I passed a big milestone this week; my two month anniversary as a ‘hypercarnivore’.
Yep you read that right.
I’d been toying with the idea of going ‘full carnivore’ for a while, and as I returned from a meat feast of a holiday in the Philippines, the time felt right. I’m not the first one to attempt such a feat, the internet is now awash with people turning to a carnivorous style diet in an attempt to fix underlying health issues, or simply to shred body fat. From what I can tell though, from reading articles and anecdotes on the internet, a lot of people do a week or two and then quit because it’s too hard. Two months in, I have to say, I’ve found it a relative doddle.
What is a hypercarnivore? I googled around and it appears the accepted definition is a creature (or plant – looking at you Venus fly trap) which relies on animal flesh for 70% or more of its caloric intake.
Carnivores that eat mostly meat are called hypercarnivores. These creatures are considered obligate carnivores because they cannot properly digest vegetation and have a diet that consists of at least 70 percent meat
Lions, tigers, wolves, whales and alligators are all examples of Hypercarnivores. And now, there is a new member of the clan. The Smalivore. For the past 65 days 95% of my caloric intake has been obtained from fatty red meat, seafood and poultry. I’m being generous when I allocate 5% to plants – on many days there is zero plant matter in my diet. None, zip, zilch, zero. Not even a single grain of basmati. I can picture you now, sat there worrying about my cardiovascular health, concerned I may drop dead from bowel cancer, or gout, at any moment.
Like many people who make their way gradually to a carnivorous diet, I read the story of young Canadian, Mikhaila Peterson, a woman whose life had been a terrible medley of poor health, operations, medications, food allergies and seemingly irreversible autoimmune conditions, until two years ago when she switched to a diet consisting of nothing but beef, salt and water. I remember reading this story about a year ago, then listening to a podcast where she described her experience, and thinking “that poor girl, what kind of life is that?” At the time I was struggling with my own health, but I never dreamed that I would find myself going to the same extremes as unfortunate Mikhaila.
In the past year the amount of carbohydrate in my diet has slowly dwindled in quantity, to the point where I was periodically dabbling with (but never really fully committing to) the ketogenic diet. The ‘keto’ diet means you rely on fat for 60-70% of your energy, 20-30% from protein, and 10% from carbs (mostly above ground vegetables). Essentially it’s the paleo diet without the starchy veg that grows underground (i.e. potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, etc). Since adopting this approach I’ve felt considerably better. Don’t get me wrong, I love carbs as much as the next pizza addict, they just don’t seem to love me back in the same way. Not like they used to. It was noticeable how on the days after I had scoffed down a bunch of chips or a bowl of white rice how I invariably felt hungover, achey, lethargic, fatigued, bloated, swollen and foggy.
I have a couple of theories as to why that is, and it’s multi-factorial. Last year I had my microbiome’s (gut bacteria) DNA mapped, the results (below) of which showed that a whopping 47% of the bacteria in my gut are one species – Prevotella Copri. The report stated that the healthy sample group had an average make up of 4.6%. So whilst it’s a perfectly safe bacteria to find in the human gut, I have 10x the ‘normal’ amount, which is likely problematic…
Wikipedia (link here) states:
Prevotella is more common in non-Westernised populations consuming plant-rich diets. In Western populations it has also been associated with vegetarian or Mediterranean diets rich in fruits and vegetables. In a study of gut bacteria of children in Burkina Faso (in Africa), Prevotella made up 53% of the gut bacteria, but were absent in age-matched European children. Studies also indicate that long-term diet is strongly associated with the gut microbiome composition—those who eat plenty of protein and animal fats typical of Western diet have predominantly Bacteroides bacteria, while for those who consume more carbohydrates, especially fibre, the Prevotella species dominate. However, Prevotella has been also associated to gut inflammation.
This is CRAZY to read, even before this carnivore experiment I was a meat fiend. For the past 2 years I’ve been eating a high fat & protein – low carb diet. Yet despite my diet looking nothing like that of a child from Burkino Faso, this little ripper, Prevotella, has been flourishing. Don’t get me wrong, until going all saber-toothed tiger, I’d been eating a lot of vegetables, at least 7 to 8 portions a day, but the lower carb varieties like green beans, broccoli, brussels, lettuce, cucumber, cabbage, aubergine, etc. Surely the substantial amounts of animal fat and protein should have ensured balance in there? It doesn’t make sense, so I decided to do some more digging…
This (linked) study I found states:
“the indirect selection of inflammation-tolerant versus sensitive bacteria resulting from a chronic inflammatory state”
Eh? Essentially, if the body is in an inflamed state, it will benefit the types of bacteria that do well when inflammation is present. Prevotella Copri is one such bacteria. Bifidobacteria, an uber-helpful form of gut bacteria is not – back to my gut lab results:
The use of terms “chronic inflammatory state” in the quote above is interesting, given I had a doctor diagnose me with something called “Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome’ (or CIRS) just last month. The puzzle starts to come together. This explains why, try as hard as I may, diet changes have not been able to fix the problem. If you haven’t already read my piece on mould issues then now may be the time (link here)
Back to some research, I’m on a roll now. On his ‘Human Food Project’ website (link here), Microbiome fanboy; Jeff Leach says the following:
The main driver of the acidity of your colon is fermentation. Reduce the amount of dietary fiber and resistant starch reaching your colon (ie, no plants), the pH rises and becomes more alkaline due to a reduction of short chain fatty acids and other organic acids that are byproducts produced during fermentation. As pH rises, those microbes that are otherwise pH sensitive bloom. So, my “out on a limb” interpretation of the dramatic shift in my microbial community in the example/experiment above is not driven by increased meat consumption, but rather my shift in pH due to the lack of fermentation which ultimately provided fertile ground for Bacteroides to dominate.
