How Do I Get Started on the Carnivore Diet?
The Carnivore Diet targets the root of so much disease, the guts, or if you have an IBD or IBS, perhaps you’d call them the root of all evil. The diet is incredibly simple and potentially doesn’t require any complicated counting of calories or food intake. It defines what you can eat. Eat meat and fat (1:2 ratio). Eat when hungry. Eat until full. That’s essentially it. There are, however, a lot of other things you should know along the way.
This diet requires dedication, but if you adhere to it, your body and mind will adapt and you’ll find it simple to maintain. They say that one of the ways successful people live their lives is wearing and doing the same thing every day to reduce stress and decisions. You’ll never have to spend time thinking about what you’re eating again. In addition, you won’t be subject to general cravings you have on a regular diet. As long as you eat until full, you should be perfectly satiated until your next meal. While sitting on your throne atop the food chain, you’ll be free from the chains of food.
But there is a pesky adaptation period, or “keto flu,” to get through first. Dr. Kevin Stock1 calls it the “Trough of Despair.” You will likely go through withdrawal, both physically and mentally, during adaptation, especially if you consumed a decent amount of sugar before. This reaction is natural, because your old gut bacteria are literally being starved to death to allow new bacteria to flourish. Don’t worry, if you can get through the next few paragraphs there are some simple hacks that will make it much easier on you.
Symptoms of the adaptation period include:
- Brain fog
- Sore throat
- Digestion problems
- Halitosis2 and smells
- Metallic taste in your mouth
- Dry mouth
- Sugar cravings
- Inability to focus
- Lower performance
- Lethargy and decreased energy
- Rapid heart rate
- Night sweats
- Urinating at night
Your body will undergo major metabolic changes. Your fluids will drop and your kidneys will remove sodium, which will remove water weight. It is very possible that you will lose ten pounds of water weight very quickly. Your body will then process the last of the glucose before switching to fatty acids. As you lose sodium, you lose electrolytes. A good response is to supplement with sea salt on your meat, or buy non-sugar rehydration salts, the kind they put in IVs. It is important to stay hydrated, always drink more water than you think you need.
If you have an IBD and are coming from a low-fat diet, be aware that it will take your guts a moment to adapt and during that period you may have some additional GI issues with your usual IBS or IBD symptoms. L. Amber O’Hearn, suggests you go in “cold turkey (or hot beef)” and that’s as good an idea as it is a bad joke.
If you must, segue into the diet slowly by eating leaner cuts of meat at first, or, ideally, supplement lipase, ox bile, and A Betaine HCL (ABHCL) for the first few weeks or so. You may want to check with your doctor before supplementing ABHCL, because some medications react badly and lead to ulcers.
You will also lose potassium and magnesium. You can find supplements, but many supplements and medication sneak in lactose and starches. Consuming bone broth is a much better solution if you can manage, but see how your body is doing and react how you (or your doctor) feel is appropriate. Once the diet is underway, your lowered carbohydrate intake will reduce your body’s need for magnesium. The same can be said for vitamin C. Don’t worry, you won’t get scurvy.
The actual amount of vitamin C we need is 10mg a day. That is four Skittles. The USDA does not require the level of vitamin C in meat products to be measured, recorded, or stated beyond listing it as zero. But as L. Amber O’Hearn points out, that is silly. She presents information stating that one of the lower C content animals, an ox, still contains 1.6mg of Vitamin C out of 100mg of ox meat and 2 lbs of meat equal 907 grams nearly 300g more than you need to avoid scurvy. The only known case of scurvy in carnivores came from eating only pemmican. If you know what that is, don’t eat it all the time.
There’s one more issue you’ll want to prepare for: social adaptation. This diet is, unsurprisingly, very contentious. Since many of us are coming to it for relief from Crohn’s and colitis, it is very possible we have a lot of herbivore friends. L. Amber O’Hearn wisely suggests that you keep your diet on the down-low for the first month or so. Enlist a few trustworthy collaborator/counselors to assist you with your needs, but otherwise avoid the jaws that you’ll tend to see drop when you are asked, innocently at first, to explain why you just ordered a steak with nothing else.
Eat Meat and Fat. Eat When Hungry. Eat Until Full.
To get the best nutrients and vitamins for your body you should be eating the highest quality meat that you can find and afford. The nutrition content of meat comes largely from what the meat ate, and higher quality animals graze on higher quality nutrient rich vegetables. Remember that you’ll be saving a lot of money to spend on them once you’re weaned off the expensive IBD or IBS medications you’re on. If you are receiving benefits and can remove any health-related costs from your life then it is still a win. If you need to be cheap in general or for a while, there are less expensive cuts. Consult with your butcher.
