How it Works

Atkins 20 Plan: Phase 1 - Induction

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.

What You Can Eat In This Phase

Our low carb food list is an easy guide to your Phase 1 eating plan. Most fish, poultry and meat don't contain carbs so you can feel free to enjoy them, but use the low carb food list to be sure you're also getting your 12 to 15 grams of net carbs in vegetables as well.

How long

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.

Purpose

Shift your body from burning primarily carbs to burning primarily fat, kick-starting weight loss.

Goal

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 them are coded 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 eating plan. Most fish, poultry and meat don't contain carbs so you can feel free to enjoy them, but use the low carb food list to be sure you're also getting your 12 to 15 grams of net carbs in vegetables as well.

All fish including:
  • Flounder
  • Herring
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Sole
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Cod
  • Halibut
All fowl including:
  • Cornish hen
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Goose
  • Pheasant
  • Quail
  • Turkey
  • Ostrich
All shellfish including:
  • Clams
  • Crabmeat
  • Mussels*
  • Oysters*
  • Shrimp
  • Squid
  • Lobster

*Oysters and mussels are higher in carbs so limit to about 4 ounces per day.

All meat including:
  • Bacon*
  • Beef
  • Ham*
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Venison

*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:
  • Deviled
  • Fried
  • Hard-boiled
  • Omelets
  • Poached
  • Scrambled
  • Soft-boiled

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.

  1. Butter
  2. Mayonnaise – make sure it has no added sugar
  3. Olive oil
  4. Vegetable oils – Those labeled “cold pressed" or “expeller pressed" are especially good and olive oil is one of the best.
    • Canola*
    • Walnut
    • Soybean*
    • Grape seed*
    • Sesame
    • Sunflower*
    • Safflower*

*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.

Artificial Sweeteners

Sucralose, saccharine or stevia – one packet equals 1 gram of net carbs

Beverages
  • 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

Cheese
 
Serving Size
Net Atkins Count™
Blue cheeses
2 TBSP
.4
Cheddar
1 oz
.4
Cow, sheep and goat
1 oz
.3
Cream cheese
2 TBSP
.8
Feta
1 oz
1.2
Gouda
1 oz
.6
Mozzarella
1 oz
.6
Parmesan
1 oz
.9
Swiss
1 oz
1.0
Foundation Vegetables
 
Serving Size
Net Atkins Count™
Alfalfa sprouts
1/2 cup/raw
.2
Arugula
1 cup/raw
.4
Bok choy
1 cup/raw
.4
Celery
1 stalk
.8
Chicory greens
1/2 cup/raw
.1
Chives
1 TBSP
.1
Cucumber
1/2 cup
1.0
Daikon
1/2 cup
1.0
Endive
1/2 cup
.4
Escarole
1/2 cup
.1
Fennel
1/2 cup
1.8
Jicama
1/2 cup
2.5
Iceberg lettuce
1 cup
.2
Mushrooms
1/2 cup
1.2
Parsley
1 TBSP
.1
Peppers
1/2 cup/raw
2.3
Radicchio
1/2 cup/raw
.7
Radishes
6, each
.5
Romaine lettuce
1 cup
.4
Higher-carb vegetables
 
Serving Size
Net Atkins Count™
Artichoke
1/2 medium
3.5
Asparagus
6 spears
2.4
Artichoke hearts
1 canned
1.0
Avocados
1/2 whole (raw)
1.8
Bamboo shoots
1/2 cup
1.2
Broccoli
1/2 cup
1.7
Broccoli raw
1.2 cup
.8
Broccoli rabe
1/2 cup
2.0
Broccoflower
1/2 cup
2.3
Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup
1.8
Cabbage
1/2 cup (raw)
1.6
Cauliflower
1/2 cup (raw)
1.4
Swiss chard
1/2 cup
1.8
Collard greens
1/2 cup boiled
2.0
Eggplant
1/2 cup
2.0
Green String Beans
1 cup
4.1
Hearts of palm
1 heart
.7
Kale
1/2 cup
2.4
Kohlrabi
1/4 cup
2.3
Leeks
1/2 cup
3.4
Okra
1/2 cup
2.4
Olives green
5, each
.1
Olives black
5, each
.7
Onion
1/4 cup
4.3
Pumpkin
1/4 cup
2.4
Rhubarb
1/2 cup (unsweetened)
1.7
Sauerkraut
1/2 cup (drained)
1.2
Snow peas and snap peas in a pod
1/2 cup with pods
3.4
Spaghetti squash
1/4 cup boiled
2.0
Spinach
1/2 cup
2.2
Summer squash
1/2 cup
2.6
Tomato
1/4 cup
4.3
Turnips
1/2 cup
3.3
Water chesnuts
1/4 cup (canned)
3.5
Zucchini
1/2 cup
1.5
Salad garnishes
 
