My journey into the phat-fatty-fat world of meat.
And so it was time for the ultimate elimination diet: nothing but meat, eggs, butter and salt.
For a good beautiful few weeks, that’s what my food intake has looked like and will look like for the foreseeable future.
Ideally, before I embark on a radical change in what I eat, I should take stock of some important metrics and monitor them throughout. Cholesterol levels, blood pressure, Vitamin-D, magnesium and various electrolytes. But I had the following doubts: I came from a baseline of “somewhat-keto”, while this experiment came straight after the holidays — a time with plenty of cheating and nutritional disruption. A few before/after blood-tests might not be so informative:
- If values are flat, healthy and show no improvement it could be because I’m already reasonably fat-adapted and have had most of the benefits that a low-carb/keto/carnivore diet already entail.
- If values improve a lot, it could be that the last year or so I hadn’t really put my keto where my mouth was.
What, to quote Shawn Baker, are the tests going to tell me? And if they get worse, my body will tell me.
So, screw the metrics for now. Instead, we’ll do this the good old-fashioned way: scales, muscle mass and how my body feels.
My motivations are three-fold.
First, a long history of metabolic and digestive troubles — bouncing me from vegan to FODMAP to cooked-only, to Paleo and Keto — with various degrees of success. Something that I consume triggers my immune system in more ways than one, and makes me bloated, in pain and exhausted. I don’t know what that is, but going to the most basic of food groups and eliminating everything else would allow me to find out what that might be. Slowly, slowly, I can bring some stuff back and see how it goes.
Second, I have terrible migraines that absolutely nothing has been able to conquer. I’ve done it all: food triggers, regular sleep, avoid alcohol, and lots and lots of medication. For the last year, I have been on Cardesartan, a blood-pressure medicine that a number of studies had shown could reduce frequency and severity of migraines. (It, um, didn’t; or at least not unless you argue numbers from nowhere — that is, preventing an extreme counterfactual).
Third, I like the discipline of a harsh, no-bullshit, simple diet. I’m attracted by the many stories told by people whom I admire — Paul Saladino, Saifedean Ammous, Jordan and Mikhaila Peterson — and the improvement to their health and wellbeing. My favourite part about eating vegan — which I did briefly back in ~2014 — was how effortless grocery shopping was. Go to the section with veggies and beans and ignore everything else. Carnivore shopping is similar: pass by the eggs before you hit the meat section — and then leave. And there’s no limitation: eat yummy, fatty, tasty things until satiety. The end.
There are lots of other cool stuff and health aspects to get into, of course, but for now that’ll do.
The Carnivore Code | Carnivore MD
The carnivore diet is a highly controversial approach to optimizing health that has offended many plant based…
And… how are we doing?
Pretty fabulous, I must say.
I have gone a full 48 days without a migraine — an extraordinary streak that has only ever happened once before (Spring 2019, when I was doing yoga about 5 times a week, spent lots of time outside, and took great care into what I ate — keto style). Something is working, fingers crossed.
I sleep better (except for last night when the toddler-from-hell upstairs was crying for hours at a time), even though sleep has never been my issue. I have much less patience for bullshit, and I’m much more likely to say “fuck off” to those who deserve it, and reject ideas that are bonkers. Carbs are for pussies, etc. I also began leaving online lectures that I had signed up for if and when they no longer deserved my attention: I don’t fuck around with that which doesn’t benefit me.
Most extraordinarily, my muscle mass went “BAM!”. I have never been particularly muscular — especially upper body strength; I was always a runner and a hiker — but something is definitely changing.
Chest, pectoralis major, exploded and some of the fluffy man-boob kind of flesh disappeared; my shoulder muscles (deltoid, I believe) got ripped; my triceps, long since enhanced from all those arm balances and Chaturanga Dandasanas, got actual muscle-curves to them; my biceps grew (but perhaps that’s merely from lifting more weights and doing pull-ups…); most extraordinarily, without any endurance training or running, my quadriceps (rectus femoris?) got slim and lost some of its prior flesh-iness. And I lost about 5kg.
I now weigh only 3kg more than I did at age 20 — but with plenty more muscle than that scrawny little guy.
Aaaaaand, initially I ran straight into the protein-nitrogen hyperammonemia problem.
About two weeks in, I first noticed that after heavy workout my sweat would smell strongly of ammonia. What in the world was this sorcery?
Turns out, it’s a common trap to hit when you’re starving the body of carbohydrates but don’t get enough fat (see here or here). As far as I understand, it’s a fail-safe detoxification reaction: when a fat-adapted body runs out of fat under intense stress, it turns to the other available nutrient, protein. Except that breaking down protein for fuel releases nitrogen, which the liver turns into urea, which we usually just pee out later. But, during high intensity exercise, the liver can’t keep up — and sounds the emergency alarm that excretes the additional toxins through the skin.
“Ammonia comes from nitrogen, nitrogen comes from protein. If you’re smelling ammonia, you may be consuming too much protein.” — Tara @ Hip2Keto
I estimated my macros of previous days and noticed that my protein-fat balance was off: I was getting less than 60% of calories from fat, with the rest being protein.
So I upped the fat-intake (mostly dairy, so far, but also a more careful selection of meats) and monitored my macros for three days, making sure that my calorie count from fat was safely in the 75%+ range. I also made sure to drink more water, especially during workout. Earlier this week, after another heavy one, I noticed a larger quantity of sweat than before — a good sign, I suppose — but afterwards the sweat stains on my t-shirt no longer smelled of ammonia (and the rest of my clothes carried only a faint ammonia whiff). And yesterday, they were entirely gone.
What exactly am I eating now?
By adding a bunch of dairy that I know purists don’t approve of—butter (on steak and in my coffee), cream cheese and matured cheeses like gouda or high-quality cheddar — I’ve significantly upped the fat ratio. On meat alone, I’m actually struggling to get over that 70%-fat threshold, probably because I’m picking the wrong kinds of meat.
In the last few days I also added cream into my morning coffee for yet more fat (and doubled the amount I use in my weekly liver/bacon/bone-broth stew). Unlike hard cheese, cream doesn’t seem to sit very well with my digestion — and my faeces started smelling suspiciously bad. OK, then: cream’s gotta go. (For metabolic or chemical reasons I don’t understand, that doesn’t happen from the cream I cook in my stew).
An average day now includes about 60g of cheese, about 30g of butter (plus some for frying), 50g of smoked lamb, 5–6 eggs, about 200g of bacon, and 300–500g of a main meat of some kind — slow-cooked lamb, lamb heart, beef mince with broth or ribeye, as well as fish (salmon, cod, or Arctic char) about twice a week. In total, that amounts to around 3,000 calories, 200g of protein and 240g of fat — a little over 70% of calories from fat.