The Zero Carb interview I did with The Andersen Family was recently shared on the popular Facebook page Authority Nutrition. It generated several hundred comments from readers. Some of the comments were sincere and thoughtful, while others were down right ignorant and unkind.
Even though Charlene – the wife and mother of this lovely family – healed her very ill body from Lyme Disease, and then went on to produce two beautiful and very healthy boys, by adopting this diet 17 years ago, they were none-the-less criticized by many for their dietary choice. Apparently, even the hardest evidence is impossible to accept when one’s beliefs are in the way.
As long term Zero Carb carnivore Michael Frieze said in response to the general tenor of these comments, “People like to say what they think without really thinking.” Unfortunately, this observation is all too true, and I was probably guilty of the same kind of unthinking remarks myself at one time – being the former vegan that I was – before I decided to broaden my horizons and read beyond my comfort zone of beliefs.
One of the most frequent comments I heard from the readers of this post was that they felt an all-meat diet was too “extreme” and “unbalanced” and – by implication – therefore somehow “inappropriate” and “wrong.” There is a strong bias toward the idea of “moderation” in all things in our modern Western culture, and this perspective is often applied to the foods we eat.
But, as low carb doctor and scientist Stephen Phinney – author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living – has pointed out, it may be neither wise nor valid for us to apply “moderation” thinking to our diet, especially if we are sensitive or even intolerant to carbohydrates.
For example, when someone has a problem with alcohol, the treatment of choice is the complete elimination of all alcohol from the person’s diet. A moderate intake of alcohol is generally considered to be an incredibly dangerous and unhealthy practice for an alcoholic. Exiling it from one’s life is neither labeled as “extreme” and “unbalanced,” nor seen as an “inappropriate” and “wrong” approach to the problem.
As Dr. Phinney further argues, “If consuming lots of carbohydrate provided some essential nutrient that would otherwise be lacking, then we might agree that a low carbohydrate diet is unbalanced or even extreme. But that’s clearly not the case. Think of it this way – what if you lived in California and planned a vacation in Hawaii. Would you believe someone who told you going that far was ‘extreme’, and therefore you ought to try flying just half way there instead? In this analogy, practicing this form of moderation would land you in seriously deep water. ‘Moderation’ and ‘balanced’ are meaningless terms when we are talking about ‘islands of safety’. And if your body is carbohydrate intolerant, eating a low carbohydrate diet is your island of dietary safety. Should a person with gluten intolerance consume moderate amounts of gluten so they can have a balanced diet? Of course not. Then why should a person with carbohydrate intolerance consume moderate amounts of carbs to meet some arbitrary criterion of a ‘balanced’ diet?” (p. 43)
So, why is the elimination of all carbohydrate-containing plant foods considered to be “extreme,” “unbalanced,” “inappropriate,” and “wrong” for people who feel less than well after eating them? Especially given the fact that humans evolved on an all-meat diet, as explained by Nora Gedgaudas in her book Primal Body, Primal Mind. (Please see my page on the Original Human Diet for a detailed explanation.)
In fact, examined through this lens, veganism is a lot more “extreme” for humans than an all-meat diet is because no human population in history has ever willingly eschewed all animals foods for any length of time. Many long-term vegans – like myself and Lierre Keith (author of the excellent book The Vegetarian Myth) – are discovering the negative health ramifications that occur as a result of avoiding all animal foods for years.
Another reason I find it odd that an all-meat diet is viewed as “extreme” by so many people is that a significant number of wild animals – that we are all familiar with – rely on a single type of food for their nourishment. For example:
Bison live almost entirely on prairie grasses.
Koala Bears live almost entirely on Eucalyptus leaves.
Panda Bears live almost entirely on Bamboo plants.
Wolves live almost entirely on the flesh of other animals.
And none of these animal’s diets are deemed “extreme” or “unbalanced” or “inappropriate” or “wrong.” Instead, it is widely understood that these animals evolved to eat specific foods and that these specific foods provide all of the nutrition required for optimal health in these animals.
Many a zoo keeper has discovered that if these animals do not -in fact – receive the foods they evolved to eat, they will become ill and unable to reproduce. Once the appropriate food is supplied to their captive animals, the animals in their care recover their health and reproductive capacity.
It is truly astonishing that human doctors seem completely incapable of drawing a connection between their patient’s food intake and their patient’s health or lack there of…but that is a different discussion altogether. Suffice it to say that veterinarians are quite a bit more advanced in this understanding.
Why should it be any different for humans who evolved to become the large-brained creatures that we are today precisely because of the very high fat, predominantly all-meat diet that we ate for Millenia? (For an interesting look at how our biological need for fat likely drove us to become the humans we are today see Man: The Fat Hunter by Miki Ben-Dor.)