Jeff is saying that the bacteroides in his gut increased when he lived on meat in the desert, but not because of the additional meat, it was the lack of plant matter than enabled this. This is amazing for me to read, and you’ll understand why if you keep reading. I appreciate this is getting quite scientific, but having just spent the past two months avoiding plant foods, I find this fascinating. Remember how the best part of science lessons at school were the experiments? Well, here I am, conducting the experiments on myself, and trying to almost create a theory at the same time, with no teacher. I’ll come back to this.
So what have I been eating since early April? Well, mostly grass-fed and ‘fattier-the-better’ steaks, but also supplementing with ground beef formed into massive, juicy burger patties, lamb chops, lamb shanks, lambs liver, pastured organic pork belly and ribs, wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna, occasionally oysters and mussels, and on weekends I’ve also had a bit of high quality bacon and pastured eggs. I’ve also helped myself to a salad a couple of times a week consisting of cabbage, lettuce, onion, cucumber, coriander, and a few seeds. I’ve drunk water and black coffee. And that’s it really. The anomalies have been the occasional bit of 90% dark chocolate, french fries (twice), and a few alcoholic beverages, on a few occasions. Disappointingly, the anomalies have not been well-received by my body.
Naturally people are inquisitive about this diet, given it flies in the face of all the conventional wisdom concerning what is good for us. They cry:
“But what about vegetables?! No Vegetables! you’ll die!”
“How do you poop without fiber?!”
“Surely all that red meat will clog your arteries and back up your colon?”
“You can’t survive without carbs, you need them for energy”
“This is ridiculous, Chris, have you tried a vegan diet?”
“It’s bad for the planet” (Propaganda! link)
“Doesn’t it cost a fortune?”
or very occasionally:
“Fuck, that’s awesome, I’d love to eat like that”
LOL. Vegan. Good one. I’ll address most of these later in the post..
So the pressing question is: What’s it like surviving on mostly flesh? I’ll be completely honest, the first month was not great. My energy levels were pretty low, I was craving rice a LOT, and I occasionally had a bit of an upset stomach. I also had a lot pain in the foot which I broke playing tennis last year. But despite these drawbacks I noticed considerable improvements in my mood, digestion and brain power. The drawbacks weren’t really drawbacks either, as I was suffering pretty bad fatigue and digestive distress before I started the diet. Looking back on that first month now, I realise that two things were going on; 1) my body was adapting to its new fuel source, like switching from Apple to Android, it takes some time to adjust, and 2) I think some re-balancing was going on in my intestines. Bacteria, fungus, parasites, protozoa, etc. Devoid of their usual fuel source (most bacteria and fungus thrive on carbohydrate), there was bound to be some dying off and resultant reactions as my body cleared the waste. Such reactions are common it seems.
The second month, however, the month of May, has seen noticeable improvements. I’ll list some of the benefits I’ve experienced here:
- I’m sleeping better, although 6-7 hours appears to be all I need, and I’ve been waking up feeling pretty clear-headed
- My energy remains stable through most of the day (despite absolutely gorging myself on meat on some days)
- My skin is clear of rashes and spots, and I swear my eyes look brighter and more blue
- My mood is for the most part cheery, I’ve definitely been singing and whistling a lot more, much to the chagrin of my colleagues
- I’m comfortably running 25 minute 5k’s again, with a lifetime pb of 22 mins now firmly in my sights
- I’m pushing heavier weights in the gym. I’ve never been able to push past the 55kg bench press, yesterday I pushed out 10 reps at 60kg. Which is mind boggling. I’ve been stuck at 55kg for years.
- The upper back pain which has plagued me all of my adult life has pretty much gone – This one excites me a lot, I’ve spent thousands on massages, osteopaths, acupuncture and chiros over the years, who would always comment on the knotted state of my back muscles, but never have a long term fix
- My leg muscles rarely ache, even after pounding out a fast run. Even as a teenager my thighs would always ache for days after a run
- My digestion is near perfect (no bloating, no gas, no constipation, no diarrhea). Funnily enough I only seem to have minor issues in that department on the days after I’ve eaten one of my ‘treat’ salads.
