Carnivore diet constipation is real.
As a functional medicine practitioner and nutritionist, I have the opportunity to work with clients worldwide every day and get an “insider peek” into the up-sides and downsides for every single diet under the sun. The vegan, keto, paleo, Low FODMAP, intermittent fasting and the carnivore diet have been popular in recent years—and a key theme I’ve discovered in all of them is: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the “perfect diet” AND, if you stick with any elimination diet for a long time…problems, like vegan “bean and nut gut”, keto SIBO and “carnivore diet constipation” can happen.
What was once a productive, healthy dietary change seemingly backfires—even if you’re not purposely dieting.
Like Jessica, 34—a carnivore diet adherent for about one year.
Carnivore Diet Constipation: Jessica’s Story
Jessica initially adopted the carnivore diet as a last resort—after “trying everything else” to kick her bloating, improve her skin health, Hashimoto’s and fatigue. Long story short, within a just a few days of eating nothing but steak, liver pate and ghee, Jessica instantly felt better—the bloating she’d get after her morning celery juice and mid-day salad died down, her acne started to clear and her energy rebounded significantly (only needing one cup of black coffee—not three)!
Jessica’s “good feelings” continued for a solid 3 to 4 months until…one day, she woke up, and everything seemingly changed.
Her bloating began to come back—often feeling like food was sitting in her stomach, not moving through as easily. Her energy plummeted—subsisting off just 1200 to 1400 calories every day caught up with her (even though she was never hungry). And her skin, well, it was still clearer, but if she so much as thought about even taking a bite of her husband’s sweet potato or broccoli on his plate, a flare instantly popped up.
The worst part: Carnivore diet constipation. Jessica found herself struggling to go to the bathroom every day.
What once had been a morning daily ritual for her, suddenly became an occasional event every two to three days for a “good one.” To help herself go #2, Jessica turned to coffee and supplements, but often still felt like impacted stool was sitting in her colon. This went on for 6 to 8 months, until Jessica reached out to me at my virtual clinic for support in improving motility.
Ugh…Stuck. Carnivore diet constipation.
Carnivore Diet Constipation: Why it Happens
Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone.
Carnivore diet constipation happens due to 4 primary reasons, including:
Carnivore Diet Constipation Driver #1: Poor Digestive Mechanics
“Digestive mechanics” refers to the “mechanics” of your digestive tract that keep things running in tip top shape—stomach acid, enzymes, gallbladder function, liver health, balanced gut bacteria. Do you have enough stomach acid to break down protein appropriately—or has your stomach acid been suppressed under stress? Is your pancreas producing enough digestive enzymes, and is your gallbladder healthy—free from sludge and bile often caused by things like birth control pills and medications, plastic exposures (water bottles, tupperware), pesticides, antibiotics, mycotoxins, etc.)? Do you have a diverse abundance of healthy gut bugs and plenty of butyric acid (short chain fatty acids) in your colon?
If not, pooping well is not going to happen!
Many people jump into elimination and lifestyle diets, like the carnivore diet, out of desperation to feel better and relieve symptoms (such as bloating, skin breakouts or weight gain), without ensuring their digestive system is working optimally. While the diet may work in the short term to relieve symptoms (for example, if you had gut bacteria dysboisis and leaky gut and you’re no longer eating apples and cauliflower that up-regulated your symptoms, of course you’re going to feel better), in the long term, this strategy backfires because you still are not supporting your under-performing digestive mechanics.
Carnivore Diet Constipation Driver #2: Undernutrition & Underhyrdration
Are you accidentally under-eating? If you’re like our Jessica example, you are. Most women need at least 1600 to 2000 quality calories and men need 2200 to 2600 daily as a baseline for optimal metabolic function, based on basic needs and a moderately active (non couch potato) lifestyle. The carnivore diet, super high in satiating protein and some fats, naturally curb appetite and can lead to slowed motility, primarily because the metabolism slows when we consume less fuel and there is not as much food to push through the system.
On the flip side, overconsumption of any one nutrient as well (from beans to butter and bacon to steak, chicken or turkey) can also be a lot for your digestive system to handle. If you’ve ever over-eaten any one food, you can probably relate.
