Zero Carb Interview: Chris Cogswell

Chris on the job as a butcher.

1. How long have you been eating a Zero Carb (No Plant Foods) diet?

I’ve been eating zero carb since Jan 2016, so 18 months.

2. What motivated you to try this way of eating? Weight? Health?

I decided to try ZC after years of researching many diets. I was born with chronic Asthma and Allergies that had me in the ICU multiple times a year. Most years I was in every month, sometimes for weeks at a time. I was actually hooked up to life support at age 8 for a severe attack. For many years the doctor told my mother I wouldn’t live long and may need a heart/lung transplant. I’ve also had digestive issues, abdominal pain, vomiting and loose bowels for many years. In my early teens I had severe migraine, anxiety, anger outburst and multiple leg cramps daily. On top of all of this I had nasal polyps that were removed multiple times through surgery.

For years I followed the doctors advice that didn’t help. Following their orders I went down to 100lbs standing at 5’9. I started paying attention to foods I could tolerate and survived for years on white rice, chicken and frozen veggies. I would spend all of my free time reading and researching, until I found vegetarianism, paleo, then keto/lchf, and then ZC. I’ve tried all of these diets. Some helped and some didn’t. Going low carb Paleo seemed to help the best, but I was still feeling my asthma and had gone up to 165lbs being fat for me (I’m naturally a small guy). So long story short, health was my primary motivation.

3. How long did it take you to adapt to a Zero Carb diet, both physically and psychologically?

Physically, it took me 2-3 months. The transition was not fun for me. I felt unwell for weeks and my energy was low for months. Mentally it was easier because I had decided it was for my health and this was going to happen. For the first year…. maybe longer, I was tempted to add in carbs after workouts, because I wanted to get bigger. But I’ve come to realize that bigger isn’t better. Healthier is best!

4. What books or people were most influential in guiding you to this way of eating?

I would have to say, Gary Taubes books; I’ve read all of his nutrition work. And Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise.

5. Do you eat only meat, or do you include eggs, cheese, and cream in your diet?

Now I only eat meat. The first year I would have eggs and some dairy, but noticed that I feel better without them.

6. What percentage of your diet is beef versus other types of meats?

90% of my diet is beef. I also eat chicken and Duck sometimes.

7. When you eat beef, do you cook it rare, medium, or well done?

I always have my beef cooked blue rare-rare. The closer to raw the better!!!

8. Do you add extra fat to your meat? (i.e. butter, lard, tallow)

If I’m eating a leaner cut of meat I will melt butter over it.

9. Do you limit your meat consumption or do you eat until satisfied?

I always eat until satisfied. I should add that most days, I follow a 16/8 fasting/eating window.

10. Do you eat liver or other organ meats? If so, how often?

I eat beef and lambs liver. Sometimes I eat it raw, straight from the animal. I also eat heart, kidneys, lungs, and sometimes lambs brains. I usually have a small piece of liver every day. Heart once a week, and the others I eat once a month or so.

Chris before adopting an all meat diet.

11. Do you consume bone broth? If so, how often?

No, I don’t drink broth. I have a hard time with rendered fats.

12. How many meals do you eat per day on average?

I usually eat 2-3 meals a day during my 8 hour eating window.

13. How much meat do you eat per day on average?

Lots!!! LoL. On average, I eat 3-4lbs a day. Sometimes more. I am very active though.

14. Do you eat grass-fed/pasture-raised meat, or regular commercially produced meat?

I eat a mixture of both. Luckily, I’m a butcher for a local farmer, so I have access to both kinds of meat at all times.

15. Do you drink any beverages besides water? (i.e. coffee, tea)

Yes. I drink water mostly, but have a coffee before a workout for boosted performance. I did drink coffee daily, but have recently stopped that.

16. Do you use salt?

I use salt on everything! I love the stuff! But I make sure it’s Himylayan Pink Salts, or Sea Salt. Never table salt. That stuff is horrible!

17. Do you use spices?

I use a bit of black pepper, but nothing else. The longer I’m ZC, the more I realize what I can and can’t tolerate and spices are a no.

18. Do you take any supplements?

No supplements.

19. How much money do you spend on food each month?

don’t spend that much money on meat. Maybe $100 (Canadian) a month. Like I said earlier, I’m a butcher, so I get a weekly allowance of meats….. and I get to eat the miss cuts or ugly steaks!

20. Do you have any tips for making this diet more affordable?

Move to the country and become a butcher! Just joking. Truthfully, shop the sales, and buy the cheaper fatty cuts, or organs. They tend to be least expensive. Some places will give away the fatty trimmings.

21. Do you exercise regularly? If so, how often and how vigorously?

Yes! I lift weights (full body) 2-3 times a week. I have a heavy labour job that I work 8.5-9 hours daily. Lots of lifting there… Nothing like carrying around a 1/4 beef at 200lbs! I walk 5km to and from work daily, in all weather. And I have three kids ages 6,4, and 1.

22. What benefits have you experienced since beginning a Zero Carb diet? (i.e. recovery from illness, overall health, body composition, exercise performance, hormonal, mental or psychological, etc.)

