It’s been over 8 weeks now since I began the carnivore diet. What initially started as a bit of a joke – an experiment in trying something new out of curiosity, has totally changed my mind and become a way of eating that I don’t plan on changing anytime soon.
I’ve spoken about it briefly in my stories over on Instagram, but haven’t felt like doing the deep dive on it until now. I opened up a question box for those curious about what I’m doing and why, so it’s time to talk all things MEAT.
There were some common themes in your questions. Firstly, was WHY?! Secondly, was what’s it been like? And thirdly was, what all about nutrition and fibre? I’m going to cover all the questions and more below.
This is not nutrition advice
Before I jump in, let me be crystal clear that this is NOT nutrition advice. This is purely my personal experience. I am just sharing my story and reflections about this little experiment.
I’m not here to convince anyone of anything. Along this journey, I’ve really enjoyed listening to other people’s experience of the carnivore diet, so I’m just sharing my piece.
My starting point
Let’s start by setting the scene a little bit. Prior to doing this, I was eating a whole foods omnivorous diet (plants + animals, although I ate mostly plant foods now that I look back). I subscribed to the 80/20 guideline around eating, where 80% of the time I followed a whole foods diet and 20% of the time had other foods I enjoyed like pasta and chocolate. I consider myself a ‘foodie’ and love cooking, trying new recipes, and new flavours, especially vegetables.
I come from a background of vegetarianism, spending many years of my adolescence and early adulthood avoiding meat. Through my nutritional training at university, I slowly changed my tune about the nutritional value of animal foods and began leaning more and more towards then. But deep down, I always remained staunchly team vegetable.
Had you asked me 8 weeks ago what I thought the best dietary change someone could make for their health my answer would’ve been: eat more vegetables!
Boy has my opinion on this changed!
What is a carnivore diet?
It might be pretty self-explanatory, but the carnivore diet includes only animal-based foods. This means meat of all kinds including organs, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy, and excludes all plant foods.
I’ve being doing a carnivore-ish diet and have been including small amounts of fruit. At first, I did this for variety and to help myself ease into this new way of eating, and then I kept the fruits in because I saw the value they added in covering a few nutritional gaps left from animal foods only. Currently I’m having a couple of pieces of fruit a week, as my appetite guides me.
We’ve also kept in some spices for flavour in cooking and a couple of basic condiments like mustard. And I’ll occasionally have a few pickles with my steak.
Overall, it’s at least 95% animal foods.
Why are you doing it?
The simplest answer here is curiosity.
I’ve been hearing more and more about the carnivore diet out there in the nutrition space, with many people reporting quite amazing results, so naturally it caught my attention.
But the nutritionist in me really struggled with the concept of it for a long time and I dismissed it as being crazy.
Then, finally curiosity got the better of me – curiosity around what it would actually be like to eat only animal foods and what the potential benefits could be.
For other people, the carnivore diet functions as the ultimate elimination diet, removing all the potential foods that might be triggering or contributing to their health concerns. Many people in the carnivore community found their way to this diet because of chronic and debilitating health concerns, like autoimmune conditions and digestive diseases.
I’m lucky that for me it’s ‘just’ an experiment. For others, it’s the difference between being well and being really, really sick.
I thought, at best, I might last a few weeks. So, I was just as shocked as anyone when I actually found that I enjoyed it and felt really great eating this way.
What’s it been like?
Contrary to what I imagined it would be like, it’s been very enjoyable in a number of ways.
My biggest concern going into it was the inherent restrictiveness of the diet – how would I cope without all my favourite plant foods?
Wouldn’t I be overcome with cravings for all the foods I couldn’t have?
In reality, it’s be quite the opposite.
No cravings. No sense of being deprived. No sense of restriction.
In fact, one of the most liberating things about this way of eating has been how little I actually think about food.
Some of the other things I’ve enjoyed about it include:
- My cooking and food prep time has been cut down dramatically, like by over 50%, if not more
- Less dishes from all the meal prep
- Meal planning & shopping time cut down too
- This food is SO satisfying, I’m full for hours after eating – and not uncomfortably full, just happy-satisfied full
- I now only need to eat 2 meals a day, which naturally happened without my even trying, because the food is so satisfying, I don’t need to eat more than this
What improvements have you noticed?
Where to begin here? So many!
I’ll list them in the order they occurred:
- Energy: My energy levels went way up and remain high. They’re the highest they’ve been in years (even before pregnancy days)
- Mental clarity – the brain fog that I accepted as a fundamental part of being a working mum who still wakes throughout the night is completely GONE. I’m thinking clearly, can focus sharply, and my memory is better.
- Mood – so stable, so positive, so happy.
- No cravings at all. For anything.
- Less thinking about food, especially in between meals
- My skin cleared up. No more acne or breakouts
- Sleep improved – at first it actually got worse, but after I tweaked a few things, it improved from baseline
- My menstrual cycle improved – I’ve had two periods since eating this way and both of them have been clockwork regular, ZERO cramping and ZERO bloating, a big improvement from before
- Chronic pelvic pain resolved – I’ve had residual pelvic pain from pregnancy that just never went away, but not it’s gone.