Some folks are also really poor meat digesters—your genetics, ancestors, gut microbiome and health conditions can all influence how well your body can break down any one food in general. For example, I have a history and genetic predisposition towards irritable bowel disease (colitis), celiac disease and a history of Lyme disease (alpha gal syndrome). I am also very “Vata” (Aryuvedic medicine body type with slow digestion) and Northern European (poor digestion and Hemochromatosis genes—high iron). As a result, red meat easily constipates me if I do not supplement with digestive enzymes or HCL.
My colleague, Sarah, on the other hand, is very “Pitta” (Aryuvedic medicine body type with firery digestion), she is of Scandanavian descent, she has no history of underlying autoimmune disease, and her biggest health complaints are pimples when she is on her period. Sarah can eat a beef burger patty every day and feel amazingly robust.
Lastly on this note of under or over consumption, underhydration plays a huge role in carnivore diet constipation. Your body is 60 to 70% water and needs water to keep your lymph and digestive juices flowing—especially when you’re lacking water in other sources (like veggies and fruits). Protein can have a super drying impact on the gut, and thus extra water plus minerals (sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride) may be needed.
Carnivore Diet Constipation Driver #3: Lack of “Bulk” in the Stool
One word: fiber.
You can’t live with it. Your gut bugs can’t live without it.
Most people on a carnivore diet agree that they felt euphorically better when they removed fiber on their carnivore diet. In fact, constipation may have gone away entirely for a season. Is this because fiber is evil and the “powers that be” have been unnecessarily preaching and overemphasizing the (false) health benefits of fruits and veggies?
The reason why you feel better sans fiber on a carnivore diet is because your gut microbiome, prior to going fiber-free, did NOT have fiber-degrading bacteria, capable of feasting on fiber to feel good—from lettuce, green beans to sweet potatoes.
Only gut bacteria can digest fiber. And when they digest fibers, gut bacteria then produce short chain fatty acids to create a “hospitable” gut microbiome environment—free from inflammation and digestive distress, as well as help create “bulk” in your poo to usher bowel movements out the back door.
A recent systemic review of studies consisting of nearly 15,000 people overwhelmingly found that lower dietary fiber intake is associated with a greater risk of constipation—even more so than lack of water itself (this is probably because fiber rich foods also contain water—a one-two punch!).
So, if this is the case, why does constipation happen for some folks on the carnivore diet months later—even without the fiber that once caused them gut distress?
One word: bulk. You don’t have any bulk in your stool much at all to aid in healthy bowel movements easily and effortlessly.
You don’t have to eat bowls of broccoli or raw spinach for “bulk” in your stool. Both soluble fibers (gel-like consistency vegetables that digest easily like winter squash, cooked carrots, beets, pickled veggies, summer squash, well-cooked greens and green beans) and supplemental fibers can be helpful aids however to “push” food through the GI tract.
This may not be news to a carnivore dieter’s ears, but even randomized, double-blind placebo control trials (where folks have no idea if they are intaking fiber or not) show that, for constipation relief, fiber (especially gut loving prebiotic fiber) needs to be present to get poo moving and grooving naturally. This is perhaps why even studies in Low FODMAP dieters show that the diet, intended to “cure constipation” and positively send IBS into remission, can eventually backfire and leave the gut more of a mess—not less—if continued for long term.
Fiber is not a four-letter word.
Carnivore Diet Constipation Driver #4: Dysbiosis
Dysbiosis is a fancy word for Gut Microbiota imbalance.
If you have too many of one type of bacteria (like all the meat eaters), and not enough of other species (like fiber degraders), the gut is imbalanced. Dysbiosis. If you don’t have enough diversity of bacteria (like you just have red meat eater, but not salmon, chicken and pork eaters), the gut is imbalanced. Dysbiosis. If you have the overgrowth of gut bacteria where you don’t want it (like SIBO—in the small intestine), the gut is imbalanced. Dysbiosis.
