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The Carnivore Diet – Symptoms and Cures

Symptoms and Cures when Starting the Carnivore Diet

You may experience significant symptoms when getting adapted to The Carnivore Diet.

In this article, we’ll review common symptoms like diarrhea and low energy, and cures for overcoming these carnivore transition symptoms. 

Getting Started on The Carnivore Diet

Often, nearly always, when you start a Carnivore Diet, you will experience adverse symptoms and side effects. It is what we affectionately call the “Trough of Despair” or the “Trough” for short.

This is the adaptation period.

The symptoms you experience is your body’s natural response to carbohydrate restriction and the elimination of addictive agents and chemicals.

Carnivore Diet Symptoms

Common Symptoms of Beginning the Carnivore Diet Include:

Brain fog, headache, chills, sore throat, digestive issues, dizziness, irritability, bad breath/smells, bad taste in mouth (metallic), dry mouth, cravings (sugar!), muscle soreness, jaw soreness, nausea, diarrhea, poor focus, and decreased performance, energy, and drive, cramping, rapid heart rate, insomnia, night sweats, and nocturia (peeing a lot at night), hot or cold,

Even some experienced low carb eaters struggle with many of the symptoms when beginning a carnivore diet.

If you are coming from a ketogenic (keto) or high fat/low carb diet (HFLC), the transition is generally easier (but there are still symptoms you need to be aware of!) than someone coming from a Standard American Diet (SAD – yes it’s sad for a reason) that is high in carbohydrates.

These symptoms are a result of your body undergoing major metabolic and hormonal changes.

What’s Going On?

The 3 Major Adaptations

If you decide to venture into experimenting with The Carnivore Diet there are 3 major adaptations that your body is going to undergo.

1. Fluid Rebalancing

Since you are eating fewer carbs, your insulin levels drop, which sends a signal to the kidneys to release sodium from the body.

Losing 10 lbs of water in a couple days is not uncommon as water follows sodium out of the body.

Glycogen is then converted to glucose as the last energy usage before switching to mainly fatty acids.

2. Transitioning from Sugar to Fat for Energy

As your body switches from burning mainly sugar to fat for energy, your body needs to make many modifications on the way.

Your amount of suffering (or lack thereof) depends on your metabolic flexibility. This is your body’s ability to adapt to different fuel sources, which depends on a number of factors including genetics, and especially how you ate prior.

If you have been accustomed to eating a lot of high carbohydrate foods, it can feel a lot like giving up other addictions (nicotine, cocaine, etc.)

3. Hormone Response and Rebalancing

As a couple examples of hormones responding and rebalancing, let’s look at thyroid hormone and cortisol.

Thyroid Hormone

Thyroid hormone levels may decrease. T3 is a hormone produced by the thyroid that is closely connected with dietary carbohydrates. It plays a major role in regulation of body temperature, metabolism, and heart rate.

Cortisol

Cortisol plays many crucial functions in the body, including regulating blood sugar and controlling inflammation. During this transition, your body thinks, “I’m starving for sugar,” causing a release of cortisol to increase blood glucose. This is a natural sympathetic stress response, also known as “flight or fight” to go hunt for food.

Carnivore Diet Cures

You can dramatically lessen and perhaps even eliminate most of the suffering in the “Trough” by using some tricks to help bridge your body to the adapted state of bliss.

6 Tricks and Tips to Limit Or AVOID the “Trough”

1. Eat more meat.

Under-eating is the #1 Reason people unnecessarily suffer.

Carnivore Diet Symptoms and Cures

Early on, it’s common to feel extremely hungry. Eat.

Don’t try and restrict calories or track macros. Don’t worry about gaining fat in the beginning. If it happens let it (we can remove it later – see Masterclass at the end)

2. Hydrate

Carnivore Diet Symptoms and Cures

Make sure you are drinking water. No need to overdo it (that can exacerbate the situation) but you need to stay hydrated.

