Low-carb diets are among the most popular when it comes to weight loss. Too many carbohydrates, after all, gets converted into fatty acids and stored as fats in adipose tissue. So it makes sense that cutting down on carbs will lead to weight loss. But it’s not as simple as it seems, of course. With Weight Watchers and the Atkins diet, restricting carbohydrate intake plays an important part in achieving weight loss; but one emphasizes it more than the other. Read on.
Weight Watchers vs Atkins – A Quick Look
Weight Watchers does not forcibly restrict carbohydrate consumption, but rather encourages it through its SmartPoints system. Among others, this system assigns higher points to foods that are high in carbohydrates as a way to limit its inclusion into one’s daily diet.
WW’s SmartPoints system is a simple weight-loss strategy that involves assigning points to foods. As a Weight Watchers member, you will also be assigned a daily points limit based on your age, gender, height, current weight, and weight-loss goals. In order to lose weight, you will have to stay under this daily points limit.
You will log every food you eat, and the SmartPoints app will keep track of your daily points accrual. Smartpoints values are based on the protein, fat, calorie, and sugar contents of an ingredient or meal, together with its quantity. Healthy foods, or those that are rich in protein, get lower points; less healthy foods, or those high in calories, get higher points; and over 200 healthy ingredients, regardless of weight or portion size, are given zero points.
In theory, you can eat almost anything on the Weight Watchers diet, even your favorite carb-laden pasta, snack, or dessert. You simply have to offset this indulgence with low-point foods to ensure that you don’t go over your daily points allotment. As you lose weight, your daily Smartpoints are adjusted accordingly.
The Atkins diet is a low-carb diet that allows high consumption of protein and fat. It is named after Dr. Robert C. Atkins, a physician, who, in 1972, wrote a best-selling book about the weight-loss and other health benefits of restricting carbohydrates while eating as much protein and fat as you want.
The science behind a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, and high-fat diet was highly disputed by the health industry at first. The promotion of a diet that is high in saturated fat was considered extremely unhealthy in those times.
But studies later established that saturated fat is not unhealthy at all and that the high-fat diet does not raise bad cholesterol, except for a subset of individuals (such as those with a family history of heart disease). Compared to low-fat diets, the Atkins diet can also help improve blood sugar, good cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, among others.
Simply put, a low-carb diet forces the body to burn its fat stores for energy when there are fewer calories coming in than what is needed to support the body’s normal biological processes and regular physical activities. Additionally, the increased protein intake helps reduce appetite, which also helps you eat fewer calories.
Weight Watchers vs Atkins – Overcoming Carbohydrates
Weight Watchers is a subscription weight-loss program that gives members professional guidance and support through the SmartPoints app; an online database of nearly 300 thousand foods, including recipes and restaurant food options; fitness videos and workout routines; WW-certified coaches and experts; 24/7 online chat support; and a barcode scanner (which you’ll use when shopping to automatically log your grocery items into your SmartPoints app).
Through the SmartPoints system, you will learn how to adopt healthier eating habits focused on lower calories, sugar, and saturated fat, and higher in protein. At the same time, you will enjoy freedom and flexibility in making food choices, with zero food restrictions, but within reason. Based on your food preferences and lifestyle, you will be matched with one of the following strategies within the WW program:
- Green offers the most flexibility, with the highest SmartPoints Budget per day and a diet plan that should include 100-plus of the ZeroPoint foods.
- Blue offers a smaller SmartPoints Budget allotment than Green, with a diet plan that is based on 200-plus ZeroPoint foods.
- Purple offers the smallest SmartPoints Budget per day and a diet that should include 300-plus ZeroPoint foods.
Whether you’re following the Green, Blue, or Purple food plan, no food is off-limits. These food plans are designed to minimize the risk for overeating and, more importantly, help lay the foundation for long-term healthy eating.
You can easily log your food intake by using the database; if your meal is not included in the database, you will simply input each ingredient to get their SmartPoints value.
Instead of specifically restricting high-carbohydrate foods, WW steers members towards healthier food options. But at the end of the day, the goal is still to limit the intake of carbs, unhealthy fats, and processed foods.
The Atkins diet has 4 phases: Induction, balancing, fine-tuning, and maintenance.
Phase 1 or the induction phase lasts 2 weeks and kicks your weight loss into high gear with extreme carbohydrate restriction – no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. Your diet should only include low-carb vegetables such as leafy greens, and high-fat and high-protein foods.
During phases 2 and 3, or the balancing and fine-tuning phases, you will slowly add healthier carbohydrates to your diet each week. These include higher-carb vegetables, fruits, berries, potatoes, legumes, nuts, and healthier grains. You do have to make sure that you are still losing weight per week.
Phase 4 or the maintenance phase finally allows you to eat as many healthy carbs as you want as long as it doesn’t lead to weight gain.
Following these four phases is not necessary. You can simply opt to give fruits and vegetables the biggest space on your plate every meal from the very beginning. Whether or not you follow the 4 phases of the Atkins diet, your diet should be mostly made up of the following:
- Meats: Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, bacon, etc.
- Fatty fish and seafood: Salmon, trout, sardines, etc.
- Low-carb vegetables: Kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, etc.
- Full-fat dairy: Butter, cheese, cream, full-fat yogurt.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and avocado oil.
- Beverages: Water; coffee; and green tea.
You may also opt to stick to the induction phase diet indefinitely, especially if you’ve already gotten used to the extreme carbohydrate restriction. This diet is also known as the ketogenic diet.
The key to sustained weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight on the Atkins diet is to maintain a moderately low-carb diet for life.
Weight Watchers vs Atkins – Final Thoughts
Weight Watchers and Atkins are both focused on encouraging and teaching healthy eating habits for life, not just for weight loss but for overall well-being. While both also emphasize limiting consumption of carbohydrates as a weight-loss strategy, Weight Watchers takes a holistic approach, whereas Atkins offers a more precise strategy (at least, during its earliest phase).
Weight Watchers does not impose specific food restrictions, but they do discourage unhealthy food choices with their strategy of negative reinforcement, i.e. in the form of higher SmartPoints values for unhealthy foods. Atkins’ strategy is to restrict specific high-carb foods, with the goal of helping an individual gradually adapt to a moderately low-carb diet for life.
Both Weight Watchers and Atkins are highly effective in promoting sustained weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, and inspiring healthy habits. Your choice of program will mostly be influenced by which program you’ll be able to commit to long-term.
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