Since going ZC, almost all of my health issues have disappeared. Polyps, bad digestion, bowel pain, headaches, anxiety, muscle cramps, all gone!!! And my asthma is 95% better. I haven’t had to use my rescue inhaler since I started ZC, I’ve been taken off of steroids, and only take my Advair puffer if I get a bad chest cold. My mood has stabilized and I’ve become physically stronger. I’ve also lost 25 lbs. of excess body fat, even though that wasn’t a goal.

23. What do you enjoy most about eating a Zero Carb diet?

I get to eat meat all the time! I seriously enjoy every meal, and never get bored of eating the same things Over and over.

24. Do you have any advice for someone who is just beginning a Zero Carb diet?

Just buckle down, find what you like and eat that! At first it may be hard, but it’s worth it. Don’t listen to all of the little tweaks that people use or make it more complicated than it needs to be; listen to your body and be patient.

25. Are your friends and family supportive of your Zero Carb lifestyle? If not, how do you handle this?

My wife is used to my dietary experiments over the years, so she is ok with it. At first she was a little worried, but after receiving my blood tests… which were perfect, she’s supportive. Other parts of my family aren’t as accepting, but they are all eating SAD and have issues, so I just let them be, and stick to what works for me.

26. Is there anything you would like share about this way of eating that I have not already asked you?

Listen to your body! Your body will change, so be aware and be patient. Some foods you can’t eat upfront, but your body might adjust and accept them. It could also go the other way. Don’t force feed what doesn’t work for you. Learn to love yourself and your body. This WOE may change your shape or size, but you’ll become the real (healthy) you, and you’re beautiful!!!

Chris today, enjoying his love of music.

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Please visit my “Interviews” and “Testimonials” pages linked at the top of this website to read the stories of other short and long term Zero Carbers.

If you are interested in meeting others who practice an All-Meat diet, please feel free to join us in the Facebook group “Principia Carnivora” for support.

Muscle Cramps on a Zero Carb Diet

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Muscle cramps, especially in the legs, are a common experience for many when they first adopt a Zero Carb diet. It is one of the many unpleasant symptoms that can occur during the adaptation period, but sometimes they can continue for longer. There are a number of reasons that these muscle cramps occur, but the main one is an electrolyte imbalance.

When you first go on a low-to-no carb diet, you lose a lot of excess fluid from your cells. As this fluid gets flushed out from your body, it carries electrolytes with it. There are four main electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride. Many folks who experience muscle cramps when they first begin a Zero Carb diet have found that both extra salt (containing both sodium and chloride) and extra magnesium can help to prevent muscle cramps during the transition process. However, increasing these three electrolytes is not universally helpful, and it is my opinion that potassium is often the electrolyte that most needs to be supplemented.

The RDA for potassium is about 5,000 mg per day. It takes about 3 lbs of fresh meat to meet this requirement. Whether the RDAs are the same for people following an all meat diet is certainly open to debate, but I offer it here for reference. However, whether 5,000 per day is necessary for long term health on a Zero Carb diet or not, it is highly likely that the amount of potassium being excreted during the transition and adaptation period is excessive enough to tip the balance in the wrong direction and cause muscle cramping.

Traditionally, even the most knowledgeable Low Carb doctors have recommended consuming additional salt and magnesium during the early stage of a person’s transitions to such a diet. And Dr. Phinney explains that without adequate sodium, the muscles cannot retain adequate potassium inside the cells. (To read more about this, please see my article on Salt.) However, it baffles me that he never once recommends including extra potassium. I suspect that the reason for this oversight by Dr. Phinnney may be that he is promoting a Low Carb diet that still includes low carbohydrate plant foods, like leafy greens and berries. All fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium. But, on Zero Carb, our only source of potassium is from the meat we are eating, and while some folks can consume 3 pounds of meat a day, many others cannot.

Consequently, it is my opinion, that if a person new to the Zero Carb diet is experiencing muscle cramps, they would be wise to consider supplementing with extra potassium, in addition to the other three electrolytes. Unfortunately, potassium is a mineral that the FDA has very strict regulations on, and all supplements must not exceed 99 mg per dose. This makes is difficult to obtain adequate supplementation through a capsule or tablet and is more expensive than it really needs to be.

The restrictions on potassium were put in place because too much potassium can lead to hyperkalemia (high potassium) which is very dangerous. But the amount of potassium that one needs to ingest to reach toxic levels is quite high. Dr. Max Gerson, a highly respected German-born physician who treated cancer, prescribed a diet that included about 10,000 mg of potassium each and every day, both from food and supplements, without any negative consequences. The only time that normal moderate potassium supplementation can be dangerous is in people with severely compromised kidney function and out-right kidney failure.