We even have the example of several modern remnants of our hunter-herder ancestors such as the Arctic Eskimos studied by Stefansson (see The Fat of the Land) and the African Maasai studied by Weston A. Price (see Nutrition and Physical Degeneration) to show us just how healthy an an all-meat and animal foods diet can be.
From an anthropological, archeological, historical, and ecological perspective, an all-meat diet appears to be the most natural nutritional choice in the world for nourishing the human body and mind. The only thing extreme about an all-meat diet – as far as I can tell – is that is allows us to live extremely well.
Somehow the everything in moderation approach is the mainstream. People think that carbs are part of human diet, in essence everybody’s addicted without even realizing what a powerful drug they are on. Only when you experience the withdrawal symptoms you realize that you’ve been addicted. Just like with coffee.
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Exactly! Rina 😊
Thank you for this wonderful connection. The realization that ive never felt a withdrawl like feelings from meat or fat only carbohydrate foods. A step further would be that its relatively easy to go vegetarian and only after a couple years do people begin to feel the effects of giving up meat, because it causes deficiency as opposed to withdrawl. Our digestive systems are mostly carnivorous, this same system is flexible enough that we can eat other things so we have survived. This is facinating, like the last of the shackles of conventional thinking has been broken.
Just like salt too.
EXCELLENT post, Esmee. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay on ZC due to specific body reactions that were not part of just ‘the transition phase’ (return of uric acid kidney stone symptoms.) I believe in ZC for many people, if not even most. I did lose (through a serious battle) one so-called close blogging friend. The paleo/primal proponents, who have no problem calling out grain-loving people for being intolerant to new ideas, HATE ZC. Think it’s insane. In other words, are quite intolerant themselves. It was bizarre to watch.
I’m still reading, still believing, if I can’t personally incorporate myself. 🙂
Hi Gwen, have you explored these two links?
Beautiful Esmee! So many good points are made here!
Thank you Joe, feel free to contribute any additional ideas should they come to you.
A brilliant post. I’ve always found it odd how most people are so threatened by others dietary choices. While I currently have no plans to go ZC I am loving reading these articles – thank you for sharing!
flojo – Glad you enjoy them. Thanks for your feedback.
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I’ve been looking into a raw vegan diet as it seemed to produce the health results. People promoting this diet appear healthy, youthful (beyond age) and some almost glowing. I began leaning to this idea of raw vegan after coming from “paleo” or whole nutrient dense foods including lots of cooked veggies butter and meats (and still some raw veggies and lots of fruit), but before that (before my 3 year old son was born and I began questioning) we were regular SAD thou trying to be healthy/unprocessed but eating bread pasta and things. Now after realizing people can thrive on all raw fruits greens and vegetables, I was leaning to that way. People heal from diabetes and other various health crisis’ with raw food mostly fruits but including a ton of easily digestible greens. They claim it is the fat with the sugar in the blood that doesn’t allow the sugar to go into the cells/creates high blood sugar. Where in your diet that wouldn’t be an issue either, but I’m curious now how it all plays in. I was feeling fats are necessary for brain function and of course vitamin absorption, which of course goes against the raw vegan diet. But many raw vegans heal, thrive, and even have issue-free pregnancys on this diet. And all the raw vegans I’ve read and looked into were coming from a regular diet of meat, but of course not your diet of ONLY nice and fatty meat, where they feel so much better now. I’m thinking the raw low fat zero meat diet can work with that little fat, still allowing them to absorb nutrients because all the fruit and greens are so easy to digest anyway? This all confuses me. The raw vegan diet spoke to me as my little fellow loves fruit and has always eaten a ton of it, and rarely is ill. And when he has been it isn’t like it was for me growing up in the least. But of course he doesn’t eat garbage and I’m very thoughtful about chemicals and air quality in his life. I’m very thoughtful about everything I spose and he’s quite natural. I know every one is different and everything works for different people differently. I’m just curious and would like to share your thoughts on all this 🙂
This is a video I just watched. Which I realize you guys on only meat have no sugar to raise in your blood? 😛
Celsey – I am a recovering vegan. I ate a vegan diet for 15 years. I felt worse and worse over the years until I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I tried every version of veganism I could find, from Kushi’s Macrobitoics to Wigmore’s Living Foods to Graham’s 80/10/10 Fruitarianism. I ate only whole natural foods through out my entire vegan journey. I drank an enormous amount of green juice over the years, and this is probly what allowed me to stay vegan for so long. But, no matter what I ate, I felt terrible. I became sensitive to every plant food in existence. [I now know that my reactions to plant foods was due to the fact that I developed salicylate intolerance. Salicylates are present in almost all plant foods. A vegan diet caused me to have impaired mitochondrial function (and CFS), and this – in turn – damaged my ability to properly metabolize salicylates.] Out of complete desperation [weighing only 87 lbs. at 5′ 6″], I finally end up trying goat milk yogurt and found that I could eat it. I lived on nothing but goat milk goat for a full 2 years. It saved my life. I am now eating an all-meat diet. But healing the damage caused by my vegan diet does not happen over night. It is a long, slow process. You can read about my journey here: https://eatmeatdrinkwater.wordpress.com/about-me/
I also highly recommend the book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith, another recovering former long-term vegan. This book is so important that I believe it should be required reading for everyone before they leave high school.
