My Month-Long Carnivore Experiment + Future Goals
Here I am, at the end of a month-long carnivore challenge! When I first heard about the carnivore diet (like most), I thought, “Wow, that sounds crazy!” and, of course, bashed it right away because that’s what we do when something feels uncomfortable to us or goes against the cultural norm. However, I also knew (despite a very high vegetable diet, GF, and dairy-free) that I was still struggling with some autoimmune issues, and the carnivore diet healing results I have been reading about were incredible.
I want to start by saying weight loss is never a goal of mine.
It is for many people, and that’s fine. Many people are finding incredible and easy weight loss with a carnivore approach. I don’t ever weigh myself, count macros, or try to eat fewer calories. I don’t believe in restriction, which is why it was difficult for me to wrap my head around carnivore. Based on my cultural beliefs surrounding food, it appeared restrictive (at first). When you’ve adjusted to a carb-heavy diet, the adjustment seems restrictive. Now, I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I go by how I feel both physically and mentally. I cannot and will not ever restrict.
I have been diagnosed with celiac, Sjogren’s, Hashimoto’s.
These diagnoses and many other health issues came after years of avoiding meat or eating very little of it—eating “healthy” whole grains and vegetables. When you’re younger, eating this way seems to work. It’s better than fast food/processed foods. But as we age, health conditions arise from years of an inflammatory diet. The #meatheals hashtag stood out to me, as well as the many stories of people who struggle with similar autoimmune issues and hormonal imbalances, finding amazing results from a carnivore template.
So I spent months-(actually close to 2 years), reading and researching everything carnivore, following carnivore people—reading all the books—trying to understand the ins and outs of what appeared to me to be a limited diet. I can’t possibly give you all the information here. You have to research yourself. And what you will find will most likely blow your mind.
I followed Grass-Fed Girl, Robb Wolf, The Carnivore MD, and many other thought leaders, playing around with this particular eating template. I also joined carnivore groups on FB to learn all about different experiences, results, and obstacles. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and planning, and I finally took the plunge mid-July.
I have found my biggest struggle when it comes to nutrition is often decision fatigue. How can I get the most nutrient-dense diet that supports healthy digestion? I am shocked by my findings, but I have to say, this experiment has been life-altering for me. In a very positive way!! Hint—I’m thrilled.
What Did I Learn (in a Nutshell) Through All my Research (before my experiment)?
- Mainstream nutritional guidelines are not working and are making us sicker.
- Most studies “condemning” meat are observational/incorrectly interpreted epidemiology studies, and don’t take meat quality and other dietary factors into consideration—like volatile PUFA oil consumption and other inflammatory foods.
- Certain big *ahem* corporations fund most studies regarding “healthy whole grains.”
- We need to support our immune health, especially during this crazy time-even though you don’t hear that on the news.
- You don’t need fiber to poop or to have healthy digestion, and more times than not, fiber irritates the gut.
- Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains contain phytic acid, lectins, and other anti-nutrients that can be difficult to digest—make us bloated, contribute to gut health issues. These anti-nutrients protect plants from being eaten by bugs, but consumed in large amounts, they can impact gut integrity and overall health.
- Anti-nutrients found in grains can bind to nutrients from our diet and render them unavailable. When you remove these from the diet, you actually absorb more of the necessary nutrients.
- Although plants contain some nutrients, they are not nearly as nutrient-dense as meat.
- Meat is far more nutrient-dense and contains all the nutrients we need to thrive (including organ meats—which I take in supplement form)
- You don’t get scurvy from an all-meat diet (I read all the research).
- Regular bowel movements do happen-without fiber (me=zero fiber, very regular).
- Many people have shared their blood work anecdotally, and most of the results I’ve seen blew my mind!
- As a female with a menstrual cycle, I needed to be sure to get enough fat, and a “keto-vore” template might eventually be more appropriate for my needs.
- There are things I need to do to support my digestion while transitioning, and transitioning is different for everyone.
- Many people in the alternative health field supporting this paradigm are being silenced and censored—which actually led me to believe that what they are saying could be beneficial. It just doesn’t support “big industry ties.”
- Most grains and processed foods were hurting my gut and impacting my autoimmunity. Even with a gluten and dairy-free diet, and a very healthy lifestyle/mindset, I was still struggling with gas, bloating, irritability, mood swings, and all over the place menstrual cycles.
