Atkins Article - Your Holiday Survival Cheat Sheet
By Jacqueline Eberstein, R.N.
If you stray from the Atkins Nutritional Approach™ this holiday season, forget the guilt trip. Instead, bone up on our 10-step strategy for getting your weight loss back on track at any time of year.
No matter how faithfully you've followed Atkins, always rumbling in the distance like an oncoming freight train is the can't-resist-it treat offered at a can't-say-no event. It could be a birthday party with chocolate cake ("Oh, come on. Just one bite won't kill you"). Or perhaps it's the sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner ("It's a tradition"). Or maybe it's the bagel buffet that always accompanies the weekly sales meeting or a sumptuous dessert at a fancy restaurant. Whatever it is, you hear the whistle, you see the oncoming light, but you feel as if you just can't get off the tracks.
The real risk with a single departure from the program is that it will lead to another—and another. One treat (and the subsequent guilt) can trigger a cascade of binge eating. Follow that route and before long, all your lost pounds will return and the controlled carb way of eating will be just a frustrating memory.
Instead of grabbing a fork and bracing yourself for a larger pants size, let's look at 10 constructive techniques for dealing with temptation. Because the Atkins plan requires a lifetime commitment, you need to develop a strategy to confront the ever-present opportunities for cheating. You can't hide from these challenges and you can't simply surrender to "special circumstances." After all, there are always holidays and social occasions. And feeling guilty is no fun. Here's how to turn that oncoming train into a light at the end of the tunnel.
Step 1: Don't Be Obsessive
Let's be realistic. No one can be 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time. That doesn't mean, however, that you're free to regularly abandon your program. We often see people following the Atkins Nutritional Approach who are capable of two states of mind. They're either in "good" mode, following every tenet of the Atkins plan to the letter, or they're being "bad" and they've abandoned everything, from their supplements to their exercise program. To momentarily stray from the Atkins path without getting lost, you need to learn how to cheat appropriately. This means accepting less than 100 percent perfection without surrendering to feelings of failure. Negotiating the gray areas can be difficult but, once you know how, you'll be able to both lose weight and keep it off.
Step 2: Pick the Right Time
The one time you absolutely must not cheat is during the Induction phase. In the early stages of a new eating plan, you're establishing healthy eating patterns and good habits. This is a very vulnerable phase. Cheating before you've become secure in your new lifestyle could make it difficult for you to resume your progress, to say nothing of achieving the initial success that is key to the program.
Step 3: Change Your Goal
If you're going on vacation or planning to cheat, don't make continued weight loss your goal. Instead, aim to temporarily maintain your weight and stay in control of your food choices.
Step 4: Be Picky
Not every special occasion merits cheating. Taking too many detours from doing Atkins will mean you'll never reach your goal. Make sure your planned indulgence is well worth it and make sure you really, really want it—not just in the abstract, but at the moment the food is in front of you. Sure, Grandma's potato pancakes only appear once a year, but when the platter comes your way, do you honestly feel like you can't pass them up? Would you rather have a special gift on your birthday than a slice of birthday cake? Will having a bagel for breakfast make your day—or will it be forgotten by lunch?
Step 5: Give Yourself a Cushion
If there's a special occasion on the horizon, consider dropping down to an earlier phase of Atkins a few weeks before the event. For example, if you're currently on Ongoing Weight Loss, go back to Induction. Adhering more strictly to the plan will help you feel in control and perhaps help you lose a few extra pounds. By the time the event rolls around, you'll have a generous margin of error in case you do wind up overindulging.
Atkins Tip: Recovery Strategy
Don't try to make up for an unplanned carb binge by skipping your next meal—you'll only make yourself hungry and increase the risk for an even bigger binge. Instead, drop down to the previous level of the Atkins plan and stay on it until you're feeling secure again. Remember that there's no time limit for staying on the Induction phase. Feel free to retreat to it whenever you get blown off course.
Step 6: Don't Go Whole Hog
Learn that you can deviate intelligently without reinforcing old habits. Let's say you're dining in a restaurant known for its spectacular desserts. If you must have that double chocolate mousse, decide you won't eat bread or order starches. Even though you're cheating by having the dessert, you're not reinforcing old bad habits. You're still in control of the situation.
Step 7: Get Back on Track Fast
Decide how long you're going to stray from your usual program. Resume it the minute that time frame expires. People get into trouble when they say, "I'll only be off the program for Thanksgiving," and find themselves munching leftover stuffing on Monday.
Step 8: Take the Lesser of Evils
Not every indulgence needs to be a blowout. If an orange will satisfy your craving for something sweet, it's a better bet than cookies. Reach for an extra helping of an allowed food such as cheese, vegetables or salad before ordering a bowl of pasta.
Step 9: Get Back in the Saddle
Having trouble getting back on program? Regained a few pounds? Regroup by maintaining your supplement and exercise program. By staying in control of these habits, you can refocus your energies on your food choices. The supplements will also keep you from being negatively affected by junk food. Repeat the steps that helped you lose weight in the first place: Rid your house of temptations, stock up on healthy treats and start counting carbs as carefully as you did the first weeks on Atkins.
Step 10: Learn From Experience
If you've lost control of your food choices, you may feel as though you've failed. But the positive spin is that you've probably learned something. What made you lose control? How might you deal with a similar situation in the future? If you can answer these questions to your satisfaction, you haven't failed—you've learned. Failure is a choice. If you choose to get back to doing Atkins, you're choosing success!
Jacqueline Eberstein, R.N., is director of Atkins Health & Medical Information Services.
Our thanks to the Atkins Center for this article. This article will give you some basic information about the Atkins Diet Approach for Weight Loss and Good Health, but is not a substitute for reading the books for the details of this plan (or the book for whatever low carb plan you choose to follow.)