Interview with Alma-Jade
1) Introduce Yourself.
Hi! I’m Alma-Jade, originally Swiss/British, and currently living in the Netherlands doing a masters in Communication, Health and Life Science.
2) How did you eat before Carnivore.
My dietary path before carnivore has been very colourful and diverse! I’ll start from the beginning and present my life in chronological diet format. At 13 I turned vegan and then followed a low-fat, fruit-based raw vegan diet (80/10/10 style, which refers to the macros: 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein and 10% fat, a framework put forth by Doug Graham) until around the age of 20 years old, at which point I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease (autoimmune thyroid condition) and PCOS. The raw vegan movement and vegan movement in general is like an echo chamber where you only encounter similar beliefs that perpetuate the reinforcement of existing views in a way that excludes alternative or more complete truths. It has grown even more since I was involved in it, with leaders advocating a “fully raw” vegan diet to millions of people, especially appealing to young women at an impressionable age like myself, without disclosing the potential detriment that so many experience. The lure of a “Garden of Eden” diet can be very attractive, making it seem like cultivated, hybridised and modern fruit and vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods, and that all animal foods and all of animal agriculture are eco-terrorism and the cause of our chronic disease epidemic. Complexity gets thrown away for black-and-white thinking, and there is no room for nuance. It is very hard to see the label when you are in the jar. Grave’s disease was the tipping point and last straw that forced me to snap out of my brain-washed vegan dogmatic state and start the path of re-introducing high-quality animal foods in order to restore my health. I had already had many, many red flags along the way, including blood tests showing severe deficiencies and metabolic disorders, my teeth chipping as I ate, which led to the need for a root canal for a dead tooth and multiple fillings. After a few years, I had developed deep ridges in my nails, skin issues (random rashes when eating fruit), a yellow tint to my skin (high levels of beta carotene circulating in my bloodstream not being absorbed – nor converted to the retinol vitamin A due to lack of dietary fat that my immune system and thyroid sorely needed!), chronic fatigue (HPA axis disorder), depression, anxiety, chronically low mood and apathy, lack of motivation for life, high body fat percentage despite a high level of training, and then all of the symptoms leading up to the autoimmune: hair thinning, insomnia, food reactions and random intolerance’s to foods that would come and go, systemic inflammation, joint pain, gut distention and IBS symptoms as well as an indication of an inability to absorb nutrients from food, as well as arrhythmia (heartbeat irregularities). One of the most alarming symptoms to experience was tachycardia, where my resting heart rate was above 100 bpm. This came as quite a shock, as I had been training for long distance endurance triathlon, with a resting heart rate under 50. I had to stop training because anything above walking felt like my heart was ripping out of my chest (it’s a very peculiar feeling, not like being out of breath).
At one point I was in such gut distress that I turned up at the local emergency hospital asking for an X-Ray. It showed severe intestinal impaction – my intestines in a state of complete distress. Vegans will tell you that meat rots in the colon, yet here I was fully raw vegan with a completely backed up colon! I believe this was due to the nutrient deficiencies that stopped peristalsis as well as compromised detoxification pathways. Within the first year of veganism, I also lost my menstrual cycle, which is critical for bone density and is an indicator of general health. I didn’t get it back until reintroducing animal products and finding balance again years later, with a firm foundation of proper deep nutrition. Yet, in the raw vegan community, these were all just “detox symptoms” or not diet-related – or worse yet, as in the case of amenorrhea, seen as a good thing. In my mind, I was following the ultimate diet for human health.