I want to add that the only change I made during this time was to my diet. All other important factors were more or less the same – my sleeping patterns, my exercise routine, my day to day stress levels and demands.
What have you found most challenging?
It’s not what you might think – the lack of variety has not been a problem for me, as I imagined it would be.
The hardest thing in the last 8 weeks has been eating on the go – there are very few ready-made foods that are animal-based. The only option I’ve found is jerky, which I love and is a great option, but expensive and not readily available. It just means I have to think ahead and make food in advance and take food with me when I travel.
My other go-to quick snack is boiled eggs, but obviously this requires some forethought and planning.
It’s also not as easy to just whip up a quick meal from pantry staples, as I would’ve in the past. I either need to think ahead to have purchased something from the butcher or to have defrosted something from the freezer.
Socialising is a challenge too. I’ve been flexible a few times, for example, when we travelled for the long weekend with extended family who were cooking for us and on a few occasions while eating out. I’ll never turn down someone else’s home cooking and I’m lucky that I don’t have strict dietary requirements in this sense.
What about fibre? Is it ok not to eat fibre?
Boy oh boy is this a big and controversial topic.
I would love to do a deep dive into this question for you in the future and give it the attention it deserves. For now, let me just say that it’s still a question that I’m grappling with.
The current consensus around gut health, in particular, is that fibre (specifically prebiotic fibre) is essential for supporting the growth and health of our microbiome, and that without it out it out gut health will inevitably suffer.
This is what I was taught at university and what I’ve learned since then from my own studies.
But in the last 8 weeks or so, I’ve discovered differing opinions on the topic and people offering a different interpretation of the research.
Like I said, I’m still grappling with this question, so I can’t provide a clear answer here.
What about essential nutrients you can only get from plants?
Ahhh, another huge topic that really deserves its own dedicated post.
As far as I see it, there are very few nutrients of concern when eating an animal-only diet. Animal foods are the most nutrient-dense foods we can possibly eat. Not only are they abundant in most of the nutrients we need, but they are also easy to digest and contain nutrients in their most bioavailable forms (meaning, they are readily absorbed into our blood).
The current emphasis on plant foods as being the foundation of our nutritional needs is not as true as some might lead you to believe.
Having said that, there are some nutrients you do need to be mindful of when eating only animal foods, namely vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate, though, it’s not impossible to get these. It really depends on how varied your animal-based diet is, for example, liver provides vitamin C and folate, seafood (especially fish roe) and eggs provides vitamin E, and there are small amounts of vit C & E in meats.
There are some voices in the carnivore community who assert that you can get all the nutrients you need when following a nose-to-tail carnivore diet (meaning you consume organs too). I’m still wrapping my head around whether this is in fact possible. I do think there is some truth here, however, one must weigh up the likelihood that they are actually going to consume ‘the whole animal’ in this way when considering their nutritional needs on this diet.
Interestingly, it appears that when consuming an animal-based diet without large amounts of carbohydrates that one’s nutritional needs may shift, for example, some assert that vitamin C needs are not as great on a carnivore-based diet and meat provides enough vitamin C to meet these lower needs (which is why long term carnivores don’t get scurvy). The same may be true for magnesium.
Are you taking any supplements?
For the first 4 weeks, during which I noticed all the improvements listed above, I was taking NO supplements.
After this first month, I experimented with adding in some electrolytes, as my research and analysis suggested this could be a gap worth addressing, and that felt good. But I only take these when I feel like I really need it, which is on very busy days (like clinic days) or when I’m feeling my energy drop a bit (which compared to my pre-carnivore energy levels is still very high).
As of a week ago, I also started taking raw liver in the morning (fresh liver cut up into mini pieces like pills, then frozen and swallowed straight from the freezer). I noticed with even just this small addition (approx. 5g of liver) I had an even greater boost in my energy and mood.
Prior to starting this diet, I was taking a whole slew of supplements – a prenatal multi, iron, choline, magnesium, and various herbs. I stopped taking these supplements in January, because I went on holidays and never got back into the habit of taking them. I started this diet early March, so there was some time between my supplement regime and starting this diet. I never felt anywhere near as good as I do now while taking all those pills.
How’s your digestion?
My digestion has been great. Zero bloating and very little gas, which is unsurprising considering the trigger for those is the fibre in plants.
I’m having absolutely no issues with constipation or changed bowel movements. Everything is working well.
How long do you plan on doing it?
Honestly, I don’t know! What I do know is that I don’t have plans to stop any time soon.
But I do have some lingering questions about the long-term feasibility of the diet, which I’m reflecting on and continuing to research.
The big question, as discussed above, is around gut health and the need for fibre.
My other lingering question is whether the benefits I’m noticing from eating this way are because I’m only eating animals. Was it the plant foods that were holding me back? Or is it a simple matter of nutrient density?
Or, is it the low carbohydrate nature of the diet? Or the ketosis?
Still a few questions to find answers to.
Again, this is NOT nutritional advice. Just my n=1 personal experience.
Feel free to comment below with any thoughts or questions you might have. Thanks for reading