OWL.
A Place to Go When You Plateau
The only danger of staying in Induction too long is that you have no place to go if and when—and it’s almost inevitable—you experience a weight-loss plateau. This isn’t a health risk, of course, but it can be extremely frustrating and demotivating. Just to be clear, a plateau is defined as an inexplicable pause in weight loss that’s not the result of dietary misdemeanors or lifestyle changes. It can happen at any time after you shed the first “easy” pounds but is more likely as you get closer to your goal weight. Fortunately, plateaus usually yield to certain strategies, including temporarily reducing your daily carb intake. However, if you’re still at the Induction level of 20 daily grams of Net Carbs, where are you going to go to break a plateau? It’s not healthful to sacrifice vegetables to go under 20 grams of Net Carbs which some people are tempted to do when they are not losing in Induction. Moreover, restricting choices in Induction can make the program too difficult for the long haul.
On the other hand, if you’re at, say, 35 grams of Net Carbs a day and hit a plateau, you can back down 5 grams and likely the excess pounds will begin to budge again. Or perhaps you’ll need to go down another 5 grams to 25 grams, which will almost certainly reboot weight loss. Once you’re losing again, you can start to inch up again gradually.
Be sure to track not just your weight but also your measurements. Why? Assuming that you’re exercising you may be gaining lean body mass and losing fat. Because muscle is denser than fat, the scale can be deceiving. How your clothes fit is another useful measuring tool. Even if your weight remains stable for a week or so, if your jeans zip up more easily, you’re losing fat.
Induction and Overindulgence
Another practice I’ve seen is using Induction as a crutch after overindulgence. For example, after gorging on pizza after a movie with friends or falling off the wagon on vacation, it may be tempting to return to Induction to shed any regained weight. This behavior pattern could lead to yo-yo dieting. Individuals who regularly do this often find that it becomes harder and harder to lose weight each time they retreat to Induction. Again, a better choice is to go back to a lower level of OWL.
Don’t Set Yourself Up for Temptation
There’s another reason not to stay in Induction too long. You’re more likely to cave into temptation if you feel overly restricted in your food choices. Most people need to open up to more variety and options for better compliance. When berries, nuts, fresh cheeses and yogurt are back on the menu, a world of delicious treats opens up, making it less likely that you’ll start craving foods full of white flour and sugar. In OWL, you can enjoy yummy desserts like Maple Pecan Pie, Atkins Cuisine™ Brownies, Berry and Mousse Parfait and dozens more—guilt free.
Learn Your Limits
I’ve saved the most important reason to move on to OWL for last. The gradual increase in Net Carb intake and equally slow reintroduction of new foods allows you to move up the carb ladder and find your overall intake tolerance for carbs. You’ll also gradually come to understand if there are any carbohydrate foods that trigger cravings for more of the same. This process is not always easy, but it’s essential to understand your unique metabolism. Whether it’s 30 grams of Net Carbs or 60 or more, you need to find what works for you.
In effect, understanding your tolerance level is the bridge from a weight-loss diet to a diet for life. After all, wouldn’t you rather lose a little more slowly and keep the weight off for good than lose fast for a month or two by staying in Induction the whole time, reach your goal weight and then regain those lost pounds before you know it because you never learned how to eat for the long run? Going directly from Induction to Lifetime Maintenance is also sure to fail. It would be like going right to college after completing junior high. You haven’t learned the basic skills to enable you to succeed in college.
Different Phases, Different Objectives
Think of Atkins as a marathon, rather than a sprint and you’ll understand what I mean.
Induction trains your body to burn fat, which will kick-start weight loss. OWL is where you’ll get into the steady rhythm that will carry you until you’re almost at the finish line: 10 pounds from your goal. By then, you’ll have honed your understanding of how your body reacts to certain foods and to gradual increases in carb intake. Learning a way to eat that you can live with for the rest of your life is the real objective of Atkins.
Have You Gotten Trapped in Induction?
Please share with the Atkins Community your experiences with Phase 1.