Should You Go Back On Atkins Induction after Cheating?

Green Salad with Lean Bacon, Cucumber Slices, and Tomato
Is it detrimental to go back on Atkins Induction
after cheating on your low-carb diet?

Atkins Induction is not meant to be a crutch.

It was designed to get you into the state of ketosis and trigger fat burning. If you don't respect the power of Induction and use it one too many times, it can eventually backfire on you. That was Dr. Atkins professional opinion.

After indulging in a higher carb meal, a higher carb day, or even an entire weekend or vacation, one of the first things those following the Atkins diet often ask on the low-carb forums is:

"Should I go back on Induction?"

Atkins Induction is the lowest level of carbohydrate that Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., the folks who own the Atkins name, currently recommend -- unless you absolutely cannot get into ketosis by eating 20 net carbs.

Induction is generally advised for the first two weeks of the diet, provided you have more than 40 pounds to lose.

But what if you've been eating more than 20 carbs before you cheated on your diet?

How effective is it to go all the way back to Atkins Induction?

And can it be detrimental if you do?

There is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Atkins Induction, now referred to as Phase 1. Even though Dr. Atkins was pretty blunt in his books as to just what Induction is and what you need to use it for, many people on Atkins have not read a single Atkins book.

Unlike other low-carb eating plans, the Atkins Diet was created to be progressive. You move through a series of four different phases, each designed to do very unique things for you.

The first phase you enter is called Induction because it introduces you to the low-carb way of life. It also helps you enter into the state of dietary ketosis (sometimes called Nutritional Ketosis) and starts you on the path of becoming fat adapted.

Fat adaption is the key to making the whole thing work.

The better you are at burning fat for fuel, the better your weight loss results will be, so in this post, we'll take a closer look at Atkins Induction and why you should or shouldn't go back to Phase One after going over in carbs.

Pinterest Image: Slices of Roast Beef and Salad

How it All Began

There is nothing magical about Atkins Induction.

There really isn't.

It is arbitrarily set at 20 net carbs, 20 total carbs, or biologically zero, depending on which Atkins plan you're following.
Dr. Atkins chose 20 carbs maximum for Phase 1 because he wanted to make sure that almost everyone who decided to try his diet would enter ketosis effortlessly and experience the metabolic effects of being in that state, such as hunger reduction.

He did this by directly addressing your nutritional state.

"Although, all the evidence isn't in, we do understand that when insulin levels are regulated, many patients whom we would otherwise expect to become diabetic, do not." (Dr. Atkins Nutritional Breakthrough: How to Treat Your Medical Condition Without Drugs, Bantam/Perigord, 1981)

By limiting the amount of carbohydrates you take in, those who are insulin resistant or pre-diabetic can halt the decent into diabetes. In addition, other problems like:
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • certain arthritic conditions
  • certain metabolic imbalances
  • neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • and other problems
can be nipped in the bud if blood sugar control is maintained. This blood sugar control is done through manipulating your insulin level:

"Whereas the regulatory mechanism that governs insulin release is not yet fully understood, we do know that when insulin secretion is stimulated by large amounts of artificially concentrated carbohydrates (especially over a period of years, as in the typical Western diet), the body may overreact and the excessive response persist."

MAY overreact. Not everyone does.

Many of Dr. Atkins personal patients suffered with hypoglycemia, due to the excessive release of insulin, so that's what the Induction Phase of the diet is meant to correct. By sticking to foods that are least likely to cause you to oversecrete insulin, hypoglycemia and its symptoms can be avoided.

Lettuce Salad with Assorted Raw Veggies and Chicken Strips Breaded with Pork Rinds
Most of Dr. Atkins patients had hypoglycemia.
Eating very low carb quickly corrects unstable blood sugar.

Insulin's job is to regulate glucagon, and thereby, keep your blood glucose level within a tight margin. If your blood sugar falls too low after eating, you'll experience:
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • hunger
  • headaches
  • muscle weakness
  • shakiness
And a whole bunch of other uncomfortable conditions.

The body isn't capable of handling the amount of sugar that the average American eats, so the body starts to compensate for the onslaught by producing excessive amounts of insulin.

Control insulin, and you can control blood glucose, which gives you, the dieter, a secret weapon you can use to bring equilibrium back to your metabolic system.

