I was on a low-carb paleo diet for about a year with a focus on intermittent fasting and ketosis. Influenced by Dr. Terry Wahls and Dr. Will Cole, both former vegetarians converted to paleo, this included large helpings of vegetables but without the starchy carbs. It was a game-changer for me, as my health improved on all fronts, from weight to mood. But every time my carbs and sugar intake would creep up, I could feel the addictive cravings coming back and I decided to limit my diet to a greater extent. Zero-carb had already been on my radar, but I then looked more into it. It seemed worth a try.
So, I went carnivore for the past couple of months, mostly as an experiment and not as an idea of it being permanent. It is the best elimination diet ever and it definitely takes low-carb to another level, but I wanted to be able to compare how I felt with plants in my diet. So, a couple weeks ago with spring in the air and wild berries on their way, I ended my zero-carb carnivory with a three-day fast and reintroduced some light soup and fermented vegetables. I felt fine. Even after the extended period of low-carb diet, this zero-carb experiment made me realize how much better I feel with severely restricting carbs and sugar. Now back on a paleo-keto diet, I’m going to keep my focus on animal foods and be more cautious about which plant foods I include and how often.
Dr. Anthony Gustin offers an approach similar to Siim Land, as discussed in the first four videos below. A low-carb diet, especially strict carnivore (no dairy, just meat), is an extremely effective way of healing digestive issues and reducing bodily inflammation. The carnivore diet is a low residue diet because meat and fat gets fully digested much earlier in the digestive tract, whereas lots of fiber can clog you up in causing constipation. A similar kind of benefit is seen with the ketogenic diet, as microbiome imbalance and overgrowth is improved by initially starving and decreasing the number of microbes, but after some months the microbiome recovers to its original numbers and with a healthier balance.
Still, as Gustin and Land argue, it’s good to maintain some variety in the diet for metabolic flexibility. But we must understand plants stress the system (Steven Gundry, The Plant Paradox), as they are inflammatory, unlike most animal foods (though dairy can be problematic for some), and plants contain anti-nutrients that can cause deficiencies. There are other problems as well, such as damage from oxalates that are explained by the oxalate expert Sally K. Norton in the fifth and sixth videos; she argues that plants traditionally were only eaten seasonally and not daily as she talks about in the seventh video (also, written up as an academic paper: Lost Seasonality and Overconsumption of Plants: Risking Oxalate Toxicity).
Even so, one might argue that small amounts of stress are good for what is called hormesis — in the way that working out stresses the body in order to build muscle, whereas constant exertion would harm the body; or in the way that being exposed to germs as a child helps the development of a stronger immune system — with a quick explanation by Siim Land in the second video below. Otherwise, by too strictly excluding foods for too long you might develop sensitivities, which the fourth video is about. As cookie monster said about cookies on the Colbert Show, vegetables are a sometimes food. Think of plant foods more as medicine in that dose is important.
Plant foods are beneficial in small portions on occasion, whereas constantly overloading your body with them never gives your system a rest. Fruits and veggies are good, in moderation. It turns out a “balanced diet” doesn’t mean massive piles of greens for every meal and snacks in between. Grains aren’t the only problematic plant food. Sure, on a healthy diet, you can have periods of time when you eat more plant foods and maybe be entirely vegan on certain days, but also make sure to fast from plant foods entirely every now and then or even for extended periods.
That said, I understand that we’ve been told our entire lives to eat more fruits and veggies. And I’m not interested in trying to prove zero-carbs is the best. If you’re afraid that you’ll be unhealthy without a massive load of plant nutritients, then make sure to take care of potential problems with gut health and inflammation. In the eighth video below, a former vegan explains how she unknowingly had been managing her plant-induced inflammation with CBD oil, something she didn’t realize until after stopping its use. She later turned to an animal-based diet and the inflammation was no longer an issue.
But for those who don’t want to go strictly low-carb, much less carnivore, there are many ways to manage one’s health, besides anti-inflammatory CBD oil. Be sure to include other anti-inflammatories such as turmeric (curcumin) combined with, for absorption, black pepper (bioperine). Also, intermittent and extended fasting will be all the more important to offset the plant intake, although everyone should do fasting as it is what the human body is designed for. A simple method is limited eating periods, even going so far as one meal a day (OMAD), but any restriction is better than none. Remember that even sleeping at night is a fast and so, skipping breakfast or eating later, will extend that fast with its benefits; or else skipping dinner will start the fasting period earlier.
Even on a vegan or vegetarian diet, one can also do a ketogenic diet, which is another way of reducing inflammation and healing the gut. For this approach, I’d suggest reading Dr. Will Cole’s book Ketotarian; also helpful might be some other books such as Dena Harris’ The Paleo Vegetarian Diet and Mark Hyman’s Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?. Anytime carbs are low enough, including during fasts, will put the body into ketosis and eventually autophagy, the latter being how the body heals itself. Carbs, more than anything else, will knock you out of this healthy state, not that you want to be permanently in this state.
