Reading through the testimonials on your blog helped me a great deal when I decided to take the plunge into zero carb eating and, if you are open to it, I would like to share my experience thus far with your readers as there are some aspects that are quite different from other people’s experience and may help others going through similar issues as me.
I prefer to remain anonymous so no photos. You can call me Peg.
I have chronic fatigue, and have been struggling with it for over two years (self-diagnosed; I have never been to a doctor as I didn’t believe they would be able to help me–and I can’t afford it!). It started with a complete digestive system crash and the sudden onset of a lot of food intolerances.
Basically it went like this: In the winter of 2014 I was 220 pounds (I am a 5’8” woman in my late 30s) and decided I needed to improve my health and physical fitness. I cut out sugar, processed foods, caffeine (except green tea), grains and beans and lost 30 pounds throughout the spring. In the summer I started doing bodyweight exercises and moved into weight training by fall. I had dropped 70 pounds total, gained muscle I never had before and basically felt the best I ever had in my life.
After I started seriously weight training I got cocky about my progress and robust health and returned to eating some of the things I had previously given up, telling myself that it was ok, I would just work it off in the gym. It started with ice cream a couple times a week and moved into bread, cookies, pie, cake and other treats. For brevity; over the winter I began to experience more and more fatigue and frequent bouts of constipation and bloating (that became so extreme I looked three months pregnant!). I wrote this all off as the effects of winter, being cold, less sun, etc. and wouldn’t even have noticed a pattern to it all if I hadn’t been journaling my workouts and day-to-day feelings at the time (and even then, I only recognized the pattern when I re-read them months later).
In February, after a family celebration where I said “screw it” and ate whatever I wanted because I was feeling pretty crappy already (bloated, constipated, run-down) my entire digestive system crashed. I will omit the details for brevity sake, but suffice it to say, I was suddenly struck with major food intolerances and had an extremely limited diet for quite a few weeks until I was able to have a somewhat-less-limited diet that has subsequently remained pretty limited these past 2+ years.
I had to sleep early at night and nap during the day. My mind was foggy and unclear most of the time. I lost all the muscle I had build up as any exertion at all exhausted me for days. Over the past couple of years I have gone through waves of improvement and then crashes. I took supplements, herbs, teas and amino acids by the boatload. With all the supplements I wound up feeling good this past winter (it is early May as I write this) and got cocky again and thought I could eat sweets. I crashed badly and set myself all the way back to the beginning, giving me a really bad summer and a difficult winter struggling to pull myself back out of the pit of fatigue and weakness.
In late January I decided I would reset my digestive system by fasting, which turned into a fresh juice fast for 2 weeks (because my body simply couldn’t tolerate having no food at all). It helped considerably and I started feeling better but started to experience some extreme hunger so started eating again. I tried to add food back slowly but soon found myself overeating and consuming around 3000-4000 calories a day. And my digestion was failing again.
By early March I had learned about low carb high fat and started adjusting my diet to cut back on the sugar I was consuming with all the fruit/juice. I ate mostly ground turkey, eggs, cheese (I hadn’t been able to digest beef well for months), chicken fat and skin, bacon and bacon fat, coconut oil and salad greens with occasional small amounts of fruit. I realized the fruit was making me hungrier and causing me to overeat so I did more research and came across some information on zero carb and found Amber O’Hearn’s and Esmee’s blogs, and was especially impressed by the Anderson family (I had to find it using the Wayback Machine!) and Kelly Hogan’s blog. The information I learned in the stories I read struck a chord in me and I knew this is what I needed to do.
Zero carb journey
In the beginning:
When I started a month and a half ago I decided to cut out anything that was not from the animal kingdom (so no more coconut oil). I ate chicken thighs, bacon, rotisserie turkey, ground turkey with chicken or bacon fat pork tenderloin, steak, and a lot of eggs. For fats I ate chicken fat, tallow, bacon fat and ghee. I tried eating cheese for the first couple of days but realized it made me feel more hungry and was screwing with my digestive system and creating mucus (I was so sad!). After about a week I also cut out eggs because I believed they were making me more hungry and giving me a tendency to overeat. I feel better without them (though I miss them sometimes) and I was right; they were making me overeat for some reason.
