Why I stopped the carnivore diet after a year. Going beyond elimination, and how I dealt with the reintroduction of carbohydrates
I stuck with the carnivore diet for around a year, and found that while an incredibly healing diet for me both mentally and physically, it wasn't optimal long term, and didn't feel like a human appropriate diet.
Having now incorporated lessons from it, and re-integrating carbs back into my life 💛 I feel all around much better, stronger and happier.
Why I stopped
Athletic performance and muscle growth
After following low- carb for around 20 months, and carnivore for a year, I was running into a wall with my powerlifting. This was a combination of several issues (hypocaloric diets, bad form, cardio). However, I started paying attention to what the best people in the sport were doing, and there wasn't anyone at the top of the field that got there through a carnivore diet.
In below video Dr. Mike Israetel outlines why carbs matter for muscle growth. Something that popped out to me in conjunction was insulin- mediated recovery, and anabolism.
This popped because in the carnivore communities insulin really appears to be a boogeyman that should be avoided at all costs. Whereas in another video he talks about how bodybuilding superfreaks really started to take off when supplementing insulin became more and more popular.
Additionally in the fundamental health podcast: "How to become as strong as possible with Stan Efferding" Stan outlines how increasing carbs was the way that they were able to find success with muscle building, and at a certain point, going into hypercaloric states with fat and protein being the driver of calories lead largely to increases in fat.
I will outline my specific results in a later post, however, I've found that my recovery, and training are levels better I was able to blast through previous plateaus, and get to levels of strength at speeds I didn't think possible.
Water & Elecrolyte Retention (or lack thereof)
If you're currently doing, or considering the carnivore diet, you may be looking to do what Paul Saladino routinely calls a "species appropriate diet". This was one of the signals to me that low carb was not it.
In my experience to feel "optimal" on the low carb diet, I would constantly be drinking water, and then it would go straight through me. There was nothing making it "stick". Frequent need for urination was interrupting my sleep (2-3x/night, at 25!) and day.
Additionally, potassium salt was constantly needed, to the point where I was having potassium salt every few hours with some water, and without it (especially when I was travelling) I felt like I was operating at around 50% capacity.
This doesn't sound like an appropriate way to live, to constantly need water with a specific type of electrolyte around, and then to immediately waste it. I heard that hydration wasn't just about intaking water, rather what you intake it with (similarly with electrolytes).
Anecdotally speaking, incorporating fruits, and having water and electrolytes in combination with carbohydrates has helped to remedy the thirst to drink 3 gallons of water/day in an office job, frequently interrupting sleep, and constant need to have electrolytes at hand.
The "hangover effect" of carbs
This is really just my own theory, however, I felt horrible after having "cheat days" (which, are terrible excuses to binge by the way). But having headaches and ridiculously low energy levels doesn't seem like the optimal diet.
The experience of having sugar one day, then going to low- carb again, to the point that I started having 200-300mg extra of caffeine (to no impact) and still feeling sick with the "keto- flu" made me feel like I had attenuated myself to a bad diet.
There should be a "stopping point" with diets, where you aren't trying to lose weight, but to live, and feel healthy, robust, and energetic. You shouldn't feel like a prisoner, or have some dogmatic masochism to how disciplined you are because you can make your day suck, at that point it's what it felt like. Sure, two to four weeks in to strict low- carb, you may not even have cravings, but after around a year, I had just felt so much better with carbohydrates, rather than coasting at 70% off of it.
Dealing with the reintroduction of carbs
The carnivore diet had a host of benefits for me, mainly reduced inflammation, over-eating & brain fog. One of the reasons I would almost never takes breaks on the diet is because my mental acuity would vanish, my joints would feel like shit, and I would likely binge eat.
Avoid inflammatory foods. If you've been on an elimination diet for this long, your body may not be able to deal with bread at all.
For me what worked is to slowly try to introduce some foods like white rice, and then oranges. This was followed by exploring the low FODMAP spectrum, and slow reintroduction of some higher fodmap foods according to the common reintroduction protocols (e.g. start with half an apple)
Gaining water weight was unavoidable, and uncomfortable at first, but it is still much better than dealing with the issues I had above with water passing through me
The carnivore diet may feel magical, but it is not. Largely it (and keto) work so well, because you are eating high protein foods. Protein is known to have high satiety and you may be in ketosis.
A few weeks in, eating was a matter of routine, rather than hunger. If you struggle with over- eating, this may seem like a huge benefit.
That said, if you want to reintroduce carbs, I highly recommend figuring out your TDEE, and tracking your calories with an app like Cronometer, and you will find that NO carbs are not the devil causing you to gain weight.
Additionally, if you stick to things like fruits, potatoes, and white rice, you will be able to practice the skill of intuitive eating, and actually get to a point where you may not need to track religiously anymore
No snacking!!! I've found, even being off ZC diet for a few months, snacking will completely interrupt any momentum I have at getting something done. But more importantly, the best strategy is 10 minute walks.
Having initially found out about these again through Stan Efferding. Aside from what he's talked about, I've found them to be essential for me to be able to operate at my best, while still being able to have carbohydrates.
So, after each meal I take a 10 minute walk to be able to operate with carbs. Sure after I eat I may feel a bit low and sleepy. But after cranking out one of these bad boys, I CAN THINK.