Atkins vs Keto: Which One Is Right For You?


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Atkins. The opinions and text are all mine. This is a HOT topic and one I’ve been wanting to address publicly (and more specifically) for awhile now…

Atkins vs Keto – My Experience (and Confusion!)

There is so much confusion about what Atkins is and is not, as well as what Keto is – and is not. As someone “straddling the line” with a foot in both camps I volunteered to work with Atkins to clear up the confusion.

I’m the ideal person to host this open discussion because I’m pretty neutral on the topic and don’t lean strong one way or the other (Atkins vs Keto).

While I am an Atkins Influencer, I am also an enthusiastic Keto supporter and am living a ketogenic low carb lifestyle long-term myself.

Let me explain…

Over and over I hear people say things like, “I did great on Atkins years ago, but I’m really struggling with Keto.” That has always perplexed me because I actually started on Atkins Phase One (now called Atkins 20) which IS a ketogenic low carb lifestyle.

They’ve always been one and the same in my mind.

I started with Atkins, but have stayed in ketosis, so I’ve never fully understood the distinction others seemed to see between these two “diets” or lifestyle types.

Until more recently, that is…

I’ve mentioned before that I started with the original Atkins book, 1972 version.

First Atkins Book by Dr. Atkins in 1972

And yes, I use Atkins Bars and Atkins Frozen Dinners from time to time as part of my active low carb lifestyle, along with other keto friendly low carb convenience foods. I explained that in detail in my recent post about staying on track on the go.

While Atkins offers a variety of convenience products to make it easier to stay on track, those are completely optional and not required.

They also offer detailed lists of low carb whole foods and over 1,600 recipes and menu plans, as well as shopping lists.

The Atkins bars and other convenience foods don’t knock me out of ketosis or affect my weight loss. I actually test any products I try with a blood glucose & ketone meter to see if they spike my blood sugar or affect my ketone levels – because maintaining nutritional ketosis is key for me in managing chronic back pain and inflammatory arthritis, even after reaching my goal weight.

So, if you’re wondering if an Atkins bar is keto friendly, the answer is YES – they are for me. The only REAL way to know is to test for yourself.

As you can see from this excerpt of the Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution book (originally printed in 1972) he was very much an advocate for achieving a state of nutritional ketosis by limiting carbohydrates.

Is Atkins Keto
(click to view it larger)

Dr. Atkins was enthusiastic about the power of ketones and ketosis. His book and diet program focused on reducing carbs to achieve a state of ketosis for easier fat burning and weight loss.

This is where MY confusion about the differentiation has always stemmed from.

More recently though, the “keto” concept has gone mainstream and (in my personal opinion) has grown way out of control.

What used to be simply a term for a metabolic state is now a fast-growing and turbulent community with strong characteristics of elitism.

There are more and more keto fanatics and extremists emerging every day with hard and fast (new) rules and ZERO flexibility, with a somewhat hostile attitude toward anyone or anything else.

I personally find that exhausting, but more importantly: it’s scary. There are people out there recommending things I WOULD NOT and with no real credentials or long-term experience. It concerns me to see people blindly following health advice that may or may not be right for them – or right at all.

There is also a lot of new science emerging and some amazing clinical studies going on right now, all of which are of great interest to me!

I attended the Metabolic Health Summit and KetoCon events this year and am definitely keeping my eye on those who are immersed in the science of health and sharing real results from in-depth research & studies.

That said, I’m seeing some of the most respected leaders in the keto community share more and more extreme views lately. And some of those are VERY extreme.

There’s also talk of electrolytes (as a product) which I’ve never taken in over 8 years of being in ketosis, or as part of my healthy low carb lifestyle. I do get plenty of sodium, and might sip on chicken broth to increase my sodium & electrolytes if I’m feeling bad, but anymore… electrolytes is all you hear about! 🤷‍♀️

Another term you’ve likely heard lately is “antinutrients.” Many people are all of a sudden claiming all “plant matter” (i.e. vegetables) WILL KILL YOU (in the more extremist views) or in other cases, that vegetables simply are not good for you.

It’s not a new term by the way.

At one time (over 100 years ago), scientists thought fiber was an antinutrient and created technology to remove it from foods. It is now considered beneficial, playing an important role in human health.

My point is not about what is right or what is wrong, it’s simply that:

Science is not necessarily about hard facts. New evidence is constantly emerging, new studies are being performed, views change as more things are learned or as things are studied for longer periods of time.

As for antinutrients, yes – it’s a buzz word right now. The research behind it seems very thin to me. It’s something I’m watching with interest, but not something I’m at all concerned about.

Unless my doctor runs tests and tells me I have a specific mineral deficiency, or an allergy perhaps, I’m not going to eliminate entire food groups out of some unfounded fear.