As time went on I tried to focus on eating more beef. I came to realize that I digest it better when it is not well done and came to enjoy it quite a bit. I was eating mostly cheap steaks and 70% ground beef patties cooked rare and juicy in bacon fat. In fact, after a couple of weeks I started to feel like I was eating the best thing I ever ate every time I had beef! I was still experiencing loose stools and occasional diarrhea but wasn’t too worried about it.
In the beginning I was cooking some of my food in ghee and eating chicken skins fried in chicken fat. After awhile the ghee started to turn me off so I stopped eating it, and I was getting stomach aches and diarrhea whenever I had chicken skin or fat. I would feel really nauseous about an hour or two after eating and have to lay down for a couple of hours. Later on I figured out that seltzer water helped abate this feeling (most of the time) but I didn’t think I should be feeling that way so I eventually cut out poultry.
I then began to realize that any extra fat was giving me stomach aches and diarrhea too.
I was in a conundrum about the fat. On the one hand I knew that I needed to get the majority of calories from fat but on the other hand, too much fat seemed to give me the runs. I can’t afford expensive steaks as I have a budget of about $5 a day (with occasional extras) so i was having to add fat in the form of bacon grease and chicken fat to my food. I came across some information about eating beef raw and fat raw as well so I looked up ideas for raw fat and came across suet.
I got some suet the other night and have been chopping it up and mixing it with raw ground beef (70% mostly) and sea salt and I LOVE IT. I can’t believe I actually like it (the texture takes some getting used to) but my body must be really happy eating that way because it tastes delicious to me. Plus, I’m no longer getting stomach aches an hour or so after eating and I had my first normal bowel movement in weeks this morning!
What I eat now:
After 6 weeks of experimentation I now eat raw beef (cheapest steaks and ground beef), raw suet and low sodium bacon as a treat. I discovered early on that I digested my beef better when it was cooked less and finally got brave enough to try it raw. It changed my life! Raw beef mixed with chopped raw suet makes me feel good, drastically cut down on my stomach aches and regulated my bowels. And–surprise of surprises–I LOVE it. The bacon satisfies my residual desire for snacking but upsets my stomach if I overindulge (regular bacon upsets my system immediately and tastes wretched to me now).
I eat three meals a day, sometimes more if necessary. For all three meals I eat raw ground beef (70 or 80%) or raw chopped/shaved steak with a big chunk of raw suet chopped up and mixed into it, doused with sea salt (I’ve found I can tolerate a LOT more fat now that I’m eating raw suet and it has cut down on my beef consumption, from 2 pounds to about 1.3 pounds). Our grocery store packages ground beef in 1.3 pound packages and, now that I’m adding the suet, it seems to be enough for me for one day. We make low sodium bacon frequently at work, so I snack on this during the day. I’ve been eating anywhere from 2-8 pieces in a day (though today I had 8 and my stomach is a bit upset, so I think I will be cutting back on the bacon). I drink salt water in the morning and at night and sometimes in the afternoon if I feel I need it and regular water throughout the day. If my stomach is upset (or sometimes if I just want the bubbly) I will drink a plain seltzer water. I take 10 mg of astaxanthin a day.
I have had an electrolyte imbalance for quite a while that manifests itself in scary heart palpitations so I put sea salt on everything I eat and drink warm salt water three times a day. I am hoping that as my body acclimates more to this way of eating that things will balance out and I will eventually be able to do away with the salt. I purposefully stopped taking all supplements as my intention and hope is to be able to heal my body enough that it is producing what it needs (the one exception is the recent addition of astaxanthin as it is getting close to summer and it prevents my fair skin from burning in the sun)
Difficulties and things I’ve learned:
I really struggled with the fat ratios. I knew that I needed to eat more fat than I was eating, but every time I tried to add more fat it would nauseate me, give me bad stomach aches hours later and give me diarrhea. I recently realized that it is rendered fat I have an issue with. Once I started adding chopped raw suet to my raw beef all that changed.
Hunger has also been–and still is–an issue. On the one hand I can handle long periods of time without eating much better than I ever could–when it’s necessary. But I still think about eating constantly and partially plan my day around my three meals. I believe this is partially due to craving too much protein as a consequence of eating too little fat. I understand that too much protein can cause a glycemic response and I think that has been my problem as, up until 2 days ago I wasn’t able to tolerate much fat (because it was cooked/rendered). I am hoping that as I go longer eating the way I’m eating now my hunger will even out and I won’t feel the need to eat so much protein in a day. I also haven’t lost any weight since eating this way (in fact, I gained a few pounds, but I think it’s water, or glycogen as it drops off after a bout of diarrhea).
