OPINION: I never thought I would stray from a diet so I could eat spinach.
The idea was to try the carnivorous diet for 30 days. Proponents say it’s healing, and I’ve long been a fan of eating in a way that makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
I guess there have been times and places in our human history where meat was available, and fruits and vegetables less, but I admit it was about trying first and figuring out the reason later.
I didn’t know anyone who ate carnivores – other than my daughter’s tattoo artist (by all accounts a great guy with a steady hand) – but of course there is a group for everything on Facebook.
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And so I joined Carnivore for women.
The group describes different levels of devotion to this way of eating, with level 1 being consuming only beef, salt, and sauces made from beef fat.
Level 2 includes all animal protein and salt; level 3 adds eggs and dairy products; and level 4 allows “eggs, dairy products, spices and certain low-sugar vegetable sauces (mustard, etc.)”.
I entered level 3, because I have backyard hens, and I have never mastered black coffee.
I was inspired by the messages of others. People have written about improvements in all kinds of conditions, including obesity, depression, infertility, acne, rosacea, and type 2 diabetes.
Personally, I’m particularly interested in the psychological benefits – of not using food as a little pick-me-up when you’re bored, sad, happy, or looking for distraction.
The last time I dabbled in another way of eating, I went nuts. My family has been in Paleo for almost three years.
In the early 2010s, it took a lot of reading, listening to hours of podcasting, and researching to perfect grain-free whole-food recipes that might still appeal to kids.
I’ve made kale crisps, mixed coffee with coconut oil, and made more things with cauliflower than you might think possible. My meatza (pizza made with mixed cooked chicken, cauliflower, cheese, ground almonds and eggs) was bona fide tasty.
But this time I’m older and more lazy. The joy of eating the carnivore is that there really are no recipes, and hardly a meal plan. You only eat meat!
So here’s how my first week went:
I eat three hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. My 12 year old daughter eats two. It’s a bonus.
She usually eats Weetbix, which I’ve not been a fan of since the grain-killing Paleo days, but mostly because this stuff only tastes great when it’s just piled up with sugar.
At the supermarket, I find free farm pork for $ 4.99 per kilo. I don’t feel like buying an $ 80 roast lamb, so I take the pork home and roast it. It smells incredible.
Unfortunately, unlike sushi, it’s nearly impossible to eat a good chunk of meat at your desk while you’re typing. I take a lunch break, for once, so that I can eat with my hands, and wash them afterwards.
At 2 p.m., I want to take a nap. I feel like a chocolate cookie. Fortunately, I don’t have one at home.
A tomato would do. I have some, that look round, juicy, and delicious in a bowl on the counter. Instead, I have a chicken thigh left over from last night’s dinner. I’m making a coffee.
The struggle is real. I have a headache that won’t go away. Headaches are a persistent health problem for me, but they are also a known transient effect of adjusting to a low-carb diet. It should only last a few days, a week at most.
I call a cafe on the way home as it closes and a member of staff offers me some leftover date scones. That never happens to me.
I say yes, of course, because duh, free stuff. At home, my children are grateful to them. I admit I took a bite.
I eat a tomato in desperation.
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The headache is a bit annoying. But I’m really not hungry so I guess that’s something.
Bacon is $ 20 a pound on sale, but again, I can only eat four slices at a time. I think I can afford to eat this way.
The headache is gone. I pass the sandwich board in front of the bakery on my way to the office: “Lollycake, $ 1.99”. Not even tempted.
Here are other things that do not interest me and to which I would have bowed before: red liquorice, especially after 8 pm; salt and vinegar crisps whenever I see them (or hear a bag crumple); peanut butter toast; an iced latte from station Z at the bottom of my hill.
It is not about willpower. In fact, I have no interest.
I’m starting to think there’s something to this way of eating, especially for those of us who have a messy response to the super tasty junk food around us.
It’s time to do a little more research to uncover the consensus on whether this is actually healthy.
TUE Emeritus Professor Elaine Rush, an expert in nutrition, told Stuff earlier that the diet of carnivores does not have “enough fiber for gut health and [if milk is consumed] or no carbs can be really hard on satiety [feeling full] and energy. “
She says our teeth and digestive system are actually good for an omnivorous diet.
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Pure fruit juices see their health rating drastically reduced, which puts them on the same level as, if not lower than, diet coke.
I know diet is notoriously difficult to study. You can’t do this through randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of research, and even self-reports of what people ate tend to be rough at best.
Even Mark Sisson, a Paleo and keto supporter, whose diet advice is still tied to research, says, as he considers meat a “staple food” for humans, to our knowledge, there have never been exclusively carnivorous human cultures.
One website, revero.com, seems to get a lot of mention on carnivore social media, and it has a full search section.
A recent article catches my eye, a 2020 study of 2,090 adults who reported eating a carnivorous diet for six months or more, published last month (summary here).
“Contrary to popular expectations, adults consuming a carnivorous diet experienced few adverse effects and instead reported health benefits and high satisfaction,” he concludes.
More reading makes me realize that, if I want to stay a pure carnivore, I should really “eat the whole animal”, and that means giblets. The liver is apparently available in frozen tablets. But I. Correct. I can not.
Weighing everything and considering my relative good health already, I decide that the vegetables are not going to kill me.
So, 30 days later, I eat my eggs on a bed of spinach. I have a cucumber and tomato salad with my steak. I have apple cider every now and then and join my teenage son in his new sugar-free green smoothie habit.
I still sometimes think fondly of the almond croissants at Nelson The Bakers cafe – surely the best in New Zealand.
But I don’t trample small children to reach them, and that has been the benefit to me of trying to eat carnivorous – and landing on “low low carb”.
It’s a happy place in a simplified kitchen, with less cravings. I might even stick to it.