After adaptation, you drink to thirst (no need to measure/monitor) but if you are not feeling good – make sure you are hydrating.

3. Electrolytes

As you lose a lot of excess water, you also lose a lot of electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride.

Supplemental electrolytes can help immensely.

Salt your meat generously during this adaptation period.

This is adequate for some people.

Other people need some help by adding in the other electrolytes (like potassium and magnesium).

You have a couple options:

  1. Drink Meaty Bone Broth – In addition to water and sodium, this will give you some potassium which will offset some of the discomfort caused at a cellular level.
    • It’s important that the bones have some meat on them because that’s where the potassium is.
  1. Supplement – We recommend LMNT, best electrolyte supplement on the market.

Supplemental Electrolytes Daily Ranges:

  • Potassium K+: 500 – 3500 mg/day (start with 1g – K+ chloride)
  • Magnesium Mg: 250-500 mg/day (magnesium citrate) – If you need help getting the bowels moving along, this will also help (more about GI issues next).
  • Sodium Na: 2-7g/day (5g is a good starting point – we recommend a high quality salt like Redmond’s Real Salt)

4. Solving GI Problems

Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are extremely common, especially if you are coming from a low fat diet. Sometimes referred to as “disaster pants,” experiencing diarrhea on the carnivore diet is not uncommon.

Even though you are ready to dive all in, your gallbladder and pancreas might not be ready to handle the increased fat intake. When first starting you may have inadequate bile and lipase to digest the increased fat intake. This leads to diarrhea and all kinds of GI distress.

One solution: You can reduce how much fat you’re eating by choosing leaner cuts of meat. I don’t recommend this approach. This will simply prolong the adaptation period. Translation = you will suffer far longer than you need to.

Much Better Solution: Supplementing for 2-4 weeks

Supplement Solution:

Start with a simple lipase supplement taken a few minutes BEFORE meals. Start with 1 tablet and if you still have some discomfort go to 2 (6,000 lipase activity unites LU).

For most people, lipase alone does the trick. However, some people need to use exogenous bile.

Ox bile + lipase, taken with meals, is your next step.

Your final step, if still having GI issues, especially, if they are GERD/acid reflux related is to help the stomach. Many people produce inadequate stomach acid to facilitate digestion and proper metabolic signaling. Yes. It’s low stomach acid that results in GERD, Heartburn, Acid Reflux.

A Betaine HCl supplement is the answer. Don’t take this with anti-inflammatories which could result in ulcers. It should automatically include pepsin in it, but worth checking just to make sure. Common dosage range is between 3-5g/meal.

Supplements are a BRIDGING STRATEGY – NOT A LONG TERM NEED. The goal is to be off all of these after the first month. They let your body catch up.

Rendered Fat

For some people, the type of fat is what causes the GI distress.

If the previously mentioned supplements don’t help, then you may need to remove rendered fats.

Rendered fat is fat that is cooked out of meats and becomes liquid.

For example, if you don’t handle rendered fats well, drinking the liquid fat in the skillet after cooking is a recipe for disaster (pants).

One Last Note On Poop Problems

You will likely notice that your bowel movement schedule changes. It’s very common to go less frequently. Much less frequently. Don’t worry you’re not constipated, and it’s normal. Volume also tends to decrease. Your body absorbs and uses meat very efficiently. Not a lot goes to waste.

Lastly, since it is very common to go less often, with less volume, (meat is absorbed extremely efficiently!) some people mistake this as constipation. However, some people do need help getting things moving along early on and Magnesium Citrate or Magnesium Hydroxide can aid in bowel movements.

5. Sleep

Insomnia is common during adaptation, and since you are purging water, nocturia is also an interrupter. A few hacks that help:

Sleep hacks:

  • Keep your room pitch black (blackout curtains, cover LEDs) and COOL
  • Start winding down 2 hours before bed (no screens or at the least put them in night mode)
  • Don’t eat within a few (3-4) hours of sleep if you can help it
  • Be conscious how much you are drinking later in the day
  • Be asleep before 11 (a cortisol spike happens if you are not asleep around this time)

6. Sweat

Exercise helps.

