My Health History
I have been healing from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) for almost three years now. I’ve been through all sorts of elimination diets, taken countless supplements, and spent money I didn’t have on functional labs. I’ve had some dark times; I’ve suffered; I’ve learned and I’ve improved. By my own estimations I’m about 70% healed; well removed from my days of barely functioning due to extreme fatigue and debilitating migraines (if you’re curious how I got to 70%, check out my health journey).
But my journey is far from over.
My symptoms have been plateaued for over a year*. I still experience brain fog every day, making it difficult to focus on just about anything; I still wake up tired every day (I honestly don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling refreshed and energized). I still have to be meticulous about my diet, cautious not to overexert (physically, mentally, or emotionally), and militant about my sleep schedule. I still have flare ups of intense fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. My daily life is still limited by my CFS symptoms.
I’d been hearing and reading about the carnivore diet and its efficacy for significant weight loss and healing chronic illness for at least a year. Since I hadn’t really been craving veggies much (which is really strange for me), I decided to go for it at the beginning of November. I struggled a bit over the first month, took a couple days off, then recommitted to 30 days of strict carnivore -- nothing but meat, salt, and water (I felt good enough after 30 days that I re-upped for another 60). So far, this way of eating (WOE) has been great for me
My Experience with Carnivore:
What does carnivore look like for me?
I generally eat between 2-3 pounds of meat per day. Here’s the approximate breakdown:
70% beef -- mostly ground beef for affordability purposes, but I have steak for 1-2x per week.
I always get 100% grass-fed ground beef; steaks are usually grain-finished due to accessibility.
20% fish -- mostly canned herring and sardines; wild caught salmon 1-2x per month.
10% chicken/pork -- I like rotisserie chickens when traveling and make wings or thighs at home 2-4x per month. I have bacon about once a month.
I always buy organic chicken; I worry less about bacon because I eat it so infrequently.
Lately my standard day looks like this:
Breakfast (around 830 or 9): one can sardines (my omega-3 “supplement”), one pound ground beef (I mix some liver 2-3x a week).
Dinner (usually between 5-6): one pound ground beef; some days I have an extra half pound if I’m still hungry after dinner.
Note: many folks eat eggs and full-fat dairy while on carnivore; I haven’t tolerated these foods well in the past, so I do not include them. I may make an attempt to reintroduce.
A quick note about food quality:
Many folks on carnivore, including “thought leaders” like Dr. Shawn Baker, don’t seem to be too concerned about eating grain-fed (CAFO) beef. While the benefits of this WOE certainly don’t seem to be limited to those who choose to buy grass-fed (though this seems to vary from person-to-person), I still believe that purchasing the highest quality meat you can afford is of the utmost importance. Choosing to purchase grass-fed, grass-finished (look for 100% grass-fed on the label) is better for your health (especially the omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio), better for the planet, and better for the cows. CAFOs suck.
Mild improvement in symptoms.
I wouldn’t say that my baseline has improved all that much, but I have more consistency from day to day, and less frequent flare ups -- which is a big plus.
My digestion has been great.
It wasn’t bad before, but I’ve had zero issues with gas, bloating, or constipation.
I’ve lost 17 lbs since November (all of which I put on during my “relaxed” summer of eating mostly paleo).
I have a history of food anxiety and orthorexia, which led me to take a six month hiatus from restrictive dieting last year after months of various elimination diets (AIP, low-histamine, low-FODMAP -- all on top of my standard paleo/keto). So I was certainly cautious heading into carnivore, the “ultimate elimination diet.” Meat, salt, and water. It seems so strict. It is so strict. Yet, it’s also so simple.
For the past 8 weeks, I haven’t had to think about what I’m eating or how it makes me feel. I don’t have to micromanage every meal. Grocery shopping is a breeze and cooking/cleanup takes requires virtually no time or energy.
Cravings are GONE.
During the first month, I still had some cravings for nuts, nut butters, sweet potatoes, and ice cream, but eventually they just disappeared.
