Dr. Robert Atkins was a pioneer in the low carbohydrate movement. He advocated for a ketogenic diet long before keto became recognized as a viable, healthy diet.
However, the Atkins Diet and the Carnivore Diet are not the same. And it’s more similar to popular ketogenic diets than it is to the Carnivore Diet (interestingly, most Carnivores come from a Ketogenic Diet).
In this article, we will look at some similarities, differences, and reasons why a Carnivore Diet may be the final solution to a revolutionary diet pioneered by Dr. Atkins.
What is Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate diet that is broken into 4 Phases.
Phase 1: Induction
During induction, you are limited to 20g of carbohydrates per day. Atkins recommends these carbs come from salad greens and veggies. This initial phase lasts at least 14 days, in which you eat meat, fish, eggs, and added fats from butter, mayonnaise, and vegetable oils.
No fruit, bread, pasta, grains, or starchy vegetables are allowed.
You must track the 20g of carbohydrates carefully. But besides carbs, you can eat until satisfied.
Atkins recommends a host of supplements during this phase as well as all the following phases. He “ok’s” sweeteners like sucralose and saccharin. But recommends avoiding caffeine like tea, coffee, and soft drinks as they may promote hypoglycemia and sugar cravings.
Phase 2: Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)
In this next phase, you can add 5g of carbohydrates per day until you reach your “Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing” (CCLL). This is the number of carbohydrates at which you stop losing weight.
During this time you can add in seeds and nuts, berries and fruits, starchy vegetables and whole grains, and even wine and other spirits.
Phase 3: Pre-maintenance
This third phase adds additional flexibility to the diet in preparing you for a lifetime of Atkins. You can add up to 10g of carbs per week. You can add these carbs evenly distributed across days, or in bigger “treat” meals.
Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance
This final phase is just about honing in on your personal diet, what amount of carbs work for you to achieve your ideal body long-term, and how to make it work in various circumstances.
Atkins Diet vs the Carnivore Diet
In the Atkins Diet, no food groups are eliminated (besides junk). While he recommends avoiding refined carbohydrates, you can eat fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and dairy. Plenty of fiber on this diet. It’s all about finding your “carb number” and tracking that daily and then eating proteins and fat to satiety.
While there are some similarities, the Carnivore Diet is quite different.
Similarities between Atkins and Carnivore
The similarities in the diet are largely based on their macronutrient breakdowns. And it’s these macronutrient ratios that switch you from a “glucose-based metabolism” towards a “fat-based metabolism.” The foods and methods in which this is accomplished, however, are quite different.
Both Atkins and Carnivore are low carbohydrate diets. Yet, this similarity is one of the big differences – Atkins has daily allowances for carbohydrates from various sources while Carnivore doesn’t. Besides the carbohydrates found in the meat and organs of animals, all other carbohydrate sources are off-limits on Carnivore.
The limitation of carbs in the diet provides a benefit derived both from Atkins and Carnivore – beating sugar/carb addictions as well as the maladies associated with high carb diets (insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and associated disease).
Neither the Atkins nor Carnivore diets are strictly ketogenic diets. There is no measuring ketones, and no tracking macronutrient ratios of fat:protein.
Yet, both diets result in varying degrees of ketosis as a consequence of their protocols. Whether following Atkins or the Carnivore Diet you switch to a “fat-based” metabolism.
#3 Common Side Effects
Largely a result of carbohydrate restriction and a fat-based metabolism, both of these diets free you from hunger where you eat until you are satisfied. There is no calorie counting besides the carbohydrates in the Atkins Diet.
On both diets, people tend to beat addictions, enhance energy, feel better and improve health.
Differences between Atkins and Carnivore
While they share some commonalities, there are striking differences in the diets.
#1: Primary Purpose
The unseen, but perhaps the biggest difference, is the primary purpose of the diets.
The Atkins Diet is first-and-foremost a fat loss diet. The health ramifications are seen as a consequence of losing fat via controlling carbohydrates.
