How the Atkins Diet works – Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance


The Crucial Phase of Pre-Maintenance

Prepare for permanent slimness as you internalize the eating habits that you will follow for the rest of your life.

The third phase of Atkins bridges losing weight and maintaining weight. It may take some time to fine-tune your critical carbohydrate levels for losing and maintaining.

Phase three is crucial to getting your weight under control for good, but it is also about taking control of your life and your health. ‘, ‘To reduce your long-term risks for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, there is nothing more effective than maintaining a healthy weight. But learning how to make choices that are right for you—not for your spouse, parents, friends or even your doctor—are also important.

When you realize you can be in charge of what you eat, how you look and how healthy you are, it empowers you in all the other aspects of your life. Instead of worrying about looking good to please someone else, you are likely coming to realize that what matters is how you feel about how you look and feel.

You are learning the skills that allow you to take charge of your life. And that enhances self-esteem.

When you were doing Ongoing Weight Loss, you learned how to increase your carb intake in increments of 5 grams. In this phase, you can shift into a higher gear: Increase your daily carb count by 10 grams each week as long as you continue to lose.

If you introduce new foods slowly and increase your carb grams gradually, your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing (CCLL) should increase gradually. This new and higher CCLL will reflect the fact that you are now losing weight more slowly.

As you continue to make 10 gram incremental additions, you”ll quickly reach a point at which you will find that you are no longer losing. If you are at your goal weight, stay at that level for a month or so before you increase your daily carb consumption by another 10 grams to see if you can consume that level without gaining.

Once you do begin to gain, drop back 10 grams and you should have established your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance (CCLM).


The following portions each contain roughly 10 grams of Net Carbs. Food groups are arranged in the general order in which they should be added.

Starchy Vegetables*
3/4 cup carrots
1/2 cup acorn squash
1/4 cup yams (or sweet potatoes)
2/3 cup peas, shelled
1/4 cup plantain
1 cup beets
1/3 cup parsnips
1/4 cup white potatoes

1/3 cup lentils
1/3 cup kidney beans
1/3 cup black beans
1/4 cup navy beans
1/3 cup lima beans
1/3 cup great northern beans
1/3 cup chickpeas
1/4 cup fava beans
1/3 cup pinto beans

1/2 apple
11 cherries
1 peach
12 grapes
1 1/4 cup strawberries
1/2 grapefruit
3/4 cup cantaloupe
1 kiwi
1 cup watermelon
1/2 cup fruit cocktail, canned in water
1 plum
1/2 small banana
1 cup guava
1/3 cup mango

1/4 cup rice (long-grain, brown*)
1/2 cup plain old-fashioned oatmeal*
1/3 cup corn kernels*
1/3 cup whole-wheat cereal* (Wheatena)
1/4 cup barley*
1/4 cup semolina pasta*

*All figures are for cooked vegetables, starches and legumes.

Slowing weight loss while still preserving the forward momentum of Pre-Maintenance does not always happen smoothly. If, after an incremental increase, you find that you are gaining or are not losing and you are not yet at your goal weight, you need to back down to the previous level.

The line between gaining, maintaining and losing is a thin one and you may have to play with your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing (CCLL) and Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintaining (CCLM) for a while to understand what your body can handle.

While it may take as long as three months to drop the last few pounds and clearly establish your CCLM, this leisurely pace is critical to your ultimate success. Continue to add new foods slowly and carefully so you”ll be learning good eating habits at the same time.

For example, you”ll discover whether your metabolism can handle whole-grain bread, legumes, starchy vegetables and other potential trouble foods. (People with extremely low carb tolerance—meaning high metabolic resistance—won”t be able to add many new foods and will find Pre-Maintenance similar to Ongoing Weight Loss or even Induction.)

Some Variations on the Rule

Rather than add carbohydrate foods in increments of 10 grams each week, another approach to Pre-Maintenance is to continue eating as you were at the end of OWL and to allow yourself a 20 gram carb treat two or three times a week. Add a piece of fruit or a starchy vegetable—a serving of brown rice or sweet potatoes, for example.

You can also have a glass of white wine, a light beer or the white spirits. You could get more adventurous with some of the excellent controlled carbohydrate convenience foods that are increasingly available. Or, if your metabolic resistance is at the low end, you may be able to enjoy such treats more frequently.

Still another way to do Pre-Maintenance is to average out your carb intake for the week. This is how it works: If, for example, your CCLL is 80 grams, you might drop back to 60 grams on Tuesday, then deviate with a beef, potato and carrot stew the following night, pushing your daily total to 100 grams. (Up until now, when weight loss was essential, it was important to spread your carbs out through the day. If you do have a heavy dose at one meal, make sure there is enough fat, protein and fiber in the rest of the meal to slow the glucose load on your system.)

However, if you find such deviations create cravings, it is probably best for you to stick to a steady number of carbs spread evenly throughout the day.

But be careful. There are a couple of reasons why people sometimes get into trouble:

They don”t recognize that this phase is still relatively restrictive of carbohydrates, compared to the way they were eating before they were following the Atkins Nutritional Approach™. They”re startled to discover that without the wonderful advantage of deep lipolysis, appetite suppression has diminished.

These reasons point out exactly why Pre-Maintenance is so important. This is the phase during which you acclimate to the carbohydrate moderation you”ll need to practice for the rest of your life. Not only are you losing less weight and doing so at a slower rate, you are burning less of your body fat.

Thus, the natural appetite suppression provided by lipolysis is reduced considerably. But as long as you are not skipping meals and are continuing to lose weight, you are controlling your blood sugar and burning fat, so your appetite should not be out of control.

If you do experience problems with renewed cravings, you have gone too far and you need to go back a few notches.

By the time you finally reach your goal weight, you are by definition officially in phase four, Lifetime Maintenance. As you move into this next phase of Atkins, you absolutely must ease into your Maintenance regimen, rather than make an abrupt transition.