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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, I’ll review common symptoms and some tips and tricks to overcoming these.

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 I 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.

Symptoms

Common Symptoms 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,

I sat on a toilet for a week, threw up in the middle of the night, AND I had been on a low carb diet for 20 years.

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 example of hormones responding and rebalancing, let’s look at thyroid hormone and cortisol.

T3 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 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.

Cures for Carnivore Adaptation Symptoms

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.

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.

2. Hydrate

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 feeling like crap during adaptation – 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 used generously on your meat is Step #1.

This is adequate for some people.

Other people need some help in the potassium and magnesium department as well though…

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

Supplemental Electrolytes Daily Ranges:

4. Solving GI Problems

Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are extremely common, especially if you are coming from a low fat diet.

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.

This is the one I used.

It freed me from the toilet after spending two weeks married to it.

  • 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 exogenous bile.

Ox bile, 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 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.

5. Sleep

As someone who has treated many patients with sleep disorders, I can tell you one thing for certain, if you get good shut eye, everything else in your life will be better.

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 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.

KILLING CRAVINGS AND ADDICTIONS – “Brain Changes”

Besides the metabolic and hormonal changes mentioned, you may also experience alterations in what I call “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 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.

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.

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Comments

  1. Will not have a gallbladder cause any issues with the carnivore diet?

    1. Hi Randy, great question. Many people who have had their gallbladder removed eat a carnivore diet without any issue. It may take a bit longer for the body to get adapted depending on the previous diet, however.

  2. I think at week six, I am experiencing these symptoms. Is that normal? Isn’t usually earlier?

    1. Usually they do appear earlier. Depending on your symptoms may not be diet related. Also, straying from the diet can cause symptoms to be drawn out longer.

    2. Third day. Last night i eat chicken liver. Today i have headache, rapid heart beat and feeling vomiting.

        1. I still have jaw pain and headaches 4 months later. So much so that I’m considering Botox for tmj symptoms. What could be causing this?

          1. Often a result of grinding, clenching (poor sleep, especially associated with obstructive sleep apnea) – I’d recommend talking with a specialty dentist in TMD / sleep apnea. Stress is also a major cause.

      1. Yes. I couldn’t eat beef so i tried chicken liver. I ate a lot of it.
        I took a coffee with honey not sugar and the vomiting faded but still heart rapid beat.

  3. I was ultra low carb keto then started to move towards only carnivore before going on an extended fast. When I break the fast I want to refeed with bone broth and then only eat carnivore, I’m hoping this will make the transition to carnivore easier. Many have said you really can’t eat meat too soon after a fast as it’s too hard on the stomach. Any thoughts on this?

    1. I can’t speak too much on extended fasts; however, meat is extremely efficiently digested via the small intestines. My guess would be meat would be the best thing to eat after an extended fast. Maybe keep that first meal a bit light, but I think after that you should be good to go!

      1. Thanks so much. I stopped my fast due to exacerbated hypothyroid symptoms (body temp was 34.8c). I take thyroxine. I saw that many said keto could be a bad idea for t3, what about carnivore though? Which, I guess is not technically keto? I am seeing my gp, but the knowledge on this is tricky. (Btw sushimi went down very well as first main meal after bone broth!)

        1. I don’t know if I would say keto is bad for hypothyroid, but I have seen that several people improved the condition on a carnivore diet. It often is a result of an autoimmune response that can be a result of eating inflammatory foods/leaky gut/plant-based protective mechanisms. I’d say worth a 90 day experiment 🙂

  4. I started on the ZeroCarb diet late Feb and loved it right away. It calmed all my IBS symptoms within a day. Then about week 3 i started getting acid reflux/GERD related symptoms like this article talks about. I have never experienced this and now it is full blown into a feeling in my throat that something is stuck. Super annoying. Can you elaborate a little bit about what happened in my body and exactly what i should do now? Thank you!

    1. I find it is often a result of the type or quantity of fat. For example, too much pork bacon is troublesome for many or too much rendered fat grease from a burger. Generally, just draining off the rendered fat solves the problem. If you had issues with GERD in the past or had low stomach acid, an HCl + pepsin supplement can be helpful for awhile.