- Carnivore is ONE component to a healthy lifestyle—I also needed to manage my stress, get sunlight, grounding, sexuality, etc. etc. (all in my book)
- Even though we have so many choices for food, limiting our choices to the most nutrient-dense options available is not a fad. We like to say that about anything that makes us feel uncomfortable (insert eye roll emoji). So we can label it and feel better about the fear it instills in us. It’s actually beneficial. Our ancestors did not have this many crazy dietary options. It’s out of control.
- Industrial seed oils like vegetable oils, shortening, and canola oil are overly processed, highly inflammatory, and should be avoided. These are the real culprits when it comes to heart health. Studies support these oils are worse than cigarettes for our health. And they are in most processed foods because they are cheap.
- Many people experience excellent mental health benefits from carnivore.
- Why not try for a month?!
- —so I did. I took the plunger.
My Month-Long Experiment & What Did I Eat?
My primary “why” for doing this to:
1. balance my hormones/moods/better outlook
2. get off my carb addition (yes, GF but still back to a carb-heavy diet-especially from years of heavy lifting)
3. gut healing/autoimmune health
4. immune health
5. longevity—live longer and healthier
6 . general curiosity
7. Amazing skin/anti-aging benefits
What did I eat?
I read that the best thing to do is just steak, salt, and water for ten days and see how you feel. Ribeye contains the best ratio of fat to meat. For me, quality is essential, and I stick with local, grass-fed, and pasture-raised meats. Next, add things in to create your particular template, or stay on the all-beef “lion diet” for the most extreme healing (recommended for those with autoimmunity).
Some people go keto-vore and add some nutrient-dense non-carnivore fats in like avocados and macadamia nuts. Some even have nut butter. Some are 80/20, some 90/10, some hardcore all carnivore. Some have eggs; some don’t. Some do dairy as an excellent fat source; some don’t due to digestive issues/inflammation. Some use spices and herbs, others just salt. You get my drift. Good thing we still have autonomy over what we can eat, and we can make our own assessments and decisions. I don’t get caught up in any dogmatic approaches.
I started with grass-fed ground beef to start. I grilled or pan-fried it into patties, and I drizzled the drippings over the top of it. I then discovered the amazingness of air-fryer chicken wings, so I added those in. I also include: goat dairy, local pasture-raised bacon, 4-5 raw egg yolks/day (I avoid the whites due to autoimmunity), local farmed sugar-free/nitrate-free kielbasa and sausages, ghee, suet, butter, tallow, macadamia nuts (lowest in lectins and phytic acid), lots of seafood— raw oysters, pan-seared scallops, swordfish, bivalves, local pasture-raised chicken.
What about coffee?
I cut down on my coffee intake significantly, and I do add MCT powder to my 3/4 cup each morning. Many cut coffee out completely. However, if you do, I recommend waiting a few weeks until you are fully transitioned into carnivore. The transition itself was challenging, without adding in coffee withdrawal headaches. I still love my beloved coffee and drink significantly less of it.
The Difficult Parts of Transitioning
Many people find that by going keto first, the transition to a carnivore is a little easier. Keto is very high-fat, moderate protein, and very low carb. Carnivore is a high protein, moderate to high fat, zero carb approach. I did not go keto first (never did great with keto), so I decided to dive right in. It can take anywhere from 1 week to over a month to feel good. Many of the carnivore guru’s recommend sticking it out for at least (1) month. My transition took three full weeks, and there were many times I felt like I should throw in the towel. Needless to say, I’m so thankful I didn’t.
Here are some of the transitional symptoms and what I did to help me through:
Fatigue/low energy/tired: I stopped working out for a couple of weeks because I found I could barely make it through the workouts without being completely winded. I also took naps and worked from bed a lot. This period of fatigue does pass, as your body adjusts to reaching for fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. Once you are more “fat-adapted,” energy increases, so don’t gauge this period as an indicator of how you will feel on carnivore.
Sugar cravings: Bad. I literally dreamed I was eating candy for three nights in a row. Because of persistent candida, my microbiome craved sugar. I had to starve those buggars! And it sucked!
Irritability/moodiness: Also bad. Let’s just leave it at that.
Most people have LOW stomach acid. Heartburn is actually associated with LOW stomach acid.