The Carnivore Diet is first-and-foremost a health diet. The driving force behind eating only meat is to get healthy. And “healthy” means something different for everyone. It could be eradicating an autoimmune disorder, patching up a leaky gut, or fixing metabolic dysfunction. Fat loss is often a consequence of getting healthy. But some people gain weight initially on the Carnivore Diet, and that’s only a phase on the long journey to reclaiming your health.
#2: Food Choices
With Atkins you can eat an unlimited quantity of vegetable oils, you can eat fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, and other foods as long as they fit into your CCLL number – your daily carbohydrate allowance.
With Carnivore eating there is no counting carbs and there is no eating from food groups that aren’t animal-based. No plant-based foods are allowed.
#3: Meal Timing
Atkins recommends eating 3-5 meals/day and never going more than 6 hours without eating.
Carnivore is a more intuitive approach to diet and appetite.
“Eat when hungry.”
Most Carnivores eat just 2 meals a day, and many just once per day. There is no time limit. If you aren’t hungry don’t eat; if you are, eat.
Intermittent fasting is often a natural consequence of the Carnivore Diet. You find yourself going long periods of time without being hungry. No need to force a fast. And definitely no need to prepare 5 meals a day.
The Atkins diet mandates supplements. In the program, it isn’t clear whether he believes this is out of necessity or a way to optimize health.
In the Carnivore Diet, no supplements are necessary. Carnivores will often supplement with electrolytes, especially when transitioning into the diet, and some may take other supplements to try and “optimize” (for example, you might take a Vitamin D3 supplement if you are indoors 24/7 and this is likely a good idea) though none are required.
Atkins diet, while not rocket science, requires tracking, monitoring, and measuring. There are 4 Phases. Supplements. Meal timing.
Like many diets, it can overtake your life. It becomes all-consuming.
Thoughts about food make up the majority of your thoughts every day.
“When is my next meal?”
“Can I eat this?”
“How many carbs do I have left?”
“How many carbs are in this?”
And on and on and on…
The Carnivore Diet is beautifully simple.
“Eat meat. Drink water.”
Yes, from this simplicity many questions and concerns can arise. But these mainly stem from misconceptions (like: “don’t I need fiber” and “what about vitamin C?”)
Once the first 30 days are behind you the diet is a cinch.
You don’t even think about it anymore.
Concerns about the Diets
Atkins Diet Concerns
If you choose to follow the Atkins diet, you are following a diet that is healthier than 99% of diets out there. Although traditional carnivore eating conflicts with many of the “allowed” carbohydrate, plant-based foods, the fact that they are restricted to such low levels means the relative harm from them is dramatically diminished.
For example, one food you should try to avoid at all costs is soy, but if you are only allowed to eat 50g of carbs/day the amount of soy one might actually eat is quite negligible, and a healthy digestive tract can likely handle the offenders (like lectins for example).
The biggest problem with the Atkins Diet is the vegetable oils and added fats. It’s easy for people to overdo it with these. So if fat loss is your goal, these can easily cause a problem.
But perhaps more importantly is the ease with which these fats are oxidized and the impact of a diet super high in omega-6 fatty acids that overwhelm omega-3s.
If you think of each of your cells as a house and that house is built with fats, the kinds of fats you eat are of paramount importance. Fats that are easily damaged result in the building of houses (cells) that are dysfunctional, and It is no surprise that dysfunctional, easily damaged cells drive disease.
Carnivore Diet Concerns
One concern many people have about Carnivore is the restricted nature of the diet.
Atkins allows much greater flexibility, which people believe makes it easier to follow. This may not necessarily be true
One person’s “flexibility” is another person’s relapse.
Many people that have followed the Atkins Diet and are unable to maintain it. This is not exclusive to Atkins, but with all diets. However, the problem with flexibility is temptation and addiction.
With the “Induction Phase” of Atkins and the Carnivore Diet in general, these addictions can be beaten. But by reintroducing the wrong carbs and fats on the Atkins Diet, temptations and addiction can re-surface.
If you’d like to learn more about how to structure a meat-based/carnivore diet and what plant foods could be ok to eat, check out the Meat Health Masterclass: