The carnivore diet – also known as the all-meat diet or the carnivorous diet – entails eating almost nothing but meat for every meal, every day. That means a lot of protein, a lot of fat, and almost zero carbs. This rather drastic shift in eating patterns is bound to leave your body reeling. What are the adverse symptoms? How can you manage them? In this article, we’ll take you through what you need to expect and the tips and tricks that will get you through them.
- The Carnivore Diet – What are the symptoms? Are there any cures?
You may experience significant symptoms when getting adapted to The Carnivore Diet.
Often, nearly always, when you start a Carnivore Diet, you will experience adverse symptoms and side effects. The symptoms you experience are your body’s natural response to carbohydrate restriction and the elimination of addictive agents and chemicals.
Common Symptoms Include:
- Brain fog
- Sore throat
- Digestive issues
- Bad breath/smells
- Bad taste in the mouth (metallic)
- Dry mouth
- Cravings (sugar!)
- Muscle soreness
- Jaw soreness
- Poor focus, and decreased performance, energy, and drive,
- Rapid heart rate
- Night sweats
- Nocturia (peeing a lot at night)
- Feeling hot or cold
In case you are coming from a ketogenic (keto) or high fat/low carb diet (HFLC), the transition is generally easier (but there are still symptoms you need to be aware of!) than someone coming from a Standard American Diet that is high in carbohydrates.
These symptoms are a result of your body undergoing significant metabolic and hormonal changes.
- What are the are 3 Major Adaptations
If you decide to start the Carnivore Diet, there are 3 major adaptations that your body is going to go through.
- Fluid Rebalancing: Because you are eating fewer carbs, your insulin levels drop, which sends a signal to the kidneys to release sodium from the body. Losing 10 lbs of water in a couple of days is not uncommon as water follows sodium out of the body.
Glycogen is then converted to glucose as the last energy usage before switching to mainly fatty acids.
- Transitioning from Sugar to Fat for Energy
Your body will start switching from burning mainly sugar to fat for energy. Depending on your metabolic flexibility, you might have milder or more severe symptoms. Your metabolic flexibility is your body’s ability to adapt to different fuel sources, which depends on a number of factors including genetics, and especially how you ate prior.
If you have been accustomed to eating a lot of high carbohydrate foods, it can feel a lot like going into withdrawal.
- Hormone Response and Rebalancing
Some hormones in your body will respond to the diet by rebalancing, let’s look at thyroid and cortisol hormones.
- Thyroid Hormone
T3 thyroid hormone levels may decrease. T3 is a hormone produced by the thyroid that is closely connected with dietary carbohydrates. It plays a major role in the regulation of body temperature, metabolism, and heart rate.
- Are there any cures for the Carnivore Adaptation Symptoms?
Fortunately for you, yes! You can dramatically lessen and perhaps even eliminate most of the suffering in the “Trough” by using some tricks to help bridge your body to the adapted state of bliss. Here are some tricks:
- Eat more meat.
Under-eating is the number one reason people unnecessarily suffer.
Early on, it’s common to feel extremely hungry. As your body is getting used to the diet, eat, eat, and eat again. Don’t try to restrict calories or track macros. Don’t worry about gaining fat.
Make sure you are drinking water. Do not overdo it as you will make the situation worse, but you need to stay hydrated. After adaptation, you drink to thirst (no need to measure/monitor) but if you are feeling like crap during adaptation – make sure you are hydrating.
Replenish your electrolytes. As you lose a lot of excess water, you also lose a lot of electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride. Salt used generously on your meat is the first step.
For some people, this may be adequate. Other people need some help in the potassium and magnesium department as well though…
These are tricks that can help you replenish:
- Drink Meaty Bone Broth– In addition to water and sodium, this will give you some potassium which will offset some of the discomfort caused at a cellular level.
- It’s important that the bones have some meat on them because that’s where the potassium is.
- Potassium K+: 500 – 3500 mg/day (start with 1g – K+ chloride)
- Magnesium Mg:250-500 mg/day (magnesium citrate)
- Sodium Na: 2-7g/day (5g is a good starting point – I like this brand)
- Solving GI Problems
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are extremely common, especially if you are coming from a low-fat diet.
Your gallbladder and pancreas might not be ready to handle the increased fat intake, even if you are. When first starting, you may have inadequate bile and lipase to digest the increased fat intake. This leads to diarrhea and all kinds of GI distress.
To help manage this, you can reduce how much fat you’re eating by choosing leaner cuts of meat. A better solution though is the supplement for 2-4 weeks. You could take some lipase supplements a few minutes before meals. You can start with one tablet and if you still have some discomfort go to 2.
For most people, lipase alone does the trick. However, if it doesn’t for, you, you can take some exogenous bile with meals.
If they still having GI issues, especially, if they are GERD/acid reflux-related, take a Betaine HCl supplement. Many people produce inadequate stomach acid to facilitate digestion and proper metabolic signaling. This is what results in GERD, Heartburn, Acid Reflux.
Don’t take this supplement with anti-inflammatories as it could result in ulcers. It should automatically include pepsin in it, but check to make sure. Common dosage range between 3-5g/meal.
Important note: Supplements are a Bridging strategy and not designed for long term use–. The goal is to be off all of these after the first month. They are intended to allow your body to catch up.
It might also be important to eliminate rendered fats as they could exacerbate the problem.
It is normal to notice less frequent bowel movements as your body absorbs and uses meat very efficiently and not a lot goes to waste.
Insomnia is common during adaptation, and since you are purging water, nocturia is also an interrupter. A few hacks that help:
Keep your room pitch black (blackout curtains, cover LEDs) and COOL
Start winding down 2 hours before bed (no screens or at the least put them in night mode)
- Don’t eat within a few hours of sleep if you can help it
- Be conscious how much you are drinking later in the day
- Be asleep before 11 (a cortisol spike happens if you are not asleep around this time)
Sweating is a natural detox mechanism. Since you are finally giving your body the nutrition it has been craving, you give it the opportunity to expel toxins. Give your body a hand and help it detox by getting some exercise and sweating.
- Killing cravings and addictions–“Brain Changes”
Besides the metabolic and hormonal changes mentioned, you may also experience alterations in what I call “Brain Changes” that occur along the “brain-body highway”, a signaling control system between the gut and the brain.
This communication highway influences everything from hormones to neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA that play huge roles in mood, cravings, and addiction.
Not unlike many drug addictions, you may go through withdrawal symptoms from foods or other substances (especially sugar) which you have become physically and neurologically addicting.
Cravings are common and the best solution is to make sure you are eating enough fatty meat. Not eating enough meat and eating meat that is too lean are the top mistakes.
- Are you now ready to start?
Most people experience adaptation symptoms which can range from annoying to a certainty that you are going to die. I’ll be the first to admit that they aren’t all that pleasant, but with the above information to help identify and deal with them, your first attempt should be much easier.
Yes, your bowel movements will change, and you will have some initial fatigue and brain fog.
But in my opinion, the benefits certainly outweigh these temporary symptoms, especially if your goal is to lose weight fast.
Be committed, don’t let them deter you and give it a try.
- Meat Health (2018): The Carnivore Diet – Symptoms and Cures. Retrieved from https://meat.health/knowledge-base/carnivore-diet-symptoms-and-cures/
- Mike Fishbein(2019): The Carnivore Diet: How to Survive the First Month. Retrieved from https://mfishbein.com/carnivore-diet/
- Carnivore Style (2018): Carnivore Diet Side Effects
What Are the Symptoms, Risks & Dangers? Retrieved from https://carnivorestyle.com/carnivore-diet/side-effects/