The Atkins diet consists of four distinct phases. The Atkins diet works with net carbohydrates (carbs) rather than a total number of carbs, and each phase of the diet limits the number of net carbs you can eat each day. To determine the amount of net carbs in a food, subtract the amount of fiber from the amount of carbohydrates. For example, if the food has 20 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of fiber, the number of net carbs equals 12 grams.
Phase I, a two week introduction to the diet, limits you to 20 grams of net carbs each day. In addition, you should have up to four ounces of cheese, one half avocado, up to 20 olives, three ounces of cream or one ounce of sour cream, up to three tablespoons of lime or lemon juice and one or two servings of Atkins shakes or snack bars that have less than five grams net carbohydrates.
Avoid trans fat, sugar, potatoes, squash and yams. Limit bread and pasta to one serving daily that contains less than three grams of net carbohydrates. Avoid all fruit, seeds and nuts. Do not eat lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas or other legumes.
Acceptable foods include all types of fish and shellfish, all types of poultry and meat except processed meat, ham, bacon and lunch meat. Eggs and cheese are allowed. You should consume 12 to 15 grams of net carbohydrates every day from vegetables. Butter, mayonnaise and vegetable oils are allowed. Water, herbal tea, diet soda and decaffeinated coffee and tea are acceptable.
Phase II of the Atkins diet starts at 25 net carbs per day. Every week, increase your daily net carbohydrates by five grams. Increase the amount of carbs each week until you stop losing weight. This is called your critical carbohydrate level for losing or CCLL. When you know your CCLL number, you know where to maintain your carb level so you can lose weight. Stay at Phase II until you are ten pounds away from your goal weight.
The food rules for phase II are the same as Phase I except more foods become acceptable. During phase II, you are allowed to eat seeds, nuts, berries, cantaloupe and soft cheeses.
Phase III of the Atkins diet helps you lose your last ten pounds and prepares you for life-long maintenance. The rules for phase three include increasing your net carbs each week by 10 grams of net carbohydrates each day. Continue to increase by 10 grams each week until weight loss stops. When that happens, reduce by 10 net carb grams. This allows you to adjust your maximum carbohydrate intake so you keep losing weight.
During Phase III, more foods are added to your diet such as squash, carrots, yams, potatoes, legumes, fruit and whole grains.
Phase IV of the Atkins diet is the maintenance phase. You will continue to consume between 40 to 120 net grams of carbohydrates each day. The amount you eat was determined in Phase III at the point where your weight stabilized. You may eat any kind of lean protein that you desire along with good fats like avocados, butter and olive oil. Good carbs are encouraged in the form of nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.