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.

23 replies
  1. Ralph Parnanen
    Ralph Parnanen says:

    Thank god you are better. Potatoes were grown with lead arsenic pesticides. Arsenic is a mineral. If they are grown in soil void of arsenic they should not have any. I’ve noticed that every so often I need to eat some of that sawdust cheese. Cheap stuff. To stop a little run off.

  2. Morgaine Swann
    Morgaine Swann says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that you suffered that way! Have you identified the source of the arsenic, or of the multiple food poisoning incidents? I’m just curious. Glad to hear that you’re on the mend. Bright Blessings

  3. Shang
    Shang says:

    Where did you get the BPC 157, at what dose did you take it, and for how long? Thinking of taking it myself for similar gut issues

  4. Peter Schmitt
    Peter Schmitt says:

    This sounds like a real horror-trip. Good, that you start to feel better now. I hope your problems will resolve completely in the near future.
    Did you actually have problems regarding your bipolar disorder when experimenting with potatos/starch? I think I remember that experiments with isolated fiber led to flair-ups.

  5. Sondra Rose
    Sondra Rose says:

    I am so very glad you are on the mend!

    Thank you for sharing your experience and experiments. This is sure to be helpful to someone else with similar health challenges.


  6. Victoria Olson
    Victoria Olson says:

    Dear Amber – What an awful, stressful journey for you. So glad you found a fix. Wishing you great health going forward.

  7. Melanie C
    Melanie C says:

    I’m compelled to say, oh my darling! My heart just sunk. You write so well that I felt every single nuance of it. Your perseverance is astounding. Your drive into resources, amazing. Your courage to disclose this intimate journey to healing, stunning. For some of us, it’s much more than a single carnivore diet will change. It’s sad to not be among the majority that is finding that the single answer. My story is in the beginning. Mine is like yours. I lack understanding, knowledge and energy. I’m grown weary. But I do read and listen and join in where I can. The weight gain, edema, heart palpitations, rise in bp, nausea, pain, constipation adds to the self loathing. I know o know that seems a stretch to connect. But for me it’s do. I’m thrilled that you have come this far. I will stay close to watch and learn. Blessings to you. Thank you

  8. Esmee La Fleur
    Esmee La Fleur says:

    Thank you so much for this mote thorough explanation of what you have been going through the past few years. Interestingly, white potatoes make me feel absolutely terrible! They cause me to wake up every single hour all night long with the feeling that I am falling. It’s the only food that has that particular affect on me and it is truly weird! But I am glad you finally stumbled upon something that was finally helpful. Funny how that often happens when we aren’t looking for it and least expect it.

    While the right food is often very helpful for many, many health problems, I have learned that, in my case, it absolutely will never fix what has gone awry in my own body. One good thing to come out of my own difficult experience with chronic illness has been a more compassionate heart for people who are mentally or physically sick. I have discovered that unless a person experiences severe chronic illness, it is virtually impossible for them to relate or understand.

  9. Roberto Sorhegui
    Roberto Sorhegui says:

    Hello Amber and thanks for al your work!!!!!!!
    Are you familiar with French biologist and physiologist Rene Quinton? If you do I can add my experience in drinking sea water for more than 3 years. with very good results. Retired from USA, 72 years old, healthy and in very good shape, living in Spain from Hispanic ancestry as my name tells. If you are not familiar with Quinton studies then I have a lot to tell you that could be very helpful. I am not a You Tuber or has a page. Just a retired man that lives in the beach and enjoy it a lot and loves Spain. In nutrition for more than 30 years just for myself and in Spanish history, from XVI to XX century. My WhatsApp is [number deleted for your privacy’s sake].
    I follow and see all videos from you, Kelly, Dr. Baker, Berry, Chaffe, then Panucci, Bella, etc., etc.
    I believe that being the “Brainiac” that you are, as Kelly calls you!!!!, you will find “sea water” as beneficial and important as fat and meat. When I discovered “carnivours” few month ago I was amazed in the parallelism with the sea water community people around the world and all the benefits!!!! The similitud is incredible, the beginning of life together with the evolution of our species.
    Hope we can have a good chat, will not take long, I know you are a very busy woman and I am not. Trust me, this can be a immense turning point in human health and is so, so, so easy, in front of our eyes.
    If you understand Spanish it will be very easy for you because I can lead to to four links in the internet that can tell you all and is totally free. But none are in English. If not then I can explain everything to you.
    By the way, your presentations are so profesional and easy to understand!!!!
    Take care, Roberto

