Friday, January 25, 2013

Atkins Induction Blues: Why Am I Not Losing Weight?


Have you recently started Atkins Induction or some other low-carb program? If so, your motivation and excitement level is probably high. Although the drastic weight loss experienced at the beginning of a low-carb diet comes from draining glycogen stores and the water necessary to process it, seeing the numbers on the scale drop easily can keep you going forward with the diet’s restrictions and demanding lifestyle changes.

The Drastic Weight Loss On Atkins Induction Can Scare the Body
(Photo by Twenty Four Students)
For some individuals, the extreme weight loss often experienced during Atkins Induction can cause the body to put on the breaks. When that happens, weight loss can slow or stop as you move past the initial Induction period. For newbies and returnees alike, that can feel frustrating. You want to lose your body fat as quickly as you can, but things aren’t happening as fast as you expected or hoped.

If you have the Atkins Induction Blues and are wondering why you aren’t losing weight anymore, take heart. You might not be doing anything wrong.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight?


Fast weight loss is what draws many people towards a low-carb diet. They hear about the diet’s promises or listen to others who have changed to this way of life and found success, and they want that for themselves too. But if you don’t understand how your body works, the tricks it uses to protect you can mentally work against what you’re trying to do.

When the body loses its glycogen stores and the large amount of water needed to process those stored carbohydrates, it can see those imbalances as life threatening. In reaction, it will slow down your metabolic rate, start stuffing the water it still has left into your fat cells, and begin screaming for sugar. It’s out of glucose and dehydrated, so even though it’s using amino acids and body fat for its immediate needs, it interprets your current situation as a life-threatening emergency.

Weight loss stops, because the body is trying to conserve whatever resources it has.

On the surface, that can look like your low-carb diet has stopped working, but the body is simply going through the process of adapting to the types of foods you’re eating now. It doesn’t realize that it isn’t starving. It doesn’t understand that you are not in a true famine situation. It simply looks at what’s happening – the missing glycogen and semi-dehydration that has been ongoing for the past two to four weeks – and assumes you’re in trouble.

Low Carb Diets are Dehydrating


The degree of alarm the body goes into depends on your dieting history, whether you’ve restricted carbohydrates before, and just how much water you lost during Induction. The larger the losses, the more disturbed you’re body will be, especially if you aren’t drinking enough to replace those losses on a daily basis.

Restricting carbohydrates to Induction levels is dehydrating, even if you’re drinking enough water. That’s why weight scales designed to measure your hydration and fat levels are not accurate when following a low-carb diet. To make up for this dehydration, the body starts to retain a certain amount of water it thinks it needs. While drinking more water can certainly improve the situation if you’re water deficient, drinking more won’t help if your body is spooked.

Weight Loss Isn’t Fat Loss


The first thing to keep in mind is that if you’re in a calorie deficiency and your insulin levels are normal, fat loss will continue despite the numbers showing on the scale. Just because you’re not seeing weight loss, that doesn’t mean your body isn’t burning fat. To turn amino acids into glucose for the brain or blood sugar level, the liver uses fat to fuel that process. Since ketones are a by-product of breaking down fat, you can’t be in Ketosis without using fats either. But those fats can come from your diet, visceral fat, or body fat.

When the body stuffs water into your fat cells to protect you, that reaction keeps your fat cells from shrinking. It also keeps you from losing weight, and sometimes even inches, so if you’re new or fairly new to low-carb eating, a lack of weight loss on the scale or inches on the tape measure doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not burning body fat. You very well can be because weight loss isn’t fat loss. Weight loss can be muscle, glycogen, or water, as well as fat. And if your body is stuffing your fat cells with water, you might not see any loss of inches either.

What Can You Do If You Aren’t Losing Weight?


If your body has gone into panic mode due to the tremendous amount of weight loss you experienced on the first two weeks of Atkins Induction, all you can do is wait it out. Your body won’t continue stuffing your fat cells full of water forever. Eventually, it will begin to feel safe, come to understand that you are not in physical danger, and begin to eliminate the water. At that time, the scale will begin to reflect your true fat loss. For many individuals, this period of adaption can take as long as 6 to 8 weeks, or even more.

If you’re returning to a low-carb diet, or have gone on-and-off many previous diets, the body can move into this same type of preservation mode even without the drastic weight loss during Induction. That’s one of the reasons why returning to an Induction level of carbs won’t necessarily get you the same rate of weight loss it did before. The body will recognize what’s going on sooner and will move into self-preservation quicker.

