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The Induction Phase of Atkins

author image Penelope M. Klatell, PhD,
Penelope M. Klatell, is a weight management specialist, and a life, health, and wellness coach. She taught nursing and health courses on the college level for 30 years. She now owns her own business, Life Odyssey Coaching and Consulting, and writes about healthy eating in her blog, SocialDieter.
The Induction Phase of Atkins
A high protein meal of chicken breast, cream and vegetables. Photo Credit minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images

Induction is the first phase of the low-carbohydrate, high-protein Atkins Diet. This phase is designed to kick-start weight loss by strictly limiting the number of net carbs a dieter eats. This restriction can produce significant weight loss by forcing the body to use its stored fat reserves for fuel rather than consumed carbs.

Atkins Diet Definition

The Atkins Diet is a four-phase plan that restricts carbohydrates and emphasizes protein and fats. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic staff, the objective of the diet, officially called the Atkins Nutritional Approach, is to change eating habits for weight loss, maintenance and a healthier lifestyle. By adjusting what you eat, the balance of fats, carbs and protein in the diet is altered so that the body will primarily use fat as its energy source rather than switching back and forth between carbs and fat for energy. According to the official Atkins website, burning the body’s own fat for energy is a normal metabolic process and weight loss is the side effect of this process.


Dieters in the induction phase should eat no more than 20 grams of net carbs a day. Net carbs, the only carbs that must be counted on the Atkins plan, are calculated by subtracting the fiber content of a food from its total carbohydrate content. Net carbs indicate the impact a carbohydrate food will have on blood sugar levels. The plan requires that low net carb foods be obtained from nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. These spikes cause an overproduction of insulin, which helps excess dietary carbs convert to body fat. A daily net carb intake of 20 grams is the point at which fat burning is initiated in most people.

Allowed Foods

During induction, food choices start with protein such as chicken, poultry, beef, fish, shellfish, pork, veal, eggs and vegetable proteins. Fats such as olive and canola oils and butter are allowed. Salad greens and nonstarchy vegetables should account for 12 to 15 g of the daily 20 g of net carbs. Dieters can also have 10 to 20 olives, up to 4 oz. of hard or aged cheese, half an avocado, an ounce of sour cream or 2 to 3 tbs. of unsweetened cream in coffee or tea, up to 3 tbs. of lemon or lime juice, and one or two servings of the Atkins bars or shakes with 3 g or less of net carbs. Up to three packets a day of the artificial sweeteners sucralose, saccharin and stevia are allowed, but those who consume these must count each serving as 1 g of net carbs per packet because of the fillers in the sweeteners. Diet beverages and sugar-free gelatin that contain these sweeteners are also OK.

Foods to Avoid

Foods that must be avoided during induction include any added sugars; starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, corn, winter squash); bread, pasta and grains; trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils); whole, reduced-fat or skim milk; any fruit; and nuts, seeds and their butters. Any food that is a combination of protein and carbs (such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans or other legumes) should not be eaten during this phase. Although alcoholic spirits have zero net carbs, light beer and dry wine have a few and regular beer has more, all alcohol should be avoided during induction because the body will use it as fuel instead.


Dieters should remain in Phase 1 for a minimum of two weeks, but they can stay in the induction phase for a longer period if they have a lot of weight to lose. According to the Atkins website, it poses no health risk for a dieter to stay in induction until she reaches her goal weight. The concern is that the dieter might have rapid weight loss but not learn about permanent weight control, which comes by going through all phases of the program. Dieters can skip induction altogether and start in Phase 2 (Ongoing Weight Loss, or OWL) if they find induction too restrictive or if they have minimal weight-loss goals or a longer time frame in which to lose the weight. The four phases of Atkins are a continuum during which there is a gradual increase in the consumption of whole food carbohydrates.


In all phases of the Atkins Diet, net carbs, not calories, are counted. However, calories do count. Generally, female dieters losing weight on the Atkins Diet eat from 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day; male dieters consume from 1,800 to 2,000 calories. According to the Atkins website, research supports that dieters on a low-carb program burn more calories than dieters on a low-fat diet, and people who follow an Atkins program consume fewer calories compared with people on a low-fat diet plan.

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