  10. Steven Belknap
    Steven Belknap says:

    Potatoes express several plant host defense peptides, including the well-known defensins and pseudothionins.

    Lesser known antibiotic potato peptides are the snakins, which are unrelated to other plant peptides but do have sequence homology in common with some hemotoxic snake venoms – maybe another example of horizontal gene transfer?

    The potato peptide snakin-1 is an antibiotic peptide composed of 63 amino acids, 12 of which are cysteines! As cysteine-rich peptides often form disulfide bridges, they are typically heat-stable, resistant to degradation by proteases, and and may exhibit macrocyclization, which is associated with antibiotic activity.

    I wonder if potato snakin-1 killed off some bad actor in your gut microbiome?

  11. Jane Jewell
    Jane Jewell says:

    So sorry to hear about all your medical problems over the last few years. You really have been through the mill, haven’t you?
    I am glad the potatoes helped. And to think, you only ate them by chance, because you were hungry and there was nothing else on the plate!
    There is one thing you don’t mention at all throughout your detailed description, and that’s pleasure. Did you enjoy eating those potatoes in that hotel room? And when you eat them on occasion, do you enjoy eating them, or do you only do it to help your health? I follow a keto diet mostly, but on occasion I will throw in a potato to the meal, just because I fancy one, even though I know it will temporarily kick me out of ketosis. I don’t eat them every day as I did pre keto 2021, but just now and again. This works for me.

  12. Carolyn Trammell
    Carolyn Trammell says:

    All I can say is WOW! That is an amazing story. I am so sorry you had to go through so much. The mysteries of the human body will probably always be mysteries and there probably is not one way to perfect health for everyone. I am glad you are all better and thank you for your work and for sharing it.

  13. Indigo
    Indigo says:

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am so glad you have decided to run your own group, and I love chatting with you. Back when I was Pescatarian, had righteously given up eating land animals , and was eating a box of raw spinach daily, I developed unrelenting diarreah suddenly about 8 months in and found the only thing I could eat that settled it down to a dull roar was ….potatoes! I finally yelled at The Universe in desperation about 6 weeks later ” I need HELP-Now!!!”, and heard clear as day “Eat red Meat”. I reluctantly went and bought a package of ground beef and ate hamburgers, and within 36 hours I felt like a new person. I didn’t give up my carbs or sugars for another year when I went cold turkey Lion Diet, but it was always red meat from that Divine Intervention onwards. Glad You are feeling better, and here’s to the continuation towards better health!

  14. Dieren
    Dieren says:

    thanks for sharing Amber, you are a tru fighter. it seems you still need some healing so dont focus on your weight now please. lot of hugs.

  15. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    While we may have a preference for meat, there is a good chance that throughout our evolution, there were per-annum periods of plant consumption. As such, there is a good chance that we have come to rely on such, albeit potentially-sparse, inclusions. Perhaps the biochemical and microbiotal changes helped clear out persistent gut issues, for instance. Other variously-carnivorous animals seek out plant matter under certain conditions and states (such as illness or starvation). However, if illness, starvation, or whatever other state or circumstance triggers plant consumption crop up consistently in an animal’s lifetime, there is a case to be made for additional benefits beyond those that might seem obvious. “Exercise” illustrates this perfectly. Certainly, there are terrible ways to exercise, but, generally speaking, bodily movement is important to all systems of the body. Because we are mobile organisms, the biochemical and motile states and circumstances induced by bodily movement became the internal environment and materials for further evolution. Newly evolved physiology therefore relied on the biochemistry and movements of bodily movement. It seems that plant consumption could have similarly been incorporated and therefore be important to health and wellbeing.

