How willing are you to change in pursuit of healing?

What if you’ve been feeling unwell or suffering for years and modern medicine has offered no solutions, only one dead-end road after another? What if you also felt deep down there has to be an answer out there, and you feel driven to find it? What if you stumbled upon a highly promising course of healing that would demand major, even extreme changes on your part… Would you be willing to make those changes? Are you willing to be flexible with your habits and even your beliefs? Are you willing to deal with the challenge of going far outside your comfort zone in order to make those necessary changes?

The answer for most people I know would be a hard no. Many want to be handed the solution in the form of a pill or surgery. They don’t want to be involved in their healing. They see it as a doctor’s job to fix them. Meanwhile, as they continue to suffer, they won’t try changing a thing about their diet or lifestyle. Many people are uninformed and don’t believe that the food they eat, the thoughts they think, and how they go about their daily life have any effect on their sense of health and vitality – some don’t even have any curiosity about it! Knowingly or unknowingly, as their quality of life gradually declines, even as they feel more and more disillusioned by the medical system, they’ll continue their same old unhealthy habits and simply consider themselves the hapless victims of lousy genes.

This was me at various stages of my 20-year health journey. Even with insurance, I spent tens of thousands of dollars searching for answers. I took so much time off work that I used up the FMLA-allotted maximum of 12 weeks of time off every year for five years straight. After two traumatic gut surgeries that were not the miracle I hoped for, I finally gave up on doctors and decided to just try to deal with this problem the best I could on my own.

In 2010, I saw the documentary “Eating” by Mike Anderson on PBS and immediately went vegetarian, thinking that if I ate more in harmony with my supposed biology, my body would have everything it needed to heal. I tried to eat as “healthfully” as possible – a low-fat, high-fiber diet consisting mostly of whole foods, and like any average modestly privileged westerner, admittedly too much sugar. I wish I had a dollar for every smoothie and green juice I chugged. Out of desperation I even tried eating “raw vegan” for 3 months and was vegan for a full year. All along, to my surprise and frustration, my pain, bloating, fatigue, aches and pains, and brain fog only got worse. To add to the fun, I could be ravenously hungry and hugely bloated at the same time. Several times a day, I would have to make a choice to eat and expand my poor bloated belly even more or to do my best to carry on adulting while ignoring the hunger.

Mentally, the worst part was seeing all the people around me who had all the energy they needed to make themselves materially successful. Why was I so different? On the outside, I looked just as healthy as everyone else. I couldn’t understand why trying to live a normal life working full-time, keeping somewhat fit, and staying socially active with friends and family was so devastatingly exhausting to me. When I compared myself to others in my circle, I felt broken and inadequate. Or was I just a wimp and everyone else was stronger and more disciplined than me?

I struggled on and off with my mental health as a result of hurting and feeling low-energy all the time and feeling like a failure. Being gaslighted by the doctors who had no answers for me didn’t help. Everything felt so hard almost constantly and I was hard on myself for not measuring up. Tired, foggy, and aching all the time, I also felt cheated of whatever potential I might have had. At the time, I didn’t fully realize how my afflicted gut and the cascade of problems connected to my gut have stood in the way of everything I wanted to accomplish in life. So many years wasted pushing myself beyond my limits and laying around trying to recover from the pushing…

Last spring, push came to shove. I developed Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of dysautonomia. The reason I developed this isn’t certain, but I suspect it’s connected to my gut. My symptoms came on gradually over the course of a year until the attacks of tachycardia became so disabling that I could no longer function at all. There were moments during some bad attacks when I thought I was going to die! After two weeks of being bedridden in the hospital, the doctors found a medication, ivabradine, that works well to keep my heart rate under control. However, I still have to deal with all the other same old issues.

This is not how I want my life to go. I’m choosing differently.

For a long time, I thought I was eating as healthfully as possible, with a few hedonistic cheats here and there. (Aren’t we meant to have some pleasures in life, after all?) I didn’t know that there is another way to eat besides the “Food Pyramid” or “My Plate” guidelines.

I won’t spend too much time describing how I found out about the carnivore way of eating as a promising course of healing. It’s a very long story. But as it turns out, this is definitely one of those situations that demand extreme change. As a 12-year vegetarian and a 1-year pescatarian, the idea of eating nothing but meat was terribly daunting. I had to ask myself:

“How willing are you to change in pursuit of healing?”

I also had to ask myself:

“Why do you want to get better?”

I want to have the energy to be creative and productive and to live my life to the fullest. I had a taste of that in my 20s and early 30s and I have missed that feeling for most of my adult years. I think I am such a boring person now. Daily, I push myself hard to focus and get my adulting done, but then I hit the wall and don’t have the energy or brainpower for anything else. So that leaves me with a head full of ideas and creative impulses and lacking the energy to do anything material with it. (This moment of impulsive writing is the first exception in a long time!)