How I wish I knew about this way of eating way back then!! From the point of “divorcing” veganism, I struggled with psychologically with my vegan biases, and then physically with impulsive binge eating (whole foods like almond butter, avocado, coconut, fruit) and confusion over what to eat as it seemed that my body was in such a poor functional state that it didn’t react well to or know how to handle any food, yet it was deprived of essential nutrition. In the beginning, the moment I started eating animal fats, my depleted body would CRAVE them in huge amounts in order to restore some sort of nutritional status, and to nourish the nervous system that requires adequate dietary cholesterol, DHA and EPA from animal fats. I ate sticks of raw butter, bone marrow, sardines, liver – all in huge quantities, but it never felt like enough. However, as our ability to break down fat declines if we are not eating fat over time by down regulation of digestive lipases (enzymes that break down fat), my body, liver and gallbladder were not used to handling dietary fat in any appreciable quantity. My metabolic and hormonal health was also imbalanced, which caused me to crave these nutrient-dense foods but not be in a position to optimally digest and absorb the nutrients I needed. In the beginning, I was also still eating high fruit as well as a high amount of plant fats like nuts and seeds. The combination of high sugar, high omega 6 fat intake and being insulin resistant prolonged a systematically inflamed state, impeded further healing and as well as presenting its own issues. It felt like I was swinging out of balance and out of control in the other direction. I would also swing back and forth between plant-based (but with cooked whole foods and supplements like spirulina) and a wholefoods “paleo-esque” omnivorous diet, as all my prior conditioning and information sources were heavily vegan-biased, and I wanted so badly to make a plant-based diet work for me as in my head it was still the “ideal”. Cooked plant protein sources like organic quinoa, legumes and beans made me so acutely unwell that I eventually learned that as much as I wanted to eat a “normal, balanced” diet, it wasn’t going to be an option. By that time, I think the combination of intestinal permeability and inflammation induced a high immunogenic response to any plant food.
As I continued my learning, expanded my research, and got more in touch with my body’s biofeedback signals, I became more specific in my approach to address root causes. I slowly came to realize the other half of the story. With a more complete understanding and continual questioning, I was able to let go of old beliefs and start making real progress in my health and healing. I adapted my own version of an AIP (Autoimmune Paleo Protocol) with influences from Weston A. Price. It was quite a journey to get my autoimmune condition in remission, not only from a dietary perspective as that worked really well when I got dialed in, but from a medical perspective as the doctors I worked with would not accept that I did not take medication. The autoimmune diagnosis coincided with an emotional family trauma that I am positive catalysed the expression of disease, with the pathological physiological foundation providing the perfect recipe. From a dietary perspective, I used two approaches: the first time, a meat and leafy greens diet (whole animal approach, plenty of organ meat and traditional fats like bone marrow, but cutting out any nuts, seeds and limiting starchy vegetables and fruit – but I struggled with cravings and would end up eating fruit or starch and having mini flare-ups of symptoms) managed to get my condition into remission, and the second time after a relapse, 1 month on raw, grass-fed milk worked “faster than any medical treatment protocol” (words from my endocrinologist!). It took 1.5 years of dedicated, focused work to get my head above water enough to feel remotely functional. Within this time, I documented my 8-month “Primal Prep” series where I strategically leaned down to around 13% body fat while reaching the highest level of health I had experienced up to that point (natural bodybuilding and weight lifting is a personal passion :). My nutrition was extremely dialed in and consisted of mostly nose to tail animal products (plenty of liver, beef, eggs, bone marrow and the like), but I was still plant-heavy in terms of food volume and consuming large amounts of fibre in the form of leafy green vegetables, seasonal non-starchy vegetables, fermented vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables as the base of my diet, with the occasional sweet potato refeed day (which never ended well!). Despite getting in remission and very lean, things were still not fully stable, and I would experience symptom relapses, anxiety and still had persistent digestive distress.
Around 3 months before hearing of the carnivore, zero carb approach, I had one last go at a plant-based keto protocol (I know, I know, I was a die-hard vegan at heart – or more like, in my head. Except according to some, you were never a vegan once you leave the cult!). I swapped out animal fats for avocados and coconut (which I have since identified as no-go foods that trigger joint pain and inflammation, but stayed nut- and seed-free) and upped my cruciferous vegetable intake to Rhonda Patrick levels. Depressive fog, irritability, pain, severe gut distress, amenorrhea and anxiety came back in full force, as well as gaining 10kg (fat, not muscle!). I felt like an inflamed mess again!
