The Carnivore Diet: Pros & Cons From a Weight Loss Expert

In the ever-evolving world of diets, the carnivore diet has emerged as a controversial and attention-grabbing approach. Fans of the diet swear by its simplicity and potential benefits, while skeptics caution against its extreme nature. In this blog, we’ll delve into the carnivore diet, exploring what it entails, its role as an elimination diet, potential drawbacks, and if this really is a long term weight loss solution.

What is the Carnivore Diet?

The carnivore diet is a dietary approach that emphasizes the exclusive consumption of animal products, excluding all plant-based foods. Followers of this diet typically indulge in meat, fish, eggs, and some dairy, while steering clear of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Advocates argue that such a diet aligns with our ‘evolutionary history,’ claiming health benefits such as improved digestion, increased energy, and weight loss.

The Carnivore Diet as an Elimination Diet

One unique aspect of the carnivore diet is its resemblance to an elimination diet. By cutting out an extensive range of foods, individuals may identify potential triggers for various health issues, including inflammation, digestive problems, and food sensitivities. While this can be insightful for some, it’s essential to approach such exclusions with caution, as the human body thrives on a diverse range of nutrients from various sources.

Typical elimination diets include the FODMAP diet, which is primarily used for those with IBS, IBD, or any other digestive condition. You eliminate ALL different types of foods in each food group to allow your digestive symptoms to alleviate only to then reintroduce foods slowly back into your diet and one at a time.

The purpose of this diet is to figure out which types of foods may be causing you GI distress. From there, you can go back to your regular diet while eliminating ONLY the foods you found to be disruptive to your digestive system.

However, the carnivore diet completely eliminates all carbohydrates and only some dairy products. If you’re looking to this diet to help you “fix” your gut health, it is an extreme measure as you never find out specifically what you’re sensitive to, therefore, unnecessarily eliminating a variety of nutrients that are essential to your health.

Unhealthy Relationship with Food

Despite its ‘potential’ benefits, the carnivore diet can foster an unhealthy relationship with food. The extreme restriction of food groups may lead to nutrient deficiencies and a very strict eating routine.

When you have a healthy relationship with food, you don’t feel as if food is the ‘enemy.’ You view food as your source of fuel and nourishment. You work WITH food, not against it. Eliminating carbohydrates because your goal is to lose weight is putting your wants prior to your body’s needs. In the long run, this mentality will not promote a healthy relationship with food.

Additionally, the mental toll of constantly navigating social situations and limited food options can contribute to anxiety and stress, which are counterproductive to overall well-being.

As a weight loss expert, I’ve successfully helped individuals lose weight by incorporating food into their lifestyle, not trying to avoid it. Those who are on extreme diets and trying to navigate gatherings with friends or family, especially around the holidays, end up giving up on their diet. 

The strict rules of a diet can cause you to feel unhappy, stressed, and anxious. Removing the guidelines and working on a healthier relationship with food will help lift all these emotions, as well as promote lifelong results.

Pros of the Carnivore Diet

Disclaimer – As of the day this blog was created, there are no studies to support the claims of this diet. Pros of the diet are only based on subjective and theoretical information.

1. Potential Weight Loss

The carnivore diet often results in rapid weight loss, primarily due to the elimination of carbohydrates, leading to a reduction in water weight.

For every gram of carbohydrate you consume, your body requires 3 grams of water to digest and process the carbohydrate. This is why those who go on these extremely little to no carbohydrate diets see a drop in weight quickly. They are losing the water associated with digesting carbohydrates.

A common pitfall of these diets is that the moment you consume a carbohydrate again, the water weight comes right back.

Hence the statement I hear all the time as a dietitian… “Every time I look at a carbohydrate I gain weight.” 

2. Simplicity

Followers appreciate the simplicity of the diet, eliminating the need for complex meal planning and ingredient tracking because you only have a few options to choose from.. Meat or meat.

3. Inflammatory Response

Some individuals report a reduction in inflammation and improved digestion when following the carnivore diet.

As stated above, any claims of this is hearsay, but theoretically if you are removing all carbohydrates from your diet, you may be removing that one food in your diet that has been causing gas, bloating or heartburn, but then unnecessarily removing all other carbohydrates without ever knowing which food you are truly sensitive to.

Cons of the Carnivore Diet

1. Nutrient Deficiencies

The exclusion of plant-based foods can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

When dieting, everyone focuses on macronutrients, but what about our micronutrients? Micronutrients are all of your vitamins and minerals and can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. The carnivore diet prioritizes protein and fat, but eliminates ALL of the nutrients that can help aid in overall health, therefore, increasing risk of nutrient deficiencies.

2. Digestive Challenges

The lack of fiber from plant foods can contribute to constipation and other digestive issues.

The biggest complaint of the diet at this moment is constipation and it’s simply because you’ve stripped away all of the dietary fiber from your diet. Dietary fiber, meaning natural fiber from foods not supplements, is VERY important for GI health.

Fiber helps to keep your gut health in check (aka keeps you regular), but also has been proven to significantly reduce risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and premenopausal breast cancer.

3. Sustainability

Maintaining the carnivore diet over the long term can be challenging, and its sustainability is often questioned.

As discussed, your diet is a big part of your life. I’ve been a dietitian for the past 10 years and I have yet to meet anyone that has stuck to an extreme diet for any length of time. They are not sustainable because they cannot be incorporated into your everyday life for the long haul.

Those who follow extreme diets end up bringing food with them wherever they go, will often eat before they go out to avoid food at a party, or avoid social interactions all together because it’s easier that way.

This mentality causes an unhealthy relationship with food and at times, isolation.

As a dietitian, I promise you, you can be happy, achieve your goals, and incorporate all different foods into your lifestyle.

4. Not for ALL populations

Those with familial hypercholesterolemia should be mindful of how the increase in saturated fats and overall total intake in fat can affect one’s cholesterol levels.

It has been proven for decades by evidenced based science that increased consumption of saturated fats can cause high rates of cardiovascular events, like heart attack.

Those reducing their saturated fat consumption by incorporating more unsaturated fats, plant-based meals, and even carbohydrates can REDUCE the rate of cardiovascular events. This is very important for those who have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol or heart disease.

The carnivore diet is high in saturated fats and is NOT for all populations. This also goes for anyone looking to follow the ketogenic or Adkins diet that primarily focuses on protein intake without regarding total fat intake.

While the carnivore diet may offer short-term benefits like rapid weight loss, it’s crucial to recognize its limitations as a long-term solution. Its extreme nature and potential nutritional shortcomings make it an unsustainable choice for maintaining overall health. Individuals considering the carnivore diet should view it as a temporary intervention, seeking a more balanced and sustainable approach for their ongoing dietary choices.

In the world of nutrition, the carnivore diet stands out as a unique and divisive approach. As with any diet, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons, considering individual health goals and long-term sustainability. Before embarking on such a restrictive dietary journey, consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian is advisable to ensure that nutritional needs are met and potential risks are mitigated. Remember, the key to a healthy lifestyle lies in balance, variety, and a sustainable approach to eating.

Resources

  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2022.2061909
  2. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011737.pub3/full

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