7 Days on the Carnivore Diet
Last week, I embarked on one of the most extreme diets I’ve ever tried - the carnivore diet. Just organic meat and eggs and a bit of butter.
As some of you know, I have had chronic pain for the past 10 years or so. Often it’s manageable, sometimes it’s worse. I don’t go too much into it in public because it’s complex and I’ve been seeing specialists for it for about a decade, and you just can’t explain all that in a single post. It also tends to spawn a lot of ‘have you tried…?’ comments which, though well-meaning, can be frustrating when you’ve been trying everything for a decade. I talked about it a bit below, if you’re interested (14 mins).
As mentioned in the video, after years of trying to ‘fix’ the pain, I decided that obsessing over fixing it was not helping, and relaxed my approach. Aside from the usual lifestyle things, keeping my diet fairly clean, and some go-to therapeutic treatments, the mind/body approach has proved the most beneficial in keeping the pain within mostly manageable limits, and helping me to get more comfortable with it.
However, sometimes the pain does tip over into the unmanageable zone and it robs me of days or weeks of time, inhibiting my ability to think, move, or function altogether. I had a bout like this prior to Christmas and another bout in the second week of January,.
As it happened, last year, after taking a nice long break from trying any extreme treatments or diets, it was recommended to me by a functional medicine doctor I was working with that a low oxalate diet might reduce the pain. She suggested that doing the carnivore diet might be the simplest way to achieve this. I was also told by another doctor that the carnivore diet can be beneficial for a different medical issue I’d been meaning to attend to.
It took me a year to psych myself up to it. I got a second opinion and talked to people I know who have done the carnivore diet or still do it, and rave about how great they feel and how all their pain and ailments disappeared.
I planned to begin mid-January. The timing was perfect - I started off the back of a horror pain week so was feeling highly motivated. My partner Ryan offered to do it with me, as he was curious and had also read and watched glowing testimonies.
Thus, on 14 January we invited a carnivore eating friend for dinner and sat down to our first carnivore meal of lamb chops and steaks.
I logged my progress on X and it got so much interaction and interest it inspired me to share it with my Substack community too!
15 January, my first full day on the carnivore diet. The pining for plants kicked in by lunch time. I normally eat a balanced wholefoods diet with lots of organic fresh plant foods from the local farmers market and in the hot Perth weather I missed the freshness, crunch and water content.
Usually I eat meat once a day or a bit less, and always with other things on the plate. Eating just meat was confronting - I had a strong ‘do not like’ physical and emotional reaction. As the doctor told me to eat whenever hungry, and eat til satiated (i.e.: don’t try to restrict), I ate three times on Day 1, around about my normal meal times. I ate some lamb, some boiled eggs and a steak.
The one thing I did have that was not strictly carnivore is black coffee. I was flat-out unwilling to give that up on top of everything else! I sourced organic coffee from my local roaster to avoid pesticides. (See Day 1 on X)
I felt terrible. Headaches, zero energy, and feeling very heavy with all that meat in my gut. I expected this, as it’s a known hump with most diets that cut out carbohydrates, and when drastically reducing oxalates (it’s called ‘oxalate dumping’). I took the recommendation of a few people on X to up my sodium and mineral levels with fasting salts, which contain not just sodium but magnesium and potassium as well.
I had French-style scrambled eggs for breakfast with lightly seared sashimi grade salmon, some chicken for lunch, and some homemade chicken broth and steak for dinner.
I wanted to cry at the thought of eating meat, but with so many comments of encouragement from people who have experienced amazing benefits on the carnivore diet, and with a challenging pain week just behind me, I pushed on. (See Day 2 on X)
I dropped down to two meals as my appetite lessened. I’m a foodie, so the boredom and emotional disruption from not having food ‘highs’ to look forward to throughout the day was harder to tolerate than the physical cravings for fruit and vegetables. I wasn’t craving processed foods or sweet things but it did seem like a cruel twist of fate that I encountered all these baked goods in one day.
