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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. I’ve been on Carnivore for 7 months and I’m still getting diarrhea. I thought it was the heavy whipped cream so I stopped that, then the coffee. I’ve even stopped eating eggs! Now I’m simply eating two portions of ground beef and one steak a day but I still have issues. Been to the gastroenterologist and he said everything is fine, and that I should take some psyllium husk (He doesn’t know I’m on carnivore).

    My wife thinks I should go back to SAD but what should I do now?

    1. Hi Mike, well you did all the things that I would have recommended doing.

      But one thing stands out, and may be worth trying, sounds like you eat a lot of “well cooked” meat (lot of ground beef) and many people (myself included) have improved digestion with more rare meat, so have you tried eating more steaks/roasts that aren’t super welldone? More “raw” fats than rendered fats. I think this will help you.

      Also please don’t make the biggest (most common) mistake and just throw the baby out with the bath water.
      If adding in a bit of carbohydrate or a bit of fiber resolves the issue, maybe try that, and you can try weaning off that as well.
      But to just go back to SAD, to me, sounds about like the worst advice/decision you could make at this point, and you’ve made it 7 months, light is at the end of the tunnel.

      1. Hey Kevin,
        The reason I focussed on ground beef is due to costs.

        Same issue with grilled hamburger patties as the rendered fat is dripped off?

        Any thoughts on the vertical diet which is basically lean meats and rice?

  2. Hi ive been doing a carnivore diet for approximately 6 weeks and it’s going great apart from I’ve noticed flaky dry skin on my scalp and my face feels really dry all the time and stings when I exercise and sweat. Any ideas how to rissolve this issue I eat mainly butter beef pork bacon a bit of liver every few days.

    1. While it’s hard to say exactly what the issue might be these are some “detox” symptoms, if you are overall feeling great I would give it some time.

      1. Could deficiency in biotin or vitamin b2 cause this?.

  3. Hi Kevin…
    I have been on the carnivore diet for a couple of weeks. First week was a transition week. I am going from a total carb diet to carnivore… For me, that means- veggies, both non starch and starchy and fruit….low fat….no grains, beans or nuts/seeds. ….just what I said.
    unfortunately….coffee has been a big addiction that I want to eliminate.
    I have many many health issues and after doing months of research, I know that Carnivore is the way to go.
    I had a COVID 19 test yesterday, because I’ve been in bed for the last week with a million symptoms….many of are the same as corona virus…but, not the biggest ones. The test came back negative, so I decide to look at what the transition symptoms are of going carnivore are and you list nailed it for me….I have 98%of those. So grateful to know whats up. Glad its not COVID.
    I don’t have anywhere I have to go, so, while uncomfortable, i can rest.
    My biggest issue is….I have not had a bowel movement in over a week.
    constipation is already an issue…but, this is scary and I am uncomfortable to say the least. It has been suggested to eat more fat. I eat plenty and drink water with Redmans Real salt. Help…. I miss going out and walking and getting fresh air. I am too fatigued to exercise …
    I am hoping I will feel better soon! It has been 8 days of symptoms.

    1. Hi sorry to hear about the issues (though transition symptoms are very common, especially coming from a standard american diet.

      If you read the 30 day guide, I discuss the difference between constipation and just going less – volume and frequency.

      Some things that can help:
      1. You can try supplementing with some magnesium citrate (very helpful for many)
      2. Make sure you are eating enough fat (“raw” whole fat sources preferred over rendered fats, 70% of calories is a good target to aim for)
      3. Eating a lot of overcooked meat can cause some people to have constipation issues (try eating a bit more rare is helpful for many)
      4. Spacing eating into 2 or 3 meals (OMAD can be a lot on the gut for some people)
      5. Don’t drink a lot of liquid with or around meals (save liquid drinking for between meals)

      Besides this, really just giving it some time is usually the solution. Hope this helps!

  4. I’m curious what kind of impact such a high fat/protein diet would be on the liver? There are reports that a high fat diet can be hard on the liver functioning.

  5. Hi, i am a hardcore road cyclist, started the carnivor diet 10 days ago without mayor digestive issues, my only problem is performance on my bike. Felt weak and seem to have lost the explosive power i had although i wasn t that much slower than usual. Do you think, if i persist, athletic performance will increase (endurance, power)?

    1. Hi Laura, this is very common, even expected. I would highly recommend downloading and reading the 30 day guide – it has tips on helping to bridge this transition period.

  6. red bumps/zits/pimples seem to appear more often on my thighs since I’ve been on the carnivore.. they appeared at first when I started.. then seemed to go away for a time.. now it seems like they appear again whenever I indulge and go off carnivore for one or 2 meals.. another thing: I’ve had zits on my thighs before.. they come and go.. but usually they would heal up and disappear.. since carnivore they seem to linger a lot longer.. mostly healed but still a red mark there.

  7. Hi,

    This is a great resource to get started,so much good info,thanks for that.

    You write in the article to take lipase before the meal,even underscoring it.

    Why is it important to take it before a meal i instead of after?

  8. I’m on week 5 of carnivore. Meat cheese and eggs, coffee with cream. Taking an electrolyte mix and drinking bouillon for salt. Felt great until this week. The two issues plaguing me at the moment are exhaustion and acid reflux. I am thinking the reflux is tied to fat consumption. It happens more when I have excess rendered fat, which I use to attempt to get to 80:20 fat calories. The exhaustion is a puzzle because I’m sleeping better than I have in 20 years. Wondering if it’s either not enough electrolytes (I’m probably 2-3g sodium when others appear to be 5+) or not enough calories (800 to 1100 OMAD or every 48), but I am fat adapted and fat, so there should be fuel there. But also wondering if this is common. ???

    1. Hi Casey, yes my 1st guess with the reflux is too much fat (especially rendered fat) – I would decrease this and/or consider digestive supplementation during the transition.

      Exhaustion is usually because of 1 of 2 things:
      1. Undereating (meat is filling)
      2. Transitioning to a different main fuel source (fat) and you are still inefficient at using fat for energy

      Based on what you said – it’s #1. I would considering eating more than 1 meal/day and upping your food intake (don’t worry about the scale for at least 6 months – then get back at me 🙂

  9. Is a taking a multi-vitamin a good idea? What vitamins and supplements do you recommend ?

    1. Not needed in my opinion, but a couple of supplements can help during the transition stage (I talk about these in the 30 day guide that you can download on this website)

  10. How many Ph.Eur units of lipase should I take before each meal? I have found some at my local drug store but each capsule has 10,000 units (+ 8000 Amylase & 600 Protease). Would this work to help with digestive issues? Have been on the CD for 3 weeks.

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