Still, I wouldn’t recommend extreme plant-based diets, in particular not the typically high-carb veganism. Even with the advantages of low-carb, I would still avoid it as this will force you to eat more unhealthy foods like soy and over-consume omega-6 fatty acids from nuts and seeds, one of the problems discussed in the fourth video. Some vegetarians and vegans will oddly make an exception for seafood; but if you don’t eat seafood at all, be sure to add an algal-source supplement of EPA and DHA, necessary omega-3 fatty acids that are also beneficial for inflammation and general health. If meat, including seafood, is entirely unacceptable, consider at least adding certain kinds animal foods in such as pasture-raised eggs and ghee.
If you still have health problems, consider the possibility of going zero-carb. Even a short meat fast might do wonders. As always, self-experimentation is the key. Put your health before dietary ideology. That is to say, don’t take my word for it nor the word of others. Try it for yourself. If you want to do a comparison, try strict veganism for a period and then follow it with carnivore. And if you really want to emphasize the difference, make the vegan part of the experiment high-carb and I don’t necessarily mean what are considered ‘unhealthy’ carbs — so, eat plenty of whole wheat bread, rice, corn, and beans, — that way you’ll also feel the difference that carbohydrates make. But if you don’t want to do carnivore for the other part of the experiment, at least try a ketogenic diet which can be done with more plant-based foods but consider reducing the most problematic plant foods, as Gundry explains.
Of course, you can simply jump right into carnivory and see what happens. Give it a few months or even a year, as it can take a while for your body to heal, not only in elimination of toxins. What do you have to lose?
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I’ll add a personal note. I’ve long had an experimental attitude about life. But the last year, I’ve been quite intentional in my self-experimenting. Mainly, I try something and then observe the results, not that I’m always that systematic about it. Many of the changes I’ve experienced would be hard to miss, even when I’m not paying close attention.
That playing around with dietary parameters is what I’m still doing. My dietary experiments likely will go on for quite a while longer. After a few days of fermented vegetables, I felt fine and there were no symptoms. I decided to try a salad which is raw vegetables (lettuce, green onions, and radishes) and included fermented vegetables. Now I notice that the inflammation in my wrist has flared up. I’ll take that as my body giving me feedback.
One of the best benefits to zero-carb was how inflammation had gone away. My wrists weren’t bothering me at all and that is a big deal, as they’re has been irritation for years now with my job as a cashier and all the time I spend on the computer. Inflammation had gone down with low-carb, but it was still noticeable. There was further decrease with zero-carb and I’d hate to lose those gains.
As I said, I’m being cautious. The benefits I’ve seen are not slight and far from being limited to joint issues, with what is going on with my wrists probably being related to the crackling in my knees I experience earlier last decade before reducing sugar. A much bigger deal is the neurocognitive angle, since mental health has been such a struggle for decades. Possible inflammation in my brain is greater concern than inflammation in my wrists, not that the two can be separated as an inflammatory state can affect any and all parts of the body. I take depression extremely seriously and I’m hyper-aware to shifts in mood and related aspects.
I’ll limit myself to fermented vegetables for the time being and see how that goes.
Having written that, I remembered one other possible offending food. The day before the salad I had a slice of oat bread. I had asked someone to make me some almond bread, as I explained to them, because of the paleo diet and they misunderstood. They apparently thought the paleo diet was only about wheat and so they got it in their head that oats would be fine. Because they made it for me, I decided to have a slice as I’m not a dietary Puritan.
So maybe it wasn’t the salad, after all. Still, I think I’ll keep to the fermented veggies for a while. And I’ll keep away from those grains. That was the first time I had any oats in a long time. I’ll have to try oats again sometime in the future to see if I have a similar response. But for now, I’m keeping my diet simple by keeping animal foods at the center of of what I eat.
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My own experience with diets makes me understand the attraction of carnivore diet. It isn’t only the most effective diet for healing from inflammation and gut problems. Also, it is so simple to do, it is highly satisfying with lots of fat and sat, and the results are dramatic and quick. You just eat until you’re no longer hungry.
Few other diets compare. The one exception being the ketogenic diet, which is unsurprising since zero-carb will obviously promote ketosis. Both of these diets have the advantage of simplicity. One quickly learns that all the struggle and suffering is unnecessary and undesirable. You eat until satiety and then stop. Overeating is almost impossible on carnivore, as the body returns to normal balance without all those carbs and sugar fucking up your metabolism and hormonal signaling for hunger.
