Can you lose weight on a carnivore diet?

If you're carni-curious, here's everything you need to know about this controversial way of eating.

Written by
Emma Norris
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
March 18, 2024
6
min read
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Can you lose weight on a carnivore diet?
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Imagine a world where you can chow down on steak and bacon all day and still lose weight. For some, it sounds like a dream you just don't want to wake up from.

But, for followers of the carnivore diet, it's (seemingly) a reality.

The all-meat diet has come under the spotlight recently, thanks to high-profile followers like Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson — with the latter claiming that it helped him shed over 20 kilos, as well as improving his gum health, anxiety and depression [1].

But, is the carnivore diet really all it is cracked up to be when it comes to losing weight? And, is it actually safe or healthy to eat nothing but animal products?

If you're carni-curious, here's everything you need to know about this controversial way of eating.

What can and can't you eat on a carnivore diet?

As far as diets go, the carnivore diet is as restrictive as they come.

As the name suggests, it involves eating only animal foods (or foods produced by animals), which includes meats like:

  • Red meat, including beef and lamb
  • Poultry
  • Pork products, including bacon and ham
  • Turkey
  • Seafood
  • Fish
  • Organ meats

The carnivore diet also permits eating eggs and a small amount of dairy products including butter, hard cheeses (such as parmesan and cheddar) and heavy cream.

Some seasonings are also allowed, including salt and pepper.

In terms of what's not allowed on the carnivore diet, the answer is, well: "everything else."

It restricts entire food groups such as produce, grains, and legumes. This means that the following foods are not permitted on the carnivore diet:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • All grain products like bread and granola
  • Rice
  • Sugar
  • Beverages other than water and bone broth, including soft drinks, tea, juice, and even coffee

On that last point, coffee is a major point of contention in the carnivore diet community.

Even though black coffee contains 0 calories or carbs, it contains fruit seed extract which is considered to be a plant-based food.

So, if you're following a strict carnivore diet, you can wave goodbye to your morning cup of joe.

What is the point of the carnivore diet?

The carnivore diet flips everything we know about healthy eating on its head.

While, thanks to the traditional food pyramid, most of us try to consume 2 serves of fruits, 5 serves of vegetables and plenty of whole grains every day, this restrictive regime proposes the opposite.

So, is there any logic behind it?

According to its proponents, the carnivore diet aims to revert back to how our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate.

The idea is that because we evolved as carnivores, eating this way can provide performance advantages and help offset some of the challenges of modern life (such as a sedentary lifestyle).

Essentially, the carnivore diet follows the same train of thought as the paleo diet, which was extremely popular 10 years ago.

However, the carnivore diet takes it a step further by also eliminating plant-based foods like fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and even low-carb vegetables.

Are there any benefits to a carnivore diet?

So far, the carnivore diet has not been extensively studied, so any claims of benefits should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, beyond weight loss, some have reported experiencing improved energy levels and mental clarity [2].

This is likely due to the low carbohydrate intake (which helps stabilise blood sugar levels), which can also be achieved through other low-carb diets such as the keto diet.

As the carnivore diet involves consuming high amounts of protein (the building block of muscles), it may also help improve overall body composition.

To gain muscle mass, you typically need to consume 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day on top of strength training regularly [3].

As many of us fall short of our optimal protein intake, eating an all-meat diet could theoretically assist with muscle gain while simultaneously losing fat. However, it can be a double-edged sword, because our bodies need carbs for muscle recovery — so you may see your performance in the gym suffer.

Other anecdotal health benefits that have been observed with a carnivore diet include an improvement in diabetes symptoms, better gut health, and improved mental health [4].

However, it's important to note that these are likely a byproduct of reducing the consumption of ultra-processed foods — and this certainly isn't exclusive to the carnivore diet.

Are there any dangers?

You might be wondering 'Is the carnivore diet healthy?'

Amidst the carnivore diet success stories, it's important to note that living solely on meat carries significant health risks.

Firstly, eating a diet high in red meat has been strongly linked to chronic diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Given that the Cancer Council recommends limiting red meat consumption (which includes beef, pork, lamb, kangaroo, and venison) to 455 grams (cooked) per week, it would be easy to go overboard while on an all-meat diet [5].

Other animal products like processed meat, dairy and eggs also tend to be high in saturated fats, which can also increase your LDL cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular health issues [6].

Following such a highly restrictive diet can also put you at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.

Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains all contain essential nutrients that can be difficult to achieve through an all-meat diet.

For example, vitamin C (which plays an important role in the growth and repair of tissues in the body) is mainly found in fruits, vegetables, and fortified foods like cereals [7]. While sufficient amounts can be consumed through raw liver, fish roe and eggs, this requires an extremely intentional approach.

In one of the very few studies conducted on the carnivore diet, researchers analysed the health status of over 2000 people who had been following the protocol for at least 6 months [8].

Overall, participants reported high levels of satisfaction, overall improved well-being and a reduction in BMI. However, some side effects were reported, including gastrointestinal issues and muscle loss. Most notably, participants saw a substantial rise in LDL cholesterol levels.

This indicates that while some benefits may be seen with the carnivore diet, there are significant health tradeoffs. This type of restrictive diet should not be attempted without the guidance of a medical professional.

Can a carnivore diet work for weight loss?

Whether it's veganism, the whole food diet or keto, there's no one proven way to lose weight.

No matter how you label it, weight loss is — at least theoretically — a matter of consuming fewer calories than you consume. Regardless of whether it comes from only animal products or plant foods, a calorie is still a calorie.

However, it's worth noting that the carnivore diet is, at its core, a zero-carb diet.

By following it to a tee, your body is likely to go into a state called ketosis where it begins to burn fat for energy, rather than glycogen stores. While there's minimal research specifically backing the carnivore diet, there is evidence that low-carb diets can promote weight loss.

In one meta-analysis, researchers compared over 25 weight loss trials and found that low-carb diets saw a significant reduction in body weight at 3-4 months to 6-8 months compared to other diets, but not over the longer term [9].

This suggests that low-carb diets such as the carnivore diet, can be highly effective for short-term weight loss — whether it's through being in a caloric deficit, or because it helps improve insulin resistance through blood sugar regulation.

However, as it is extremely restrictive and difficult to stick to, it may not be suitable for long-term weight loss efforts.

Other proven ways to lose weight

Following a strict carnivore diet certainly isn't everyone's cup of bone broth.

If you're someone who thrives on eating meat, then there's no reason you can't include more of it in your daily diet (so long as you're keeping an eye on your heart health and cholesterol levels).

However, eating a meat-only diet is far from the only way to shed body fat, nor is it the safest and healthiest.

Generally, losing weight requires a reduced calorie intake, whether that's through eating less, moving more or a combination of both.

There are many different paths you can take to get there — whether it's intermittent fasting, becoming a CrossFit fanatic or yes, eating only meat. However, generally, the best way to do it — and the way we recommend — is to eat a wide array of different healthy foods in moderation.

It's also important to note that there are biological and psychological factors that impact your ability to lose weight.

Whether it's a slowed metabolism or an emotional eating habit, these variables can make 'just eat less' easier said than done. If you need a hand kickstarting your health and weight loss journey, Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program tackles excess weight from the inside out to set you up for success.

Take our short assessment here to find out if you're eligible.

Image credit: Getty Images

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