Because you’re not eating carbs — or any plant foods at all — it is crucial that you get enough calories to keep your energy up, so fattier cuts of meat are best. This diet is not about protein. It’s about fat. If you eat only lean beef you’re not on the right track. Your fat to protein ratio should be 2:1. For example, if you want to eat fish, it’s best to eat high quality fatty cuts of salmon.
You’re going to want to find a good connection for a steady supply of high-quality meat. Having a regular butcher (especially in a butcher shop) or a regular supplier (maybe at a farmer’s market) is best because they are now your nutritionists. You can ask them regular questions and discuss what exactly is going into different meats so that you can find what you react to and enjoy. You can also order meat online because it’s the future.
It is possible you will begin to eat much more than you used to. You should not feel like snacking. If you do, eat more at meals. This is one of the only times in the carnivore diet you may need to do math.
The Carnivore Diet: Zero Carb Dinner
There seem to be three schools of thought bouncing around the carnivore world, the zero carb approach, the zero carb with dairy approach, and the very limited carb approach. Ultimately, many proponents of all three suggest you tailor it to yourself as you move forward. If you are going to experiment, keep a food journal to keep track of changes in what you eat and how you and your IBS or IBD feel.
The zero carb version is fairly self-explanatory. You’ll want to eat only fatty cuts of meat, with maybe a small amount of salt. A lot of people agree that honey is fine. Bacon and many sausages are contentious. Mostly stay away from processed meat because even when you inevitably become an expert in all cuts and preparations of meat, you will still never know for sure what’s in it.
Giving up caffeine may be one struggle too many for most of us, luckily coffee or tea are seen as allowed by most practitioners, despite coming from plants. As you begin adapting to the diet, you may feel like you don’t need the extra energy. I know it seems impossible to consider, but if you want to try going coffee-free, you can always add it back later. I drink a lot of water whenever I do a caffeine cleanse. Try different things and find out what works for you.
Dr. Kevin Stock gives a wonderful step-by-step guide at Meat Health (meat.health – yes, that’s a web address). Here are the four stages he suggests to begin and follow through, sort of, with some additional information.
You want to maximize your fat to protein ratio and therefore beef is tops, followed by lamb, pork, chicken, and fish and then eggs and dairy. However, not all cuts of meat or dairy are equal. For example, chicken breast is very lean and many dairy products are high carb, both should be avoided.
You should absolutely, really, seriously think about removing alcohol from your lifestyle, especially for the first month or so. If you must drink alcohol, stay away from beer. At lower rates, dry red wines and low sugar liquor still aren’t your friends, but they won’t stab you in the kidney when you look the other way either. Be aware that your tolerance won’t be what it used to be, so you should probably avoid any competitive drinking. As with anything outside the scope of zero carb, take it in moderation and see how you feel.
Proponents of a more generous version of the diet, suggest that 70% of your diet should come from animal fats and protein, meat and eggs, again 2:1, and 30% of foods that pass the paleo test, like vegetables (root vegetables are best) and fruit (only one a day) won’t hurt you too much. Again, try things yourself, but for IBS and IBD removing them entirely could be a good idea.
Additional Carnivore Tips
Eat organ meat! Liver, kidney, tongue, marrow, heart, and gasp brain are all believed to be very good for your health and nutrition. You should be okay without, just think about trying it out and keep an eye on your nutrients.
Don’t ever use any type of oil, only animal fat. Coconut oil may be important in keto, but is especially bad for IBS and IBD.
Stabilize your sleep schedule or you may lose your sleep schedule. Don’t eat too close to bedtime and give yourself some time to wind down beforehand. Try to be in bed by 11. This is a tip for IBS and IBD in general, but is more important here.
If you’re having problems with your IBS or IBD during the adaptation period, removing rendered fats could provide some relief, but be careful not to remove quantity.
It’s going to be a rocky road at first, but if you commit, adhere, and persevere there is a giant dinosaur destroying sized asteroid of anecdotes that say you’ll be relieved of your IBS or IBD and reach pain-free.
- Though the term “Trough of Sorrow” comes from Paul Graham of YCombinator, referring to the long nadir of a startup’s life cycle, which itself stems from the “Trough of Disillusionment” in the technology Hype Cycle.
- Bad breath