In addition, if yo-yo dieting has become a personal pattern, the body will prepare for you to return to your old eating style by holding onto the water and refusing to shrink your fat cells even longer than is typical. While that doesn’t hold true for everyone who isn’t losing weight – you might be doing something wrong if you haven’t read the book and have a clear understanding of what a low-carb diet is – most of the time when a stall follows a good initial weight loss, it isn’t really a stall at all.

It’s simply normal adaption.

39 comments:

carrien86 said...

So what should i do. I have done yo yo diets often....it seems i went on birth control and it messed with my b metabolism the most, so i was trying everything to lose the weight...nothing has worked, not even atkins yet. I lost over a 100 lbs. Like 10 years ago, so i have lost weight before. My body is just not doing what i want it to do is anymore. It is very frustrating.

Barbara1959 said...

Thank you for this piece Vickie. I have posted it in Files Section of LCHF group I'm apart of on Facebook. Hope that's okay.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! I have been stuck in the same weight for about 2 weeks despite bringing down my carb intake into a meager 8-10 carbs per day. I will stick it out another week.

Vickie Ewell said...

Barbara,
Yes, that's fine. I'm glad you found it helpful.

Vickie Ewell said...

Anonymous,

Sometimes, you just gotta wait it out. Have things improved for you yet?

Charlene Allison said...

I've been on induction for 12 days now and I've only lost 6.6 lbs...
When I hear how much others have lost I find my own weight loss pretty disappointing. Whatever the case I'm soldiering on though because the bottom line is that I, at least, am losing weight...

Vickie Ewell said...

Hi Charlene,
Glad you stopped by. 6.6 lbs is great! How much you lose the first 2 weeks totally depends on how much muscle you have, how large your glycogen storage is, and how much water retention you have. Some folks are so deficient in protein when they start that they have tons of excess water that the body dumps in the very beginning. Just know that those large losses are not fat. Inches is what matters most.

ace lau said...

i've been in injunction for 3 weeks and have not lost a pound.

Vickie Ewell said...

ace lau,
Is this the first time that you're tried a low-carb diet? Or have you done this before? Have you ever been on any other diet before starting Induction?

Karen Boothe said...

Discouraged :( Starting at about250 I lost over 100 pounds and about 40 of that was on Atkins. No surgery. That was 2005. Since then I have gained about 15 pounds back. I know that isn't a lot in 9 years but I dont want to go back there! So, I started Atkins again 3 weeks ago and have only lost about 3 pounds. I love low carb eating but this isn't working this time. I am 5'0 and about 160. Any suggestions? I have used the shakes, bars etc. Maybe I should eliminate them for awhile? Thanks for your help. ~Karen~

Vickie Ewell said...

It never works as well the second or third or whatever time as it did at first. The body remembers and will stuff water into your fat cells masking weight loss for quite a while. Plus, the metabolism can also fall right away for some. A lot of people discover that they have to give up the products in order to lose once they come back. Food sensitivities change. Our degree of insulin resistance sometimes gets worse. What you could do before won't apply today. For many, it's just a matter of waiting it out, but there are no guarantees unfortunately. I'm in a quandary myself, as I've gained a lot of my weight back due to having Grave's Disease.

coupon Ty said...

I'veThank you for this article. Ive done Atkins before 10 years ago and lost 20. Lbs. I started again about 3 weeks ago and lost 12 lbs in 2 weeks and nothing since. I won't give up. But do u think that when I do start losing it will be a lot at once or gradually? and are there some who do Atkins and never lose the weight with it? I just want some hope!

Vickie Ewell said...

Coupon Ty,
Most people go through a whoosh, so they drop several pounds at once - when the body dumps the water weight. Others, just begin to lose weight slowly again. 12 pounds in 2 weeks though, will definitely freak the body out into stuffing your fat cells with water; so my opinion, from watching others and myself, is that you'll probably experience a whoosh. But it could take up to 6 weeks before you experience that. That's how long it took me. I try to tell people to give the diet at least 2 to 3 months to work before evaluating whether or not to tweak anything.

coupon Ty said...

Thank you so much for your response. I am determined to stick it out!!615

Vickie Ewell said...

I did eventually have to tweak my diet to lower fat and calories than the average low-carb dieter, but I didn't do right away. I waited about 90 days before I started to play with things.

C.J. said...

I can't thank you enough for posting this! 2 months ago, I simultaneously began weight lifting and Atkins. I expected to look drastically different within a month. I lost 9lbs. in the first 3 weeks and have been completely stalled since. Everyone else at the gym is losing like crazy and I have been contemplating giving up. I will soldier on and see what the next few weeks bring - again, thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one with this issue.