Finally, after hearing Shawn Baker on Joe Rogan podcast, something just clicked and made sense. I loved my veggies and avocados, but as I realized, they really didn’t love me back – and I didn’t need them to survive! It made me curious to research more, and I came across PaleoMedicina, a research group out of Hungary using an exclusively animal fat, meat and offal diet to cure autoimmune and internal conditions. In March of 2018, I did a 30-day “carnivore” experiment, doing the strict version of just beef and water. After the initial protocol, I expanded to a ‘whole animal’ nose to tail approach, and still cycle in intermittent “resets” of a simpler beef/red meat only periods with no eggs or coffee. This kind of rotation works well for me, and allows me to work in caffeine cycling naturally. Fasting 12-16h daily has become quite natural the longer I have been eating carnivore, but I take a relaxed approach to it.
From the time of writing (March 2019), it has been a year on this way of eating, and the longer I go, the more simple ways are what I seem to come back to.
In short, I have been eating an all natural, ”clean” whole foods diet since I was 13. However, being exclusively plant based wasn’t sufficient nutrition, and my body became depleted. When omnivore in transition, I hadn’t eliminated the triggers of inflammation and problematic foods that were perpetuating my immune over stimulation and systemic inflammation. It has to be a double edged approach: 1) remove kryptonite and what is toxic to my body and mind, the stuff that was taking away from detoxification and regenerative processes, and 2) add in what is nourishing and that upregulates detoxification processes, nourishes a healthy metabolism, and has the least anti-nutrients with the highest nutrient density. The (nose to tail) carnivore diet naturally does this. What I found was as much as I loved my veggies, they made me sick. Luckily I love my steak, too – and it loves me back!
3) Why did you try Carnivore to begin with.
Desperation! When nothing was working, yet everything I was doing was revolving around getting healthy, I started to question everything. I reached a point where I just wanted to restore my health and feel well. The residual symptoms from Grave’s disease were persistent despite clinical remission, and I still felt unstable with my health. I felt like I had tried everything in the other (plant-based) direction. So what did I have to lose? Nothing, yet I had everything to gain.
I was also attracted to the simplicity of the approach – I had spent enough money, time and energy on elaborate strategies and therapies.
4) How do you personally approach the Carnivore Diet.
My approach is holistic, intuitive and not rigidly dogmatic (I’ve had enough dogma with veganism!) – I like to frame it as an open-ended adventure, and I am constantly learning and adjusting even within this framework. I am very specific with what I eat, and 99-100% of my nutrition comes from animal foods but it is not out of a sense of obligation to stick to the parameters of an arbitrary label. I like to frame it as I’m specific, not strict. I don’t need discipline to eat this way – quite the opposite in fact, it feels like a luxurious treat every time I sit down to eat! My philosophy is pragmatic in nature, to do what works in the dynamic context I am in. This means I am always open to shift and adjust as needed – but what has happened is that I feel better and better the longer I am eating only animal foods.
That 1% is stuff like unrefined salt, and organic coffee, spices, herbal teas and cacao powder (that I use as a drink with hot water in winter) that I have identified work for me. I consider animal foods to be used as nourishment, and plants to be used as medicine as needed – in small, specific doses for a purpose. I distinguish between cultivated plant foods (like the fruits, vegetables and grains we find in the supermarket) and wild plant foods that could provide hermetic benefit or have their use in a protocol based on rebalancing a person’s bio-individual terrain (like herbs, extracts and bitters). An example of this is raw apple cider vinegar. I used ACV in the beginning before meals to help my digestion and help my liver after all that it has been through! But I do not consider plants where I get the essential nutrients that nourish my body.
