As you now know, central to the Atkins program is lowering your net carb intake enough to unlock the gate that keeps you from primarily burning fat for energy. The initial amount that works for just about everyone is 20 grams of net carbs a day. So for at least the first two weeks, your objective is to stay at or very close to that number. The classic way to stay on track is to count grams of net carbs, using a pocket-sized carb gram counter or an online version available.
This allows precision so long as your portions match those listed in the counter. (For most packaged foods, you’ll have to read the Nutrition Facts Panel to find the carb count, subtracting fiber from total carbohydrate to calculate net carbs.)
Another approach is one that doctors have found useful in working with patients or individuals involved in private practice or clinical studies. Rather than counting carbs, they do the math for them. They tell individuals that they can eat a certain number of cups of vegetables, both cooked and as salad. This is the way the original Atkins books did it as well This approach might work for you if you tend to eat the same or similar foods for each meal. However, keep in mind that patients are in frequent contact with nutritionists and know that they will be “found out” if they take liberties with the program.
If self-control is not your strong suit, estimating carb count with portions may mean that you’re actually consuming too many carbs to kick-start fat burning and weight loss. Moreover, all vegetables don’t have the same carb counts, so this method may short-change your vegetable intake.
A combination approach may work best for some. Count your carbs the first two weeks, by which time you’ll not only know the carb content for your favorite foods, but also have a handle on the results of that level of carb intake. Then switch over to the carb portions approach. If your results continue to be good, you clearly can do without counting carbs.
This approach will make it easier for you when you start adding 5-gram increments in OWL, because you’ll already know how to count.
Be sensible, not obsessive, about both carbs and portions. You needn’t split hairs about whether a serving contains 0.4 or 0.8 grams of net carbs. Round anything under 0.5g down to 0g and anything above 0.5g to 1g. Nor need you count calories, but we do ask you to use a little common sense. If you’re humming along losing weight easily, forget about calories and counting everything. But if the indicator on the scale won’t budge or it seems to be taking you forever to lose, you might want to do a reality check and count everything to ensure success.