Serving Size
Net Atkins Count™
Crumbled bacon
3 slices
0
Hard-boiled egg
1 egg
.5
Grated cheeses
(see above carb counts)
Sautéed mushrooms
1/2 cup
1.0
Sour cream
2 Tbsp
1.2
Herbs and spices
 
Serving Size
Net Atkins Count™
Basil
1 TBSP
0
Cayenne pepper
1 TBSP
0
Cilantro
1 TBSP
0
Dill
1 TBSP
0
Garlic
1 clove
.9
Ginger
1 TBSP sliced root
.8
Oregano
1 TBSP
0
Pepper
1 TBSP
0
Rosemary
1 TBSP
0
Sage
1 TBSP
0
Tarragon
1 TBSP
0
Salad Dressings
 
Serving Size
Net Atkins Count™
Blue cheese
2 TBSP
2.3
Caesar
2 TBSP
.5
Italian
2 TBSP
3
Lemon juice
2 TBSP
2.8
Lime juice
2 TBSP
2.8
Oil and vinegar
2 TBSP
1.0
Ranch
2 TBSP
1.4

**If you have decided to stay in Induction longer than 2 weeks while following the “Fast Track", 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. Refer to the meal plans in The New Atkins Made Easy for ideas. As a quick guide, 3g NC of nuts or seeds translates to 30 almonds, 3T of macadamia nuts, 2T of peanut butter, 2T pistachios, 4T shelled sunflower seeds. Transition to Phase 2 (Balancing) once you are within 15 pounds of your goal weight. If you are taking the “Slow and Steady Track", wait to introduce Nuts and Seeds when you reach Phase 2 (Balancing).

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.

Can I consume beer, wine, or other alcohol in Phase 1?

No. However, once you transition to Phase 2, you can consume moderate amounts of most alcoholic beverages, assuming it doesn't interfere with weight loss.

If the object is to stay at 20 grams of Net Carbs a day, why can’t I have Atkins bars and shakes or a slice of bread instead of all those vegetables?

You're not just tracking your carb intake; you're also aiming for a well-balanced meal plan full of vitamins and other nutrients provided by vegetables, along with fiber to help manage your hunger. One slice of bread might represent the balance of your daily carb intake in Phase 1, which would put your blood sugar back on the roller coaster.

Why can't I drink tomato or orange juice with my breakfast?

The juicing process removes all or most of the fiber in fruit and vegetables, concentrating the sugar hit. You'll be able to introduce tomato juice in Phase 2. In Phase 3, oranges and other citrus fruits are acceptable.

Why is cream allowed in Phase 1 but not milk?

Strange as it may seem, milk is higher in carbs than cream, thanks to the lactose (a form of sugar). In Phase 2 you can reintroduce small amounts of whole milk. Or dilute cream with some water, if you prefer.

I’m experiencing cravings for sweets and other high-carb foods such as muffins, bread, and chips. How do I stay in control of my appetite?

Most likely your blood sugar levels have not yet stabilized, which usually occurs after the fifth day on Atkins. Once you're burning fat for energy, it acts as a natural appetite suppressant. Sometimes women have cravings right before their menstrual period. Or you may be going too long between meals or snacks, eating foods that contain hidden sugars or grains, or not consuming enough fat. When you experience cravings for high-carb foods, have an Atkins Advantage bar or shake, half a Hass avocado, some cheese, or some olives instead. Hunger and cravings can also be confused with thirst, so drink up.

I'm having a hard time staying motivated. What should I do?

It's definitely easier to achieve any goal with someone who has your back. Find a buddy who wants to lose weight too, whether it's your significant other, a friend or family member or someone in the Atkins Community. He/she can help you stay on track and achieve your goals.

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.

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