I Try The Carnivore Diet for a Week and Here's The Deal

I'm biting my lip when yet another paleo friend tells me how amazing they feel since transitioning to the Carnivore Diet. That's meat, eggs, maybe a bit of dairy and water. And salt. And I'm biting my lip because I know that the diet I am eating right now is doing me no good.

Photo by Victoria Shes on Unsplash

I'm currently eating a mish-mash of diets. On the whole, I'm flexitarian, but this has progressed to a low-dairy vegetarian diet to be honest that's mostly based around paleo (I don't do beans or lentils too often because they mess with my health). I was getting a little guilt-tripped about eating meat and therefore killing the planet, according to the media, so dropped the weekend meat to having it very occasionally. 

I'll admit that some gluten free and paleo cakes and treats have crept in, but nothing near what I used to eat. Disclaimer: in the summer I ate a piece of wedding cake and some sandwiches and pizza at a family event in January. But we won't count that. 

I was pretty much 90% vegan, in the beginning, so from around July, I felt great. Somehow cleaner. Lots of veggies. Huge bowlfuls of big ass salads. Green smoothies with spinach, almonds and banana. Vegan almond butter snack bars.  But there were signs of trouble from my body. 

My psoriasis, which had gone into remission in the summer, was back. Itchy, hot and sore on the back of my head. My weight had increased (yes, increased, on a vegetarian diet) although I was still training, lifting weights and limiting my carbs. I started to notice a pulled muscle pain in my arm that hadn't yet healed since October. I'd accidentally bit my cheek two weeks ago and that wasn't healing. My gums had started to bleed when I brushed them. I looked bloated, and when I looked in the mirror, I didn't look all healthy and glowy like I did before. My IBS was back, after years of remission. I looked tired, puffy and kind of grey. I needed a nap every day, without fail, at 4pm, on the sofa, after the kids came in from school. I started to struggle with some anxiety attacks again. I couldn't complete the dumbbell reps I was knocking out easily back in the summer, and finished the workouts I could do shaking like a leaf. I had daily brain fog, and on some days I could barely string a sentence together. 

What could be wrong? I was eating 10+ portions of veggies a day, very little meat and dairy (like all the articles tell you is a healthy thing to do) and taking my vitamin D and probiotic foods. I was eating eggs, some cheeses, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes...

Something was going weird. 

I kind of rolled my eyes to myself because I'd been vegetarian and then vegan three times in my life. And I always went back to eating meat because I had health problems afterwards. Maybe it was the meat, I thought. And it probably was the more limited protein I was taking in. 

But then I learned about oxalates. 

Oxalates are anti-nutrients, that plants have in them, that are there to stop them being eaten by animals as a kind of protection for the species. Some plants have more than others, and over time, it's thought that these oxalates build up in your system and start causing damage - and some crazy symptoms - in your body. This is the reason many people start following the Carnivore diet, or a low oxalate, more relaxed version. And I had been eating a LOT of oxalates. 

So I fired a few questions at my newly, suddenly-looking-10-years-younger Carnivore friends and got some advice. I followed Carnivore doctors on social media and watched their YouTube videos. I learned about oxalate dumping and joined some Facebook groups to figure out how the hell I do this. 

I was going to go as Carnivore as I could. I'd eat meat again, but was warned against going cold turkey because of the risk of triggering oxalate dumping. Here was I, in the middle of Veganuary, loading up on red meat and not much else. 

And this is what happened.

Day 1: All good. Eat half a pan-fried rib-eye steak cooked in clarified butter along with some (also buttery) scallops from the freezer. Feel really full. Drink coffee, a camomile tea and some water. Our tummies full, the smell of fried steak and butter lingering in the room, we can't believe this is an actual diet.

Day 2: Wasn't hungry until about 12pm, which is strange for me. Usually I'm on the avocado toast by 9am and sniffing around for a snack by 10.30am. So, we eat the remaining steak cooked in olive oil with a duck egg. Feeling full again. In the evening, remembering my friend's warning about oxalate dumping, we decide that we need to incorporate an oxalate meal into our day today. We defrost a spinach and lamb Balti I had in the freezer and we eat that, with a little mound of white rice to soak it up. I decide, after I've eaten, that I wasn't actually hungry, and shouldn't have eaten the curry. I lie on the sofa, rubbing my tummy because I am a glutton.

Day 3: All hell breaks loose today. I don't eat in the morning. I just have a cup of decaf and drink water. We go to a family party, we get there at 1pm. I say, on the way, I'll just eat chicken wings or whatever is there that's meaty. At 3pm the party food is served. I haven't eaten for nearly 24 hours and it will be another 4 hours until I get home. There is nothing meaty there. I eat stuffed crust pizza, chips, onion rings and a sandwich. I have a couple of cups of tea. And some amazing birthday cake. Loved every fricking second. Decide to write today off carnivore-wise and start again tomorrow.

Day 4: Sunday. I wake up at 2.30am for some unknown reason (probably all the sugar from yesterday), go back to sleep at about 6am and then wake up at 10am. I eat nothing, I'm not hungry. We go shopping and I spend £60 on general groceries and then buy an online meat shop (all grass fed, organic), for £72. At 12.30 I eat breakfast: 1 x pork sausage, half a sirloin steak, a duck egg and a decaf coffee. Evening comes and I'm not hungry. I'm averaging about one meal a day since starting this diet and I don't really feel hungry. I drink water, and a little green tea.

