Meat and Potatoes?

Before I’m misquoted, let me be clear:

  • No, potatoes are not on the carnivore diet and I will not be making a Venn diagram proposing to extend the definition of Carnivore.
  • No, I’m not currently eating potatoes.
  • Yes, I took a period of time experimenting with non-Carnivore solutions to what, for years, felt like an intractable problem, and some of those things helped. Moreover, I learned some things about my own tolerances.
  • No, I do not think the carnivore diet is responsible for my initial susceptibility to gut infection — that was clearly antibiotic induced — Carnivore just wasn’t enough to fix it.
  • I have probably already tried your suggestion, whatever it is. Thanks, though.
  • What worked for me might not work for you.

Last August (2021) was a low point in my life for a variety of reasons, but health was among them. I went to the Ancestral Health Symposium looking and feeling my worst in over a decade. But sitting in my hotel room furiously making day-before revisions to my over-time-budget presentation, I discovered something.

I will attempt to make a long, excruciating story short, which means I’ll omit a lot of detail. In 2018 began a terrible period of decline in health characterised by repeated cycles of antibiotics and worse and worse gut infections. It first became serious that fall when I went to the ER twice within a few days with a salmonella infection that took me completely out of commission for two weeks; “Out of commission” as in I was in so much pain that I took opiates and stayed in bed for a week straight, going in and out of drug-induced nightmares, punctuated by explosive trips to the bathroom. My life flashed before my eyes and I experienced a second grieving for my lost marriage as I realised that I could now (and regardless eventually almost certainly will) die without the one person I had ever pledged to play the long game of chicken with, the Princess Bride oath of “I promise to outlive you”. That part of the loss hadn’t thitherto occurred to me. It was insult on agony. But the nightmare had just begun. For one thing, the diarrhea didn’t go away.

So confident was I that my panacea of a diet would resolve the issue in good time, that many months went by with no reprieve and I took little to no action, other than taking some probiotics and making some of my own yoghurts, as well as trying some supplemental fibres, none of which helped. (Unlike some have reported, I personally had never before had diarrhea while on a Carnivore Diet. I don’t actually think it’s typical, though I acknowledge some experience it.) Despite chronic post-infectious IBS, I began gaining weight rapidly — abdominal fat, specifically. I started to tire easily. By spring I had to nap all afternoon to get through the day. At about this time I had to put on a conference I had somehow organised. Fortunately, I had many wonderful people help me with the execution, and it was epic! But I was deeply embarrassed about my weight on stage at the time — a weight I quickly exceeded!

Then I started losing my eyesight. Excellent vision has always been a point of pride for me. Pride is a strange thing. How exactly I should be proud of a physical trait which is thought to be genetic, I don’t know. I’ve never worn glasses, but suddenly, and intermittently, I could not focus on things even inches from my face. I could not read a food label or unblur a face either up close or held at a distance. This effect would come and go and was more pronounced after eating. It onset one time very rapidly after drinking the juice from sauerkraut I bought as an idea for a source of probiotics, making me suspect a histamine response. I mentioned this problem to my doctor, who dismissed it as aging related vision decline. I knew it was not that.

Concurrently, I had finally decided to get stool and urine analyses, and my results were perplexing. I had no microbial pathogens, but unbalanced commensals. I was unhelpfully informed that I had steatorrhea (to which, all I could think was “no shit” — it doesn’t take a scatologist). Strangely, I had high levels of urinary mycotoxins and arsenic, of all things. To deal with the arsenic, I was instructed to start taking liposomal glutathione. The glutathione immediately reversed the vision problem! And, I lost six pounds in two weeks. I started gleefully extrapolating by which date I would be back to my old size, and composing a triumphant blog post in my head. Alas, that was the full extent of the loss, and gain resumed shortly after. And the bowel problem remained.

Then began my supplement phase. I’m not going to go over every intervention I tried. Almost none made a whit of difference. A sublingual high dose of methylated B6, 9, and 12 greatly reduced the fatigue. I had surely developed deficiencies from malabsorption, and I tried several other vitamins just in case, including C and other Bs. And many other things. The accumulated bottles that still fill my closet make me feel like a prepper apothecarist.