As previously mentioned, I started carnivore as a 30-day elimination protocol because I didn’t have anything to lose and my health and food reactions still were not stable. I had just come off a 3 month period of yet another attempt to be more plant-based where I switched my fats over to coconut and avocado and increased my vegetable intake à la Rhonda Patrick, and ended up feeling like I was starting from 0 again – my menstruation stopped, I gained fat, my hunger and cravings increased, my skin broke out in rashes, and my joint and gut pain returned. But I still didn’t blame the veggies! I thought I would do the 30 days and then find which beloved vegetables I tolerated via reintroduction. I was one of those crazy people who loved plain, steamed broccoli! Well, here I am 1 year later and I haven’t looked back 🙂
For me, well-raised red meat is at the centre – I think it suits female biological needs perfectly with the high heme iron and bioavailable micro-nutrients (that are missing in white meat and something like chicken breast, the epitome of a healthy diet!). Lamb and beef are my staples, but I love game, wild fish and seafood like oysters when in season. I think in terms of nutrient-density. I don’t just eat ribeye or steak, I use a variety of cuts, especially meat on the bone for the extra collagen and gelatine, and cooking meat on the bone preserves nutrients, too. I eat organ meat very regularly, my favourites being chicken liver, cow tongue, and sweetbreads (thymus gland); I’ll also poach lamb brain when I can get it, and scramble it with eggs!
At the beginning, I did not eat eggs, and I would advise that for most to start with the strict protocol of meat (including offal) only, especially if recovering from autoimmune issues, so that you can reintroduce and find your own tolerance. However, now I eat them regularly, and I’m lucky enough to have a source for pastured duck and goose eggs! Goose eggs are only available for 3 months out of the year though, so I take full advantage when I can! The yolk of pastured eggs contain phosphatidylcholine, a highly bio-available form of choline, which is a major methyl donor. I had symptoms of extremely poor methylation as a result of long term malnutrition and high homocysteine. Improving methylation requires adequate supply of nutrients like folate, B12, B6, methionine and betaine (a derivative of the amino acid glycine). This may explain why I do better with relatively high amounts of organ meat. I also suspect that (ex) long term vegans coming to this way of eating may also require higher doses of these nutrient-dense foods to make up for methylation impairment and nutrient depletion.
I am also very passionate and mindful about sourcing pastured, locally raised animal foods, and eating the whole animal to provide full-spectrum nutrition that is coherent from a evolutionary perspective of human nutritional needs, as well as alignment with principles of sustainability. The traditional diets of our ancestors paired muscle meat along side organ meat and gelatinous bones and other connective tissue. They ate the whole animal, and this is what I consider “deep nutrition”. I know there are people out there doing mostly muscle meat, and I’m not judging any individuals choices, but personally I have benefited from a nose to tail approach – especially in regard to healing my gut; skin, hair and nail health; and overall energy. Long term, the balance of amino acids from muscle meat, offal, bone and gelatinous cuts, and the unique nutrient profiles of each organ provide an incredibly “balanced” (yes, I said the feared word balance!) approach that takes full advantage of what an animal-based diet has to offer.
5) What benefits have you seen since starting the Carnivore Diet.
Where do I start?!
As you can tell from the evolution of my diet, nothing quite “worked” to feel well and get fully out of pain, inflammation and fatigue. Within the past year my body has regulated, and for the first time I feel in control of my body and well-being. This has been crucial for restoring a sense of self-trust that I had lost when I didn’t feel in control of my health.
The depressive episodes related to poor health that resulted simultaneously from the inflammatory state I was in (cytokine model of depression) but also due to the anxiety that came from managing a chronic condition was honestly the hardest symptom to deal with. The significant improvement in mood, emotional regulation, and overall positive frame and state of mind is the biggest benefit. I feel the most balanced and in control of my health that I have ever felt, from the inside out. I still feel my body has more recovery and healing to do, but I can now trust my body to be able to do what it needs to because it is finally getting what it needs.
My digestion has improved immensely, no more extreme stomach distention, gas or discomfort, and no more undigested food particles in my BMs! My skin, hair and nails have gotten stronger and healthier. Random food reactions have gone away since eliminating triggers (oxalates, salicylates, etc). The only day I was in pain in the past year was due to food poisoning from fish that wasn’t fresh – and I used to have on average 1 day a week where I would have to be in bed due to some flare-up!