I found an organic cafe near my place and took myself out for bacon and eggs to cheer myself up. Wistfully, I picked off the microgreens before eating.
By the end of Day 3, I felt very low and my digestion ground to a complete halt. I ate as much fat as I could get from a meat and eggs only diet (including tallow and butter) but it was much less than I’m used to, as I normally eat a high fat diet, and I was really feeling the reduction of fat intake badly. I also noticed intensifying acid reflux, not just after eating, but all day and night. I felt the worst I have felt in ages (not in a pain way, but general ‘ughhh’ way). (See Day 3 on X)
My disgust reflex kicked in, hard.
I was disgusted by the texture and the smell and the taste and even the word ‘meat.’
I felt disgusting. My yoga practice was heavy and lethargic and disgusting. The thought of eating meat or eggs made me gag. I ended up fasting for the day (except for a cup of broth with a squeeze of lemon) because I physically couldn’t get anything down. I was too disgusted.
Most of the people I talked to, both on X and offline, did not experience this, so I seemed to be having an unusually intense reaction. Ryan was doing fine, enjoying it even.
The acid reflux worsened, and I had ‘plum pit’, which is usually a sign of too much heat. Normally in Ayurveda they’d tell you to eat cooling foods to balance the heat, but there are no cooling foods on a strict carnivore diet. On the upside, the electrolytes in the fasting salts were doing their job - the headaches were less intense.
I reached out to the doctors who had recommended the diet to see if I could book in to work out if I could adapt the diet or if I should try to push through. (See Day 4 on X)
This was the worst day. I was so weak I could hardly stand up, and I was in a foul mood from the deprivation, stress on my digestive system and extreme discomfort. Not only that, but figs are in season.
I was still gagging at meat, fish or eggs, but I had too much acid in my stomach to fast. I couldn’t get a hold of the doctors, so decided, based off comparing notes with friends and people on X, to loosen the diet to a less restrictive version of carnivore - including a bit of fruit, honey and dairy.
After a bit of fruit and honey I perked up a little, and later I was able to stomach some fatty pork belly for dinner. But I still felt terrible and weak, and the acid reflux kept worsening. (See Day 5 on X)
My stomach was pretty touchy but having just dairy, a fig (what joy!), and some avo for the first part of the day helped. In the evening I attempted eating a bit of beef, and immediately my stomach started hurting. I developed painful gastritis (the hot, burning kind) and had a terrible night with it.
I had to abandon the experiment.
My stomach was hurting too much to even contemplate eating any form of meat, fish or eggs, so I decided to take my body's very loud and clear message. I've been to hospital a couple of times with gastritis, so I have learned to listen to that sort of pain and back off accordingly. (See Day 7 here)
The reasons I persisted so long with the experiment despite the intense discomfort were:
a) I wanted to see if this diet would do for me what others say it does for them - boundless energy, pain relief, total clarity of mind - and was willing to push through discomfort to give it a proper go.
b) I couldn't tell if my body cues were temporary and/or just psychological hurdles, or if it was really a NO. Turns out, it was a NO, my body is not coping with such an extreme change right now.
I'm transitioning now to a focus on low oxalates, with a high fat low carb (HFLC) diet to see how that feels. I'm comfortable with HFLC but have never consciously minimised oxalates at the same time.
I'm open to trying carnivore again if I feel the need, but next time I would work up to it much more slowly and see how I go. If I notice any pain relief with a low oxalate approach, I will do an update here, as I seem to have a number of followers who have similar problems and/or are interested in following along with my progress.
While commenters on X were very vocal about how carnivore is the best, or the worst, diet of all, my personal experience underscores why most of us, despite our personal differences, are united around the value of health freedom: all bodies are different and there is no one-plan-fits-all for diet or medicine.
PS. Ryan is on Day 9 and doing great! He’s down to one or two meals a day and has stuck to just meat and eggs. He got his energy high by Day 4 and seems to be thriving.
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