Last week I committed to testing the carnivore diet for 45 days. This came about quite surprisingly to me given that the first time I read about a man only eating meat I thought, “what a dumbass” (Truth be told it may have been idiot, I forget as it was awhile ago now…). I have however been wrong enough times (don’t share this blog with my wife) to know that contempt prior to investigation is irrational at best, and potentially very harmful if keeping one from testing a personal novel behavior that may bring them a great ROI (return on investment).
Leading up to this personal experiment I roughly spent 85-90% the last 11 months in ketosis, another dietary approach I had previously written off. My ketogenic diet trial has been the first sustained period of eating for me where my long term and overhaul health and happiness was prioritized each and every meal over the immediate pleasures of eating foods that give me a temporary high followed by a crash and then cravings for more of the same that can last the rest of the day and well into the next. Sugar, higher glycemic carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol all have produced the same pattern in my body, despite feeling substantially different from one another.
Before keto I was back to weighing anywhere from 210-225 while on the CarboCoaster (trademark pending) since my wife gave birth to our first son, accompanied by all the distress and sleeplessness of raising a baby. Being a full-time parent while attempting to grow a business, and add in another baby, and I can now fully appreciate how meaningless much fitness and dietary advice in. Stressors pre-baby/toddler are laughable…. But I digress. Almost a year of living mostly in ketosis kept my weight down to around 205-210 consistently, while increasing my mental and emotional resilience and performance.
Repeated personal trial runs over the last 19 years since my initial attempts to get strong and muscular have proved the same outcome. I can either feel REALLY good for brief periods of time while continuing the unhealthy behavior as long as I can to sustain the high (followed by a crash that includes the depression and/or manic experience) OR I can feel increasingly better a small fraction higher than the previous week, creating a desired upward spiral by removing the temporary highs and replacing them with happiness, resilience and balance as my goals.
What is the Carnivore Diet?
Before embarking on this carnivore diet experiment I had written about the ketogenic diet, and created a thorough starting guide (read here). The carnivore diet goes beyond restricting carbohydrates. The general consensus of carbohydrate intake for a beginner ketogainer (THE one keto group I recommend following) being 20-25g a day depletes glycogen in the body which results in using dietary and stored body fat to produce ketones that replace glucose as the primary fuel. Over time, 6-9-12 months depending on who you ask, the body becomes fat adapted, being far more insulin sensitive and efficient and using fat as one’s primary fuel source.
The carnivore diet, aka ZC diet (zero carb), goes one step further. By removing ALL carbohydrates except those that may be acquired from animals and animal products it is speculated that the production of endogenous protein antioxidants is highly increased. The human body is capable of producing these antioxidants when not acquired through touted carbohydrate sources to be used to counteract oxidative stress. Given that this is new territory without proper studies being funded and conducted I am including the following primary arguments against the carnivore diet.
To discuss these in proper context I am including links to the best answers I have seen thus far, many coming from Dr. Shawn Baker, whose 18+ month expedition into the carnivore diet has produced some amazing and controversial results.
- No Fiber. Dr. Baker and other ZC groups argue that healthy intestinal function is a product of peristalsis, the involuntary movement waves of the digestive tract, are not dependent on fiber at all. Adding more fiber to a digestive system that is not functioning properly will make things worse, not better. On the carnivore diet one has less bowel movements, some go days without any, but this is not an unhealthy condition as no indigestible fiber is running through the digestive tract. Dr Baker elaborates (here).
- Lack of micronutrients. This one pops up either first or second when someone offers a rebuttable against going on the carnivore diet. Full disclosure this was in my top concerns as well given my nutrition studies in college and independently after as a holistic strength coach. Our perception of what is needed however is due to our use of the RDA guidelines (recommended daily allowance), whose values were determined by analyzing the American population in the 40’s to set minimum values needed to fight off diseases. Removing the need to process carbohydrates seems to change this, given much anecdotal evidence now by 10,000+ ZC followers. Here is one blog I found that addresses how to reach optimal micronutrient values on a carnivore diet. Being only a week in I have set a baseline to hit these numbers to see how I feel and perform given I have not yet seen other tables constructed. A great article on this and these other topics was recently written on optimizing nutrition.
