Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a journalist from The Guardian about eating carnivore and a ketogenic diet.
Just why would someone do it?
First of all, I just want to say that I don’t believe in “mocking vegans” and mentioned this during my phone interview with the journalist, despite my admiration for Dr. Shawn Baker, who I think has a vital message to share in regards to red meat and saturated fat. I have many friends who are vegans and vegetarians, and like religion (I grew up Jehovah’s Witness; not one anymore), I respect people’s beliefs. In fact, I actually went with a vegan friend to a restaurant with an all-vegan menu a few months ago and simply fasted, sipping unsweetened iced tea, focusing on our conversation and friendship instead.
Yet at the same time, I’m also beginning to believe (along with my husband who was vegetarian for over fifteen years and now eats carnivore keto too) that a plant-based diet may not be as healthy and sustainable as we have all been led to believe. My husband, Darrell, who is now in remission from cancer (using the ketogenic diet in conjunction with chemo and radiation), is the one who suggested trying the carnivore diet after we read up on Dr. Georgia Ede’s work. We were also inspired by Danny Vega (and his Fat-Fueled Family), Amber O’Hearn, and Shawn Baker. (Darrell is constantly telling me I should read a book he believes wholeheartedly in: The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.)
The second thing I want to mention, and also told the reporter during our phone interview, is that I’m just beginning my experiment eating carnivore, now over three months in. I’m not even certain if I want to do this for the rest of my life. It’s just a self-experiment. And I’m also making it my own, not completely following it in the way long-time zero carb and carnivore folks have been doing it (e.g., I add MCT oil to my coffee, track my fasting glucose, blood ketones and GKI and also drink wine and whiskey from time to time.)
I also told her that I’m still learning everyday about eating this way, and pretty far away from an expert or someone with long-term lived experience like Kelly Hogan, Amber O’Hearn, or Charlene Andersen who have all been successfully eating carnivore for over a decade.
But the main reason I’m choosing to eat a carnivore and keto diet is because of my mental health, for bipolar disorder. It’s funny how easy it’s been to tell people I eat keto for prediabetes, how it helped with (my husband’s) cancer — all true — but I’ve been so afraid to come out about using the ketogenic diet for bipolar. There is so much stigma attached to bipolar disorder that is unnecessary!
In my twenties, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder after I mentioned to the psychiatrist I briefly saw that my sister had been diagnosed with Type 1. The psychiatrist I had been seeing for my anxiety and depression, who had me on SSRIs, suddenly switched me to an anti-convulsant instead. Imagine my surprise when I realized my friend who has epileptic seizures took the same prescription drug I was taking: Neurontin!
In my thirties, while doing a MFA program in Fiction and Creative Writing, I almost dropped out before also being diagnosed with ADHD and Social Anxiety. (I couldn’t, for the life of me, focus on doing assignments turned in on time, and freaked out having to do literary readings in front of other people, often running into class late, and leaving as soon as the bell ended to avoid any social interactions with anybody.)
I went through a series of configuration of meds, always involving an anti-convulsant, like Neurontin or Oxcarbazapine. I was put on Adderall for my ADHD. As a new mom in grad school, I also faced post-partum depression. But the anxiety I faced was crippling, despite the meds, and I would quickly oscillate from anxiety to depression, and back. What did help some was cognitive behaviorial therapy (CBT) that used mindfulness and meditation rather than medication alone.
But then I began seeing a nutritionist who happened to be one of the parents in my son’s elementary school class in Oakland, CA. She introduced me to Sally Fallon’s book that emphasized whole foods and healthy animal fats. We began an elimination diet to take out sugar and flour. I discovered Paleo and Primal eating, falling in love with Robb Wolf, Marc Sisson, Melissa Joulwan and Michelle Tam’s books for recipes. I began to feel better and my therapist and psychiatrist saw the positive changes. In fact, they both decided I was merely “on the spectrum of Type 2 Bipolar Disorder,” prone to hypomania but nothing debilitating enough to put my own life (or that of others) in danger.
In the article it’s mentioned that the carnivore diet helped me to come off my bipolar meds. That isn’t true. I mentioned in my interview that in 2012, I was able to ramp off all medications after simply reducing my flour and sugar intake, following a ancestral/paleo/primal way of eating. The psychiatrist I saw (not in my insurance plan, unfortunately) suggested that I eliminate flour and sugar out of my diet to see if that helped — and help it did!
I wasn’t the type of person you hear about with bipolar disorder who rushed out and had sex with strangers, abused massive drugs, gambled or was constantly suicidal. My biggest problem was saying “yes” to everyone, filling up my life constantly with people (despite having social anxiety; go figure!). Another problem was I amassed quite a bit of e-courses on my hard drive and books I never got to reading on our shelves. I was also terrible with spending money, having become bankrupt by my early twenties. And when I taught English at a community college, I was so anxious, I had to take a beta-blocker from time to time just to face my thirty or so students, always waiting to the last minute to grade essays.
