I get many questions when I discuss the Paleo diet with curious spectators and one that comes up a lot is what is the difference between Atkins and this diet? Or, isn’t this just a low carb diet? The answer is tough and probably because I’m still a newbie and figuring out this whole lifestyle and how it works for me. I have started reading some “low carb” books and articles to get a feel for it and read the Atkins “New Revolution” book to see how things are different.
After reading several books and doing some research with Low Carb podcast, both are considered a lifestyle. If people are doing the Atkins diet than they are probably thinking that they can lose the weight they want or need and go back to eating carbs again that really is a diet and not a great way to keep weight off. If you consider it a lifestyle than people will more likely make decisions and choices they can live with. The Atkins program can be a lifestyle but there are things to take into consideration. Before I get into the actual differences, there is a podcast “Living LaVida Low Carb” which is very good by Jimmy Moore. He started doing Atkins but now considers himself a low carber and not necessarily Paleo but says he likes what Paleo stands for.
So, what are some of the differences? First let’s discuss Atkins as it relates to diet, weight loss, and lifestyle. There are stages with Atkins program, the first being a very strict 2 week induction where carbs are very low in the 3-5% followed by protein and some fat. The emphasis is on protein, but the problem is that unless you are eating a large amount of protein you will probably be hungry and when just starting out it is hard to eat large amounts of it. The fat is what really keeps your hunger intact and keeps you from over eating or having cravings. The problem is that people aren’t ready to eat fat when first starting out. The idea of eating low fat, high carb is still engrained and it takes time to make the switch. I know, I dealt with changing my ideas on fat and what it means.
Remember also that Atkins is a business and they allow you to use the website tools for free because the hope is that you will buy bars, shakes and other “low carb” foods approved by Atkins. In these foods there are sugars or artificial sweeteners that may or may not be suitable depending on what you are trying to achieve. There are also low carb breads and pastas which again may be controversial depending on what your goals are. Eating these types of food is not eating “real food” and there is still a huge level of processing going on. Dairy is certainly acceptable since it has very low carbs but full fat varieties are better than low fat as your body will treat low fat items much like carb items and spike the insulin levels. After induction you start to add more carbs in and fruit can be an acceptable carb to eat. Depending on how many carbs you eat in a day depends on you and if you stall in weight loss you may have eaten too many carbs.
The Paleo lifestyle has different levels as well. There is the strict Paleo which is meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, non-starchy vegetables, and light fruit like seasonal berries. Another level may be any seasonal fruit. Then there are “safe starches” depending on your workouts and what your body needs like sweet potatoes but no carbs in the form of grains. The average number of carbs is roughly between 50-150 depending on what your goals are. Also some people add dairy if they need the extra calories and do not suffer any allergies. Although, the first 30 days is usually a full elimination so you can see what your body is really doing and feeling. If you are doing any protocols the elimination foods would be different and if there are any allergies the food elimination would be different.
I’m currently eating meats, eggs, and nuts, seeds lots of vegetables including squash but have eliminated nightshades completely. I also eat one piece of fruit a day so my total carb intake is very low. I have some cheese once or twice a week which I recently incorporated since I was really missing hard cheeses and dark chocolate. I use lots of fat at every meal and snack and have not incorporated a true intermitted fasting program. I do go about 12-16 hours sometimes without food due to workouts and schedule but have not gone beyond that or have scheduled a fast yet. The goal for me is to be healthy and strong from here on out and therefore I’m not trying to lose weight although I would like to “lean out” without bulking muscle but have sworn off grains completely because of how much better I feel. There are some “Paleo bars” out there but I would much rather put my own nuts and seeds in a bag even with some raisins and call that a snack over a Paleo bar. I’m not strict since I really enjoy raw honey and maple syrup as sweeteners and enjoy my treats. Although, I feel really good right now and that is where my focus is.
The two diets or lifestyles are very similar but they do have significant differences and whole idea of incorporating a lifestyle is to choose what works for you. Perhaps you want to start low carb as stage one and ease into Paleo as many people do once they realize how good they feel eating less carbs. In the low carb world wheat is still an ok grain but if you can at least try to cut out wheat for 30 days even doing low carb that is when you might feel the most changes in your body, mind, and performance.