Carnivore, Lion, Animal-Based: Inside the Extreme World of All-Meat Diets (2023)

Welcome toAnxious Carnivores, a mini-series about the changing culture around meat consumption. Despite growing pressures to quit meat, many Americans can’t quite do so—but they’re getting weirder and weirder about how they eat it.

Is it me or are meat diets sort a particularly deranged era right now?A content creator went viral for eating only meat for a month. Miss Thing isfully chomping into butter for some reason. The Liver King is, you know,eating a lot of liver. The hashtag #carnivorediet has over 650 million views on TikTok, where all-meat recipes like “carnivore bread,” or ground meat bound with eggs and baked into a loaf, and “carnivore crack,” or bacon in solidified brown butter, have gone viral—fueled by both disgust and genuine curiosity. Diet choices have become, in a word, extreme.

Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets aren’t new—Atkins, paleo, and keto have been popular (albeit controversial) for years as ways to lose weight. But these diets have now reached a new intensity: all-meat diets. These meal plans mix what we eat with who we are—they somehow blend health anxieties with identity and politics. Paul Saladino, creator of the animal-based diet, promises on his website to help you “live a life of optimal health.” The inventor of the lion diet is Mikhaila Fuller (née Peterson), the daughter of right-wing pop psychologist Jordan Peterson; her YouTube account discusses meat and men and boasts nearly a million subscribers. Meat-pilled food-lebrity Shawn Baker, nicknamed the Carnivore King after inventing and popularizing the no-carb, all-meat carnivore diet, has more than a quarter of a millionInstagram followers and claimswaves of success stories.Joe Rogan triedthe carnivore diet for a month, only to find it gave him diarrhea, and James Bluntapparently got scurvy from attempting it. (It shouldn’t be surprising to know that these diets go against commonly accepted health advice.)

Manyall-meat success stories—anecdotal, of course—make sure to mention that doctors had mismanaged a patient’s health and that theonly thing that helped was an all-meat diet. Still, the all-meat devotees I spoke to, for the most part, urged me to do my own research—a phrase that has its own political connotations. So that’s what I’ve done here: I spoke to meatheads and dieticians alike to learn the differences between each all-meat diet, why all-meat eaters choose such strict guidelines, and if these diets are actually good for our bodies.

What are all-meat diets? And what do they claim to do?

As their names might imply, no or low-carb diets like the carnivore, animal-based, or lion diet consist almost entirely of meat—some variations leave wiggle room, others essentially only permit steak. Influencers, self-proclaimed diet gurus, and their fans claim meat-based diets resolve a swath of chronic health issues. Saladino, the popular all-meat diet-fluencer (a word I just invented) whocreated the animal-based diet, claims on his website that it “can reverse and prevent disease, as well as unlock our most powerful forms.” Lion diet inventor Fuller’s websitealleges that the diet can alleviate the effects of everything from ulcers to autoimmune issues to depression, and even suggests dieters to stop taking their medications. Again, these diets directly oppose broadly accepted dietary guidelines. According toexperts like Dana Ellis Hunnes, a senior clinical dietician at UCLA Medical Center, “It is dangerous for humans to eat this way and is terrible for our microbiome, heart health and the environment.”

Carnivore diet, lion diet, animal-based diet: What's the difference?

Not every all-meat diet is created equal. Although they’re all centered around increasing protein intake and limiting carbohydrates, the carnivore diet, the lion diet, and the animal-based diet each have distinct guidelines.

The animal-based diet: the most lenient, leaving more room for adjustments to personal taste.Eating animal-based means sticking to mostly meat and organs, but also eating fruit, honey, and raw dairy, according to Saladino, who began promoting the diet in 2018. Certain foods, like seeds, grains, nuts, beans, and nightshades, have “high toxicity,” he claims, because they contain a higher level of chemicals like tannins, saponins, and lectins that “mess with your digestion.” He cuts them out of an animal-based diet completely. (Don’t ask me why he recommends fruits but not seeds, the things found in… fruits.) Dietitian Jamie Nadeau ofThe Balanced Nutritionist blog disagrees. “There’s no denying that an animal-based diet puts you at risk for nutrient deficiencies,” she writes.

The carnivore diet: a bit more strict. Baker began postingYouTube videos about the carnivore diet in 2018 too, publishing his Amazon bestsellerThe Carnivore Diet a year later. Following the carnivore diet meansno carbs, ever—vegetables, legumes, and fruit are off the table. Instead, this ultra-high protein diet allows for solely animal products: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Fats like butter, lard, and tallow are also permitted, but essentially, if it hasn’t been produced by something with a pulse, it could contain“anti-nutrients,” or compounds in fruits and produce that can interfere with the absorption of some nutrients—and for Baker, that’s a no-go.

The lion diet: the most restrictive one. In 2017, Fuller started her blog, then named Don’t Eat That, saying she eliminated everything but meat, water, and salt from her diet. Following the lion diet means eating only ruminant animals (think cows, sheep, bison, and other animals with multiple stomachs), because, she says, those multi-stomached beasts do a better job than single-stomached animals like pigs or chickens at breaking down the chemicals in plants. Ruminant meat does indeedhave an abundance of healthy fatty acids compared to other animals’, but it’s also generally acknowledged as the worst meatin terms of environmental impact. Other than meat, lion dieters can season with only salt, and drink only water.

There is, of course, alsoa more niche community of people that insist on eating raw meat—not beef tartare, but full cuts of raw chicken, beef, pork, and various organs. Perhaps the most notable member of the raw meat horde isBrian Johnson, better known as the Liver King,who claimed that eating slimy, glossy piles of raw meat was the key to his bulging muscles. (Johnson, or Mr. King, eventuallyrevealed his secret to fitness was actually steroids.)