Karen said...

I am so discouraged!!!! I have been doing the induction phase for 2 weeks. I lose 4 pounds in the first couple of days but put them back on. I am burning lots of key tones but no inches or weight loss. I have yo yo dieted my entire life so it makes sense that my body is in shock, Do I start switching things up or do I just wait. Can I do anything???? I have been eating artificial sweeteners. Do you think this is affecting my progress or lack of it.

Janet Divin said...

This article is such a godsend! I lost 16 pounds during my first 3 weeks of Atkins and then all of the sudden I stopped losing weight and gained 1.5 pounds back. What you wrote sounds so logical as to why this is happening. I will stick at it and know that this pause in weight loss will not be going on forever!

Vickie Ewell said...

Hi Karen,
It takes a good 6 weeks and often more for the body to adjust to a low-carb diet. You don't want to go tweaking anything until you've been doing this for at least a couple of months. If you're coming from a yo-yo dieting background, the body is "expecting" you to quit dieting, so it's going to try and wait you out by stuffing water into your fat cells. That makes it look like the dieting isn't working, even if it is. I like to tell people to just let it ride for awhile before evaluating. Tweaking too soon won't help much.

Vickie Ewell said...

Janet,
1.5 pound weight gain can easily be water fluctuation. Not necessarily fat. Weight loss isn't linear, even though we'd all love it to be. In the late 90s, I ran into a 6 week stall at the end of Induction. It's very normal for the body to do that.

Alita Guenther said...

Thank you for having such a motivational blog. I've also been a yo-yo low carb dieter for 5 years now. This time around has been so difficult as I have been fluctuating between 4 pounds for 3 weeks now. I will say however that I feel much better on a low carb diet and that alone will keep me motivated. Hoping my body will respond soon.

Vickie Ewell said...

The body definitely has a strong ability to adapt to what we're doing. Patterns are remembered forever it seems. Waiting is the only game. I learned the hard way that forcing the issue only makes the body fight back.

AmandaL said...

Vickie,

I have done Atkins many of times off and on. However this time I have hit it full force! I let my self get to 210 pounds and knew I had to do something. I lost 10 pounds in my first 2 weeks. Then the next week I lost nothing. I then lost 2 more pounds and gained that right back. I have been sitting at 201 now for about 2 weeks with no loss at all. Im getting really discouraged but I know if I give up I will only gain so I am trying to be strong. Any advice?

ddemos84 said...

Thanks for the post. I'm at a point where I need to decide whether to stay on the low carb way or try a different approach. After an injury that left me unable to exercise for 2 months, I gained about 14 pounds, and my clothes no longer fit me. Last month I was able to go back to my workout routine and because decided to give the Atkins diet a try. I'm in my 3rd week of Atkins induction and have yet to lose any weight. I hover between 174-175 pounds, and am a 5'6, 30 year old female. While I have yo-yo dieted I have never tried a low carb approach before. I honestly only want to lose 15 pounds or enough inches to fit back into my wardrobe. I should also note that I am an avid exerciser. and run between 3-5 miles a day, and have done so for the last 5 years. I have followed induction quite closely, and am well aware to be on the lookout for hidden carbs. I've been very careful to prepare all my meals (which takes a lot of prep and time) and have even eliminated caffine from my diet these last 3 weeks. As dairy can sometimes bloat me even when I'm not dieting, I made the choice to stay away from it during induction. After so many years of avoiding butter and fats, cooking and eating this way is definitely a huge psychological adjustment, but I'm more than willing to stick it out if it works.

As I said, this is my 3rd week of induction and I have yet to see any weight loss, so I'm questioning whether this is the right approach for my body. Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated. Also, before setting out on this low carb journey I had complete blood work done, and my thyroid and hormone levels are all normal, so I know that isn't an issue.

One last note, I realize that much of the weight loss during induction is due to water weight loss, and because I'm a pretty solid, muscular build, and have always watched my sodium and water intake I probably didn't have a great amount of water to lose, I still thought I'd see at least 1-2 pound decrease on the scale, of actual fat loss.

Thank you so much for your time!

Vickie Ewell said...

Amanda,
This is really quite typical of a lot of dieters. What happens is that you lose so much water the first couple of weeks that the body puts on the breaks and starts stuffing water in the fat cells. That will mask any fat loss that is occurring. This phenomenon can take 6 or 8 weeks to correct itself. Once the body gets comfortable, it will shed the water and you'll see a weight loss. I know it difficult to ignore the scale, but you just gotta wait it out.

