Sunday, November 2, 2014

Experiences of a Five-Year Carnivore, Part I

Part I: How I became a carnivore

It took me about three weeks to get up the nerve to try an all-meat diet. I had been reading about it since before the New Year. It seemed extreme, but I was just so desperate about my weight.

An all-meat diet is, in some ways, just a radical version of a low carb diet. I had been an advocate of low carb diets for a long time: it was 1997 that I first read Drs. Eades' Protein Power, gave up my vegetarian diet, and finally (easily!) lost the freshman 30 that had plagued me for for several years. Still, after my second pregnancy, my body didn't seem so willing to drop the fat even with good adherence to low carb. (I had gained a lot of fat in both pregnancies.)

I knew that a low carb diet was healthy, and that the claims about dangers of eating animal fat, and benefits of eating grains were grossly mistaken. I had been following the relevant research since I first looked up the papers cited in the Eades' book. That body of evidence was ahead of its time, and has since grown enormously. Nonethless, much of it is still not recognised today, to the detriment of the health of many people.

It was demoralising being fat while eating a diet I knew to be not only healthy but the most effective intervention for fatness. Moreover, fair or not, I felt like I wouldn't be taken seriously telling others what I knew to be scientifically true when I looked the way I did [1].

So when I saw people on the internet [2] talking about eating a "zero-carb", all-meat diet [3], and the unparalleled success it was bringing them, I was filled with hope against hope, and I thought: "Why not?"

Not even a salad?

Still, I found it intimidating. Not even a salad? Wouldn't I be bored? Most importantly, would I be able to stick to it? There is little more demoralising than making a promise to yourself that you can't keep.

So I thought about it for the first three weeks of 2009. While I was thinking about it, I decided that I could definitely give my regular low carb diet its best chance. Having been a low carb dieter for over ten years, it was a long time since I measured every meal. Perhaps I had allowed some "carb creep". I made a New Year's resolution, and counted carbs to the gram, keeping it under 20 a day. In those three weeks, I think I lost 2-3 pounds of the 60 or so I wanted gone. In the meantime I planned out meals of just meat, kept reading about the successes of others, and I set a time frame I could live with: I would eat just meat for three weeks, taking me exactly to my 36th birthday. On my birthday I would eat cake as a reward.

That birthday cake was never to be, because by the time those three weeks were up, not only had I lost about 10 pounds, but my mood had stabilised. The major-depressive-disorder-turned-"soft"-bipolar that had been ruining my life at increasing speed since I was a teen was brought to a sudden standstill. It was utterly amazing, and no cake would ever be worth a return to that.

A short detour...

However, shortly after my birthday, I learned I was pregnant again. I was determined to have a zero-carb pregnancy, but for a variety of reasons, this didn't come to pass [4]. I did manage to keep my carbs low for most of the pregnancy (a first for me) and even had some zero-carb days in the third trimester.

...and a return.

A week or two after his birth, five years ago now, I restarted my carnivorous diet, and I've stayed on it since. It's easy [5]. My weight quickly normalised to about 130 lbs — some 60 lbs less than I weighed at the beginning of 2009.

Best of all, my mood has been stable without any medications since then, even under periods of enormous stress. For example, I have recently experienced intense grief due to life circumstances. Although the grief has been incredibly painful and difficult, it hasn't resulted in depression as I know it. While it hasn't been easy, it is simply incomparable to the emotional dysfunction of a psychiatric mood disorder. The difference between the normal mood variations I have now, and those I had then is physiological. It was correctable not by adding drugs, but by removing the drug-like components of my diet coming from plants.

(Continue to Part II.)

Footnotes:

[1]See my rant about equating people's personal health with the quality of their theories.
[2]The forum I originally read is now lost, though it can be found in the Internet Archives. It's successor is here.
[3]The term "zero-carb" is not technically accurate; there are traces of carbohydrate in animal foods in muscle glycogen, and more than traces in others, such as liver, some shellfish, and cream. For this reason, I prefer to call the way I eat "carnivory". See A Carnivorous Diet for more on how I eat.
[4]One component was that I have a strong family history of hyperemesis gravidarum, and though I have been able to mitigate it with pyridoxine/doxylamine, I still suffered debilitating nausea throughout all of my pregnancies. Therefore, nutrition became a secondary concern after could I look at it without retching.
[5]It may sound like eating this way would be difficult; that it would take willpower to avoid eating things we consider delicious. However, I am rather a hedonist, and I love to eat. If this took hunger or deprivation, it wouldn't be for me. I never restrict the quantity of food I eat. It turns out than when I eat this way (and I am told I am not alone), that is, once all the sugar and fiber is out of my diet, including the low amounts of sugar in fibrous fruits and vegetables, and all low sugar sources of sweetness, I feel completely satisfied and satiated by my food. I simply don't want anything else.

12 comments:

  1. I just recently re-started ZC...and boy has my existence improved....! I rejoined the ZIOH forum as well and this was in part due to reading your blog. Well done. I've read through most of your blog and the science based website. Good stuff. Thanks for the effort.

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    1. Thank you. I'm so glad to hear it! Were you on a garden-variety low carb diet before?

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  2. Hi Amber,

    Congratulations on your 5-year anniversary!

    Great to read this, as with all your work on this and its sister blog. Your general approach to eating (and blogging) is hugely inspiring, and I feel lucky to be able to read every morsel--fat, gristle and all! I eagerly (greedily!) await further servings from you via your keyboard.

    My condolences too on your recent grief. May I recommend to you a recent publication: Sam Harris, "Waking Up". I predict that you might take comfort from it--and manifold intellectual satisfaction too. Perhaps you have it, already.

    Best wishes to you and your family,

    Patrick

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    1. Thank you, Patrick. ☺
      I don't know that book. It looks like a good one. I'll check it out.
      Cheers,
      Amber

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  3. Amber
    First, am very sorry for your loss. My sister died earlier this year and the grief has been overwhelming.
    I have been reading here for some time, trying to summon the courage to begin.
    This weekend I am away from home, hence cannot eat exactly what I want - so, Monday is it.
    I am ready to begin.
    Thank you for your incredibly inspiring blog.
    Much love to you.
    Regards
    Janet K

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    1. Thank you, Janet. I'm so sorry about your sister.
      Good luck on Monday. Let me know how it goes.
      Love right back,
      Amber

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    2. Day four now Amber and doing ok. Mild headaches, nausea and fatigue, but I knew to expect those. I'm a bit startled at just how hungry I'm not!! :-)
      So far, so good.

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    3. Did you come straight from a high carb diet, or from low carb?

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    4. Low-ish I think.
      I am coeliac, so certainly gluten free, and the only sugar I have is very dark chocolate occasionally. But I was eating sweet potatoes and squash regularly, so carbs were probably higher than I realised.



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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I'm glad to have stumbled across your blog, Amber... I'll definitely be back to read more! (I've been farting around w/low-carb'ish primal-style diet w/mild success, but as you say: "It was demoralising being fat while eating a diet I knew to be...healthy")

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  5. Thanks for the summary. Much appreciation.

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