Nutrition is but one tiny piece of the health equation, but when it works, everything else seems to click and fall into place. It’s given me hope that I can live a stronger, more resilient, pain-free, functional life and actually feel good in my body and mind. It’s still a process, but I feel like this is the natural set point and birthright of a human being and eating a high-quality, nutrient-dense animal-based diet is a natural part of that.
This creates the space to use my energy for larger pursuits, developments and experiences that before were closed doors because all of my energy was being used merely to be able to get out of bed! I feel deeply grateful on a daily basis.
6) What negatives have you found with the Carnivore Diet.
The negatives that I’ve found are largely negotiable and practical – it can take a while to adjust, get into a good rhythm, find your way of navigating and managing things like food sourcing for optimal quality and affordability, for example. Cost can be an upfront issue, but as I’ve navigated through the months of this WOE, I have found a way to make it work well. I source the majority of my food from local farms and buy in bulk once a week, and pick up things like fresh chicken liver and heart from a local organic butcher. This saves time and money.
There’s the social aspect and resistance from friends and family who are more along the lines of conventional thinking that comes up, of course. I have found the best way to manage this is to allow everyone to have their opinion, and just embody the principles I believe in, and let that speak for itself. If it does come up, I don’t try to convince but engage people in conversations to reach understanding. I find challenging belief systems through offensive attacks futile as it puts people in a defensive state of mind and closes down openness to alternative information. I would rather just be an example of health and kindness that people come to me to ask questions 🙂
7) Do you exercise on the Carnivore Diet, if so how do you find it and what do you do.
I don’t exercise – but I move and I train! I fell in love with weight lifting when I discovered it due to having to stop endurance training after I was diagnosed with Grave’s. Training is like meditation to me, where I can tune into my body and in to the potential we have with bioplasticity, to shape and create our body, our biology and our minds. I can get so enamored with heavy compound lifting at low reps that it is all I do – and doing to same stimulus over and over isn’t the best thing for progression! It is also very taxing on the nervous system. So I have really made it a priority to programme my training mindfully with a flexible structure that still allows for intuitive flow while getting stronger in a variety of rep ranges. My lifting is set up mainly to prioritize both strength and physique development, and I separate my 4 intense lifting sessions a week into 2 focused on strength (low reps, heavy weight, lower volume) and 2 focused on hypertrophy (higher rep ranges, lighter weight, high volume). I focus on basic compound moves like sumo deadlifts, barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridges, squats, lunges, weighted chin ups and pullups, presses, pulls and carries. Now that I am training for a mountain Spartan Race in the summer, I add in sprints once a week, and max incline walks of 5-30 minutes 4x a week. I have found it no problem building muscle without carbs. The higher protein than keto has been incredibly beneficial, and I find I recover faster from lifting. Having a history of thyroid and autoimmune issues has made me very cautious about HIIT or overdoing cardio, but I am excited to see where I can take my training and fitness.
8) What piece of advice would you give someone who is interested in trying this diet, but hasn’t taken the leap yet.
Keep it simple! Many come from a background of health issues, and managing a chronic condition is stressful enough. If it is fear of the unknown holding you back, break it down by making it manageable. Instead of looking at it as a lifelong commitment you can’t go back on once you’ve started, just take 1 step in experimenting with it in whatever way resonates for you, and what is most appropriate for your situation. This may be in the form of a 10 to 30 day experiment, or 90 days if you have chronic conditions to heal that may require more time to resolve. Look at it as an experiment and as an opportunity to learn about your body – the right mindset can be crucial.
I would also mention that depending on where you are coming from, the transition can suck! Especially if not fat-adapted or haven’t yet build metabolic flexibility through things like a ketogenic diet or fasting, the body will go through an adaptation phase that doesn’t really feel all that pleasant. Instead of being discouraged, trust that this will pass and ultimately you will come out the other side feeling operating than before. Factors like sufficient electrolytes and eating enough can help – salted bone broth is great to have on hand. Respect your body and trust in the process its ability to heal.