Sweating is a natural detox mechanism.

Since you are finally giving your body the nutrition it has been craving, you give it the opportunity to expel toxins. Give your body a hand and help it detox by getting some exercise and sweating.

Athletic and Training Performance

Athletic and training performance almost always decreases for anywhere between 1 and 6 months, before you find a whole new level.

Carnivore Diet – “Brain Changes”

Besides the metabolic and hormonal changes mentioned, you may also experience alterations in “Brain Changes” that occur along the “brain-body highway,” a signaling control system between the gut and the brain.

This communication highway influences everything from hormones to neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA that play huge roles in mood, cravings, and addiction.

Not unlike many drug addictions, you may go through withdrawal symptoms from foods or other substances (especially sugar) which you have become physically and neurologically addicting.

Cravings are common and the best solution is to make sure you are eating enough fatty meat. Not eating enough meat and eating meat that is too lean are the top mistakes.

In the gut (a hub in the brain-body highway) the microbiome is undergoing a battle and large shift where the “good bacteria” are growing and populating and the “bad bacteria” are starting to die off. These bad bacteria that thrive on sugar are being starved, and they are going to do everything they can to try and get you to eat sugar, especially via sending you strong cravings. If you stay strong, starve the bad guys, the cravings will die with them.

The Key to Carnivore Success: COMMIT

This is an experiment you have to commit to.

If the commitment is loose, I’d recommend waiting until you find a burning desire or some urgency.

Most people experience adaptation symptoms which can range from annoying to a certainty that you are going to die.

There are also psychological and social pressures you have to overcome.

Commit by knowing why you want to experiment and always keep in mind the pot of gold that just might be on the other side of the rainbow.

To learn more about how to transition to a meat-based / Carnivore diet and avoiding the biggest pitfalls, I highly recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass:

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Comments

  1. Hello Kevin, I’ve tried the carnivore diet a few times. I almost immediately get pain relief, appetite control, better sleep and energy. Unfortunately, I have throat pain that gets worse every time. I’ve tried the suggestions above. I only got up to 4 tablets of 650 mg betaine hcl last time. I’m wondering if maybe I need to try more. For someone that needs betaine hcl temporarily, what would you say is an average amount needed? Thank you

  2. I’ve been carnivore for 19 months now. It fixed all the gut issues I had, no more allergies and no more fatigue. The only issue I am having with the diet is that I am getting a lot of muscle cramps and pain.

    I eat 2.5 Lbs of ground beef and 2 tenderloin steaks each day. The odd time I will have a bit of beef liver or lamb chops. I use a lot of salt and add potassium salt as well. I’ve been using magnesium chloride gel for a while now. I’ve been slowly adding plant foods into my diet such as raspberries, lemon, rice and oranges.

    I also donate blood every 2 months to keep my iron levels normal as I have hereditary hemochromatosis.

    My guess is that i’m not getting enough magnesium. With that being said what are the likely causes and how to fix it?

    1. Hi Brandon, did you have cramps the whole 19 months? Is this why you added plant foods back in? Did this not help? Or did they start when you added plant foods back in? Is this why you added potassium salt?
      There is lots to this (and as you can see lots of potential variables) but if I were you I’d drop whatever supplements you are/might be taking to try and fix what seems like an electrolyte balance issue by salting to taste. And if you continue to have issues, then I’d go with LMNT electrolytes as they are balanced more appropriately. For most people, I don’t recommend messing with potassium.

  3. Wow, by far the best article I’ve read on this topic. Thanks!

  4. Level one I was taking magnesium 400-600mg and potassium 1000mg a lot of salt to taste.
    Level 2 experiencing constipation without taking supplements. ( Meat water and salt).
    What do you recommend?