We live in a dominator society that is drenched in moralistic religion and this impacts everyone, even atheists and new agers. This shapes the stories we tell, including dieting narratives of gluttony and sin (read Gary Taubes). We are told dieting must be hard, that it is something enforced, not something we do naturally as part of a lifestyle. We are taught to mistrust our bodies and, as if we are disembodied ego-minds, that we must control the body and resist temptation… and when we inevitably fail, one might argue by design, we must punish ourselves and double down on self-denial. If it feels good, it must be bad. What bullshit!
The addictive mentality of diets high in carbs and sugar are part of a particular social order built on oppressive social control. Rather than an internal sense of satisfaction, control must come from outside, such that we become disconnected even from our own bodies. It is a sense of scarcity where one is always hungry, always worried about where the next meal will come from. And in order to control this addictive state, we are told we have to fight against our own bodies, as if we are at war with ourselves. We lose an intuitive sense of what is healthy, as everything around us promotes imbalance and disease.
But what if there could be another way? What if you could feel even better with carnivory or in ketogenic fasting than you ever felt before?
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I’ve written before about low-carb, fasting, ketosis, and related dietary topics such as paleo and nutrient-density:
Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health; Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis; Fasting and Feasting; The Agricultural Mind; Spartan Diet; Sailors’ Rations, a High-Carb Diet; Obese Military?; Low-Carb Diets On The Rise; Obesity Mindset; Malnourished Americans; Ancient Atherosclerosis?; Carcinogenic Grains; The Creed of Ancel Keys; Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet; Clearing Away the Rubbish; Damning Dietary Data; Paleo Diet, Traditional Foods, & General Health; and The Secret of Health.
This is the first post about the carnivore diet. Some of the other posts come close to it, though. In a couple of them, I discuss diets that were largely centered on animal foods, from the Mongols to the Spartans. It was specifically my reading about and experimenting with fasting and ketosis that opened my mind to considering the carnivore diet.
I bring this up because of another interesting historical example I just came across. Brad Lemley, a science journalist, is a LCHF practitioner and advocate. He writes that, “I’ve always been fascinated by Lewis and Clark’s expedition. What gave the 33 men and one dog the strength to traverse the wild nation? Nine pounds of meat per day per man”.
From the journal of Raymond Darwin Burroughs, there was a tally of the meat consumed on the expedition: “Deer (all species combined” 1,001; Elk 375; Bison 227; Antelope 62; Bighorn sheep 35; Bears, grizzly 43; Bears, black 23; Beaver (shot or trapped) 113; Otter 16; Geese and Brant 104; Grouse (all species) 46; Turkeys 9; Plovers 48; Wolves (only one eaten) 18; Indian dogs (purchased and consumed) 190; Horses 12″ (The Natural History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition).
“This list does not include the countless smaller or more exotic animals that were captured and eaten by the Corps, such as hawk, coyote, fox, crow, eagle, gopher, muskrat, seal, whale blubber, turtle, mussels, crab, salmon, and trout” (Hunting on the Lewis and Clark Trail). “Additionally, 193 pounds of “portable soup” were ordered as an emergency ration when stores ran out and game was scarce or unavailable. The soup was produced by boiling a broth down to a gelatinous consistency, then further drying it until it was rendered quite hard and desiccated. Not exactly a favorite with the men of the Corps, it nonetheless saved them from near starvation on a number of occasions.”
That would be a damn healthy diet. Almost entirely hunted and wild-caught meat. They would have been eating head-to-tail with nothing going to waste: brains, intestines, organ meats, etc. They also would’ve been getting the bone marrow and bone broth. This would have provided every nutrient needed for not just surviving but thriving at high levels of health and vitality. Yet they also would have gone through periods of privation and hunger.
“Despite the apparent bounty of the ever-changing landscape and the generosity of local tribes, many were the nights when the crew of the Corps went to sleep hungry. Many were the days when shots went awry and missed their mark, or game remained hidden from sight. Relentless rain ruined drying meat, punishing heat spoiled perishable provisions, and clothing rotted right off the backs of the men.”
That means they also spent good portions of time fasting. So, there was plenty of ketosis and autophagy involved, further factors that promote health and energy. Taken together, this dietary lifestyle follows the traditional hunter-gatherer pattern of feasting and fasting. Some ancient agricultural societies such as the Spartans intentionally mimicked this intermittent fasting through the practice of one-meal-a-day, at least for young boys training for the life of a soldier.
Nina Teicholz has pointed out that a meat-heavy diet was common to early Americans, not only to those on expeditions into the Western wilderness, and because of seasonal changes fasting and its results would also have been common. The modern industrial style of the standard American diet (SAD) doesn’t only diverge from traditional hunter-gatherer diets but also from the traditional American diet.
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This one particularly fits my own experience with mental health. The guy interviewed offers a compelling conversion story, in going from the standard American diet (SAD) to carnivore after decades of everything getting worse. His example shows how, as long as you’re still alive, it is never too late to regain some of your health and sometimes with a complete reversal.
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