    I am operating under the following assumption when it comes to food:

    If we didn’t evolve eating it:
    -in that form (extracts, for instances)
    -in those quantities
    -with that frequency
    -in that context (are you sick, are you happy, are you lonely, did you just run down an eland, is it sunny, is it rainy—what are your deficiencies and toxicities, etc.?)

    then it is more likely to be somewhere from neutral-to-unhealthy for you than neutral-to-good for you (of course, the more of those boxes it ticks, the more likely it is to be healthy)

    This is not to suggest that plants should be a regular inclusion in our diets, but that there may be unknown benefits to their consumption a few times a year under the right circumstances. Since we no longer procure food in the ways that we used to, nor do we live in the ways that we evolved living, it is difficult to rely on instinct to give us an answer as to when to partake in plants. This is especially true since we spend a fair amount of effort forcing the members of our society, from infancy, to trade fulfillment of instinctual desires for social security (i.e. we trade what we want in the moment to fend of ostrasization):

    -Wake up in spite of the obvious discomfort that signals incomplete sleep (for school, work, other social obligation)
    -Sit still and don’t talk in class and other gatherings, even though developmental protocols are yelling to do the opposite—and then eventually be told to “exercise” more because you are lazy and sit on your ass all day
    -First defecate in your garments against your instincts (and potentially sit in it for hours), then once you’ve learned that that’s what the society you were born into expects of you, be force to stop defecating in your clothes
    -Try to copy the behaviors of your parents and elders (since failure to do so means death to an infant), but in many instances (washing dishes, using knives, interacting with fire, cooking, using sharp objects, etc,), be prohibited from doing so as an infant and young child, but then at some point be expected to wash your plate after dinner when you’ve grown accustomed to not doing that

    The point is, we have lost touch with our humanity on both internal and external levels, and that it makes sense that we often look externally (authority, research, social norms, etc.) to determine what we should do. We’re underdeveloped, and have an confused relationship with our instincts, which are, of course, further confounded by the hyper-novel environments to which many of our instincts are naive. I’d better end it here before I write a dissertation in your comment section.

    Thank you for this article and for all of the work that you do, and I’m sorry for the invariable lack of coherence in this unedited comprehensional-hail-mary of a comment.

    Oh! And I’m glad that you’re feeling better!

  16. Luigi
    Luigi says:

    Hi Amber. I’m having almost the same problem with fat malabsorption and I was thinking of taking ox bile, i’m glad I came across this post before buying it. I have a few questions, do you know why eating potatoes helped? And you can eat potatoes along with high fat / moderate protein, or you have to do a low fat version of the carnivore diet? Another thing is, where you can normally find oral BPC-157?

  17. L. Amber OHearn
    L. Amber OHearn says:

    The effect was essentially instantaneous. I think it is simply that the starch absorbed the fat and soothed something.

  18. L. Amber OHearn
    L. Amber OHearn says:

    Many people with fat malabsorption are helped with ox bile. That’s why I tried it in the first place. Lack of bile just obviously wasn’t my problem.

    Like I said at the beginning of the post, I don’t eat potatoes now. One dose mostly fixed my issues. I assume it was the starch. I continued to play with it for a few months to see if I could get further improvements, both alone and with meat and animal fat, but I did not see any further improvements. It’s definitely not part of any carnivore diet, low fat or otherwise. However, I’m sure a diet of meat and potatoes with or without high fat is sustainable for many people.

  19. L. Amber OHearn
    L. Amber OHearn says:

    Hi, Roberto. Thanks for the kind words. I eat almost no salt whatsoever. In fact, it can nauseate me quite severely if I salt my food. I have a talk with research trying to explain the finding that carnivore dieters tend to do better with no/low salt. Search for “AHS22 Amber O’Hearn salt”. Cheers, Amber

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