Our diet is the greatest determinant on the balance and health of our gut eco-system. If our diet is balanced, our gut is often balanced. If our diet is imbalanced (processed foods, vegan, carnivore, keto, etc.) for far too long, our gut can adopt a state of imbalance.
Why this matters? Dysbiosis equals gut disruption—carnivore diet constipation included. Individuals with constipation often have significantly different gut bacteria composition than non-constipated healthy people, with higher levels of methane producing bacteria in their intestines, which slows intestinal transit time.
This is where thee 5 hacks to do now to get the golden poo and kick carnivore diet constipation come into play…
5 Simple Hacks to Get the Golden Poo & Kick Carnivore Diet Constipation
Knowledge is power! If you have carnivore diet induced constipation, here are 5 of my favorite simple hacks you can do to get the golden poo and kick carnivore diet constipation:
#1. Add in Prebiotic Fiber
If you’re feeling constipated regularly, your body (and gut) may be speaking–“Please give me some fiber.”
I encourage starting with soluble dietary fibers and well-cooked veggies, like cooked carrots, steamed beets, pickled vegetables, sautéed greens in ghee or coconut oil, winter and summer squash, cooked and cooled sweet potatoes and purple/red potatoes.
Concurrently, I also encourage you to saturate your brain with truths (not myths) about fiber. For example, ever heard the myth that “oxalates are toxic to your gut?” Well, the primary reason why this is the case is because some folks don’t have enough oxalate degrading bacteria in their biome! If they did, they’d realize oxalates are really not an issue at all (unless ALL you are eating are oxalates). You are not “weak” for adding in some fiber to improve your motility.
If you’re not ready to introduce food fibers, at the very least, adding in some supplemental fibers is recommended. “Fan favorites” (that are easy to tolerate) include: soluble fiber blends (like Fibromin and Paleo Fiber), partially hydrolyzed guar gum and modified citrus pectin. (To order any of these practitioner-grade supplements on Fullscript, use THIS LINK and simply enter the name of the fiber you’d like).
#2. Probiotic and Butyrate Up
While you’re at it with increasing fiber, it’s a good time to also add in some probiotics and short chain fatty acids (butyrate) to begin rebuilding up your healthy gut bugs.
Not all probiotics are created equal or beneficial, which is why I suggest customizing your probiotics to match your gut health needs (identified via stool and microbiome testing, as well as based upon your signs and symptoms).
However, if you’re looking for a good “middle of the road” probiotic to get started, I often see good results with Seed and Orthospore IgG (on Fullscript, use THIS LINK). As for butyrate, reduce intestinal inflammation and improve food tolerances with a formula like this.
#3. Boost Stomach Acid & Enzymes
Personalized to your lifestyle, ACV has never been easier to incorporate 😍 pic.twitter.com/4372nTRTXr
— Bragg Live Food Products, LLC (@BraggLiveFoods) November 10, 2021
If you’re not breaking down your food up top, then it’s not going to come out easily down low. Boost stomach acid with apple cider vinegar shots (1-2 tbsp in 4 to 8 oz of water with meals), Manuka honey and HCL capsules. As for enzymes, take 1 to 2 capsules with meals and naturally boost enzymes by chewing your food really well, eating mindfully (not on the go or in a rush) and pausing to take 4 to 6 deep breaths before meals.
#4. Hydrate, Plus Add Minerals
Drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water daily—and then some if you can (GOWAD anyone?—gallon of water a day!). Also supplement with trace minerals and sea salt your food to taste. Minerals help open the “channels” for your body’s cells and tissues to absorb both water and nutrients.
#5. Make a Poo Cocktail
If you’re really backed up, try one of these bowel movers (not all of them at once):
- Magnesium Chloride (I LOVE Upgraded Formulas)
- Buffered Vitamin C (to bowel tolerance—take one dose every hour until you go #2)
- Iberogast Prokinetic Tincture + Digestive Bitter Herbs with meals
- Smooth Move Tea (Sienna tea)
Carnivore diet constipation primarily happens because your gut microbiome and digestive mechanics are out of whack. Contact my virtual clinic today to help you optimize your gut health and kick constipation to the curb (for good).