A natural way to increase potassium on a Zero Carb diet is through meaty bone broth. (Please see my earlier article on this subject: Can Bone Broth Be Used as Part of a Zero Carb Diet?) Broth from just bones without meat on them will not contain much potassium, but broth that has been prepared from meaty bones or meat alone will. This is because the potassium is in the meat and not the bones. If a person is unable to consume bone broth due to glutamine sensitivity, then broth made from just meat, like lean round or rump roast, will serve equally well for this purpose. You can buy whole round roasts at Costco for less than $4.00/lb. Every pound of beef contained 1,200 mg of potassium which will get transferred to the water it is cooked in. I also like to use turkey parts, such as backs, necks, wings, and drums because they are a nice combination of both meat and bone and fairly affordable. Whole chicken works equally well. I always toss the meat and bones after cooking because all of the nutrients have been cooked out of them.

If making meat or meaty bone broth is not a task you wish to undertake, you can add a little extra potassium to your regimen through a supplement. The best product for the price is Potassium Gluconate Powder by NOW Foods which provides 270 mg of potassium per 1/2 tsp. For some reason, this particular product is not being held to the strict FDA limitation of 99 mg per serving that every other potassium containing supplement on the market. It is pretty affordable at $18.00 for an 16 oz. bottle that provides over 250 servings.

Long term Zero Carb-ers like Michael Frieze had to go through the adaptation period on therir own with little support from others or knowledge of what to expect. Many of these individuals experienced muscle cramps for the first few months after beginning the diet, but the cramps gradually became less frequent and disappeared altogether. Michael – taking the advice of Owlsey Stanley, a.k.a. The Bear – decided to remove salt from his diet completely at the same time he began a Zero Carb diet. His body eventually adapted to a salt-free, all-meat diet, and he has had no issues with inadequate electrolytes or any other deficiencies for the past 5 years. So, the worst case scenario if you do nothing, is that you might have muscle cramps for a few months while your body is adapting. But, meaty bone broth and/or a good electrolyte formula like the one mentioned above will likely make your transition easier.

While I think an electrolyte imbalance is the primary cause of muscle cramping in the early stages of adopting a Zero Carb diet, another possible cause is inadequate water intake. Sufficient water is needed for the electrolytes to do what they need to do. There is some difference of opinion in the Zero Carb community about how much water a person should drink. The advice most often given is to drink according to thirst, but I am not convinced that thirst is our best indicator of when we need water. I base my opinion both on my own experience and the works of Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj.

Dr. B was an Iranian-born physician who found that many different illnesses went away in his patients when they simply started drinking more water. According to Dr. B., water is the single best natural anti-histamine that we have at our disposal, and this is one of the primary reasons that drinking an adequate amount can have such a positive impact on so many different health problems. He wrote several very interesting books which I have read and highly recommend: Your Body’s Many Cries For Water; You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty; and Water Cures, Drugs Kill: How Water Cured Incurable Diseases. He has written several other books that I have not yet read, but which might also be worthwhile. You will find them all through Amazon by searching on his name.

I have helped two personal friends of mine to virtually eliminate their seasonal pollen allergies and lifelong asthma by getting them to follow Dr. B’s protocol. Both of my friends were coffee drinkers and neither of them liked to drink water. Coffee is dehydrating, so drinking it in place of water can compound the problem. Dr. B says that it takes about 2 months for the cells of your body to become fully hydrated once you begin his protocol, so results may not be immediate. By the time allergy season rolled around, however, both of my friends had been drinking more water for a few months and the results were quite stunning. Their allergies were basically non-existent, and the one with lifelong asthma only needed to use his inhaler about 3 more times and never got his prescription refilled.

Some people have a lot of resistance to increasing their water consumption because they don’t like the way plain water tastes. I think this is due mostly to the poor quality water most of us have access to today. I have tasted water coming out of natural mountain springs and it is nothing like what comes out of our kitchen tap or the filtered bottled waters sold in stores.

Buying really good bottled natural spring water like Fiji is prohibitively expensive for most people. But it is important to take the time to find a water that is both pleasant tasting and affordable, or get a filtration system that will turn your tap water into something drinkable. Nora Gedgaudas recommends the Berkey water filtration system, for both its effectiveness and its price. I have tasted the water produced by a Berkey and it is excellent in my opinion.

We often forget the basic needs of the human body, seeking answers in more complicated and esoteric directions. Adequate water is extremely important to the proper functioning of our bodies. In the late 1800s, Dr. James Salisbury and his protege Mrs. Elma Stuart healed many people of many different illnesses simply by prescribing a diet of beef and water. They considered the water to be just as important as the beef, and their protocol is surprisingly similar to that of Dr. B.

Like Dr. B., Dr. Salisbury and Mrs. Stuart recommended that a minimum of 2 liters of plain water be consumed throughout the day. Many people of their time reported greatly improved health simply by following the water protocol alone, without even changing their diet. It seems that the vital importance of water for human health must continually be rediscovered in each generation. You can read more about the beef and water diet they recommended in Stuart’s wonderful volume What Must I Do to Get Well ?

So, the importance of water and the role is plays in supporting the health of our beautiful bodies should not – in my opinion – be underestimated. Increasing your water consumption is a very simple thing to do and is a great place to start if you are experiencing any type of chronic health problem, be it muscle cramps or something more serious. If you are drinking less than 2 liters of water per day, and you are struggling with an all meat diet, I think it is worth considering a 30 to 60 day trial of increased water consumption to see if it makes a positive difference in the way you feel.