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How to Do the Atkins Diet Right

Hristo Hristov -- The Atkins Diet is the most famous low carb diet, but it is full of pitfalls just waiting for you to walk into.

Let me tell you something -- if you are doing the Atkins Diet, you might be doing it WRONG. I have been on diet forums for years, have consulted thousands of people on low carb diets, and I am seeing it again and again. People don't know how to implement a low carb diet.

Very often people fail to lose weight or to adapt to the low carb life style. Many people give it up after a couple of days because they don't know how to do it right. The Atkins Diet is the most famous low carb diet, but it is full of pitfalls just waiting for you to walk into.

Rule 1: Calories DO count. You must count both carbs AND calories.

Some of you may believe that losing weight is just a matter of reducing carbohydrates. In fact, many do. However, hunting for hidden carbs and totally neglecting the calories you eat is setting yourself up for failure. The only reason that low carb diets work is that they reduce your appetite. You end up eating fewer CALORIES, and lose weight.

The problem is that not all people start eating fewer calories after switching to a low carb diet. The only 100% bulletproof method for losing weight is by counting calories. Don't rely on simply reducing carbohydrates. Eat less carbs AND fewer calories. Count calories! It is much easier to restrict calories when you are on a low carb diet, because you won't feel as hungry as with high-carb diets.

Rule 2: Going straight to 20 grams of carbs per day is a NO-NO.

The Atkins Diet has you eating only 20 grams of carbs a day during the first two weeks on the diet. After that, you are advised to gradually increase the number of carbs you eat. I strongly urge you to reverse the order of events. Start by eating 80 or more grams of carbs per day, count calories, and then further reduce them if you want.

My reasoning for doing so is very simple. During the adaptation period you will lack energy because you have taken out the carbs, and you need time to make the fat burning enzymes to use more fat for fuel. If you suddenly start eating a super low amount of carbs, you will feel totally out of energy because your body cannot manufacture that many fat burning enzymes quickly. However, when you reduce the carbohydrates GRADUALLY, you give your body a chance to adapt to the diet without the misery of being lethargic.

You can even start by eating 150 grams of carbs a day for the first week, and then reduce them to 100 grams for the second, and so on. You won't be so fatigued, and because you count calories, you are losing weight.

You should expect a period of about one to two weeks when you won't have much energy, but this will pass. Don't give up just because you lack energy. This is temporary. If you listen to me and gradually reduce the carbs, you will experience a much less-pronounced drop of physical and mental performance.

Rule 3: Calories, NOT carbohydrates, control your bodyweight.

If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you are going to lose weight no matter how many carbs you consume. You don't need to go super low on the carbohydrates to experience the typical loss of appetite that is so important to be successful at dieting. I eat about 50-80 grams of carbs a day year-round, and I have single digit body fat %. That's because I control both carbs and calories.

You won't be able to eat just 20 grams of carbs for a long time. It is too impractical, hard-to-do, and unnecessary. You will do fine eating 80 grams of carbs a day, as long as you count calories.

Rule 4: Don't give up your coffee.

Atkins advises that you avoid caffeine and drink only decaffeinated coffee. This is totally unnecessary. If you are used to drinking coffee, just continue to do so. You will have a much easier adaptation period. Coffee makes your body burn more fat and helps you adapt to fat burning faster. Coffee also suppresses your appetite, and has a mild thermogenic effect (you burn more calories).

Last, but not least, coffee is very addictive and hard to give up. I know a couple of people who gave up the Atkins Diet just because Atkins says to stop drinking coffee! I am telling you -- coffee will help your weight loss efforts. It is totally unnecessary to give it up.

Rule 5: Don't avoid milk and yogurt products.

Eating plain yogurt is associated with weight loss for some mysterious reason. Researchers speculate that it is the calcium in milk products that helps with weight loss. Whatever the reason, milk and yogurt are good for your health and weight loss. They have some carbs, but, as I told you, there's absolutely no need to go super low on the carbs if you control your calories.

Here's a little known fact most low-carb dieters don't know: plain yogurt has three times less carbs than labeled! The reason is simple. Yogurt has billions of healthy bacteria called probiotics, which thrive on glucose. These probiotics eat up the carbs in milk, and turn it into lactic acid.

Now, when manufacturers measure carbs, they do so by the method of "carbs by difference." They measure everything else (protein, fats, water..), and what's left is ASSUMED to be carbs. But what's left is carbs + lactic acid. To know the real number of carbs in yogurt, divide the number of carbs on the label by three. Do so only for PLAIN yogurt. Avoid all artificially processed and carb loaded yogurts. Eat plain yogurt!

Rule 6: A low-carb diet is a high-fat diet.

By definition a low carb diet is a high-fat diet. Some people turn the low-carb diet into low-carb and low-fat diet. What a mistake! First, if you eat a high-protein, low-carb, low-fat diet, you are going to get hungry. Second, eating less fat will slow down the adaptation to fat burning and extend your misery. Third, your body needs fat and the fat-soluble vitamins to digest the proteins you eat. Without the fat you are going to get sick, upset your stomach, and become severely constipated.

Women should be very careful to eat enough fat. Many women don't like to eat meat or eat only very lean meat. They must find a way to get more fat in the diet by ways of high-fat cheeses.

Fat should represent more than 50% of the calories you eat.

Rule 7: Don't be fooled by the quick initial weight loss.

Most of the weight that is lost during the first two weeks on a restrictive diet is WATER. On a low-carb diet, you are going to lose even more water. The rate of weight loss is going to slow down after the first two weeks. Be prepared, it is perfectly natural to happen. Don't expect miracles.

Let's sum it up. Count calories. Hunting for hidden carbs, and neglecting the calories is a major reason for plateaus. Restrict carbs gradually. Eat more fat to control your appetite. Don't go super low on the carbs. Go as low as you feel comfortable. As long as you control calories you are on your way to success.

Hristo Hristov is the owner of X3MSoftware, a company specializing in developing diet and fitness software. He has a degree in Computer Science and passion for training. If you want to be successful at calorie counting, try the best calorie and carb counter software free for 30 days. Visit X3MSoftware.com to get your trial copy of Carb Counter and Calorie Counter.

© 2004 Hristo Hristov

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