Additionally, I highly recommend reading Denise Minger’s new book Death By Food Pyramid. She was part of the raw vegan community for a period of time before her body began to fall apart.
Please visit my other recommended reading by clicking the “Resources” link at the top of this blog.
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I see. Thank you 🙂 I did read about your journey. I’ve been reading lots about this and it really intrigues me. I will continue to read 🙂 I realize your body is unable to use plants because of salicylates and then histamine sensitivity as well. And I know like you said many ex vegans are coming off that lifestyle because of health problems. But I’m wondering what you think of people seemingly thriving on raw vegan? People that have been on that lifestyle for 20 years or more and look incredibly youthful 😐 And say they feel great. And stories of healing diabetes and stuff with it. I know that doesn’t work in your situation. But how do you think these people are really thriving on all carbohydrates, and low fat? Their bodies must be accommodating to the plant diet? And as I said before they say on the raw plant diet they require the little amount of fat to allow your cells to take in and be fueled by the sugar? It makes sense simply looking at is as a body that is used to using sugar as fuel or used to using fat as fuel. And this makes sense why a high fat diet is problematic with sugar included. I’m curious about all this and I don’t think it would be a good discussion to have with the vegan side 😛 Some people do well on plants and don’t want to kill to eat I realize, which is their choice and makes sense for them. Like you mentioned juicing and getting in the nutrients that way may be really helping that. It confuses me that they’re not suffering with the lack of fat and their brain :S But what my thinking is coming to is that you’re either gonna run on carbs or fat and having a lot of fat and a lot of carbs is kind of messing with the body. I’d love to read more thoughts into this as I try to come to the right choice for me and my family. We don’t seem to be doing unwell with anything in particular at the moment but we aren’t doing the best either. I realize we may not be able to tell so well either. I feel great when I eat salads smoothies and green smoothies but I realize my bodys running on carbs We like to eat fruit and raw veggies. But as I continue to read I feel mixing with fat and meat being the main contributors to the diet is detrimental Are the nutrients in fruits and vegetables even beneficial in this sense
Celsey, raw veganism sounds good on paper, it certainly works for some people. However, I have met very few who have remained healthy eating a raw, low-fat, fruit-based diet for long. Most of the ones who do fairly well are what I would call extreme exercisers. This means that they are already healthy and that they engage in activities that help to burn all the sugar they are ingesting. I was deeply involved in the 30 Bananas a Day crowd for about 2 years when I was following the 80/10/10 diet. When the diet does not produce the results claimed, and you begin to express doubts about it and ask questions, you are told that you are not doing “right” and you get banned from the forum. I know because that is what happened to me. Even the 30 Bananas a Day poster girl “Freelee” no longer eats just fruit, she is now eating cooked starches at night. But, as my favorite spiritual teacher Abraham says, “Words don’t teach, only life experience teaches.” What I think is right for you is completely irrelevant. The only way you will know if a raw vegan diet works for you, is if you try it. There have been no controlled studies of people following a raw vegan diet for any significant length of time to know for sure how their bodies and minds are being affected. All I can tell you is that it made me personally feel terrible. Many deficiencies, especially of critical nutrients like B-12 can take years to show up. I have noticed over the years that 7 years is a common point at which many vegetarians and vegans start running into problems and decide to reintroduce animal foods back into their diets. I completely agree with you that you need to decide if you want to run on fat or sugar, eating both together is definitely a problem. I encourage you go to my Resources page and listen to all of the audio and video recordings that are freely available. Educate yourself. Read The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Then, if you still think it is healthier to fuel your body with sugar, instead of fat, experiment and see how you feel.
Thank you so much for you reply once again 🙂
Also the raw vegan diet spoke to me because the fruit and veggies at least greens are able to be ate as is. And grow naturally tastey to us. Seems like we’re meant to eat them. I would love your input on my thoughts about all this 🙂 hehe
Reblogged this on Jasmine's Vision: Seeing Pain Through New Eyes and commented:
You tell ’em, Esmee! I absolutely adore the simplicity of Zero Carb, but not as much as my body and mind do. Even my Neurofeedback trainer can see a difference – my brain is in a much calmer state since going ZC.
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I was a vegan for four years. I got thin and sick (low B12). I added meat back to my diet, then, and had to have B12 injections for months. I ate a mixed diet for about 8 years before the middle age weight came piling on. Keto was the only way of eating which worked, along with regular fasting. I am on Day 20 of a 30 Day ZC experience. I am still adjusting. Thank you Esmée for this blog.
Congratulations. I hope your journey continues to be blessed.