Dr. Atkins Four Basic Carbohydrate Subgroups

Grapefruit and Other Fruits are in Group 2
Dr. Atkins divided carbohydrates into four groups.
Grapefruit and other fruits fall into group two.

Dr. Atkins divided carbohydrates into the following four groups:

Carbohydrate Group 1 included:

  • all vegetables
  • all whole grains
  • all whole cereals
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes
  • greens

Carbohydrate Group 2 included:

  • all fruits
  • milk, yogurt, buttermilk
  • raw honey
  • sugar cane and molasses

Carbohydrate Group 3 included:

  • flour
  • cornstarch
  • white rice
  • potato starch
  • bread and crackers
  • pasta

Carbohydrate Group 4 included:

  • sugar
  • honey
  • corn syrup and dextrose
  • fructose
  • glucose
  • maltose (barley malt)
  • maple syrup
  • sorbitol
The carbohydrates in group four were considered the least desirable, since they produce the largest insulin release. Those in group one were the most desirable, because they resulted in the lowest insulin response.

"Refined carbohydrates do not belong in the diet; unrefined ones do."

However, Dr. Atkins was also quick to point out that:

"There are some people -- the overweight in particular -- who should avoid virtually all carbohydrates in order to lose weight and progress toward their optimum health."

Plastic Dish Filled with Assorted Greens
Dr. Atkins believed salad greens
provided carbohydrate the body
couldn't use.

This isn't as dramatic as it sounds.

In Atkins' perspective, grains provide the carbohydrate energy to prevent weight loss when the diet's carbohydrate content is too strict. Leafy greens provide unabsorbable carbohydrate and bulk that's essential for normal bowel function.

The Atkins Diet is, and always has been, a personal and individualized plan intended to keep one's blood glucose level under control. This was why Dr. Atkins chose to focus mostly on the carbohydrate content of the diet. For protein and fats, he said the:

"Rest of the diet should consist of those combinations of protein and fat which occur together in nature and which traditionally constitute our main courses." Thus, the Atkins Diet can be "tailored to your own individual preferences and metabolic needs."

Atkins wanted his diet to be easy, fun, and enjoyable to stick with.

The Key to Success with Atkins

Dr. Atkins didn't see his diet as torturous or filled with deprivation, but this was before the advent of the super-size culture and attack on our "bliss point" by greedy manufacturers who only care about making a buck.

While the Atkins Diet is certainly luxurious, the doctor quickly learned from his patients that they didn't like being on a diet.

Any diet.

Like most of us, and even Dr. Atkins himself, eating is an enjoyable, emotional experience, so we won't stick with a diet that is difficult to follow. "The real success of any diet in the long run is based on the degree to which the dieter will be satisfied by what he is permitted to eat."

The bottom line?

"The Atkins Diet is effective because it specifically corrects the dysnutrition caused by our twentieth-century diet."

Should You Go Back On Atkins Induction, or Not?

The Atkins Diet is an extremely effective tool that you can use for weight loss, but it takes TWO to make the diet work.

The diet is one partner, and you are the other.

You have to use the gift that Dr. Atkins has given you, wisely and cautiously.

You have to also respect your body while using this tool. Your body is doing the best it can to adapt to whatever you toss at it, and the sooner you understand that and accept the fact that you can't control body instincts, the less frustrating the dieting process will be for you.

Please, keep this in mind as you read the rest of this post because Dr. Atkins was far more lenient and down-to-earth than most of the low-carb community's gurus are.

If you abuse Dr. Atkins advice, it can really boomerang on you.

The aim is to give yourself some slack, expect yourself to fall down and skin your knees once in a while, bend the rules, but don't break them.

If you are insulin resistant, breaking the diet can set off a binge-behavior cycle that is almost impossible to control due to the cravings you'll get.

If you're gluten intolerant, you can make yourself downright sick, so please be careful.

Your job is to make the diet as easy and pleasant as you can. Atkins was designed to be personalized.

You return foods to your diet in Phase Two for good reasons, and one of those reasons is giving yourself a wider variety of foods to choose from. This can often prevent you from having to overeat carbs because your carb allowance will be higher and you'll have more wiggle room for special occasions and outings.

Pile of Strawberries and Blueberries
In Phase 2, you return low-glycemic fruits,
nuts and seeds, fresh cheeses, and
more vegetables to your low-carb diet.