- No plants! “Plant-based diet” has become a mainstream phrase in the last few years due to the increasing rise in Veganism. There are many problems with this approach however, both in the ideology that has increasingly become unscientific dogma, and in unwanted health outcomes. A good introduction to this can be seen on the Joe Rogan podcast in his interview with Chris Kresser, a regarded functional medicine doctor (listen/watch to an excerpt here). Dr. Baker gives his thoughts on fruits and vegetables (here). (As an important side note I am not critical of Vegans as individuals so long as they conduct themselves as mature adults. My criticisms are of the ideology itself as key elements have either been omitted or not explored enough to reveal the inherent logical flaws of this ideology).
- High in saturated fat and cholesterol. I’ve read a lot over the years debunking the link between saturated fat/cholesterol and heart disease. Chris Kresser has created a great program for those facing the recommendation of statins and other interventions, citing 6 correlated conditions that may be contributing to high cholesterol (interview here). Dietary fat and cholesterol intake is only one of these.
- Gut Biome Health. Here was my biggest hangup…. I have used methods to replenish and fuel the desirable gut bacteria we need for optimal health, and seen a personal correlation between how I think and feel and keeping my gut stocked up with beneficial bacteria using probiotics and resistant starch to feed them. The prospect of zero resistant starch was concerning, however thus far I feel and think far better in this last week than in years, is red meat my optimal antidepressant afterall?? Time will tell.
- Dr. Baker’s health. Those who vehemently are criticizing Dr. Baker were claiming he had not yet done bloodwork as he knew it would be terrible. BUT…. Dr. Baker recently did release his bloodwork recently, resulting in many questions being raised about what we think we know about nutrition given his OUTSTANDING numbers. You can listen for yourself as Dr. Baker & Robb Wolf discuss these (here).
How to Begin a Carnivore Diet
I had zero issues transitioning into this WOE (way of eating), I believe due to the time I have spent in ketosis. I still use the electrolyte ratios I had included in my beginner’s keto guide (Available for free down below). These came directly from the Ketogains group, and I have found them to be 100% accurate as unwanted side-effects, particularly terrible cramps in my hamstrings, would occur if I missed my target for the day.
Aside from that potential disclaimer the moto “eat meat, drink water” sums up the requirements. Avoid processed meats such as sausages, bacon and deli meats unless confirming they contain zero sugar (this recommendation is to establish the best personal baseline possible), and focus primarily on red meat. Eggs are a welcome addition thus far, and I’ve started back up on my liver habit once again. Most say that tracking nutrition is unneeded as the appetite will balance, some days may include far more meat eaten, others little or none. This reflects how carnivores feed in the wild and may optimize health for those who are sensitive to the inherent pesticides ALL plants produce to fend off predators.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to try a carnivore diet based on my experience, it will be some time of personal exploration before i suggest it to anyone I coach. If interested I’d instead recommend following those who have been living this way for sufficient periods of time. Here is a great talk given by Amber O’Hearn, who has been a carnivore for about a decade, she covers all the key points of concern around a meat only diet and the misinformation around plants as food:
The following groups on Facebook and websites contain good info, the first two websites were created by Amber O’Hearn:
World Carnivore Tribe (FB Group)
Zeroing in On Health (FB Group)
zerocarbzen.com (disclaimer, this site discusses water fasting, and I do not recommend fasting anymore having found it to be impossible to do safely and in a healthy way while still training and feeling as I most desire each and every day).
Is The Carnivore Diet Healthy?
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence being presented by those who tried multiple WOE before settling on a strict carnivore lifestyle. Health conditions reversed, physiques radically improved, mental and emotional experience optimized. For the first week I found myself feeling and thinking better than I have in years, without any feelings of deprivation or loss not eating the foods I see others having that I have never moderated. I’m thrilled to continue to say the least.