I’m actually SAVING money.
I’m sure this won’t be the case for everyone, but since I was already eating about 1.5-2 pounds of meat a day on paleo/keto, plus loads of organic veggies, so upping my meat consumption to 2-3 pounds and cutting the veggies actually has me spending less money on groceries each month.
I only poop 3-4x per week. I’m not constipated, there’s just not much to get rid of when you’re not eating any fiber.
As with most elimination diets, eating out and socializing can be tough (okay, it’s basically impossible on carnivore). Thankfully this WOE is extremely satiating and I feel better than I have in a long time, so this doesn’t bother me much.
I’ll admit, eating bowl after bowl of ground beef and salt does get a little boring sometimes (though I still always enjoy it), but switching it up with a steak or some crispy baked chicken wings tossed in bacon fat and salt usually does the trick!
Why is it becoming so popular?
It’s simple and effective, which are probably the two best attributes a diet can have for people who have already tried everything else (which is the case for many folks looking to lose weight or manage/heal chronic health issues). There’s no counting calories or carbs, you don’t have to look up recipes, there’s no wondering “is this food allowed.”
Eat meat, drink water, feel better. It really can be that simple for some of us.
As much as I love this WOE (for me, right now), I’m sure this is not the best approach for everyone, and it is certainly not the “cure-all” that many carnivore enthusiasts would have you believe.
I do not see at as a sensible long-term solution due to heavy restrictions and potential nutrient deficiencies. Yes, there are folks who have had success with carnivore for YEARS on end without issue, but I believe we can take some clues from veganism and expect that real nutrient deficiencies probably won’t manifest until 8-10 years down the road. This is just speculation on my part (though to be fair, until we see more folks on strict carnivore long-term, we’re all just speculating on this right now).
I’m also a big fan of taking a common-sense approach to nutrition, and I think it’s safe to assume that over the course of the past 2.5 million years, most humans would have routinely gone months at a time eating predominantly animal foods on a seasonal basis, but I find it hard to believe that our ancestors would have ever passed up fresh fruits and other plant foods throughout the rest of the year.
Personally, I’m looking forward to reintroducing plant foods and enjoying a more well-rounded approach to eating, cooking (two things I really love), and nourishing my body.
What’s next for me?
I’m now starting an 8-week antimicrobial protocol (the Remove phase of Dr. Ruscio’s “Great-in-8” plan) to address suspected gut infections, and I’ll be continuing carnivore for at least another 4 weeks, but potentially another 8 to take me up until the end of the antimicrobial protocol, depending on the intensity of the “die off” symptoms**. I will post another update following this next step!
Should You Try the Carnivore Diet?
I really try not to make any specific recommendations without knowing a person’s full health history, what symptoms they’re dealing with, what issues they hope to manage, and what they’ve already tried. That being said, I think this is a completely viable option for folks looking to heal a variety chronic health issues, including autoimmunity, CFS, and metabolic syndrome, especially for those who have yet to find success with other strategies.
Keep in mind that depending what chronic conditions you’re looking to heal, diet alone is probably not enough to address the root cause(s) of your symptoms. Any plans to attempt this type of restrictive, healing/elimination diet should always be paired with a comprehensive approach that includes quality sleep, stress management, time in nature, sun exposure, mindful movement, toxin management, etc, and should always include an exit strategy (more on this soon).
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*I am not my symptoms. While my CFS symptoms have all remained about the same, I’ve still enjoyed plenty of mental, emotional, and spiritual growth over the past year.
**The Herxheimer reaction, also known as “die off” reaction, is the body’s response to the acute toxin load that occurs due to the death of unwanted microorganisms (harmful bacteria, fungi, and parasites) that reside in the gut. Symptoms may include bloating, brain fog, GI distress, fatigue, irritability, joint pain, headaches, nausea, and more.
I am not a medical professional and although I am a certified health coach, I am not your health coach.
The information in this article is given solely for educational purposes and is not meant as diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions.