I haven’t written about my experience with Carnivore because I didn’t think I had any interesting photos to show. I was slightly underweight when I began, and my health improvements (while dramatic to me) have been mostly invisible. However, the other day I was looking through old photos and was pleasantly surprised!
When I was first starting out with Carnivore, I found detail laden testimonials incredibly helpful and inspiring. In writing this, I’ve tried to find a balance between brevity and detail. Hopefully you find it a useful resource for where ever you are on your Carnivore adventure.
All feedback is welcome.
A little history
I was vegetarian (ish) for most of my adult life. In my late-20s, I developed mild psoriasis and chronic constipation. In my early-30s, the psoriasis had moved down into the nail beds of my fingers and toes (ouchy and really ugly). By my mid-30s, I was having recurring joint injuries (mostly in my ankles). Since they typically coincided with drinking, at the time I thought they were sprains. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure it was gout. By my late-30s I’d been through a divorce, 20 years of professional stress in the startup and VFX industries, and had burnt out a couple of times.
At 39, disillusioned and exhausted, I ran away from everything and spent a couple of years travelling. While travelling, I developed arthralgia (probably psoriatic arthritis but undiagnosed) in my fingers and started getting five-day headaches. Near the end of my travels, I spent time working on permaculture farms and started to regularly eat meat again. By my mid-40s I’d figured out that some foods were the cause of my symptoms (chilli, mandarins, honey, dried fruit, and alcohol were the early discoveries).
By my late-40s, I was having a gout attack and a multi-day headache every 4-6 weeks. I was constantly exhausted and grumpy. After each gout attack, I had to walk with a cane for a couple of weeks. The soles of my feet felt constantly bruised and walking hurt. My knees constantly ached, and I had to use my hands for support to sit down (or get up from) a chair. I couldn’t make a fist due to swelling in my knuckles, and I’d lost most of the strength in my grip. To walk down the stairs, I had to use the handrail. I was sleeping badly and was getting up 2-3 times a night to pee. In some ways, the worst thing was that my brain didn’t work that well anymore. I’d made my living being “the guy who could solve problems,” and now everything was foggy and hard.
I vividly remember the moment when I realised that I was going to have to make my peace with being sick. That I was probably going to be sick until I died, and had to reset expectations for my life down to something “realistic.” Wrestling with this realisation was what gave me the courage and motivation to try something different.
I’ll come back to this moment later.
At 30, I went to see a dermatologist about my psoriasis. He told me that there was no cure for psoriasis and handed me a tube of steroid cream. The cream worked, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was only treating a symptom. If something had caused the psoriasis to appear, then it seemed reasonable to hope that something might cure it? After a few months, when the cream ran out, I didn’t renew the prescription. I would periodically spend an evening browsing the internet attempting to find someone how had figured out how to cure psoriasis.
At 35, while travelling, a friend told me about having terrible eczema on his hands. He’d resolved it by eating only brown rice until his symptoms went away (a couple of weeks). With the symptoms gone, he reintroduced foods one by one until he found the culprit (eggs!). This was my introduction to the idea of an elimination diet. When I got home, I enlisted my sister (who also has psoriasis) and we tried a brown rice diet. After 10 days, I almost fainted on a walk. Rather than slowly and carefully reintroducing foods, I promptly began to eat everything fat and sweet I could find. I learned nothing, but my sister who managed a more sensible staged reintroduction discovered that milky coffee and nut liquors were triggers.
At 41, I tried the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol for a couple of months. My psoriasis mostly disappeared in a week and my brain started working again. It was incredible, but slowly as the work stress mounted I started to cheat. It started with occasional sugary treats, then the coffee came back, and finally beer and pizza after work with friends. Later I attempted to replicate the success, but never again managed to get the same results with Paleo AIP.
At 44, I went overseas for a few weeks to work on a film set and then catchup with old friends. I decided I was going to eat and drink whatever I wanted while I was overseas. By the time I got home, I could barely function. I constantly smelled awful and was light sensitive, I could barely think straight, and was atypically moody. It took about six months to get back to something kind of normal.
At 45, while researching psoriasis, I stumbled across a testimonial on Zero Carb Zen about somebody who only ate raw ground beef. The idea of eating raw ground beef both horrified and somehow fascinated me. I couldn’t let it go and had to understand why someone would do this. I spent the next six months reading and listening to everything I could find about the Carnivore Diet.
At 46, with the encouragement of my wife’s herbalist, we decided to try Carnivore. She made it about a week, I made it about a month. She quit out of boredom after a week (but has stayed on a low-carb diet since, which has drastically improved her energy, mood, and brain fog). I quit because I didn’t notice any significant health improvements and my energy and mood was slowly tanking. More on this later.
At 47, after six awful months of constant gout and headaches, I had the realisation (mentioned above) that I was probably going to be sick forever. I wanted to avoid taking the drugs the doctors had to offer, so I came back to Carnivore out of desperation.
Carnivore in earnest
For the first two months of Carnivore, I had back to back gout attacks and poor energy. Fortunately, I was aware that transitioning into ketosis can trigger gout, but even so it was only grim determination that got me through. I learned how to manage gout pain with tart cherry, then apple cider vinegar, and finally (and best of all) with baking soda.
While researching gout, I stumbled across a comment in one of Amber O’Hearn’s videos about a correlation between high iron and gout. Investigating this led me to a forum where people were discussing giving blood as a way to lower iron levels and thus reduce attack pain and frequency. With nothing to lose, I booked in to give blood and my gout attacks stopped. Sadly, I have no way of knowing if giving blood was coincidental or causal.