- Lets stick with the digestion – Poop! Once a day, no straining, well formed, and almost no mess. Max of 3 wipes required. Lovely stuff.
- My brain is firing again, I’m no longer struggling to remember names or finish sentences. This is important, I was previously at a point where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to work again. I need my brain to work.
- I can happily go 24 hours without food, like, it’s not even a thing. I intuitively know that my body is just fine, and my body seems to know that a meat feast is coming at some point soon so doesn’t stress it at all.
- This is a weird one – I’m drinking a lot less water
- Saving the best till last; morning wood. Yup. I went there. I’m waking up like an 18-year old (a clear sign that all the meat and lack of veg is not negatively affecting my circulation or hormones)
- Other benefits include; Ease – shopping is a breeze, cooking is a breeze, cleaning up is a breeze. I don’t have to think about what I’m having to eat, or buy, or recipes. If nothing else, it’s hellish time-saving. Meat – I love steaks, I love burgers, I love lamb chops, I even love medium rare liver now. It’s great, I look forward to and enjoy every meal.
There are of course drawbacks, it’s severely restrictive not only in terms of what goes on your plate, but also in terms of being social and eating with others. I’ve eaten out a couple of times and it is doable, but it’s not exactly ideal. It’s certainly not conducive to dating.
“Garcon! Give me a steak, medium rare, no sides, no seasoning, no sauces. Merci.”
I’ve also noticed that when I do stray from the diet I pay the price, I went out and ate some deep fried chicken wings and potato chips, washed down with a couple of negronis last Friday, and it legit knocked me down for two days.
So is that it? The panacea. Meat for life? Chris the (hyper) carnivore. I don’t know to be honest. Obviously I’d rather be eating a normal diet like the rest of the population, of course I miss pad thai, and sushi, and Mexican, and sandwiches, and granola, and fruit, and roast potatoes, and croissants, and proper burgers, with a bun, and onion rings, and FUCK! The list is endless. I cry real tears for roast potatoes and burritos. But I can’t deny that I’m feeling properly positive about the direction my health is headed in, and in broader terms, my life, for the first time in as long as I can remember.
My mind feels much calmer and balanced, my brain feels alert and ready, my body feels much stronger and fitter. I’m hopeful that in time I’ll be able to add some plant foods back in. Maybe this meat-only diet will fix the underlying problem and I’ll be able to return to some normality.
Why is it working? I suspect that the lack of carbs means two things have nothing to eat, which is resulting in less inflammation. Firstly the prevotella copri bacteria in my gut is probably thrashing about looking for food and coming up short, hopefully allowing other beneficial bacteria to take their place as they die. Secondly, the mould, aspergillus, which I highlighted as a problem in that recent post (link here), also has nothing to eat and as a result has probably gone into hibernation, resulting in quietening down the chronic inflammation that was wracking my body. This is just a theory, but it makes sense, and it’s good, because it means I have a focus and something to work towards. If it doesn’t work I’ll try something else.
I’ve got one more theory, which I’m bloody proud of, so have to share. Ochratoxin A is the mycotoxin in my body causing a problem, it’s highly damaging to the human physiology. Here’s what it looks like in molecular form:
Salicylates are a chemical in almost all plant foods. In the healthy individual, with a well-functioning gut, these chemicals are dealt with and removed from the body without much of an impact. However, in the individual with a compromised gut (think parasites, infections, food poisoning, chronic antibiotic use, immune-suppressed) these compounds can be seriously irritating. Check out the molecular structure of salicylic acid:
Here’s my theory: the molecular structure of those two is so close, that my immune system, which has been actively fighting ochratoxin A for years, is so pumped up and trigger-happy that it started firing at vegetables and fruits too, mistaking the salicylates for mould toxins. Again, it’s a theory, but it would help to further explain why I’m feeling so much better on a plant-free diet. Here’s the molecular structure of beef for comparison:
Bloody hell, that’s almost 3000 words. If you made it this far, seriously, well done. Thank you for humouring me. I’ll leave it there. For now, take care of yourself, and treat yourself to a big, fatty, preferably grass-fed steak. Your body deserves it. Leave that green juice bullshit in the fridge. It’s full of oxalates. It wasn’t a health food thirty years ago, and it ain’t one now.
This is not medical advice. I do not recommend a carnivore diet to anyone. My circumstances are unusual. Unusual situations require unusual actions. If plant food causes you no problems then eat them, they are delicious and nutritious. If you do have health problems, especially auto-immune stuff, then you may want to consider upping the meat and lowering the plants.
HOWEVER, I was shopping for beef mince this morning and stumbled across this monstrosity. WTF is this? Eat the real stuff, it’s cheaper, tastier and much better for you.
NB. There are plenty of websites and podcasts on the subject of the carnivore diet now, but if you do want to listen to well-researched and presented argument for the diet then I wholeheartedly recommend this podcast (website link here) (iTunes link here). If you want to read countless other anecdotes of people’s positive experiences on the diet – link here