      1. What ratio of HCI to pepsin would you recommend? Thank you!

        1. If needed (most people don’t need to take this but helps some adapt) I’d just follow the one mentioned in the 30 day guide (you can download it on the left)

    2. “Audrey
      4 months ago

      I started on the ZeroCarb diet late Feb and loved it right away. It calmed all my IBS symptoms within a day. Then about week 3 i started getting acid reflux/GERD related symptoms like this article talks about. I have never experienced this and now it is full blown into a feeling in my throat that something is stuck. Super annoying. Can you elaborate a little bit about what happened in my body and exactly what i should do now? Thank you!”

      Audrey, try to stay off too much water. What I do is not have water for 30mins before my meal and 2-3hrs after. Someone else had this issue and that’s what worked for them.

    3. If you are consuming cream it could be from 407/carrageenan. Turned out for me was a reaction to that. Although you posted a year ago I put this out there because it took me years to figure it out. All it felt like was that something was stuck in my throat as well, became worse after eating. Took a week staying away from 407 for the feeling to completely disappear.

  5. Great reading! I’m experiencing a really bad diarrhoea which is making me considering going back to my keto diet of 2 % carbs, 18% protein and 80% fat. My macros on carnivore are approximately 27% protein and the rest is fat. Is the fat percentage still too high? Strange if it is considering the previous fat intake on keto. I’ve been trying carnivore for nearly a week and I don’t want to quit, but my gut issues are affecting everything at this point. No gym, no social activities, no grocery shopping even.

    1. My guess would be that it is the rendered fat that is giving you issues. I would be sure to drain off the cooked fat, and I wouldn’t add fat to anything, just stick with the meat. If you are still having any issues than I’d recommend checking out the 30-day guide to going full carnivore. There are some supplements that can help with the digestion in the early going. The other thing it could be is that you are coming from a high fiber diet which absorbed all the water – that is typically the job of the colon which gets “lazy” after awhile of non-use, so it may just take a bit for it to get onboarded to doing its job again.

  6. I’ve lived by the principle of eating protein in a timely manner after workouts. Does carnivore affect this? Would it be optimal for me to eat immediately after my workout, or is it okay to wait a few hours?

    1. The “anabolic window” has been shown to be a much bigger window than most thought. It’s perfectly fine to wait a few hours after workouts before eating (there is evidence that waiting at least 30 minutes after a workout is optimal from a digestive stand point).

  7. What digestive enzymes did you take when starting? It looked like there should be a link or picture above? But didn’t see one. Thanks for the great resource!

    1. You are right – I need to fix that!

      Have you downloaded the 30-Day Guide to Going Full Carnivore (you can grab it at the bottom of this page)? There are links to it in there. In the meantime, I’ll get these links working on the page 🙂

  8. Ive been doing this for 4 days now.

    High fat ground beef and bacon has given me epic non stop diahrea.

    Aside from the above i have been surviving on an assortment of steaks and tuna.

    Im not sure about eating organ meat because ive never eaten it before.

    If i cut out the rendered fats and continue without organ meat, would you say id be ok?

  9. A couple years ago I had a stool sample test show I have ascaris; roundworms. My understanding is these parasites live in the small intestine. Since I learned of this problem I’ve tried numerous remedies, both herbal and pharmaceutical, but nothing has worked to kill the worms. Is there a chance the carnivore diet might be able to help force this parasite out of my intestinal tract?

    1. Unfortunately I’m just not that familiar with ascaris, and so don’t feel qualified to answer. But if nothing has worked, I feel it may be worth a try.

  10. I’ve been taking only meat/ghee//butter/eggs/cheese for ten days now and although i’ve adapted fairly well otherwise, my hemorrhoids flared up today. Its not too serious but should I be worried? Ive pooped only thrice in the last ten days.

    1. It’s not uncommon for previous issues to flare up before resolving. Personally, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. 3 bowel movements in 10 days is completely normal (your body absorbs meat very efficiently). It may be worth going without dairy for a bit to see if that improves things.

  11. I’m on day 13 of carnivore. The last two days I have transitioned to OMAD not because I wanted to per se but because I was only hungry once during the day. I have been trying keto for two years and just couldn’t make it stick but carnivore is a breeze! BUT the loose stool is beyond. Good news it’s only once or twice a day. I don’t really feel like it horrible diarrhea if that makes sense cause it isn’t often but it’s unpleaseant!! I’m guessing it is the fat from what I’ve read and researched (though I was mostly HFLC before). I ordered lipase today from your above recommendations. Other than this I feel better than I have ever felt. How long should I give the lipase? Will the adaptation be complete at that point? Thanks!!!