Worse than that is the “food guilt” being dished out in keto communities.

There are certain ingredients that are bad for me, but are fine for you – or someone else.

Chicory Root Fiber is a good example, found in many keto products and claiming lots of health benefits. Unfortunately, it makes me incredibly ill. Immediately after eating it I experience bloating and feel incredibly lethargic, to the point of needing to lie down. Others can eat it without any side effects.

Let’s take a more common food though, such as a carrot. If you post a picture of your dinner with a shred of carrot on your plate, people in keto groups will shout, “that’s not keto!”

Is that true, though?

Low Carb Restaurant Meal - Delmonico Ribeye w/Roasted Vegetables

One half cup of raw carrots (64 grams) is 4.33 net carbs. A cup of raw broccoli (91 grams) is 3.64 net carbs. (*source) Yes, carrots are a starchy vegetable and contain more natural sugar than broccoli. Both are also whole foods with great nutrients.

If you can eat a reasonable serving of carrots and maintain nutritional ketosis without any adverse side effects (i.e. bloating, inflammation, cravings) that’s totally fine in my book.

I didn’t reintroduce things like carrots or berries into my food list until I was in ketosis, and in control of my eating habits. Now I find I can enjoy them in moderation, which I love!

That’s also what I love about Atkins and their system of phases, which allows you to expand your options with healthy whole foods, in line with your individual carb tolerance and overall bio-individuality.

My advice: don’t jump on any bandwagons or “keto fads” just because someone you follow is shouting from the rooftops about it. And don’t start or stop something out of guilt or shame.

Learn your body, your bio-individuality, do your own testing & tweaking, and find what works best for you.

Unlike the current state of the keto community, or the more extremist facets of that group, that has always been the consistent message behind Atkins.

They teach you to “flip your body’s metabolic switch” to burn fat instead of carbs, change your eating habits in a way that controls your cravings, and improve your overall health – while enjoying the widest range of healthy, whole foods in an easily sustainable low carb lifestyle.

My Atkins/Keto Success Story: How I Got Started

I started more than 8 years ago in the same way that I recommend to anyone else just getting started: eat 20 net carbs max per day (Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols = Net Carbs) and enjoy plenty of healthy fats.

I used the Atkins Phase One Food List to figure out what I could eat to stay within that range, and also started reading labels to add to that list.

I didn’t do a super strict Induction Phase, I simply scaled down to 20 net carbs max and ate anytime I was hungry, and did not eat when I wasn’t hungry.

That became very easy within a few days as my body got into ketosis, which is a natural appetite suppressant.

This is why I always recommend to just commit to five days when you first start. Simply limit your carbs to 20 net carbs max for five straight days. After that, it becomes EASY!

My Ongoing Weight Loss Story: What I’m Doing Now…

Eating this way for more than 8 years allowed me to break bad food habits, overcome eating disorders and form a much healthier relationship with food – and with myself.

That took time of course, but I put in that time and saw it through.

For most of those years I continued to keep it that simple: 20 net carbs max, and about 70% fat. I saw great results. Not only did I lose almost 70 pounds, and get motivated to start exercising and building lean muscle, I also got out of chronic pain from a back injury and started enjoying a more FUN and active lifestyle.

Most important to me personally though was what I learned about the nutrition value of various foods, and what I learned about my body. The little things I noticed piqued my interest – and my curiosity. It made me more aware, and better able to listen to my body for cues and signals.

That was incredibly helpful while dealing with my recent gut health issues, because I was able to strategically test potential solutions and FEEL the results as I worked toward recovery.

I’m currently using MCT oil and collagen powder, and frequently test my blood glucose and ketone levels. Those are all new things for me though, and not something I did starting out – or recommend to someone when they first start.

The key is to simply change your way of eating in the beginning, and work on making better choices and overall health improvement. As you get further along in your own journey, you can start testing & experimenting with confidence.

But in the beginning I highly recommend you JUST focus on making good choices and sticking to 20 net carbs consistently as you retrain your body and brain.

I’m currently experimenting with “phasing up” by testing higher carb vegetables from the Atkins40 Food List. I’m at a point in my journey where I can safely test higher carb whole foods like sweet potatoes, carrots and even corn in moderation.

I’m testing and monitoring of course, and find it interesting (and exciting!) that a serving of those foods on occasion doesn’t knock me out of ketosis or spike my blood sugar.

After more than 8 years of eating 20 net carbs per day, it’s nice to expand my food choices to include even more whole food variety. Being able to add in things like root vegetables, or even low glycemic fruits is VERY exciting!