  5. Hi Kevin, thanks for addressing the low acid situation. I remember testing with Betaine HCL previous to this diet change and I got to about 13 capsules before I got nervous and gave up. I have been having pretty constant night time heartburn since upping my meat consumption and going low carb.

    Should I have 1 pill with each meal? Should I take more than one pill? Oh, and the Betaine HCL I got locally has protease in it.

    1. Hi Linda, I talk more about this in the 30 day guide if you haven’t downloaded it (dosages as well as understanding those dosages in context).

  6. The way you word the GI issues seems as if your only talking about diarrhea. Will all the supplements in the order you recommend address constipation too?

    I started your 90 day challenge and at first I was having regular bowel movements that are easy to pass. Now the Frequency has increased and there’s lots of discomfort until I have a bowel movement. Which is fairly easy to pass, but the volume is large as in it’s probably been in my colon for awhile.
    Do you think supplements would help?

    1. Hi Jimmy, I’m not sure I understand the question. It seems like you are worried about constipation, but at the same time your saying that your frequency has increased, it’s easy to pass, and has good volume: which doesn’t sound like constipation nor diarrhea.

      1. Thank you for responding. I am worried about constipation. I’ve been suffering with IBS-C for a long time. Tried carnivore/keto multiple times without success and having constipation. I purchased the lipase supplement ahead of time for this challenge.
        At the moment I’m glad to say frequency has increased and stools pass easy and am not suffering from constipation. I initially had decreased frequency with discomfort.
        My question is navigating your guide in regards to supplements specifically for constipation not disaster paints despite my current situation. My experience made the question more complex. I fear constipation coming back from my past.

        1. There are some supplements that can help aid in bowel movements such as Magnesium Citrate or Magnesium Hydroxide, though if you aren’t having issues, likely no need to supplement.

          1. Okay, thanks.
            To clarify if someone starts this challenge and they have diarrhea they can ether reduce fat or take supplements lipase etc. then try removing rendered fat? This won’t do anything for constipation?

            For constipation you recommend supplementing with magnesium citrate or hydroxide.

            I’ve seen multiple versions of this 90 day guide. and trying to clarify for my own knowledge.

  7. Fantastic guide, one of the best I’ve seen. Only one little slip up that I saw but other than that a brilliant guide for anybody going carnivore and feeling unsure that they’re doing the right thing.

  8. Hi Kevin.

    I’m almost 70 and started the diet about a month ago after reading Paul Saladino’s The Carnivore Code. My phone won’t show me your 30-day-guide link. I look forward to finding your website on my PC.

    And thanks so much for your comments column. I awoke with a headache twinge at 3 am a few days ago and worried that I was about to have a stroke! I found your comments column via my phone and read for an hour. Got up and drank water with a bit of salt. My brief headache was probably from dehydration. I had purposely cut down on salt. (My cholesterol has been called high for years. I also stay away from doctors as much as possible.) Anyway, I’ve felt mostly fine since.

    I keep scaring myself as a newbie on the carnivore path. Your reassurances to others helped me the other night. Thanks again.

  9. Hey Kevin,

    I’ve been having increased dry mouth since I started Carnivore (2 months now) to the point it feels like my gums are sticking to my lips. I feel like I drink a ton of water. Is this normal?

  10. Hi Kevin, I’m on a carnivore ish diet for 2 months and I feel a lot better, and lost weight, but I always get heard palpation after consuming beef, so I tried to eat more chicken, eggs and butter and my palpitations are gone and as soon as I eat beef again they come back. Very strange. Can it be that I’m histamine sensitive. Do you have any idea what I can do because I really prefer to eat beef because satiates me much better. I do add a little of almond and coconut butter because but I stay below 15gr of carbs a day. I really want to get rid of the palpation because they are annoying at night when I want to sleep because they keep me awake for hours. Before I started carnivore I did keto with green leafy vegetables and green smoothies with blueberries and I had no palpation.

    1. Could be, what I’d do is add a little bit of beef with your other food and try gradually increasing it over time (I’d also make sure you are getting adequate salt).

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