The Carnivore Diet as an Elimination Diet
Some people regard the Carnivore Diet as an Elimination Diet. An elimination diet excludes foods in an effort to identify allergies, intolerances, or other problematic foods.
In this regard, the Carnivore Diet is the ultimate elimination diet.
However, there is a problem with viewing the carnivore diet as an elimination diet.
Considering the Carnivore Diet as an elimination diet implies that it’s a stepping stone to a different diet. And those next stones give me pause.
The Dose-Poison Conundrum
“The dose makes the poison.”
This is a famous saying, and for a good reason. There is a lot of truth in it.
Where this gets tricky is that people respond to the same doses with very different effects. Low doses can obviously poison some people and seemingly not affect another.
If someone with Celiac disease eats gluten, the consequences are clear. They have severe GI distress. While someone else may just feel slight intestinal distress. While another may feel no ill effects at all.
A huge issue most of us face is the insidious nature of these toxins. We don’t get immediate and evident feedback. They are “silent toxins.”
These silent toxins can gradually increase gut permeability, quitely cells become insulin resistant, oxalates secretly accumulate. And then “suddenly,” seemingly out of nowhere, we end up with an autoimmune disease or diabetes.
On average, the American adult gains two pounds per year. After one year it’s not that noticeable. By the end of the decade you are “overweight.” But since culturally we’ve redefined this as the new normal, we just consider this extra weight as “healthy weight”. And then seemingly overnight, you are obese, with diabetes, high blood pressure, and on several prescription medications. (r, r)
The Grey Zone
There is this grey zone. It blinds us. Because, frankly, it’s hard to see.
On one side of the zone, the body handles a toxin just fine – perhaps even a hormetic argument can be made that dealing with some of these toxins makes us stronger, like some argue about the sulforaphane in broccoli.
On the other side of the zone is the cumulative impact of daily toxins. They build up. They do damage below our conscious noticing.
Drink a couple beers and you’re fine. Drink a couple beers every night, and the damage done to the liver is not even close to appreciated.
In one sense, someone with Celiac disease who suffers severe digestive distress when eating gluten can consider themselves lucky. They know the dramatic, immediate adverse effect of eating food incongruent with their body. The red flag is loud and clear.
The vast number of people who eat gluten think they are just fine. And since we’ve come to believe that some digestive distress is completely normal, we don’t think twice about the potential gut damage it is doing. Blind to the insidious harm.
Grains make up over half the food consumed in the world. (r) We are exposed to these toxins on a continual basis, meal after meal, day after day, year after year.
With an elimination diet you gradually add back in other foods to your diet. And if you feel “fine” with them, then it’s generally considered “ok” to eat them.
And since you didn’t have a reaction to it – it’s considered a “negative” response.
But as we just saw, many of these foods are insidious. Eat it once and you are fine. Eat it day after day and you think you’re fine. And then “suddenly” the harm finally rears its head as a chronic disease. It was a False Negative.
False negatives are the rule, not the exception, with food today. We eat truck loads of sugar, meal after meal, day after day, and we think we feel fine. It’s not until we are obese with diabetes and multiple prescription medication do we finally realize that maybe all the sugar wasn’t harmless. Maybe it was a False Negative.
Just the opposite is also a problem.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are “false positives.”
This means you eat a food, feel terrible, and thus conclude that food is troublesome and to be avoided. But this can be deceiving.
For example, many vegans have turned to the carnivore diet to reverse health problems. When they start eating a high fat, meat-based diet, they often experience GI distress. It would be easy to conclude that “meat is disagreeable with me.”
There can be a painful transition period into the carnivore diet. Yet this would be a “false positive.” It seems bad, when really the body is adapting and healing.
It’s like after being sedentary for 20 years and then hitting the gym. The pain felt as soreness the next day isn’t a negative – it’s a false negative – it’s a good thing as the body is getting back in shape.
A False Negative and False Positive Combined
Oxalates are a perfect example that combines a “False Negative” and a “False Positive.” You can eat oxalates and not have symptoms (the “False Negative”). But they bioaccumulate in tissues over time.
If allowed to continually build up, these oxalates can form extremely painful crystals resulting in joint pain and kidney stones.
It’s not until you stop eating them that the body can finally get rid of the oxalates that have built up. This “oxalate dumping” is often tremendously painful.
