Sometimes getting better means taking a leap you do not feel ready to take. A big tiger leap.
It’s been almost three months since I decided to take that big tiger leap and try out a carnivore diet. For me, that means eating every part of the animal: muscle, fat, organs, skin, cartilage, broth, bones, eggs, egg shells (yes, egg shells), with water and salt. Nothing else. No plants. No spices, and about 70% of my calories coming from fat.
The tiger diet means animal fat and protein for every meal and snack. That’s it. Keto to the extreme. Liver drenched in grass-fed butter, extra beef fat drizzled on top of bunless burgers, wild salmon smothered in raw egg yolks, bacon wrapped around smaller chunks of bacon and sometimes my finger. (I could go on.)
The carnivore diet could not be further from what I expected I’d be eating at this point in my life. Even as an eat-half-the-rotisserie-chicken-for-dessert-queen, a diet of so much fat and meat without my big bowls of kale and swiss chard sounded revolting, colorless, and very much dead. I would be lying if I told you I chose to be eating this way because it sounded fun. I assure you, giving up sprouted hummus, leafy greens, purple potatoes, dark chocolate, and almond butter was never my plan.
However, radical and supposedly “healing” diets are not foreign to me. I have dabbled and danced with them all attempting to clear up chronic fatigue, infection, and gut discomfort. Everything from just bone broth and ghee on the GAPS diet, to the SCD and AIP diet, the fuck-everything diet of (still organic) bread, butter, and beer, the banana diet, the raw vegan mucusless diet, the sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, low FODMAP, low histamine, low-oxylate, low-fiber, low-residue diet. A raw kefir and egg yolk diet. I even tried the lab-made, liquid elemental formula diet for three weeks. (All with the desperate hope of gaining, not losing any more weight).
You’re probably wondering why someone would do something so extreme as to remove all plants and just eat flesh and salt? Aren’t plants, especially greens and brightly colored fruits, filled with antioxidants and supposed to help us heal? Can’t we just remove gluten, sugar, and dairy and have everything just fall into place? Isn’t the bacon cheeseburger and 16 oz. steak the real cause of disease?
Well, I read success stories (#meatheals), and they kept popping up on podcasts or on Facebook. I even watched a close friend heal his Lyme disease, depression, and SIBO by eating just meat for 12 months. Even with disgust on my face, inspiration flooded my system as I watched videos of clinicians demonstrating the gut healing effects on a fiberless diet, specifically with idiopathic constipation and complicated autoimmune conditions (unfortunately, that’s me!). Turns out that for some, removing all fiber actually helps food move through the gut, contrary to what the diet industry and fiber-bar producers preach.
The truthful answer is that the carnivore diet felt like my last hope.
While I continued to eat the superfoods I craved and believed to be so healthy (sprouted quinoa bowls, steamed kale dripping with ghee and nutritional yeast, coconut-date balls, flax crackers, local blueberries, fermented garlic…you name it), my body was shutting down.
The seeker inside of me reluctantly played with the idea of becoming a carnivore for several weeks. As miserable as my quality of life was (which I will follow with more detail below), I wasn’t open to making such a radical change. I continued living each day chronically fatigued and struggling with just the basic acts of living.
My body had been shutting down since the chronic constipation, sleep disorder, and panic attacks began in high school; these symptoms offered subtle warning signs for the years to come, but I managed to cover them up with a mix of will-power, prozac, seroquel, trazodone, and a very busy schedule.
By 26 years old, my gut stopped moving and contracting in the way we expect a gut to move and contract. Ideally, the gut forms bowel movements and allows us to go on with our lives after visiting the restroom. (In my teens, I never really thought much of my constipation: I just grew accustomed to always having a swollen, pregnant belly protruding on my thin frame like some growth you might see on an old tree trunk. I thought everyone felt sick and exhausted after meals. I got used to it, and carried on.)
I would eat the health foods I learned to love and crave, but would get so sick within minutes of finishing them. Even an apple would send me to the floor, having to lay down for a few hours to rest while my body managed. I’d wake up the next day so fogged, bloated, and flu-like that even getting to the bathroom to shower required the gusto and fire I imagine a 9-mile desert hike might take. This wasn’t just the “I ate too much pasta and drank too much red wine last night kind of a feeling,” that you can shrug off with a smile and commitment to do better next time. No, it was the, “wow, I can barely stand up and the world is spinning and I think I might be dying but all I had for dinner was kale and sweet potato dal” kind of a feeling.
We still can’t pinpoint exactly why my gut stopped moving, and I don’t think we will. I found comfort blaming the Lyme and Bartonella, the toxic mold exposure, the heavy metals, the gas released from the SIBO, the lingering tapeworms I picked up years ago in Cambodia, the nightly beer I drank for several months to calm my panic, or the years of chronic stress due to just being ill. But any attempts to remedy these factors didn’t seem to help my gut function any better. And after years of chronic infection, inflammation, leaky gut, and worsening constipation, my immune system started labeling even the most benign foods as foreign invaders needing attack.
Despite continuing to romanticize and devour all varieties of “health” foods and eat through extreme abdominal discomfort, my weight dropped to a mere 79 pounds in the fall of 2018. I’d see people eating salads and quinoa bowls, drinking fresh juices, or heading home with crusty loaves of organic sourdough bread, feeling even more insane as I struggled to find any food to eat that didn’t cause extreme bloating, fatigue, and an all encompassing flu-like feeling, resulting in lying on the floor for the majority of each day.