"You'll find for yourself," Dr. Atkins said in 1972, "that there are many ways in which you can bend this diet without breaking it. If you do break it, voluntarily or accidentally (and you almost certainly will in the years to come), just step back a bit and start over for a few days."

Notice, that he did not say go back to square one in the original diet book. He said it's fine to return to Atkins Induction for a few days.

What you're looking for is to get your hunger and cravings, if any, back under control as quickly as possible and to drop the glycogen and water that might have accumulated due to carbohydrate storage.

Your liver can hold up to 80 grams of carbohydrates, so don't automatically think you blew it and give up. Take a realistic look at what happened, how you were eating up to the point where you cheated, and then go from there.

If you didn't go over your carbohydrate tolerance by too much, 20 or 30 grams for example, you can just pick yourself up, dust off your skinned knees and keep going. At 20 to 30 carbs, you'll still be in ketosis, but your glycogen will have partially refilled. It won't take long for you to burn through that glycogen and for fat loss to resume. Less than 24 hours.

If you ate more than that, a couple of days on Induction will quickly bring your body's chemistry back in line. If you're very metabolically challenged, you can do Induction for up to four days, he said.

What then?

As long as "your conscience is clear, you're ready to go back to where you left off. You don't have to go back through the levels of two, three, and four: but you should go back to where you left off or one stage below where you stopped losing."

This is why it's essential to find your personal carbohydrate tolerance. You won't know where the diet works and where it doesn't work for your particular metabolic challenges. Your carbohydrate tolerance might not stay the same throughout your life, and this is important to understand as well.

"When you lose weight, your CCL may change . . . for better or for worse." (His dots, not mine)

Don't Worship 20 Carbs

If you've ever read the Letter on Corpulence, you know that lots of folks are able to experience the metabolic effects of being in ketosis at much higher numbers than others.

When I first came back to low carb at the end of December 2006, I was eating 60 total carbs a day, and I had no problem entering into ketosis at that carbihydrate level. It took me the same three days for my appetite to crash, and I began spilling ketones into the urine as if I was only eating 20 carbs.

There was absolutely no difference for me, so please do not worship 20 carbs. It's just a starting point, an extremely low starting point, that is designed to help almost everyone get into ketosis.

The carb level needed to experience the metabolic effects of ketosis is very individual. In fact, your best carb level might actually be lower than what the ketone sticks tell you it is. Dr. Atkins advises you to:

"Look at the end result and ask yourself -- how well do I feel? How well suppressed is my appetite?"

Ketone sticks and blood ketone monitors are not the holy grail when it comes to choosing the best carbohydrate level for you.

I know a lot of low-carb dieters who cannot eat at 20 carbs. Some eat at 10, some at 5, and some eat zero carb because that's where they feel best.

Listen to your body.

Don't do what I did and ignore it. You'll be sorry if you do.

How Long Does it Take to Get Back Into Ketosis After Cheating?

Ketosis is entered into fairly quickly. Generally, it takes less than 24 hours, just as Dr. Atkins said, because the body has a limited amount of glycogen stores even when it's stuffed full.

Ketosis is a matter of ketones being produced and circulated in the bloodstream, to make them accessible for the brain. It has nothing to do with whether or not the body is spilling some of those ketones into the urine.

If you're eating less than 100 carbs a day, you are probably in some degree of ketosis, and are reaping the metabolic benefit of burning fats. The more metabolically challenged you are, the lower in carbs you'll need to go to bring your chemistry back into balance.

Beware of Low-Carb Yo-Yo Dieting

One of the major concerns with going back to Atkins Induction after cheating is that you can set up a habitual pattern where you constantly yo-yo between overindulgence of carbs and Induction. This can also become a pattern for rationalization to cheat.

Dr. Atkins called this dietary habit "Abusing Induction," (the link to the article is in the reference section below) and warned his readers that the diet could stop working, due to the way the body adapts to whatever you're doing.

Yo-yo low-carb dieting can backfire
on you. Dr. Atkins called yo-yo low-carb dieting
abusing Induction.

In addition, many people have found that subsequent attempts at low-carb diets have not been as effective as before, but I'm not sure if that's due to adaption or because you are not eating exactly what you ate before.

Either way:

What you can get away with today, might not be what you can get away with tomorrow, so use the above advice carefully. Make the most of the gifts you've been given today because tomorrow might never come.


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