Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do I HAVE to Start With Atkins Induction?

Most dieters start off with Atkins Induction, but that isn't the only way to low carb.
Since January is the time of year that many people begin, or return to, a low-carb diet, I thought I’d tackle a question that tends to come up quite frequently in many low-carb forums:

“Do I HAVE to start with Atkins Induction, or can I eat 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day and still get into ketosis eventually?”

The answer to that question seems to depend on who you ask. Those who are hard-sell Atkins devotees always say:

"Yes, you HAVE to start with Atkins Induction.”

But they miss the most important element of the question:

“Can I eat more than 20 net carbs and still get into ketosis?”

That's what newbies and those coming back to the Atkins Diet really want to know.

Although most Atkins dieters can quote the benefits for drastically lowering carbs to 20 during the first two to four weeks, and they understand the general concept of individual carbohydrate sensitivity, they seem to have difficulty transferring that understanding to Atkins Induction.

For some reason, most low-carb dieters insist that 20 net carbs and a high-fat intake is the ONLY way to do Atkins. In fact, their stance is so solid, that many will tell you that if you don’t do it that way, you’re not doing Atkins.

However, that is not true. Here's what is:

Is 20 Net Carbs Mandatory?

There isn’t anything magical about 20 net carbs. There isn't even anything magical about getting into ketosis. If there were, then the Protein Power Life Plan created by Dr. Eades, which allows you to eat up to 30 net carbs from the very first day, wouldn’t work.

The Protein Power Life Plan differs from Atkins Induction quite substantially, but both programs put you into the state of ketosis, and both programs work equally well.

Neither program is better than the other.

The idea of using ketosis to benefit weight loss isn’t to strap yourself into one particular low-carb diet program. Although it is a good idea to pick a plan you can easily live with and use that program as the foundation for your new lifestyle, keep in mind that many people have the potential to go into ketosis at much higher levels than 20 net carbs.

Atkins Induction begins at 20 net carbs because only the most severe insulin resistant individuals cannot go into ketosis at that extreme level of carbohydrate restriction.

And yes, 20 net carbs per day is considered to be quite extreme.

That level of carbohydrate intake should only be used long-term if your insulin resistance is severe.

Staying at 20 net carbs should never be used for faster weight loss because your body will adapt to whatever level of carbohydrate you eat long term. The practice of eating at extreme levels of restriction can potentially make it impossible to add additional carbohydrates back into your diet later on, without regaining.

I’ve seen that problem in quite a few people over the years.

In my experience, those who eat between 35 and 45 net carbs during the Ongoing Weight Loss Phase, now called Phase 2, were able to go up to around 60 to 100 net carbs per day, or even more.

Those who chose to stay at 20 net carbs for the entire weight-loss phase, because they wanted to get the weight off faster or because it was easier, couldn’t add back even 5 additional carbs.

Now, some of that problem was simply a fear of replacing glycogen and water, which happens when you first up your carbohydrate intake. The extra carbs will be converted into glycogen and used to replace the glycogen you lost during your very first week. But the body does adapt to whatever you eat long term.

In my experience, there is a direct relationship between the amount of carbohydrates you eat on a daily basis and the amount of fat you can eat. Many people, once they reach maintenance, want to hang onto their high fat intake. Eating very low-carb for the rest of your life is the cost for eating those extra fat calories.

How Many Carbs Can I Eat and Still Go Into Ketosis?

This is one of those tricky questions because many low-carb dieters also tend to believe that there is something magical about the state of ketosis.

Biologically, anything less than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day will put you into the state of ketosis because at that level, your liver will have to use your carbohydrate stores (the glycogen stored in the liver) to keep your blood glucose level steady.

Using up your glycogen stores and forcing the body to use body fat to make ketone bodies is the real definition of the state of ketosis. The state of ketosis is not defined by the amount of ketones you have backed up in your bloodstream that the body hasn’t used yet. Ketosis has to do with supplying your brain and body with fuel.

Dr. Atkins believed that 60 grams of total carbohydrates per day (not net) was too high for most folks to get into the state of ketosis. He based that opinion on his own experience and the experience he had with his patients. He also judged their depth of ketosis by the amount of ketones they were throwing off in their urine.

In the ‘90s, health insurance didn’t pay for any medical treatment associated with overweight or obesity. Most of Dr. Atkins’ patients had gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel or inflammatory bowel disease. This is one of the reasons why the diet was originally designed to be so low in vegetable matter.

That is what he personally told those of us who belonged to the Atkins boards in the late ‘90s.

However, many of those patients eventually disclosed that they had cheated on Atkins Induction and were actually eating steamed vegetables along with their salad.

Even so, they still lost weight.

So taking his patients' experience into consideration, in the ‘90s, Dr. Atkins changed his diet from 2 cups of loosely packed salad per day to 2 cups of salad plus 2/3 cup of cooked vegetables. In 2002, he upped that amount again to 1 cup of cooked vegetables along with the 2-cup salad.

The Atkins books are designed to help as many dieters as possible to enter into the state of ketosis. However, many people, including myself, can eat far more than 20 net carbs.

In fact, I can personally get into ketosis within a week at 60 carbs per day – and that’s in my current disabled condition. I am not active, not even slightly.

Getting Into Ketosis Isn’t the KEY to Fat Loss

Getting into ketosis isn’t what defines the amount of carbohydrates you can eat and lose body fat, so if you don't want to start with Atkins Induction you don't have to. The KEY to fat loss on any low-carb diet is your degree of Insulin Resistance coupled with the amount of food you eat.

What most dieters really want to know:

“How many carbs per day can I eat and still lose body fat?”

It is your:

  • degree of insulin resistance
  • hormonal imbalances
  • cortisol level
  • cravings for carbohydrates
  • overall level of hunger

that sets the amount of carbohydrates you can eat per day and still lose body fat comfortably.

While I can get into ketosis on 60 grams of carbohydrates per day, my protein intake must be adequate and my fat and calorie intake must be very low, or I will not lose body fat. In fact, I will GAIN weight because my metabolic rate is extremely low. I learned this lesson when I tried to do Nutritional Ketosis a few weeks ago.

For me, it takes about 9 to 10 calories per pound of total body weight to maintain my current weight. That isn’t much food at maintenance, considering that my target weight was 125 pounds. If my activity level remained the same and I didn't lose any more muscle tissue, I might be able to eat 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day and maintain that weight.

However, as I age, that caloric number for maintenance will continue to go down.

Atkins Induction is a Great Plan 

Atkins Induction is set up to help you find your particular carbohydrate tolerance, but finding your personal level of carbohydrates isn’t the only factor in losing body fat. The amount of protein, dietary fat, and calories you eat all play a significant role, and those amounts won’t be the same for every one.

That is why weight management can be such  a juggling act.


  1. Great explanation!

  2. Thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate you stopping by.