Also, on the topic of transition, just like with physiological transition as the body adapts, I feel there is also a psychological transition. In the beginning, I think many seek to mimic patterns of food behavior from before, like creating recipes to not get “bored”, or living off poor quality bacon, cured meat and cheese just because it fits the label “carnivore”. I see a similar parallel in the paleo movement with the “paleo approved” sweeteners and almond flour everything recipes, and basically eating an omega 6 and starch heavy diet and wondering why they are still inflamed. I don’t think there is any replacement for fresh meat and offal as the bulk of the diet. Food quality equally becomes important, as conventional bacon and cured meats are often filled with nitrates, glucose syrup, additives and conservators. So my extra tip is to always read the ingredients label, even on meat products!
9) Do you think Carnivore will ever be accepted as a mainstream diet.
More and more people are getting sick, with chronic disease the number one cause of mortality worldwide. I see more people let down by the conventional allopathic medical system and looking for alternatives to heal themselves. This is where I think the carnivore approach will thrive.
Our culture has taken such a deep dive off the cliff of disconnect from what is real, whole and natural that fundamental truths like the importance of animal fats and protein for human health, and the importance of well-managed ruminant animals for soil health has been vilified instead of celebrated. The culmination of decades of mindless consumption and industrial development going in a direction that works against nature has led us to ecological and human health degradation. We have reached this tipping point where we need massive, radical change in order to restore balance. I see things going in 2 ways evolving from the standard, destructive conventional status quo regime: there is the plant-based narrative that is being pushed as a way to save the planet, animals and human health, but is based on partial truths that actually lead us down this very synthetic road – think lab grown meat, supplements, and a world where plastic is chosen over leather and to have a “balanced” vegan diet means dependence of a fossil-fueled globalized food system of imported foods – or this Utopian “Garden of Eden” ideals of living off the land but eating mostly fruit and greens (health tends to degrade much quicker in this case). Both take us further away from our ancestral heritage and what is truly natural and needed. Long term, I would foresee this resulting in more nutritional deficiencies and metabolic dysregulation.
Then we have the other narrative of the real food movement, based on traditional nutrient dense foods, Weston A. Price and ancestral health principles, and informed by disciplines like medical anthropology and evolutionary biology. Along with this, regenerative agriculture, holistic grazing and agroecology come alongside to support the production of a nutrient-dense and sustainable food system. I am rooting for this path!
In my opinion, sustainability is not enough, we need regeneration – of the land and our bodies. An animal-food based diet provides the body with the most bio-available complete nutrition without the potential harmful substances in plants in a way that can replenish, nourish and create the conditions for healing. While I don’t think everybody should or has to go 100% carnivore to benefit from the life-enhancing nourishment of healthy animal foods, I do hope it will become widespread and mainstream as a tool for those who need it.
10) Anything you would like to add, and where can people follow your journey.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein.
I know there are many in a similar position to where I was when coming from long term veganism, and trying different iterations of a plant-based diet but still struggling with their health. It really required me to unhook from everything I thought I knew and believed in to be able to start doing the right things for my health and well-being. I hope sharing my story helps others (& hopefully helps avoid the pitfalls I made!). The ability of the body to heal and get stronger given the right conditions is truly astounding.
I enjoy sharing my journey and any insights I have along the way on my Instagram @consciouscarnivore. My current website/blog is juicyliving.weebly.com and there you can find detailed entries of my journey as it unfolded, including the 30 day raw milk fast and my Primal Prep series. I have a new website underway that will be specifically focused on carnivore resources and regenerative practices for healing, health and rewilding our internal terrain and external environment. I’ll post about it on IG when it is ready 🙂
Ketogenic Endurance – I hoped you enjoyed this interview post.
I feel great on the Contemporary Carnivore Diet, that is N=1.
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