In the beginning I didn’t notice if I suffered any “keto flu” symptoms as I felt pretty crummy already. I had a runny nose up until about 3 weeks ago (that got worse when I ate, for some reason) but got better as I restructured my diet and removed some things. For the first month I was really wondering if this was going to help me because things weren’t getting better as quickly and dramatically as they seemed to for most of the other people who submitted their stories.
The thing that kept me going was that, despite how awful I felt, my mind was becoming clear and focused and it hadn’t been that way for many months so I knew something had to be right. Plus, I kept reminding myself that I was starting over from scratch; no supplements at all, just healing through diet, and had to constantly remind myself that it was likely to take longer for me to feel better as this was something that I had been going through for years.
The other thing that helped me stick to it was that I kept a journal of how I was feeling throughout the day in an app on my phone so I have been able to go back and see subtle improvements I didn’t notice as they were happening. This has been vital to my sticking with it! There are a lot of changes I never would have noticed if I hadn’t recorded them and been able to look back and see the patterns.
The entire process thus far has been figuring out what works for me in conjunction with what I am able to buy. Over the course of about 6 weeks I went from having a semi-varied diet to having a very limited one (raw beef and raw beef fat) but I am surprisingly happy with that! This way of eating feels so good to me and I feel happy every time I eat my bowl of pink-and-white mush!
Things I have noticed have improved:
I have NO cravings for sweets, not even fruit! (this is mind-boggling to me. I could never imagine my life without fruit)
My tastes have changed–I don’t just tolerate raw beef, I really enjoy it!
My sense of smell has changed–I can enjoy the smells of foods I used to love without craving them (that, in and of itself, is nothing short of miraculous to me!).
I can enjoy baking (I work in a bakery!) without even wanting to try anything I’m making
My mind is clear and focused in a way it hasn’t been for many months
I have motivation to do things I didn’t/couldn’t before (like household chores)
The ways of eating that work for healthy people did not work for me and I think this is important for others who are coming from a place of compromised health when they embark on this way of eating. I can’t have any dairy or eggs. Any kind of rendered fat gives me diarrhea if I eat more than a couple of teaspoons of it at a time. Because of my current electrolyte issue I require vast quantities of salt to keep my heart beating normally. Even though I require a lot of salt, I need to eat low sodium bacon instead of regular bacon because it makes me feel ill. Raw beef with raw fat seems to work well for me, even though it’s the cheapest stuff at the store and not the fancy grass-fed stuff (though I would surely eat that if I could afford it!).
I still have the fatigue, but I can see and feel myself getting better (and have proof of it from what I have recorded in my journal). My energy has improved over the past few weeks. I used to nap for 2 hours every day and now I don’t. I used to have to lean on my husband walking to work and home because I was so weak and wobbly and now I can walk unsupported. My mind was so foggy and unclear that I couldn’t do much of anything at home other than watch movies or sleep (after a shortened workday). Now I am back to reading, journaling, studying a language, doing brain-improvement exercises, watching documentaries and even having the motivation and energy to do chores around the house. I have also started to be able to do a bit more physically. I have started practicing Tai Chi again and have even been able to dance with my husband a bit. I am able to interact more with family and pets and friends.
My advice for others starting out on zero carb:
One way of doing things is going to work for every body! Just because the majority of zero carbers eat bacon and steaks and cheese and eggs and lose weight and get strong and feel great two weeks into it does not mean you will. It took me 6 weeks to start feeling noticeably better. It took me almost 5 of those weeks to figure out that my body doesn’t deal well with rendered fat. A lot of things that help other people didn’t help me and I had to pay very close attention to my own body and go against convention sometimes.
Keep a journal of what you’re eating and how you’re feeling every day. You will be surprised at the changes and patterns you don’t notice while they’re happening.
Learn to listen to your body. Just because something works for most people doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. Experiment and learn as you go.
Don’t expect immediate improvement. Some people notice dramatic improvement right away. But if you’re coming from a place of compromised health it might take awhile for things to get better. Some things will get worse. Pay attention and readjust accordingly, but don’t give up just because 2 weeks have gone by and you’re not feeling fantastic (this is where keeping a journal REALLY helps).
If you’re committed to improving your health you will find what works for you. Just keep at it!
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.