As my anxiety mounted, so did the gas in my belly, continuing to swell from even just water and watermelon juice. Any fibrous foods ate would sit and ferment in my small intestine, as the normal sweeping mechanism of my gut known as peristalsis remained out of order. This chemistry created a thick brain fog and a rotund, gaseous belly relieved only by colonics and six or seven rounds of enemas, back and forth to the kitchen for filtered water. Nothing came out on its own, even with the strongest herbal laxatives I could find.
For about seven months straight, the two-hour morning round of enemas (including clean up and sanitizing the bathroom) consumed my entire energy reserve. The rest of the day consisted of one foggy doctors appointment or one errand at best, taking my supplements, anxiously cleaning and dusting the apartment that had become my prison, eating the foods that kept causing the reactions, and lying on the floor as I foggily and desperately researched until my partner got home from work. I kept hoping with enough digging online, I’d find a rescue ladder out of this mess.
I stopped seeing friends, as getting groceries and doing my multiple rounds of enemas demanded all my strength for the day. The quality of my thoughts felt beyond tolerable to my system. Desperation for any way out took over. Thoughts of suicide felt comforting, warm, even peaceful, compared to the torment of my days. If this wasn’t bottom, I didn’t know what could possibly feel more dreadful.
By this past winter of 2018, I was only hanging on to life because I felt I had no choice. I couldn’t justify the idea of upsetting my mother or destroying my partner, but I wanted to die every day. I didn’t understand how I could love food as much as I loved my mother and sunshine and newborn puppies, yet my body seemed to reject it. This desperation lead to a two week stay at a hospital for intensive Lyme treatment with hyperthermia. I was hopeful again about a new treatment helping my gut to kick back into gear. To my horror, my symptoms worsened and I came home feeling defeated.
The weaker I became, the simplest tasks of showering, putting on clothes, brushing my teeth, left me dizzy and in a slow-motion trance. I stopped driving because of how blurry and dream-like my vision had become. My activity for each day meant slowly moving around my neighborhood, holding back tears under the San Diego sun as I watched the crows fly over head with foggy vision.
Most days, this felt like a cruel joke the universe decided to test me with; it felt like some dark, twisted mid-life health crisis delivered from hell, only happening in my mid twenties.
I’d catch myself enviously staring at the spritely bunch of giggling, milkshake- sipping, spandex wearing, fertile 20-somethings around me, wondering: how are they so healthy? Even just seeing people drive home from work, stressed about some unread emails or the traffic, I wondered what it would be like just to be able to drive to an office and work all day, to worry about something so…normal?
On one especially fragile morning, an elderly man in neon shorts jogged by, huffing and puffing, but still running, sending me into a waterfall of tears as I felt the heaviness and toxicity of my own, supposedly young body, struggling just to walk and stand upright.
Visualizing a future felt impossible when just lifting my belly and myself off of the floor to grab a glass of water demanded all my determination and will. Looking down at my emaciated, veiny arms, swollen belly, my ribs gleaming on my chest, my shin bones protruding as they lacked any muscle or fat to protect them, I felt like a bizarre alien version of a human.
I didn’t know how to look ahead, when the present moment seemed to only offer darkness.
When my fragile gut struggled to tolerate a three-week diet of solely pre-digested, liquid formula–also known as the Elemental diet–and a diet of “real” superfoods left me equally unwell, I felt cornered, completely trapped. I decided to take a tiger leap with the hope of getting out of this conundrum. Instead of continuing to imagine how I could kill myself to escape the constant chaos living in my toxic and depleted body, I decided that eating just meat might be worth a try; it was the final attempt before I could confidently say, “I’ve tried everything!” when it came to the realm of diets.
As dubious as it seems, there is nothing in plants that you can’t find in animal products. In fact, most plants contain toxins and anti-nutrients that prevent the absorption of these precious vitamins in minerals in an attempt to protect themselves from the animals that enjoy eating them. In contrast, animals can run away from their predators, so they lack these protective chemicals. If you’re eating nose to tail, especially emphasizing the organs, the body should have a surplus of nutrients in their most bioavailable form. The cow digests the grass, so you’re basically eating a salad when you consume a grass-fed steak, or at least this is what I like to imagine.
So, here I am. A three month old tiger pup. I have eaten meals I’d expect every reputable Texas steakhouse would applaud, sometimes devouring a pound of beef piled with three eggs and a slab of butter for dinner. In these months, I am shocked to say that I have seen my life come back and my will to live with it. I actually feel HAPPY.
For the first time in months, I can function after I eat, and haven’t spent a single day in the bathtub doing my rounds of enemas since I removed plants from my diet. I still don’t have bowel movements on my own accord, but without the fiber, I don’t have the flu-like reactions from anything that is able to ferment or feed the bacterial overgrowths in the gut.
On top of finding a newfound level of joy and hope in my mental well-being, I have seen my body begin to regenerate, gaining about 25% of my previous bodyweight. I’m delighted to share that I’m continuing to gain! My teeth are remineralizing and no longer look grey or feel sensitive to cold. I can move my body in ways I’ve never been able to before, and actually have the energy to do so. (Yes, I can finally do a pull-up, a feat I couldn’t even do while running cross country and training with a coach in college).
I am grateful, as I feel a sense of possibility and optimism return to the color of my thoughts. Planning ahead and visualizing what I want to be and do and share actually feels like an exciting possibility for a life I get to live, as opposed to a disaster I’m trying to avoid. I am grateful for these animals that are literally keeping me alive, and grateful beyond words for this tiger body that continues to keep leaping on my behalf.
Featured photo by Conscious Carnivore
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog should not be used to treat or diagnose disease or health problems and is provided for your edification and delight only.