Let's focus on some the basics this weekend. After all, if you get off on the wrong foot, you may fall by the wayside before experiencing all the wonderful things Atkins can do for you. Here's how to do Atkins right, and avoid making some all-too-common errors:
1) Count your Net Carbs. Make the most of your 20 grams of Net Carbs (the grams of total carbs minus grams of fiber, which has virtually no impact on your blood sugar). With the current recommendations (and depending upon the foundation vegetables you choose), you could have a big salad at lunch, a side salad at dinner and still have several servings of your favorite cooked veggies. (See the Induction Carb Counter<http://www.atkins.com/Program/Phase1/WhatYouCanEatinthisPhase.aspx> for specifics.) Don't forget to count lemon juice and other acceptable condiments and include 1 gram of Net Carbs for sugar substitutes. And most important, don't use your carb allowance for foods that are high in sugar and starches and low in fiber. And by all means, don't cut your Net Carbs thinking fewer is better.
2) Drink your water. Eight daily cups is the standard recommendation, but the larger and more active you are, the more you need. Two cups can come from coffee or tea (caffeinated is fine), herb tea, sugar-free sodas or broth. As long as your urine is clear or very pale, you're drinking enough. Don't ever skimp on fluids in a misguided effort to see a lower number when you hop on the scale. Not drinking enough water actually makes your body retain fluid as a protective mechanism.
3) Consume a little salt (or broth or tamari/soy sauce) to avoid experiencing weakness, headaches, muscle cramps or lightheadedness as your body transitions to primarily burning fat for energy. Since Atkins is a naturally diuretic diet, you don't need to avoid salt to minimize water retention. The symptoms mentioned above can be the result of an electrolyte imbalance caused by losing minerals along with fluid. Caution: continue to limit salt if your doctor has advised you to limit sodium intake of if you are sodium sensitive.
4) Eat 4 to 6 ounces of protein at each meal, depending on your height and gender.A petite woman may be satiated by 4 ounces; a guy may need 6 ounces. A very tall guy may even need a bit more. Eating too much protein—or eating only protein and not vegetables and fats—or conversely, skimping on protein or fat, will interfere with weight loss and/or leave you hungry and subject to carb cravings.
5) Eat enough fat to feel satisfied. Some people mistakenly assume that a marriage of Atkins and a low-fat diet is the best of both worlds. Not so! As long as you're restricting carbohydrates, the dietary calories from fat are used directly for energy and are unlikely to be stored. Yummy foods like nuts, guacamole, olives, aioli, chicken salad, pesto, and butter help provide satiety so you can keep your appetite under control. They also ensure an adequate calorie intake so your metabolism doesn't dial itself down to “low," slowing weight loss. Protein can't do the job on its own. The tag team of fat and protein keeps you from feeling deprived.
6) Know what you're eating. By carefully reading package labels, you can avoid those added sugars and other sneaky carbs. Just because a package says it's low in calories doesn't mean it's low in carbs. Avoid low-calorie products unless they're labeled as low carb. Likewise, use full-fat versions of mayonnaise, salad dressing and the like. Low-fat versions of packaged foods almost invariably add sugar to replace the flavor carried by oil. If the label is unclear, check out the food in a carb counter.
7) Hold off on alcohol until Phase 2. Even if spirits have no carbs, you're body will burn alcohol for energy before carbs and fat, so you're slowing down the process by having a cocktail. Hold off until Phase 2 and even then moderation is the word. Alcohol lets down our inhibitions, so you're more apt to eat foods you're better off avoiding after a drink or two.
8) Write it down. Record what you eat in a diet journal every day or use the Atkins Community online journal <http://community.atkins.com/?mcid=tools2comm>, which is completely confidential. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) allows you to see patterns you might miss otherwise. You'll also quickly see if you're consuming more carbs than you think you are.
9) Watch the scale, but not too much. Weigh and measure yourself weekly or use weight averaging <http://www.atkins.com/Program/Phase2/TroubleShootinginOWL/WhyWeightAveragingIsBetterThanaDailyWeigh.aspx>. Your weight naturally varies across a three- or four-pound range from day to day, so weighing yourself daily is setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Moreover, if you are working out, you may actually be building muscle even as you shed fat, which may keep your weight constant, even as you trim inches and your clothes fit better. (Muscle is denser than fat and therefore takes up less space.) I suspect if you could lose four pounds or fit into a smaller size, you'd opt for the latter.
10) Focus on small changes. Wait a week or more until you've become accustomed to your new way of eating before starting or increasing exercise. Making too many changes at one time sets you up for failure. Physical activity is a natural partner to the Atkins Diet, but do go easy. On the other hand, if you already work out regularly, feel free to continue doing so.
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What helped you succeed with Atkins when you first started? I'd love to hear! Please share your thoughts with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you'd like to hear about in the future.