I want to have the energy to be more social. I want to contribute more positively to the lives of those around me, rather than be a boring drag. I want to be able to sit at a table and comfortably enjoy a meal like normal people do. I want to be able to bend my torso! I want to be able to take in a full breath! And vainly, I want a flat stomach, dammit! So of course, I’m very willing to change!

I had to try it for at least 30 days. If didn’t work, I would have to try something else. I will not give up this quest for vitality. After 30 days eating nothing but beef, bacon, butter, and eggs, there was some minor improvement. I decided to go for 90 days.

I’ve been a carnivore for six months now. While there has been appreciable progress, it’s been a rollercoaster, mostly because of trial and error!

To change my diet, I had to change my mind.

The first major change I had to face was my emotional and spiritual thoughts and feelings around eating meat. I love animals, I think cows, pigs, and chickens are adorable, and of course, to the best of my ability, I want to avoid being the cause of any being’s suffering.

After hundreds of hours of research into the ancestral human diet, the effects of conventional (and even organic) plant agriculture on the environment, and the logic of regenerative agriculture, I have digested and integrated a few facts:

  • Some people can thrive on a high-carbohydrate vegetarian or plant-based diet, but some people cannot. I’ve learned I’m one of those who cannot. Some people are also very sensitive to the naturally-occurring toxins in plants and seeds. I don’t know if I’m one of those people yet. I have to focus on healing my gut first, and then take it from there.
  • I had to reassure myself that eating a high-fat carnivore diet isn’t going to clog my arteries and cause a heart attack. As the latest science is bearing out, meat is an “ancestrally appropriate” food and healthy for humans – even a healing superfood! The trouble comes when you combine carbohydrates (sugar) with fat.
  • Human beings have been meat-eating apex predators for millions of years. Yes, our ancestors ate plants too, but only to supplement a meat-based diet during times when meat was scarce.
  • I recognize the hard truth that there is no way for me, or any other being – to live on this planet without doing harm to or killing other beings. It’s not possible. Beings eat other beings to live. It’s just part of nature. So all I can do is thank the animal I’m eating for giving its life so those who consume it can be healthy, creative, and productive in this world.
  • I will now include myself in my efforts to “do the least harm.” Do I deserve less health and happiness than other beings? No, I don’t believe so. It does the world no good if I’m too exhausted and sick to contribute anything positive to it.

Some may disagree with these so-called “facts,” but they are free to. They don’t live in my body – or my head.

So you may ask…

Is the carnivore diet helpful?

It’s been a mixed bag, but definitely more positive than negative.

After six months of following the carnivore way of eating, I’ve keenly observed all my issues ebb and flow to undeniably pronounced degrees. As I have learned (the hard way!), how I feel depends on how strict I am being with my diet. When I’m consuming nothing but beef, eggs, butter, salt, water, and coffee with a splash of whole milk, I feel almost as good as I did in my early 30s! My focus and short-term memory are sharper and require less effort. I have more physical and mental energy throughout the day. While my aches and pains are not completely gone, they are only just noticeable, not to the point of interfering with my productivity or enjoyment of life.

The best parts… being able to bend my torso, being able to take in a full breath, having a flat-ish belly for the first time in twenty years, and best of all, very little and sometimes even no gut pain.

The worst parts… when I eat something I “shouldn’t,” it takes several days of strict eating to feel better. Days. That can be disappointing and depressing. And that in the last six months, I can count on one hand the times I’ve (proudly) expelled a normal-ish BM, whereas all others have been copious liquid and miserable cramping. I know it sounds awful, but I will take it because it’s really much better than being so bloated I can hardly move.

When I (stupidly) consume things that wouldn’t be considered “strict” carnivore, I feel it within minutes, hours, or by the next day. Anything with any carbohydrates in it blows me up instantly. I’ve learned through trial and error that I can get away with small amounts of cheese once in a while, but if I’m putting cheese on my beef patties every day, it adds up and I will get bloated, constipated, and my belly will hurt badly. I adore cured meats like pastrami and dry salami, but I can’t eat it every day. I just don’t feel my best when I do, and not feeling my best means struggling to get anything done. Seasoning my meat with herbs has the same effect. It blows my mind that something as insignificant as a dash of herbs can increase my bloating, belly pain, and other symptoms, but it does. I’ve also tried sneaking a few french fries or bites of bread off Tim’s plate when we dine out. The next day, I’ll be painfully bloated again and feel tired, foggy, achy, and just not great.

My worst mistake was using one packet of Splenda in my morning coffee for a few days. By day 4, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck, the worst I’d felt since before starting the carnivore diet. Thankfully it only took a few days after stopping the Splenda to recover. Lesson learned. Some of the carnivore community decry artificial sweeteners of any kind, even stevia, probably with good reason. Yet interestingly, I’m okay with having a few drops of stevia in my morning coffee. It doesn’t seem to bother me.

The difference in the way I feel based on what I eat is now very, very noticeable. This is part of the point of a carnivore diet in the first place, and why it’s often treated as an elimination-style diet. It helps get your health to a higher baseline where you can observe the effects that different foods have on you. That’s exactly what I have experienced, anyway.