Meanwhile, the antibiotics overdose issue was ongoing. In the fall of 2019 and again in the summer of 2020, I was misdiagnosed with a UTI when I actually had kidney stones. Both of those misdiagnoses were “treated” with multiple rounds of different systemic antibiotics, none of which, of course, had any effect on the stones, but which had their own consequences. After the second time, I wound up in the hospital with another salmonella infection, this time co-infected with c. difficile. In case you aren’t familiar with it, c diff is serious and can be life threatening, and it tends to recur. I came very close to septic. When I got home, I was wrecked for about a month — I was always tired, and small attempts to be more active were likely to reward me by sending me to bed for a couple of days.

I decided it was time to do whatever it takes to recover and hired a different doctor, one familiar with Carnivore and functional medicine. We tried a lot of things aimed at gut repair, but nothing made any real difference. I also experimented with fasting, only to find deep intolerance. I won’t go into all those details right now, either, but I’ll mention that a dry fast appears to have induced the excruciating expulsion of the kidney stones I had never passed. That was ultimately positive, but cut my dry fasting experiment rather short. A ten day regular fast (water and broth) not only caused no weight loss (I lost for a couple of days and then gained it back while still fasting and lost nothing further), but seems to have caused my first ever episode of amenorrhea. Although I was old enough for this to be a coincidental result of perimenopause, I am sure they are related, and a second extended fast about a year later had the same result, with normal periods in between. For all intents, it seemed like my body could not recognise its fat stores and hormonally it was as if I were malnourished and underweight. Fasting can backfire in sick people. More on that later.

When I went to AHS, then, in August 2021, I felt haggard, defeated, embarrassed. I had taken with me the latest experiment, which was a supplement containing ox bile and digestive enzymes, to try to address the fat malabsorption. A little seemed like it might, maybe be helping? So the day before my presentation I doubled my dose. It was a mistake. I could not leave my hotel room that day due to diarrhea every twenty minutes. I ordered a steak from room service. It was small and I was ravenous. The box had come with potatoes. I have to emphasise that I had been on a low carb diet of some form or other for, at that point, two dozen years. I have never been tempted to eat even one bite of potato the many times they have been served with my bacon and eggs. They might as well have been decorations on the plate. But for whatever reason — all the reasons, but maybe especially the sense of futility and despair — I decided that rather than order another $25 4oz steak that would take an hour to arrive I was just going to eat the damn potatoes.

And that was instantly the end of three years of chronic diarrhea.

It was about 85% fixed in consistency and frequency. I continued to eat potatoes once every few days for about a month while away from home. When I got home I tried using just potato starch, in case it was a resistant starch effect, and I tried two days of nothing but potatoes. I got no further benefit, and eventually stopped eating them altogether with no regression. At this point I finally stopped gaining weight, but I didn’t start losing.

Many months later, at the kind advice of Jacob Guenter, to whom I am forever indebted, I tried oral/sublingual BPC-157, a gastic-juice-derived peptide that has gut healing properties, which brought my bowels to about 98% normalcy where they have remained. I have finally started slowly losing weight, and the fatigue is mostly history. I’m back to lifting and tango, and gradually regaining aerobic endurance for hikes.

One interesting aspect to all of this is that the fat malabsorption turned my regular carnivore diet, which had been about 70% fat, into a high protein, low fat diet. I’m sure that contributed to the weight gain. I am only in recent months able to start incorporating higher levels of fat and properly digest it. I’m gradually moving towards a high fat, lower protein version of the Carnivore Diet, which can be specifically helpful for people healing from illness, provided the fat actually makes it into the system.

I also now know that potatoes don’t appear to disturb my mood. I don’t think they will help my weight loss goals, and I don’t plan to eat them on a regular basis. But who knows, maybe I’ll indulge in them from time to time after all of this is but a distant memory.