It would be easy to conclude, “when I eat oxalates I feel fine (the “False Negative”), but when I removed them I feel terrible” (the “False Positive”). But that false positive is just the body purging a toxin.
But because the causative source is so far removed from the onset of pain, it’s hard to see that it was the habitual oxalate consumption that was the culprit.
How to use the Carnivore Diet as an Elimination Diet
The 3 Carnivore Levels
In “The Ultimate 30-Day Guide to Going Full Carnivore” you’ll notice there are 3 “Levels” outlined. With each “Level” more foods get eliminated. By Level 3 – the ultimate elimination diet – just beef (ideally grass fed and finished) and water is eaten.
This 3 Level Framework essentially is an elimination protocol within “Carnivore Approved” foods. For example, Level 1 is the most lenient. You can keep foods like dairy and coffee if you please. Then in Level 2 it gets a bit more strict, and only meat and water is allowed. Then in Level 3, it’s just beef and water. The point of this is that even “carnivore approved” foods like dairy or certain kinds of meat like pork can be problematic.
After such a pure elimination protocol it’s easier to identify slight intolerances. But even these aren’t immune to the possibility of false positives/negatives.
After Level 3 you may decide to add back in coffee and see how you feel. And you may be just fine, but coffee has plant-toxins, it’s a natural insecticide, and it’s a food that when people add back in, it’s not an occasional thing but typically a daily indulgence. And it’s usually not just one cup…
Again the dose is the poison.
Coffee is a good example of a risky addition because it makes you feel good (potential false negative) and it’s consumed daily. It’s not just the occasional treat.
On the flip side, you may be just fine with coffee, you may handle the toxins with ease, and it may not have any negative short term or long term impact.
The problem is you really just can’t know. And this is the essential problem with viewing the Carnivore Diet as an Elimination diet.
Flexibility vs Relapse
The restrictive nature of the Carnivore Diet makes people hesitant to think of it as a long term way of eating. People want to “live life.” I get it.
So it’s easier to view it as a short term elimination diet to unveil troublesome foods. But there are other ways to implement the Carnivore Diet and “live life.”
Some people use the Carnivore Diet as their “baseline” diet – their daily normal – and then allow themselves to deviate on occasions.
For some people this allows the flexibility for long term success. For others it a recipe for relapse. If you are like me and one bite turns into eating the whole cake, then often it’s just easier not to indulge. I have an “all-in” or “all-out” personality.
For others, one bite can be just one bite. And a flexible approach to the Carnivore Diet gives them the freedom they need to succeed long term. You have to know yourself.
I think the built-in “flexibility” is one of the problems people experienced with the popular Atkins Diet. Although Atkins Diet is quite different than the Carnivore Diet, Atkins “Phase 1” can be seen as an elimination diet, and as one progresses, they add in more foods.
They add in addictive foods like the sugars in fruits and the carbs in grains. And people fall off the wagon.
It’s like taking an alcoholic through rehab, and then saying they can gradually add a few drinks over time. They relapse.
In addition, as one proceeds through Atkins Diet they gradually add in more vegetable oils and more nuts. And even if they don’t fall off the wagon, they can still fall prey to “false negatives,” as these foods that they add back in become daily staples that can be doing harm without any notice.
The Carnivore Diet as an Elimination Diet: Conclusion
I think there is danger with viewing the Carnivore Diet as an elimination diet. As is true with any elimination diet it’s easy to be deceived by false positives and negatives when adding back in foods. It can easily lead to reverting to previous eating habits and succumbing to sugar and carb addictions.
That said, it can be a very useful tool for some people. As an elimination diet, it can help uncover the worst offenders. In this case, I’d recommend following the directions as laid out in Level 3 and adding foods back one at a time against a consistent “backdrop” of Level 3.
For those that feel too restricted, instead of viewing the Carnivore Diet as a short term elimination diet, it may be more helpful to adopt a “flexible” approach. While this may lead to relapse for some people, for others it can provide the flexibility for long term success. Again, it’s essential to “know thyself” as Socrates would say.
The dose is the poison.
Socrates also was well aware of this, as he was sentenced to death by just a touch of poison hemlock – a deadly plant toxin in the carrot family.
So if you choose to use the Carnivore Diet as an elimination protocol just remember when adding back in foods, false positives and negatives can trick you. Doses can be insidious.
These are just a couple things to keep in mind as you tailor your diet to you, and what works in your life, for your goals.