With the gout behind me, it was time to figure out why my energy was still so poor. With the help of Zero Carb Health and Zero Carb Zen, I decided that I wasn’t eating enough, and I especially wasn’t eating enough fat. The problem was that I didn’t like eating fat, and if I forced myself, I felt nauseous and got diarrhoea. After some experimenting, I discovered that while chunks of pure fat (eg. steak fat) were an issue for me, I could tolerate more fat if it was mixed in with meat. I started eating 70/30 fatty ground beef, sausages (made by our local butcher without any rusk or preservatives) and fatty lamb chops. Within a few days of eating fattier meat, my energy levels started to improve.
In retrospect, I think this is what I did wrong the first time I tried Carnivore. I didn’t eat enough because I got bored with the food. I didn’t eat enough fat (and since I was underweight, I also didn’t have fat stores to burn). It also turned out that the “pure pork” sausages I was eating a lot of contained rusk, spices, and preservatives.
About six months into Carnivore, I had a moment where I suddenly realised that “I felt like me” again. I had energy again. The libido of a 30-year-old. My nails were mostly clear. There was no blood when I blew my nose or brushed my teeth. I didn’t need two pillows to sleep. My hands were strong again. I could run up and down the stairs. My eyes weren’t crusty and scratchy in the morning. I was no longer allergic to our cats and dogs. My digestion was regular. No more dry skin or dandruff. Tinnitus was quieter. I slept through the night, even if I had a glass of water before bed. The arthralgia in my hands, feet, and knees had reduced from debilitating to annoying. I was going for walks with my wife, riding my bike, and was enjoying being back out in the garden. My brain was working, and once again it was fun to solve tricky problems.
The ups and downs
At six months, one thing that hadn’t budged was my psoriasis. Again, thanks to Zero Carb Zen and Zero Carb Health, I decided to try cutting out salt. After about a week of no salt, I began getting regular cramps in my feet and calves. It started happening overnight and slowly got worse. When I couldn’t make it through a workday without cramping, I decided that going cold turkey had been a bad idea. I added salt back into my diet until the cramps stopped. Then over a few weeks I slowly reduced the amount of salt. What worked really well was eating salt directly instead of salting my food. First thing in the morning and immediately before bed, I’d put a little salt on my finger and eat it until it stopped being sweet. This seemed to be enough salt to keep the cramps away. Over the next few months, my psoriasis began to slowly heal.
There have been a few setbacks since I started Carnivore.
Twice I tried a small glass of low sugar soft drink. Once it was kombucha and once ginger beer (both about 2% sugar). Both times I had a gout attack the following day.
I’ve had two multi-day headaches, both were from reducing caffeine consumption too quickly. I sometimes get headaches as a flu symptom or if I let myself get dehydrated. Long periods in air-conditioned spaces like planes seem especially bad. I suspect that many of my past headaches have been from reducing caffeine too quickly. I’ve tried multi-month stretches without coffee and it never seemed to make a difference.
I discovered that cheese, especially hard cheese, causes constipation. That yogurt immediately cases my arthralgia to flare. Milk and cream seem fine occasionally, but if I have them regularly I get joint pain and grouchy. Butter and ghee seem fine in any quantity. I suspect it’s the proteins in dairy (especially casein) that I’m intolerant of.
I’ve tried various food introductions. They have almost all been unsuccessful. Chilli, honey, and nuts and seeds (even in small amounts like spices) cause immediate inflammation. Occasional, tiny amounts of fruit and vege seem to be okay. But even tiny amounts, if eaten regularly, will cause my joint pain to return.
I reintroduced salt a few times, and each time my psoriasis stopped healing and slowly returned. I have managed to get my nails completely clear several times, but never managed to completely get rid of my psoriasis.
About five years ago, I injured my knee while insulating our attic. Despite visits to various professionals it has never fully healed, and I am unable to kneel, sit cross-legged or squat. I was hoping that Carnivore would allow it to heal, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I am currently waiting for an MRI in the hopes that that will allow them to determine the cause.
On most days, I eat two meals (breakfast and dinner). Occasionally I’ll have three meals, and **very** occasionally I’ll eat a huge breakfast and then not eat anything until the following day.
For breakfast, I mostly eat 75/25 ground beef (with all the fat) or leftovers with butter and three eggs (I seem to be fat hungry, and I am considering going back to 70/30). In the evening, I most often eat sausages (my current favourite is smoked beef and pork — made by our local butcher without rusk, spices, or preservatives). Occasionally, we cook brisket, short ribs, lamb roast, steak or salmon. My family eats a lot of roast chicken, but I will typically just have a wing for variety and eat something else. If I need an afternoon snack, I’ll eat leftovers, smoked salmon, or tuna. I drink coffee (mostly decaf) and occasionally have milk or cream with it as a treat.
I’ve managed to put on a few kg, but still struggle to gain weight.
My skin psoriasis is maybe 60% gone.
My nail beds are clear for months at a time, but when something spikes my inflammation, the psoriasis comes back and then takes several months to go away.
Except for my injured knee, joint function and pain is mostly at minor annoyance levels.
As long as I’m careful with caffeine, the headaches have stayed away. The one exception has been when I got a headache with a cold. The big test will be the next time I do a long haul flight.
Energy is mostly good, but I feel that there is still some improvement to come.
At this point, I’ve been a Carnivore for nearly two years (21 months). I would be content if I had to remain carnivorous for the rest of my life, but I would love to be able to tolerate spices and sauces for additional flavour. This would make travel and eating out much easier. In particular, being extremely intolerant of chilli is astonishingly limiting. Perhaps this will come with time.
I’m currently trying a gut healing protocol with the support of my doctor.