The goal is to enjoy the widest variety of delicious, healthy foods while still maintaining nutritional ketosis to manage my chronic pain.

I was inspired to test this after my discussion with Mr. Mojo on the topic of bio-individuality, and my knowledge of Atkins method of “phasing up” to find your own personal limits.

This is one of the things I personally like about the Atkins program. It allows you to customize a lifestyle plan that suits you specifically. You will not find much tolerance for a carrot or a sweet potato in most keto communities. 😉

And that’s okay. Just don’t show a picture of it or talk about it!

Even in my own low carb challenge group I don’t discuss or encourage starchy vegetables, simply because most people are newer to eating low carb and it causes a lot of confusion.

My group is a challenge, specifically designed to help people transition into a healthier lifestyle with a 90 day commitment to “Phase One” (Atkins20) or a VERY low carb diet.

Atkins vs Keto: The Main Differences

Like I said earlier, I never saw much of a difference personally because I used the Atkins food lists to get started, read the articles in the Atkins Science Library to learn more, and have also consistently stayed in ketosis.

But lately there is more “keto chatter” and some of it is causing a lot of confusion and serious conflict, and it’s only getting more and more extreme.

A lot of that REALLY concerns me. Especially when I see people fasting for extended periods (going without food) without medical supervision, feeding their eating disorders with opposite extremes, showing early symptoms of water intoxication, using certain supplements/products, and bordering on obsessive compulsive eating habits.

The main differences between Keto and Atkins (from my perspective) are:

  • Keto feels confusing.
  • Atkins is a simple, proven plan.
  • Keto is disjointed with a variety of definitions and personal preferences.
  • Atkins is a simple, proven plan.
  • People tend to “preach keto” as being very strict and very restrictive, regardless of your individual needs or goals.
  • Atkins encourages flexibility and gradually expands your range of whole foods based on your bio-individuality.

Note: On Atkins you start out with an Induction Phase which will put you in ketosis, and retrain your mind and body to crave less sugar and adopt healthier eating habits. The goal is a long-term healthy lifestyle though, so they encourage you to add foods back in and find your own personal carb tolerance level. In contrast, with “keto” you’ll find many people eliminating more and more food groups as they go.

  • Keto has become more restrictive over time in some circles, going from very low carb, to fasting and zero carb.
  • Atkins trains you to burn fat and lose weight, and becomes less restrictive over time as you gain control over your habits and your health.
  • Keto is a free-for-all with no real “getting started plan.”
  • Atkins is a free structured program with food lists, meal plans and community support.
  • Most of the keto information around the web is based on personal preferences and short-term experiences.
  • Atkins information is based on an extensive body of scientific research spanning decades.
  • Keto communities generally have a low to zero tolerance mindset when it comes to adding in new foods or testing new things that might work for you.
  • Atkins encourages you to explore your carb limits and expand your range of whole foods, and listen to your body to discover the best maintenance program for you to enjoy a healthy long-term low carb lifestyle.
  • Keto people can be adamant, mean, harsh, condescending and intolerant of any ideology other than their own – regardless of your unique needs or circumstances. 😳
  • Atkins allows you to choose your starting point, and encourages you to test and try things for yourself with an if/then approach so you can see success based on what your body responds to best.
  • The science behind low carb has been proven by over 80 clinical studies.
  • Most “keto plans” floating around the web have zero clinical studies to back them up.
  • Atkins history of success dates back to 1963.
  • The history of success with any one “keto” update you read might date back three days or three months.
  • Keto enthusiasts are quick to say, “that’s not keto!” and ban foods and ingredients – and people that discuss them.
  • Atkins encourages you to test for yourself, and find a balance that includes the widest variety of healthy foods you can enjoy while maintaining your weight loss.

These points may or may not be your experience, but that has been my perspective from reading updates daily around the web in various keto and low carb communities. Even more so in the last year or so with “keto” going mainstream like it has.

One other point I’d really like to stress is this…

I see people jumping all over something like a “beef & butter fast” when one person posts how much weight they lost, such as “8.7 pounds lost in 5 days!” Dozens, or even hundreds, of people comment and start doing the same without noting the fact that the original poster went on a carb binge prior to that restricted diet, and may or may not have lost the same amount of weight in that time just eating 20 carbs max/day with a wider variety of foods.

That’s just one example, but I’m sure you’ve experienced substantial weight loss after being off plan or carb-loading, then getting back into ketosis.

There’s no magic to a special kind of fast or food-restriction diet.

It’s simply the power of ketosis, which you can achieve without doing anything extreme.

It’s not ideal (in my opinion) to “punish yourself” with mono-meals or strict restrictions in order to get back on track. Simply… get back on track.

