Atkins Diet Phases

News and Advice, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Plans
on October 17, 2011
A woman eating salad and fruits and measuring her waist

The Atkins approach relies on four distinct phases, each of which provides a list of “acceptable” foods, as well as guidelines for net carb intake. Proper hydration is essential, and activity boosts progress, so get moving!

Phase 1: Induction

In the first phase, net carb intake is monitored to push the body into ketosis—an excess of ketones—that occurs when the body needs to break down fat for fuel. You are restricted to less than 20 net grams of carbs per day, compared to the 50-150 grams required for maintenance, and 12-15 grams must come from high-fiber vegetables.


  • Eggs
  • Herbs and garnish
  • Salad greens, fruits and high fiber veggies
  • All meat (beef, pork, shellfish, fish, fowl)
  • Cheese (blue cheese, cheddar, cow/sheep/goat, cream cheese, feta, gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, Swiss)
  • Butter, mayo, olive oil, vegetable oil
  • Caffeine (in moderation)
  • Daily multivitamin (recommended)

Not Allowed:

  • Alcohol
  • Grains
  • Fruit
  • Legumes (too starchy)

Phase 2: Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)

OWL begins when the body has transitioned to fat burning as a primary energy source. During this phase, new foods are gradually reintroduced into the diet in 5 gram increments following the carb ladder and The Power of 5, which offers serving suggestions of Atkins-approved foods all equaling 5 grams net carbs.

Maintaining a proper balance of salt in the body is key. Atkins recommends you a couple of cups of broth (not the low-sodium kind), a half-teaspoon of salt or 2 tablespoons of soy sauce each day to avoid fatigue.


  • All Induction foods
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits (blueberries, cantaloupe, raspberries, strawberries)
  • Cheese (cottage cheese, heavy cream, ricotta)
  • Juices (lemon, lime, tomato)
  • Alcohol (in moderation)

Not Allowed:

  • Grains
  • Starchy veggies
  • Legumes

Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance

By Phase 3, the most restrictive phases are complete, and pre-maintenance is all about shedding those final few pounds. Once you’ve achieved your goal weight, pre-maintenance focuses on testing your carb tolerance—increasing net carb intake by 10 grams per week until you are no longer losing weight—in order to find your Atkins Carb Equilibrium (ACE). The ACE gives you a net carb range to help maintain weight loss without depriving yourself.


  • All induction and OWL foods
  • Starchy veggies (carrots, white potatoes, yams, acorn squash)
  • Legumes
  • Fruits (apple, banana, cherry, kiwi, mango, peach, watermelon, grapefruit, grapes)
  • Grains (oatmeal, pasta, rice)

Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance

The final Atkins phase is less about restrictions and more about personal limits. Phase 4 is designed to take you from dieting to habitual healthy choices. There are no “restricted” foods in Phase 4; you just have to comply with your ACE. Adjustments can be made along the way, and don’t forget exceptions aren’t the enemy—just make them rare!


  • All induction, OWL and pre-maintenance foods
  • Cheat foods (in moderation)

The most important thing to remember about Atkins is that you’re not counting calories; you’re counting carbs. This is not to say that eating 5,000 calories of vegetables a day will help you meet your goals, but don’t stress over caloric intake! As long as your net carbs are in check, calories shouldn’t hinder your progress.

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