Vickie Ewell said...

ddemos84,
Avid exercising can mask weight loss, since it takes water to heal the microscopic muscle tears that occur. Also, with only 15 pounds to lose, it's going to come off very slowly.

Usually, I tell people to give the program a good 8 weeks to work before tweaking or trying something else. But a lot of people over at Low Carb Friends who are also heavy exercisers have said the weight stayed put until they cut way down on the exercise. There's something odd metabolic-wise that goes on with low carb and exercise, but I don't know for sure what that is. Low carb technically uses the starvation pathway, so I'm thinking that its some type of protection device going on.

Make sure that you are in a calorie deficit. With only 15 pounds to lose, you won't be insulin resistant and you'll need to pay attention to the volume of food you're eating. Especially the fats.

ddemos84 said...

Vickie,

Thanks for the insight. I'm committed to giving it another 5 weeks. I'm wary of drastically cutting down on the exercise as that is how I got into this mess in the first place. I track all my food (mostly so I can keep count of my protein and fat grams) and consistently come in between 1300-1500 calories a day, with the minimum being 60% from fats.

My game plan is to continue on and hope for the best.

Vickie Ewell said...

At 1300 to 1500 calories, you are definitely not overeating, so your plan is a good one. The general advice at Lyle McDonald's forums has always been to give a diet a lengthy trial before giving up.

Jane Hilton said...

I beginning week 3 of Induction and still no weight loss. I have lost weight before (~50 lbs. seven or eight years ago on WW) but have never been a yo-yo dieter. I have steadily gained weight over the years and weigh 208 lbs. at only 5 feet tall, so this weight has got to go! My husband is having gastric sleeve surgery next month and his bariatric surgeon says Atkins is the best diet around. My sister, also ~5 feet tall, lost 50-60 lbs. doing Atkins 5 or so years ago, so I know it works.....it's just not working for me!

Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie said...

Ok so this is my 3rd week on atkins and I'm no longer losing weight. Should I track my macros? If so, what percentages? Also, I am breastfeeding I got the ok to do so from the pediatrician. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I have 80 lbs to lose.

Vickie Ewell said...

Jane,
Which version of the diet are you doing? When I re-started in 2007, I only lost 2 pounds the first month. I was severely insulin resistant. I had to tweak the macros to get the diet to work for me.

Vickie Ewell said...

Marie,
You're in your third week and are not losing weight anymore. How much weight have you lost so far? You won't lose weight every single week. In the beginning, you lose water and glycogen, and sometimes the body adapts to the water loss by storing water in for your fat cells awhile.

Jane Hilton said...

I am doing the version described in Dr. Atkin's New Diet Revolution. I used to eat only once or twice a day, skipping breakfast and not eating until maybe 1 or 2 o'clock, then again around 6 or 7. I know it sounds strange, but I wasn't "hungry" and would forget to eat. Now I am eating three meals a day (well, 2 meals and a protein drink for breakfast) with a snack in the morning and afternoon. I was also not so good about drinking water, but am really trying to consistently get at least 64 oz. a day. I'm hoping that if I just stick with it a while longer things will start to progress. I thought I would crave sugar, but I don't really. I LOVE potatoes in any form and haven't missed them at all. And I don't miss the bloat from eating bread either, so even if it takes a while to lose weight, I FEEL better now.

Vickie Ewell said...

Not being hungry is not strange at all. It's one of the major benefits of eating low carb. Drinking enough water is really important, as it takes water to process ketones and flush out the fragments. Bloating from eating bread is a sign of wheat, gluten, or grain intolerance.

Tammy Carter said...

I have been doing under 20 carbs a day for 2 weeks now. I am 5'10 150 pounds. But I am trying to get down to 140. I have been eating lots of meat, and veggies. I have been working out for at least an hour at least 5 days a week. Lifting weights, as well as cardio. I don't know what to do, I have actually gained 3 pounds. Anyone???? Please help. Any ideas on what I can do?

Vickie Ewell said...

Tammy,

Lots of cardio and working out while low carbing will cause you to stall or gain weight. The body uses a lot of water to repair the muscles and tissues that get damaged while working out, and excessive exercise will cause the metabolism to tank.

It's also going to be especially difficult to lose weight if you already weigh 150. At your height, that's goal weight already.

Megan Leigh said...

Vickie,
Would you discourage working out while doing low carb? I'm on my second week and lost 7 lbs but started gaining it back. Thanks!

Vickie Ewell said...

Megan,
It depends on how hard, long, and number of times per week you are working out. With low-carb, you want to exercise, especially if the body is used to it, but tone it down a bit.

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