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.
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,
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.
- Thyroid Hormone
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.
Take your body weight. Now divide it by 2.
This is a good target amount of water to drink (in ounces) per day if you are having ill symptoms.
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.
As you lose a lot of excess water, you also lose a lot of electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride.
Supplemental electrolytes can help immensely.
Pink Himalayan rock salt on your meat can provide the extra sodium and chloride.
This is adequate for some people.
Many people need some help in the potassium and magnesium department as well though…
You have a couple options:
- 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.
- Here’s my favorite recipe
- Supplement – A popular choice among the carnivore community is Pink Himalayan Salt for their Na+, “Ionic Potassium” by Trace Minerals Research for K+, and a Magnesium Citrate powder.
Supplemental Electrolytes Daily Ranges:
- K – 500 – 3500 mg/day
- Mg – 250-500 mg/day
- Na – 2-7g/day
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
Start with a simple lipase supplement taken a few minutes BEFORE meals.
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.
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).
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:
- 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)
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.
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.
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.