Since late last summer, I’ve been experimenting with something pretty crazy. It’s not drugs. Nor is it a trendy celebrity religion. It’s meat. Like Jordan Peterson and other great apes, I’m on the carnivore diet.
The carnivore diet is a lot simpler than keto, for example, which involves counting macronutrients. On carnivore, you merely refrain from eating anything that isn’t an animal product. Beef, lamb, chicken, pork and seafood are all in, but vegetables, fruit and grains are out. It’s reverse veganism, or the hunter-gatherer diet, but with more hunting and no gathering.
Apart from those who work at a zoo, most people know of the carnivore diet because of Peterson and his daughter Mikhaila. As the Petersons explained to Joe Rogan on his podcast, a meat-only diet had alleviated their chronic health issues. Rogan then tried the diet himself for a month. He lost weight, gained energy, experienced fewer aches and pains and even saw improvements in his vitiligo.
‘Ah,’ you might be thinking. ‘So it’s a trendy celebrity diet you’ve been trying then. Gotcha.’
I suppose that’s fair enough. But celebrities are far from the only ones singing the praises of sinking your teeth into our foraging friends. Online carno-forums are growing like mushrooms (which I no longer eat). Reddit’s ‘Zero Carb’ group apparently boasts more than 100,000 flesh-eating members.
I’ve been on and off carnivore for about six months now. I’ve had the same conversations over and over again with my friends and family about my apparently bizarre gustatory regimen. I’m neither a doctor nor a nutritionist, so I can’t help anyone there, but what I do know about is bathroom trouble and really good sleep. So there’s that.
‘Why? Why would you do this?’ they ask, buttering another slice of toast.
For many people, the carnivore diet appeals for reasons of weight loss. White bread and potatoes are not part of the animal kingdom. While I have lost weight on the diet, that wasn’t my reason for trying it. I was actually seeking relief from general health problems.
I wasn’t always this way, but for the past few years I’ve had almost no energy. I had trouble sleeping. I had an immune system so weak that I often referred to myself as ‘Bubble Boy’. I’d come down with a cold or flu-like symptoms almost every month and was bedridden for at least three days each time.
I went to doctors and had all sorts of tests done, but nobody could explain what was wrong with me. I’d heard about the carnivore diet from Peterson and was curious about it, but I finally decided to give it a try when a doctor told me to experiment with my diet because our microbiomes affect our general health .
‘Does it work?’ they ask, skeptically dipping a handful of French fries in ketchup.
I can’t speak for anyone else but for me, the answer is a huge, resounding ‘Yes!’ I started feeling different within the first week. My energy levels were off the charts. I had more concentration. I was falling asleep easier. I was waking up earlier than normal yet feeling more rested. After a few more weeks, I began to notice further changes. My runny nose was gone. I didn’t feel as anxious as I usually did. And I stopped suffering those mysterious monthly illnesses. I’m still no fitness model on Instagram, but I feel well enough to go to the gym now. This is a huge improvement.
‘Isn’t that unhealthy?’ they ask, munching their kale.
I don’t know whether I’m technically ‘healthy’ on a meat diet, but I know for certain that I feel healthier than I have in years. I actually feel like a 25-year-old (my actual age), rather than a middle-aged invalid who happens to have great skin.
I will get my blood tested for nutrient levels in the next few months, to check the long-term prospects of this diet. But frankly, regardless of what the tests say, I am not going back to the way I felt before. Health isn’t just a bunch of numbers on a chart. It’s also being able to live your life without feeling sick and tired all the time. I’ll take 35 or 40 more years of feeling great over 50 more years of sickness, fatigue and anxiety.
‘Isn’t it better to just eat a balanced diet?’ they wonder, eating pita chips and guacamole.
That depends on what you mean by ‘better’. I certainly didn’t feel better when I was eating a balanced diet. Over the past six months, I’ve relaxed the strict carnivore system and experimented with reintroducing certain food groups. I tried adding leafy greens into the mix for a week, and at one point I also embraced dairy. I even fell off the wagon for the holidays last year. My fall was broken by apple pie and mashed potatoes.
I wish it weren’t the case, but the more I’ve strayed from the herd of carnivorous eaters, the worse I’ve felt. I would love to eat bread, vegetables and fruit, and I do plan to keep experimenting with adding different items back into my diet. But the sad truth is that so far, whenever I reintroduce non-meat foods, even in small amounts, the more I start feeling like I used to. Which is terrifying.
‘How’s your…digestion?’ the amateur bowel specialists ask.
This is by far the most common question I get about the carnivore diet. Is it because we’re taught that fiber (absent from animal products) is the be-all and end-all of our peristaltic movements? Or is it because the Petersons and Rogan shared with thousands of appalled listeners how starting carnivore caused tidal waves of diarrhea? Whatever the reason, everyone now knows that when you start carnivore, you get the runs.
Yes, I did go through a memorable and fluently productive ‘transition period’. As with most carnivores, the diarrhea lasted only about two weeks, like similar episodes in all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. I’m now totally fine, and fully in control. Thanks for asking.
‘So, would you recommend trying the carnivore diet?’ they ask, despite the digestive transition.
You know what? No, I wouldn’t. But not for the reasons you might think. I’ve had great results with the carnivore diet, but if it’s taught me anything, it’s how differently diets can affect each of us. I felt terrible while I was eating ‘healthy’ foods that make other people feel great. And even though I feel the best when eating only meat, I know vegans who say the same about their diets.
I’m not telling anyone what to eat or not to eat. Experiment. Talk to your doctor. Find what works best for you. My only advice is that we should all be more mindful of how our diets affect our day-to-day wellbeing. Food is more important to health than we think. There may come a day when scientists create a brownie or Big Mac that helps our bodies run optimally. Sadly, that day is not today. Instead, I shall be eating smoked salmon, bone marrow and some grilled chicken breasts. It could be worse, and so could I.
This article is in The Spectator’s April 2020 US edition.