What are the pros and cons of the carnivore way of eating?

At this point, I have sort of a love/hate – or a yuck/yay – relationship with eating this way.

  • Yuck. Grease. I’m good with it being inside my mouth (yum!) but I hate feeling it on my hands and face. I hate greasy dishes and galley surfaces the most! I apply dish soap heavily and use a lot of water when I wash dishes. I live on a sailboat and we get our freshwater from a reverse osmosis watermaker, but watermakers wear out and filters get clogged when they are used heavily. Hence my skipper frowns upon the amount of water I use perpetually trying to rid my life of grease. I’m wearing out the watermaker faster.
  • Yuck. Sometimes when I’m chewing, I feel grossed out by the thought that I’m grinding up animal muscle in my mouth. I’m not quite over that yet. This is more difficult when I failed at cooking the meat. If it’s good quality meat and cooked perfectly, I can actually enjoy it. (Relearning how to cook meat has been trial and error, too.)
  • Yuck. Dining out is really difficult. It’s not fun watching people enjoy eating foods I can’t eat. There are probably some long-term carnivores out there who have no problem with this, but I’m not there yet.
  • Yuck. I still feel a sense of loss over the foods I can no longer eat. At the same time, I realize that I can eat whatever I want – the question is, do I want to pay the price? Is a moment of pleasure worth days of pain and struggle?
  • Yuck. The simplicity of this way of eating can be dreadfully boring.
  • Yay! The simplicity is also something to love. My shopping list is very short. I don’t have to put a lot of time, energy, and thought into meal planning and preparation. It stands in stark contrast now how much mental and physical energy that food stole from me every day. In retrospect, I was obsessed with food. Now I barely give it any thought at all. I like having fewer decisions to make.
  • Yay! I’m not hungry all the time. I generally eat only twice a day. When I start to feel hungry, I can ignore it for a while so I can focus on my adulting tasks. When I’m hungry enough, I stop what I’m doing, I cook, I eat, and I’m good to go for hours.
  • Yay! BUTTER! All my life, I had this guilty little secret habit. When the craving hit, I would go somewhere private with a stick of cold butter, scrape off the thinnest possible of slivers, and eat it straight off the knife. I think my body was craving the fat! The “yay” is that now I get to do this whenever the mood strikes and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. If I’m craving some food I know would hurt my gut, I snack on butter instead and I feel satisfied. Some days I don’t eat any butter, some days I eat a stick of butter a day, some days, up to 2 sticks of butter a day.
  • Yay! BACON! Okay, bacon is delicious. For most of the last six months, I was eating bacon with my morning eggs every day. I’m presently taking a break from bacon to help speed up my recovery from the Splenda error. Actually, I feel a bit better without the bacon, so maybe I have to make it an infrequent treat.
  • Yay! I look healthy. I don’t have a scale on the boat so I’m not sure how much weight I’ve lost, but my clothes are fitting looser. My body composition is also changing. I am getting leaner. Muscles are beginning to pop out. Somehow I’m eating until I’m satisfied and yet my body looks more fit, even though I’m not exercising more than usual. My skin looks amazing too.
  • Yay! Generally, I feel so much better overall when I’m eating strict carnivore. I guess it’s worth it. Sigh.

The carnivore diet – so is the change really worth it?

Although I’m not where I want to be in my healing journey, I’ve come so far that now there’s no going back. I have no desire to go back to the starting point. I’m better off where I am now.

It’s undeniable that I do feel better when I am following a strict carnivore diet. I get more done and I enjoy doing it more. It’s also undeniable that when I’m not strict, I feel pretty terrible and I quickly remember how bad I felt before I went carnivore. Having that clear perspective, I don’t know how I managed to hold myself together as well as I did for the last 20 years. I guess I’m not a wimp after all – I’m maybe a bit of a fighter!

My gut has been a mess for more than 20 years, so I know healing is going to take some time. It feels amazing to have made this much progress when nothing else I’ve tried has helped even a little. My hope has been revived, and that is saying a lot! I also know that there have been some recent advances in the scientific understanding of SIBO. I now have an obligation to once again avail myself of modern medicine – in the near future.

So I plan to continue this way of eating for at least a year, maybe longer. Later down the road, with successful treatment for SIBO, maybe I can begin to enjoy a wider variety of foods again. We’ll see.

Well, that’s an awful lot of writing to come out of me in one day. It’s been up in my head for months now, and it feels good to finally have the energy to get it out. Maybe I will write more over the coming days and weeks. Through this carnivore journey, one of the most extreme changes I have ever gone through, I have accumulated a lot of thoughts to share about the subject of change, especially drastic change that is chosen out of desperation.

Whether anyone cares to read my thoughts or not, I suppose that’s not for me to worry about. For now, my job is just to write and get these thoughts out, and enjoy and celebrate the fact that I have the energy to write at all.

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