Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
So you heard about this awesome, extreme way of eating. You saw the news that people were reversing diabetes, healing auto-immune diseases, lowering blood pressure, losing weight, getting ripped, and feeling incredible. You decided to jump into the lifestyle, went straight to the pantry, and threw out everything that never had a face. You went from eating all the things, to eating only beef, salt, and water on the first day.
And good for you! You knew what you needed to do, and you decided to just rip that band-aid right off and get on with it. That works beautifully sometimes! Probably about half of the people I’ve talked to personally about carnivore make this transition smoothly, with no trouble at all. Other times, unfortunately, a person will meet with so many trials in that first few weeks that they will give up. One of the things we carnivores often forget to mention is that we usually have a slower introduction to the Meat Life than this. Probably 95% of the successful Carnivorists started their search for health with keto, paleo, or something else a little off the beaten path, and only eventually pared it down to the bare necessities.
I was on a ketogenic diet for about 6 months before I decided to try it without plants. Because I transitioned slowly to this way of eating, I avoided all of the potential pitfalls of rushing right in.
I changed my relationship with food slowly.
I did not intentionally transition slowly to carnivore, as I had never even considered carnivore until about a day before I started it. As with many carnivores, it just sorta happened. I fell out of love with carbs. For me, there was no traumatic divorce from my Standard American Diet. Food is an emotional thing for most people. You have a relationship with it, even if you’re not a carb addict. It’s there for you when you feel bad or bored. It’s part of the social atmosphere, especially at holidays. You can’t just quit eating, so every meal is fraught with the stress of choice-making. So rather than changing everything about your food all at once, you need to change the way you relate to food first.
My only goal at first was to lose weight, so I started with a “dirty” ketogenic diet. The thinking behind it made sense–cut carbs, eat more fat–so that’s what I did. I did the keto desserts, the butter in my coffee, the intermittent fasting to get my ketones up. I baked all kinds of keto treats and made fat bombs. I even ate Atkins and Quest bars. Those things do not provide adequate nutrition. They’re junk food! But I think they’re also just fine while starting out. While I was weaning off of the real granola bars and candies, they provided a crutch so that all of the rest of my eating could be good, low-carb, whole foods. They are still worlds better than the carbohydrate-full kind! I began to feel better and lose weight immediately.
After a few months of getting used to running on fat instead of sugar, I cut out all sweet treats and bread substitutes, keeping the vegetables and berries and low-carb dairy. I did that because I knew that the sweet treats were still giving me more total carbs than I was able to handle. My weight loss had stalled.
I then moved to a “clean” ketogenic diet, and I lost more weight. Most of the problems that I had had with my skin, my mental health, my asthma all went away with a clean, unprocessed ketogenic diet. But I still had milder problems at times. One day, I was talking with a friend about veganism, and I said without thinking much about it “I’d rather give up all plants than all meat.” And the idea was born. I had not yet realized that you don’t have to have plants to be healthy, but I had made the connection between plants and many of my symptoms. It was a couple of days later that I happened upon some carnivore on YouTube (probably Shawn Baker or Paul Saladino), and only after looking into it more deeply, to see if this actually makes sense, did I decide to eliminate plants entirely.
Changing my relationship with food wasn’t enough. I also had to change my gut flora. The gut micro-biome is one of most-studied and least-understood aspects of human health, so a lot of what I’m about to say is conjecture. The more we study it the less we seem to know, and I am absolutely not going to claim any expertise. Even the experts have no real idea what they’re doing, according to the experts themselves! But what I do know, and have seen many times, is that changing your food too quickly can lead to some awful symptoms.
Anybody who has brought a new puppy home knows that you have to mix some of their old type of food with the new food over several days to allow their microbiome to adapt. I had to do the same with my dog when I switched him to an appropriate diet (aka: meat) for dogs. The kibble you get in the stores is not the right food for an animal. We went too fast with our daughter’s new dog, due to only having a handful of his old food to work with, and he had a horrible diarrhea requiring veterinarian care. The very same thing happens when humans change their diets too quickly.
You might not be in love with carbs anymore, but I guarantee you some of your critters still are! In addition to the gastrointestinal distress of the bacteria die-off and replacement, I often see people anywhere from two to six weeks into a no-sugar diet–whether carnivore, keto, or just lower carb–begin to have depression, brain fog, and lack of willpower to resist carbs, even though they were doing fine for the first few weeks. I have a theory, completely untested by Science™, that when certain microbes and parasites are being fed, namely those that thrive on carbohydrates, they send soporific signals to your brain, letting you know that all is right with their world. And when they’re not being fed? Look out. They get mad, and mean, and start to beg for sugar. Like a rampaging toddler who wants his toy NOW, they will make you unhappy until they get what they want.
That’s just my theory, for what it’s worth. What is not just a theory, because I’ve seen it happen time and time again, is that if you power through these difficult times, get back on the diet no matter how many times you fall off, you will get past this!
Moving more slowly in weaning off of the plant matter will help you succeed. Don’t add back sugar when you feel like you’re not going to be able to stick to this way of eating. Just add back some green vegetables or some low-carb berries. These kinds of foods will help calm that urge to really hurt yourself on the sweet stuff, and you will be able to move on into carnivore bliss in a few days.