I am 60 years old, and five foot six.
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with my weight and diet. At my worst during high school, I weighed just under 190 pounds. With a lot of time on a stationary bike and living on nothing but lettuce, cheese, and cold-cut ham, I managed to get down to the mid-140s, but couldn’t maintain it. Eventually I would come to weigh about 160 with a prominent belly. I had to be medicated for hypertension and hypothyroidism. I was not a healthy human being.
More than twelve years ago, a bad outcome from an outpatient surgical procedure left me with a hypoxic brain injury.
In the immediate aftermath, I felt I had won the lottery—I seemed to have no obvious problems, cognitive or physical.
However, time proved me to be wrong.
It started a few months later, when I found myself underperforming at the gym. Day by day I saw my ability to lift, to push myself during hard cardio, and my recovery time slowly getting worse.
Next came the dietary problems.
Like most of us, I’ve always had a few foods that just don’t settle well. But slowly I found myself adding more and more foods to my “never again” list. Cheese, asparagus, slow-cooked meats, spinach—they all left me feeling worse and worse.
Somewhere along the line, I started having skin problems. I’d always had dry skin in the winter, but suddenly I found myself in June, eyelids cracking from the dryness, and rashes that I’d never had before popping up all over—my waist, legs, chest, and arms. The itchiness drove me crazy!
Sleep became torture—night after night I would lie awake in bed for hours before sleep would come, only to be jolted awake by my alarm clock, the endless fatigue leaving me a zombie.
I had felt myself fortunate for not losing my cognitive abilities due to my brain injury. But what the injury hadn’t taken away, the ongoing fatigue stole from me. At its worst, I found myself at work, struggling to make sense of a report I’d read three times in a row. I would fall asleep for a second or two during my commute before the blare of car horns jerked my eyes open as I was drifting out of my lane.
And, over all of this, was a malaise that settled into a deep, deep depression. I made endless plans for taking my life, trying to find a way that would finally erase my pain at living, while not devastating my immediate family.
For some reason, I couldn’t see all these things and realize that I had a problem. I thought I was just tired from having to work so hard at my job. I told myself that if I could only just get some time off to rest, I’d be right as rain again.
I got my wish for resting time when I was laid off.
And a couple months of near total rest failed to change a thing.
It was then that I knew I was in trouble.
Now, during all this, I would from time to time see various doctors and specialists in an attempt to cure this rash, or that insomnia, or what have you. But by and large nothing seemed to work.
After being laid off, I could spend much more time engaging with the healthcare system to work on my issues. Still I got no relief on any front, and no advice as to how I might become healthier.
Actually, strike that—I *did* get some advice.
It was from an endocrinologist that I saw in an attempt to figure out what had happened to my energy—what had caused me to lose any sense of vitality. Despairing, I asked her what I should do.
She sighed, was silent for a moment, and said, “Go home. Live your life. This is as good as it gets.”
And so I went home.
But I didn’t give up. Although I was an unemployed technical team lead with about 30 years of experience in various IT, software, and hardware roles, I still had an engineer’s mindset.
So I set out to learn about my body.
If this were a movie, here is where there’d be a montage of me searching online for research papers on neurophysiology, digestion, the immune system, and more. Shuffling through papers, highlighting key passages and searching for corroborating information from other authors. I’d be experimenting with different diets, supplements, skin treatments. I’d go to bed wearing a head-mounted device that tracked my brain activity at night.
And that montage would be real—I did it all.
And I made some progress.
I produced lists of foods that I was reacting to, and started to see patterns in terms of histamine levels, oxalate content, and salicylate levels. I worked with a neuropsychiatrist to give me some level of relief from my insomnia. Better living through chemical, as they say!
If I had graded myself at 100% before my brain injury, at my worse I was probably around 20%; now I was maybe about 50%. Far better than before, but still far worse than I had been.
The diet I had constructed was nothing special—it was mainly just a list of foods that gave me the fewest reactions. Looking back, it was by no means healthy. At one point I lived for a few months on nothing but boiled barley with butter and brown sugar.
In time, I continued to work on my diet and, quite by accident, I “reinvented” the ketogenic diet. I felt pretty good eating this way—my mental clarity was much improved—but because I didn’t understand what eating this way was doing to my metabolism, and exactly how important fat intake was, I ended up burning through all my body fat, and crashed metabolically after losing a bunch of muscle mass as well. My wife said I looked like a concentration camp victim at under 110 pounds and less than 10% body fat.
After all this time—it’d been about 11 years since my brain injury—I still could only say I was at the 50% mark. And to make matters worse, I found that, in time, I’d react to every food I relied on for any period of time, gradually reducing what I could safely eat.
I took another shot at the ketogenic diet—this time with help from Dr. Eric Westman. With his help, I made some improvements, but in time, the same old problem of reacting to more and more foods returned. I was getting desperate—the 50% I’d been able to maintain was starting to slip backwards.
One day online I came across a page that talked about “the ultimate elimination diet.” It said that humans only need protein and fat to survive; carbs were not necessary. After having read and researched so much, this made immediate sense to me, and so I tried it. I would eat nothing but red meat, and not skimp on the fat.
That was five months ago.
What started out as a vague plan to eat three pounds of ground beef a day eventually got fine-tuned to a one-meal-a-day, KetoAF-style diet consisting of a bit over a pound of lightly-trimmed ribeye and several ounces of butter for additional fat.
And how do I feel now? I’d have to grade myself a good solid 85%. I realize that I may never be able to be a full 100% again, but that’s okay.
My digestion is wonderful. My skin is vastly better, and I hope that the remaining minor rashes will diminish in time. My sleep, though still being treated with a prescription medication, is improved to the extent that, later this year I’m going to try to wean myself from it.
And speaking of prescriptions, I no longer need meds for hypertension or hypothyroidism—the carnivore diet has eliminated the need for them.
I’m able to exercise and do some resistance training again, for the first time in years. My Fitbit scale says my lean mass is up a little; I hope to keep that going, as even though I don’t look half bad at 125, I think I’d look (and feel) even better at a well-muscled, say, 135.
And that’s my story.
I feel that I haven’t really conveyed how fundamentally the carnivore way of eating has changed my life for the better. Before, I could only sigh when each day of sickly drudgery began, as the best I could hope for was to feel “less bad”. I can look forward to each day now, and enjoy being alive, and feeling good.