Day 5: I see the kids off to school, drink a decaf coffee and wait until I'm hungry. At 1pm I eat 2 gently seasoned, baked pollock fillets drizzled in a little olive oil. I spend most of the afternoon on the toilet. Google tells me this is a natural reaction, while your gut bacteria balance themselves out. Or maybe it's my bingefest at the weekend. Or the coffee. Or maybe the dreaded oxalate dumping. On the up side: I feel full of energy and don't need an afternoon nap for the first time in ages. Eat 2 baked salmon fillets for dinner. Drink water and go to bed. I stay up until 11pm and I'm weary, but not zonked out, like I used to be at 9pm (yes, even after my usual afternoon nap). 

Day 6: I put the kettle on for a cup of camomile tea and put my hands on my hips while I wait for it to boil. I am distracted from the kettle because under my hands, my waist feels slimmer. I can feel my hip bones - and, if I move my hips - my abs crunching and twisting under my clothes. Already? This was quick. I eat three scrambled eggs with a little grated Cheddar melted in. No cravings. Dinner is leftovers from the fridge: a little Prosciutto, a leftover piece of cooked chicken from the girls' packed lunches and some salmon. I'm done for the day. Realise I forgot to eat anything with oxalates again. This Carnivore business is so easy on mealtimes, it's literally 6 minutes in a pan and then dinner is done. 

Day 7: I am literally bursting with energy. I finish my 25 dumbbell reps and I'm ready to do another set. I finish another three sets and do some squats and lunges, my muscles buzzing and pulsing. I skip around the house cleaning, with rock music pumping loudly through my headphones. Where the frick is this energy coming from? And then something unusual happens at 11am. I suddenly salivate. I don't remember when I last actually salivated. That's a good sign my digestion is working though, I think to myself (your saliva is the first part of you being able to digest your food). I put on the pan, salivating like my Staffordshire Bull Terrier does when I offer him a cube of cheese. I fry up half a sirloin steak, a rasher of smoked bacon and a duck egg and I swear it is the best meal I've ever eaten in my life. My Staffy sits and watches me, licking his lips and I feed him a bit of the steak fat. I miss veggies though. And the colour of food. A bit. I wonder how I'm going to start making piles of meat look pretty on Instagram. But I can feel that I've lost weight, and feel incredible compared to last week, and that spurs me on to keep going. I make a kind of soupy thing with beef broth, roasted pork belly and a boiled egg and that's my dinner. 

Is the Carnivore Diet for me? I think it might be. Admittedly, I wasn't 100% Carnivore as I was still drinking tea, coffee and eating some greens. But I do kind of miss my veggies, and I am a little cautious of this oxalate dumping malarkey.

I think I'm going to keep going like this, but add in a couple of low oxalate veggies a week, like courgettes or bok choy and see how that goes. I'll also add in a tiny amount of higher oxalate veggies so I wean off them more slowly than I did this week. My cravings for dairy - previously a bit of feta, halloumi and Cheddar - are gone, which is kind of weird because before it was all I could think about. 

Usually, when I fast for more than a couple of days, it brings on a migraine. But I haven't had one yet, even though I'm fasting for longer than I usually do. I find I'm more in tune with my body: I eat when I'm hungry, I stop when I'm full. There are no set mealtimes, I'm just hungry when I'm hungry. 

Cost-wise, it probably evened out as the same as before. I'm feeding a family of four, who all ate like me, pretty much. I spent more on meat (obviously), but I don't need snacks, breads, cookies or baking ingredients. I don't buy sauces, curry pastes or tins of coconut milk or bottles of almond milk. No veggies, which was 90% of my old weekly shop. The plastic consumption in our house has plummeted. Dinner takes 5-10 minutes - pretty much steak and eggs in a pan, and there's no food waste. I sat down to do the meal plan this week and it took literally two minutes, just a list of whatever meats we fancied having and a few low oxalate veggies. I researched online butchers and looked for the best value, broadest range and prioritised grass-fed, organic meats. 

Honestly, I feel a bit awkward. There is so much at the moment about reducing meat consumption, Veganuary and all the rest, that I feel awkward saying I've basically been eating meat, fish and mostly drinking water for the last week. I also have real moral issues about eating animals, which is the reason I went vegetarian and vegan all three times in my life. But I need to be honest with myself that all the times I've done this, I've found I really do thrive on a meat-based diet, and not the alternative. So I approached it in the most environmentally-friendly way I can, by supporting local farms, and so putting our food budget into reducing air miles, a huge decrease in home plastic use and traditional, organic agriculture. Even my delivery stated on the box it took zero carbons to get to me. Haven't seen that on any of the supermarket grocery shopping vans. 

Now that this experiment has come to an end, I can't believe my energy levels have rocketed the way they have. Apart from that one instance in the week on day 5, which I put down to ever-changing microbes, my stomach has been flat, unbloated and I can do my jeans up again. I don't have IBS. I can't believe I am this much slimmer after a week. At the end of the week my head felt clearer and less foggy - I can do sums again. I can find words to say and write that I forgot I knew about. I can read a paragraph in a book and I don't need to re-read it two or three times more to understand it. My anxiety decreased and my mood cheered up. I swear my skin feels softer. I run my fingertip along the psoriasis patch on my scalp and I swear it's smoother and less painful than last week. And I found the sugar detox much easier this time around - I barely craved it at all, probably because I was always full and satisfied. And when I was hungry, what did I crave? Fat. Salt. Meat. Not sugary snacks, smoothies and salads. 

It was fascinating to me, as someone that thought perhaps there was something in that theory that ancient humans dug up veggies and picked off blackberry bushes when they were hungry, that whenever I was really hungry, my body very clearly craved animal protein and fat. 

Very interesting. I am actually stunned at the changes that have taken place already. Watch this space. 

Have you tried a Carnivore or low car/low oxalate diet before, or do you follow it now? Have you noticed any changes? Let me know in the comments below.