What’s the culture surrounding these diets?

Meat-based diets aren’t just about eating a giant hunk of steak every day—well, they sort of are, but they’re more complex than that. Much of the culture around all-meat diets also dances tauntingly close to the toxic,alpha-male culture that’s become pervasive around the internet. See: Liver King’s muscles, which he claimed were built by his diet of raw organs (it was steroids, turns out). “Your past is being erased,” reads Saladino’s website. “You are being told that you are broken and can only be fixed with pharmaceuticals...This is bullsh*t. Welcome to the remembering.”

These cultures also bear a distinct element of uncovering a conspiracy. “Our Western medical system isn’t helping people lead richer lives,” Saladino writes on his site. Baker states his opinions more explicitly. “If you're afraid of red meat, that is a sign of mental weakness in my view; it's a sign that you're susceptible to the programming that's out there," he says ina YouTube video about eggs’ nutritional benefits. “They want you eating processed slop so they can control the food, they can control you, and it's not doing you any favors.”

Who’s eating an all-meat diet? And why would they do that?

Despite many, many health warnings, communities have sprung around the diets and the triumvirate of meat influencers. Based on myriadmedia coverage about Liver King,Joe Rogan’s endorsement of all-meat diets, and attempts from popular YouTube personalities such asBuff Dudes, you might expect many followers of the all-meat diet to be gym bros taking their fitness pursuits to the level. And certainly that population exists—just take a leisurely scroll throughr/RawMeat to see for yourself.

But other followers represent an interesting subset of all-meat dieters: those who claim to have been failed by the medical system. After difficulties with their health, these dieters felt they had to take matters into their own hands.

Kelly Hogan, a diet coach living in North Carolina, is a diehard all-meat eater. “I haven’t had a vegetable since 2009,” she told me proudly over the phone. She tried several different elimination diets, hoping to resolve a number of digestion issues and boils that had sprung all over her body. Nothing helped her as much as the carnivore diet. “Every single thing about my health has just improved,” she says, attributing her weight loss of 120 pounds to the diet too. “I felt good for the first time in my life.” According to Hogan, her blood pressure and blood sugar levels are “all good now,” although her doctor still urges her to eat greens.

Texas-based recipe blogger Ashley Rothstein fell into a meat-based diet by way of the more mainstream paleo diet—a gateway diet, if you will. Tackling mental and physical health issues, Rothstein had also tried the keto diet but wasn’t quite satisfied. “I still wasn't feeling my best,” she says. She even tried the strict carnivore diet, but it didn’t quite fit. “It made me feel good temporarily but there was a void there too,” Rothstein says. “I felt like I needed some plants, some carbohydrates to feel my personal best.”

When she heard Saladino speak about an animal-based diet on Joe Rogan’s podcast, it clicked. “A lot of what Paul said just resonated with me and aligned with what I had already heard and believed,” she says.

What are these all-meat dieters actually eating?

In 2021, Rothstein began posting animal-based recipes to her blog,Ash Eats, and it’s helped popularize the animal-based diet through its own following for recipes. Examples include “Animal-Based Cereal,” “Carnivore Sandwich Bread [Beef Version],” “Beef Cookies (Sweetened With Dates),” and “Carnivore Beef Liver Pancakes.” These recipes combine ground meat, butter, and eggs to create something akin to a bread-like texture, but without any carbs, though beef cookies also include dates, and, optionally, cinnamon and vanilla.

The carnivore diet, in particular, has garnered all sorts of meat-centric recipes, such asCarnivore Waffles and Carnivore Pizza.Desserts, too, are accounted for. Can I tempt you with some carnivore-friendly Cheesecake Pudding (gelatin, sour cream, and water), or would you prefer Keto Carnivore Egg Pudding (soft boiled eggs, half and half, and butter for the strict carnivore version)?

So, what do expert nutritionists say about all-meat diets?

According to Los Angeles-basedregistered dietitian and nutritionist Katy Zanville, diets made up of all or mostly meats are not ideal. “Just because you can survive off of eating meat alone doesn't mean that it's optimal for one's health or for your physical and mental well being.” Limiting intake of the vitamins, fiber, and minerals we get from non-meat foods, she says, could be harmful to long-term health.Vitamin deficiencies can lead to a whole host of problems like fatigue, or scurvy, whilea lack of fiber can lead to digestional issues, among other problems. Eating a lot of saturated fats, which are in foods like beef, lamb, and cheese, can also raise your risk of heart disease,according to the American Heart Association.

Zanville cautions that mainstream nutrition guidelines tend to draw from many instances of formal research, while social-media-driven meat diets seem based on only a few studies or anecdotes. Some people may feel great on animal-based diets, but other factors like genetics or environmental factors could be at play, Zanville says. For the vast majority of people, a more balanced diet is healthier.

A restrictive diet can also be isolating and stressful,meat-based or plant-based. “You kind of miss out on social interactions with friends or being able to have meals with your family, or you're feeling stressed about everything that you're eating,” Zanville says. “That can take a toll on your emotional well-being.”

For all-meat dieter Hogan’s part, she doesn’t think these diets are right for everybody. “We're not proselytizing that all people need to be total carnivores,” she says. Even for the meat proselytizers, greens seem to make an occasional appearance. In a since-deleted Instagram post, cross-posted to Twitter in 2020, Fuller announced that she was ready to try vegetables once again. “It’s been almost 3 years since I had a plant,” the post reads, “and I think (hope and pray) my body isn’t going to spaz when I reintroduce.”

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit

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