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Philosphy: Atkins is simply a "diet" intended to help people lose weight. Primal/Paleo is about achieving superior health and weight loss is more of a side effect. There is also more to the primal lifestyle then diet, but I'll just start with the diet differences.
Dif about carbs: Technically you could have grains on atkins and still stay within your carb range. You can also do a more moderate carb version of paleo/Primal based on your activity level. It would just that these carbs would need to come from fruits/vegetables and not grains (with an exception of white rice) Atkins does not have variations.
Dif about veggies: There is also a much heavier emphasis on eating your vegetables on primal/paleo. It's important that we are getting all the nutrients we need.
Dif about dairy: Paleo said no dairy, primal limited dairy if it doesnt bother you and raw full fat, atkins as long as you are in your carb range.
Dif about fat: Atkins also does not care what kind of fats you eat.. Primal/Paleo cares a lot about this, great emphisis is on acheiving an ideal O3/O6 ratio.
Processed food: always a no-no on paleo/primal...atkins again the only thing that matters here is carbs
Primal also discusses other lifestyle choice such as quality/quantity of sleep, type of exercise (which is critical for health!), how to manage stress, getting in touch with nature... and more.
I would recommend buying and reading Mark Sissan's book.
^ Agreed! Essentially, the difference is quality, lifestyle plan and most of all, overall health. I did well on a low carb diet before, but I don't do well w/ grains or processed foods. ALWAYS leave me feeling horrible! On Primal, I feel SO MUCH BETTER! Never felt this way with any diet program, esp. one that still allowed me grains. Only left me craving more grains yet feeling bad. I'm still learning--a lot. But I already clearly have learned that eating Primal makes me feel better, my skin is better, I no longer have any PMS symptoms at all, I am losing weight, health is dramatically improving and it is a way of eating that I can easily follow. I'm not even tracking hardly anymore and that is working out fine. Interestingly, the longer I eat this way, the less and less I want junk. That's the best--motivates me to only be healthier, never deprived. Good luck--hope you find what works for you!
The two philosophies tend to be grouped together as both agree that excess consumption of carbs, especially the refined sort, is a leading cause of obesity and that saturated fat has been unfairly vilified. However, the primal community varies in its approach to carbs past that point, with some 'factions' claiming that it's not the amount of carbs, merely the type - pointing out tribes such as the Kitavans, whose diets are high in carbs but maintain an excellent standard of health.
The main point behind paleo/primal is that adherents eat real food, as unprocessed as possible, and that certain foodstuffs introduced into the human diet at a certain point in our history should be avoided due to their deleterious effects. Atkins is mainly a diet that aims to cut all carbs and does not mind you scoffing processed food as long as the carbs are low.
The original Atkins (1972) isn't the same one as now~ there were no bars, shakes, quasi-foods~ it was basic, clean, after induction, 60 carbs or less~ and it worked! Now, it's altered, appealing to the masses that can't give up their bread, pasta, whatever empty carbs and want a facsimile~ not really getting it~ In the beginning though, it was a lifestyle~ now it's just another fat fix (aka diet).