Colette's Blog

April 2, 2013

The wonderful thing about Atkins is that you have options; the program is truly customized to you and what works best for your body. One example of doing Atkins your way is the decision of losing most of your weight in Induction or losing most of your weight in OWL. Read on and let me know what works (or worked) best for you.

Different Phases, Different Objectives
Think of Atkins as a marathon, rather than a sprint and you’ll understand why I think it is probably best to lose the bulk of your weight in OWL (On Going Weight Loss).
Induction trains your body to burn fat, which will kick-start weight loss. OWL is where you’ll get into the steady rhythm that will carry you until you’re almost at the finish line: 15 pounds from your goal. By then, you’ll have honed your understanding of how your body reacts to certain foods and to gradual increases in carb intake. Learning a way to eat that you can live with for the rest of your life is the real objective of Atkins.

Phase 1 Is Just the Launching Pad
I used to be of the mindset that you could stay in Induction as long as you wanted as long as you didn’t get bored with the food choices. After all, there’s no health risk associated with staying in Induction indefinitely. However, after more than 20 years of helping people lose weight on Atkins—and keep it off—I’ve come to the conclusion that Phase 2 is the best place to lose the bulk of your weight. No wonder Dr. Atkins dubbed it Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL). You may stay at a relatively low level, perhaps 25 to 35 grams of Net Carbs a day, which is not all that different from Induction, but it does allow you a bit more flexibility to eat such delicious, nutritious food as nuts and seeds, berries, melon, cherries, Greek yogurt, and or cottage cheese. 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 a starchy vegetable, or legumes and whole grains. I’ve also come to believe that moving up the Carb Ladder every couple of weeks or even longer is also a better approach for some than doing so each week.

You can certainly hang out in Induction longer than two weeks if you have a lot of weight to lose, but don’t get stuck there. Of course, weight loss typically slows after the initial dramatic weight loss that occurs when you first switch from burning primarily glucose (from carbohydrates) to burning fat for energy. But that’s actually a good thing, as we’ll discuss below. In addition to reducing the possibility of boredom, there’s another reason why I believe you should bid adieu to Induction and move on to OWL.

Staying in Induction

If you are someone who is more motivated by quick weight loss and thrives on structure and fewer choices, despite my obvious preference to encourage you to move to OWL, you may choose to stay in Induction past the initial two weeks, and up to the point that you are just 15 pounds from your goal weight. But there are a few things you can do to make this process a bit easier, as well as set the stage for you to move on to OWL when the time is right. While in Induction, you’ll remain at 20 grams of Net Carbs a day, but try adding nuts and seeds to your list of acceptable foods. A couple of tablespoons of walnuts, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds or other seeds or nuts make a great snack. Or sprinkle them on a salad or cooked vegetables, or use in a recipe. As you get closer to your goal weight, you can start slowly introducing different foods on the carb ladder so that you can find out which carbs allow you to keep losing and which ones don’t.

The only danger of staying in Induction too long is that you have no place to go if and when—and it’s almost inevitable—you experience a weight-loss plateau. This isn’t a health risk, of course, but it can be extremely frustrating and de-motivating. Just to be clear, a plateau is defined as an inexplicable pause in weight loss that’s not the result of dietary misdemeanors or lifestyle changes. It can happen at any time after you shed the first “easy” pounds but is more likely as you get closer to your goal weight. Fortunately, plateaus usually yield to certain strategies, including temporarily reducing your daily carb intake. However, if you’re still at the Induction level of 20 daily grams of Net Carbs, where are you going to go to break a plateau? It’s not healthful to sacrifice vegetables to go under 20 grams of Net Carbs, which some people are tempted to do when they are not losing in Induction. Moreover, restricting choices in Induction can make the program too difficult for the long haul. 
On the other hand, if you’re at, say, 35 grams of Net Carbs a day and hit a plateau, you can cut back by 10 grams and likely the excess pounds will begin to budge again. Or perhaps you’ll need to go down another 5 grams to 20 grams, which will almost certainly reboot weight loss. Once you’re losing again, you can gradually start to increase the carbs.

Be sure to track not just your weight but also your measurements. Why? Assuming that you’re exercising, you may be gaining lean body mass and losing fat. Because muscle is denser than fat, the scale can be deceiving. How your clothes fit is another useful measuring tool. Even if your weight remains stable for a week or so, if your jeans zip up more easily, you’re losing fat.

Pros: Faster rate of weight loss, more structure, fewer choices (and less temptation)

Cons: Boredom, fewer options for moving past a plateau without reducing Net Carbs below the recommended level

Moving Through the Phases

If you are comfortable with a slower and steadier rate of weight loss, stick with Induction for two weeks or one month, and then move on Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL). The gradual increase in Net Carb intake and equally slow reintroduction of new foods allows you to move up the carb ladder and find your overall intake tolerance for carbs. You’ll also gradually come to understand if there are any carbohydrate foods that trigger cravings for more of the same. This process is not always easy, but it’s essential to understand your unique metabolism. Whether its 30 grams of Net Carbs or 60 or more, you need to find what works for you. In effect, understanding your tolerance level is the bridge from a weight-loss diet to a diet for life. After all, wouldn’t you rather lose a little more slowly and keep the weight off for good than lose fast for a month or two by staying in Induction the whole time, reach your goal weight and then regain those lost pounds before you know it because you never learned how to eat for the long run?

Pros: More variety, more options for moving past a plateau, you can always return to Induction

Cons: Slightly Slower rate of weight loss, having more food choices may be too tempting or confusing

Which Works best for You?

Both these strategies will allow you to lose weight in the way that works best for you. It’s your choice, and in the long run, the option you choose should be one that will allow you to lose the weight (and keep it off) while enjoying a new and satisfying way of eating for the long haul.

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