Atkins or Keto? Finding What Works Best For YOU

At this point you’re either mad at me or annoyed with me, putting some thoughtful consideration into things, or you’re downright confused. 🙂

My advice is to learn as much as you can, but more importantly: learn as much as you can about your own body. This is exactly what Atkins encourages, and why I like their outline for creating a healthier lifestyle.

You can easily take away wonderful life-improving ideas and inspiration from both the Atkins community and keto communities, and simply apply what you please and ignore the rest. Essentially creating your own plan through trial and error.

If you’re new to a low carb lifestyle, or just now want to start losing weight on a ketogenic low carb diet, the Atkins program provides a lot of resources and structure that you may find very beneficial.

If you have been living low carb for a long time, you may benefit from exploring the phases of Atkins to expand your whole food choices and enjoy a wider variety of low carb foods while still maintaining ketosis and/or weight loss.

That’s exactly what I’m doing myself.

Does the way you eat (or your diet) even NEED a label?

Your diet does not need a label. You don’t need to be classified in a “social food group” such as strict keto, just low carb, lazy keto, dirty keto, paleo, carnivore, etc.

You simply need to find what works for you, for your specific health needs and desired results, and eat in a way that provides you with the widest range of nutrition and health benefits.

If you want a structured program with food lists and a history of long-term success, Atkins provides exactly that. They also help you choose a maintenance plan where you find that “sweet spot” to easily sustain a low carb lifestyle long term while maintaining your weight loss and improved health.

You are unique, and you don’t need to pigeonhole yourself into a rigid or exclusive class or definition.

My own body has changed over time. Especially after overcoming eating disorders, improving my health and changing so many facets of my lifestyle as a result.

You may discover that too, and over time you may need or want more flexibility in your way of eating or in your food choices. Atkins encourages that flexibility and personal testing, where keto does not.

I’m personally ENJOYING the ability to incorporate a wider range of whole foods, and testing to discover my own personal carb tolerance – and the limits within which I can maintain optimal health as well as my weight loss.

It’s so liberating! Total DIET FREEDOM. 🙂

Keto vs Ketosis

The concept of “keto” can be very restrictive, to the point of giving people anxiety if they go over their carb limit by eating green vegetables.

Keto is simply short for ketosis, which is a metabolic state – not to be confused with “a diet” or any certain macros someone else calculates for you. Achieving ketosis may look different for different people, in terms of macros.

When you’re just starting out, it’s best to restrict your carbohydrates to 20 net carbs per day with plenty of healthy fats. As you go, you can experiment yourself to find your carb tolerance and pinpoint the macros that allow you to stay in ketosis, based on your bio-individuality.

The bottom line is: a little extra raw baby spinach or another serving of broccoli is probably NOT going to knock you out of ketosis or affect your weight loss. 😉

Find what’s both sustainable AND enjoyable for you, that allows you to stay in ketosis without feeling deprived.

That’s the key, listening to and learning your own body. 😉

Even if you don’t need to stay in nutritional ketosis for health reasons, you can simply test and explore your limits to maintain your weight loss long term.

If your weight loss stalls, then you just scale back or tweak & adjust until you find your sweet spot.

My hope is that this post helps you figure out what’s best for you personally, or at least opens your mind to fresh options.

For the most part I find our keto community to be supportive, uplifting, positive and encouraging.

But there’s also a lot of dogmatic preaching, sensationalism, extremist and elitist views… and food guilt being dished out. Unnecessarily in my opinion.

You always have a safe place here with me for open discussions with no judgements…

But if you’re looking for a program you can follow, backed by science, with food lists and menu plans and structure, Atkins may be exactly what you’re looking for to achieve your weight loss goals – and a healthy low carb lifestyle you can sustain long-term like I have.

Like I said, I started with Atkins myself. I am also very enthusiastic about the ketogenic low carb diet, and what “keto” has meant for my life specifically, plus all the ways people can benefit from it.

To me they are still one and the same.

Atkins introduced me to the keto life I live, and gave me the tools to turn what started as a “diet” into an easily sustainable lifestyle.

I personally think it would help to remove labels altogether, and simply use all the resources you have available to create a healthier YOU.

Thoughts or Questions?

I would love to hear your experience, thoughts, and any questions you have about Atkins or Keto – or about starting or maintaining a ketogenic and/or low carb lifestyle.

Best,
Lynn Terry,
aka @LowCarbTraveler

p.s. Atkins offers a free online community and resource center at Atkins.com with more than 1,600 recipes and menu plans, as well as shopping lists for each phase of the plan.

Community Members get all the resources and support to complete the diet online for FREE. Other diets can cost upwards of $30 per month. Once you register, a quick-start kit is available for FREE at Atkins.com to give you all the information you need to get started.

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