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, so let’s talk about whether there are adverse symptoms or not? 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.
You may experience significant symptoms when getting adapted to The Carnivore Diet.
Nearly everyone experiences adverse symptoms and side effects when they start the Carnivore Diet. The symptoms you experience are your body’s natural response to carbohydrate restriction and the elimination of addictive agents and chemicals.
Common Symptoms Include:
If 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 understand!) 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.
If you decide to start The Carnivore Diet, there are three major adaptations that your body is going to go through.
1. 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 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.
2. 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 your diet prior to this change. If you have been accustomed to eating a lot of high carbohydrate foods, it can feel a lot like going into withdrawal.
3. Hormone Response and Rebalancing
Some hormones in your body will respond to the diet by rebalancing, let’s look at thyroid and cortisol hormones. T3 thyroid hormone levels may decrease as T3, a hormone produced by the thyroid, is closely connected with dietary carbohydrates. It plays a major role in regulation of body temperature, metabolism, and heart rate.
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:
1. 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. Do not 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 adapting, 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 potassium and magnesium:
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 leading to diarrhea and other 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 is to supplement for 2-4 weeks. You could take some lipase supplement a few minutes before meals. You can start with one tablet and if you still have some discomfort take two.
If 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 a main cause of 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 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)
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.
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 addicted.
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.
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.