Why does the thought of meat sound so unappealing to many people? Likely, it’s because they are not digesting correctly. Low stomach acid cannot break down meat, so it sits in our stomach like a brick, and ferments in the gut, increasing heartburn and bloating (see suggestions below to help increase stomach acid).
One thing you need to be sure of is that you work to increase your stomach acid, work to thin your bile, support the liver, etc., so you can adequately digest meat. Then you will start to crave it again!
I struggled with the infamous “Induction diarrhea,” which for me started at the beginning of week two and lasted for 2 1/2 weeks. It was rough at times. I read that this is likely due to an oxalate dumping, microbiome re-adjustment (you are starving out the carb-fed microbes), die off from candida, and just an over-all over-haul. Again, do your research. Regardless, it’s not fun. There are many articles/videos you can watch that give advice to help. I recommend staying home during this period, as I had many emergencies.
My digestive support recommendations:
- a little apple cider vinegar in water before meals. Alternatively, you can try a couple of drops of digestive bitters on your tongue. Both help stimulate stomach acid production.
- I also recommend thoroughly chewing your food to activate the enzymes that help break food down.
- Eat slowly.
- Many find that taking digestive enzymes (ones that contain lipase to break down fats) with meals for the first few weeks can help significantly. Especially if you are not keto and not fat adapted.
- bile salts, also known as ox bile, can help with diarrhea (especially if you have thick bile or no gallbladder)
- Liver support supplements can help with bile production as well. I take one that contains milk thistle.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Salt your meat, and take electrolytes.
The Positive Changes That Occurred
- Softer skin-immediately
- Less facial puffiness and abdominal bloating- immediately
- Deeper more restful sleep with vivid dreaming and waking rested-immediately
- Fewer cravings-2-3 weeks
- significantly decreased anxiety-1 week
- Stable mood-2-3 weeks
- Regulated menstrual cycles: (started showing apparent signs of ovulating at 44 years old)-1st cycle
- Less PMS-first cycle
- More energy, no afternoon “slump”-2-3 weeks
- Much higher libido -2-3 weeks
- Organ meat supplements (liver, heart, kidney, spleen). If you are not going to eat organ meats, an organ meat supplement is imperative on an all-meat diet. Organs are the most nutrient-dense part of the meat. Think “nose to tail” nutrition.
- Electrolytes (I use a hydrator powder sweetened with stevia, and I find this doesn’t impact sugar cravings). I do not check my ketones and blood sugar and have no idea if stevia is impacting my glucose levels. However, I find it’s doing more good than harm right now, in terms of staying hydrated.
- Supplements mentioned above to help with digestion while adjusting.
My Goals for the Future
Honestly, I’m feeling so amazing that I don’t plan to stop carnivore any time soon. In the past, with a whole 30 way of eating, I could not wait to stop and never felt like I had enough energy. I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’ve added in some berries and an occasional spoonful of nut butter or a handful of macadamia nut. I have sushi once/week, which contains some white rice. I also think having some carbs (1) day per week can be useful for my hormonal/thyroid health. For women of childbearing years, a higher fat approach is essential. I plan to play around with that concept. I’m returning to CrossFit soon and plan to include some raw honey before workouts. You come up with a template that works best for you.
Worried About Animals and Regenerative Farming Practices?
As a recovered vegetarian (several health issues after removing meat), and wildlife rehabber, I understand emotional ties to consuming animals and animal products. Vegans have questioned me as to why I rehab animals, yet consume meat. While I sympathize with the ideology, I understand my nutrient needs require animal consumption. I try to buy sustainably raised meats as much as possible and support regenerative farming practices. I don’t support factory farming, and I live below my means so I can buy more expensive grass-fed/pasture-raised meats. I also am aware that blood is shed for every meal, regardless of our ideologies. Thousands more transient animals are killed and not consumed for the harvesting of our “vegan” meals. I’m always thankful for my food. If you want to learn more about regenerative farming and how amazing it is for both our health and the environment, check out the book “Sacred Cow” by Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers.
My best advice is NOT just to dive in, but instead, come up with a “why” first. It’s also essential to read and understand the process of fat adaptation, microbiome adjustment, and other nuances. It’s important to join FB support groups where you can ask questions and also see other people’s questions/responses/journeys. Finally, find the template that works best for you and stick with it. I actually find having fewer options to be less “decision fatiguing,” especially when it comes to autoimmunity and gut healing.