In December 2014 when my husband found out he had cancer, a friend told us about the keto diet, about the possibility of starving the cancer cells from glucose, and we immediately jumped in full force. By then, my general practitioner had warned that with my blood tests were climbing to “prediabetes” levels, and told me I should eat better and move more. I immediately gravitated to eating keto when I read about the potential benefits for people with Central Nervous Disorders (CNS), such as bipolar disorder and ADHD. Recently I read that cancer researcher Dominic D’Agostino believes the keto diet is the first line of defense for people with cancer, as well as those inflicted with CNS and neurological disorders
As someone who can easily go from Spongebob to Squidward (or for you older folks: Winnie-the-Pooh to Eeyore) within the space of an hour or a day, it’s not easy to battle day-to-day mood swings. And I know it’s not easy for my family members as well.
Everyone noticed, including my friends, when I simply switched to a regular keto diet, how less anxious and depressed I was, compared to how I used to be, back when I was eating a SAD (Standard American Diet) way life, filled with high carbs (mostly refined carbohydrates), pasta, bread, cakes, cookies, pizza. I used to think of myself as a foodie, someone who valued what some of my friends would call, “bougie” foods, searching for high-starred Yelp and Zagat reviews, chasing high-end food trucks, salivating to the Food Network Channel while binging on high-carb, high-sugar foods.
Can A Ketogenic Diet Help Bipolar Disorder?
I love Dr. Georgia Ede, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and her work around mental health and ketogenic diets, a subject close to my heart. In this video, Irish engineer Ivor Cummins interviews Dr Ede about how a keto diet can help with bipolar disorder, seizure disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. They discuss vegetables—how healthy are they really?
“A ketogenic diet seems to stabilize brain cell chemistry. In particular, lowers intracellular sodium…and that is also the way a lot of the mood stabilizing medications that we prescribe work for bipolar disorder. So there’s a lot of similarity between BP and seizure disorders, in terms of the underlying mechanism. The meds prescribed for BP disorder as well as seizure disorders—many of these are the same medications.”
Now I know firsthand that keto works. Not only in bringing down my prediabetes (HbA1C from 5.8% to 5.2%) and help with shrinking my husband’s tumor during his cancer, my moods began to improve even more. I ramped off ALL meds in 2012, including asthma meds (like my steroid inhaler and Prednisone for all the coughing that took forever to disappear after colds I don’t get anymore). And to this day (today, as I write this, I turned 46 years old), I have never felt better, more optimistic about our future moving from a house into a RV, about spending time with my family and loved ones–feeling younger and happier than ever!
Now keto-adapted since August 2017 (I half-assed a keto-ish, paleo-ish diet since December 2014), my husband and I decided to try this carnivore keto approach, but adding in the keto and paleo/primal elements we care about, such as MCT oil (with its anti-convulsant properties), grass-fed and pastured meat and eggs, raw cheeses (when we can find them), tracking our ketones, fasting glucose, and GKI (Glucose Ketones Index).
Most people who eat carnivore or keto tend to use it to lose weight–which is great. But Darrell and I are doing it mainly for cancer, bipolar disorder, and prediabetes. The weight loss, newfound energy to work out, better body composition, higher energy and libido, mental clarity, have all been giant bonuses–icing on the cake! I’ve really found that when you eat in a way to have better physical and mental health–and not for weight loss–the weight comes off more easily. It’s not a diet. It’s just a way of life!
Others Who Have Successfully Used Keto for Bipolar Disorder
- Amber O’Hearn (carnivore, data-scientist, researcher, and mom)
- Carrie Brown (eats keto but with vegetables)
- Feeding Bipolar (Instagram acct from a woman eating keto with type 2 BP making a documentary)
Others With Bipolar Disorder
As I mentioned, the fear about coming out about bipolar disorder is beyond scary. I worry about all the stigmas that come with it. Yet I know deep down that I have been–and still am–a loving, responsible, whole human being. And throughout history there have been many people who are (or had been) inflicted with bipolar disorder. Here are some just off the top of my head (and many of these people are/were conventionally successful):
- Tim Ferriss (Tim actually uses keto and fasting too)
- Carrie Fisher
- Robin Williams
- Demi Lovato
- Jane Pauley
- Mariah Carey
- Ashley Judd
- Ellen Forney (My fave graphic memoir–Marbles–on Bipolar Disorder)
- Melody Moezzi (Author of another fave memoir of mine: Haldol & Hyacinths)
- Maya Forbes’ dad (writer and director of Infinitely Polar Bear starring Mark Ruffalo)