In 2012, she began writing on the web about her findings in the field of nutrition, with the specific aim of exploring points of confusion about dietary modifications and their effects on biomarkers of health. Her interests include ketogenic diets, mood disorders, and ageing.
You Must be Starving?
The conflation of ketogenic diets with starvation has led to confusion and alarm about their effects on hormones. Humans and many other animals are naturally in ketosis under sufficient caloric restriction, but in most animals, ketosis is difficult or impossible without it (It's winter and food is difficult to find.).
She is also a blogger and writes from powerful, personal experience on the benefits of a ketogenic diet on her websites: www.ketotic.org and www.empiri.ca.
South African scientist Prof Tim Noakes introduced Amber's research on optimal weaning from an evolutionary perspective into evidence at his trial in South Africa.
There are two reasons I eat mostly fat. One is that there's only so much protein your body needs. Protein isn't really a fuel. It's used to repair your body. Once you've eaten enough protein to take care of the maintenance of your cells, what you really want is fuel, and fuel is provided by fat. I eat the protein I need that's adequate for my nutritional needs, and I get my energy from fat.
Two things happened when I tried a lower-fat high-protein diet. One is that I still felt hungry, and the other is that it just didn't keep my mood as stable.
I think once you're on a ketogenic diet, your liver is providing almost all your glucose. It's really a demand driven process. Not a supply driven process. Adding more dietary protein doesn't of necessity make your blood sugar rise.
So when you are in ketosis, and the body calls for glucose, the liver supplies just enough for the cells that need it, some in your brain and some in your blood cells.
If you eat a lot of protein, there's a hormonal response to that, which includes raising insulin. As your insulin goes up, your ability to burn fat goes down. So when your body wants more energy for something, it now looks first for glucose. The end result is that eating too much protein will cause you to burn more glucose, if glucose is available.
I really resonate with vegetarian people because I think that people who eat mostly plant diets care a lot about the same things I care about, which is health and the environment. I was brought up vegetarian, and I loved eating that way. I became a very proficient vegetarian cook. But I had health issues, and that led me to explore ways to get better. I now look at the data differently. My own health comes first, but animal welfare and the environment remain important to me.
"Amber O'Hearn at Ketofest 2017 - The Carnivorous Human"
I've been eating an essentially plant-free diet for almost 8 years, starting in November of 2009.
My original reason for trying a meat-only diet was for fat loss. I was at my wit's end, because my very low carbohydrate, but plant heavy diet, even though it had helped me get to into great shape in the past, wasn't as effective anymore and I was slowly getting fatter and fatter.
The ketogenic diet we were eating was very-low-carbohydrate, with lots of salads and vegetables. With this diet I'd remained mostly in ketosis for several years.
Becoming a Carnivore
The idea of eating only meat was very intimidating at first. Vegetables were a very important part of my life.
I spent three weeks planning and giving myself pep talks, and even then, I only felt able to commit to it with the promise to myself that it was going to be of very limited duration. Once I started, though, I felt comfortable within a few days. So, it took me way longer to adapt to the diet mentally than physically.
Today, I eat mostly just meat, but I will eat occasional eggs and dairy. I find that dairy increases my appetite significantly and I have an addiction-like response to fermented dairy in particular.
I prefer my beef steaks rare, but other cuts I treat individually. To my taste, short ribs are divine roasted for several hours, but ground beef is best raw or lightly seared. I eat about 600gm to 900gm of meat a day.
I often eat butter, lard, or tallow either on or with my meat, depending on how lean it is.
Of organ meats, I mostly eat liver, only because that's what I have easiest access to. I tend to get a craving for it every few weeks. I'll eat a lot of it for a few days and then I don't want it again for a while. I'm not very systematic about it.
I like bone broth. Just like with the organs I tend to drink it in phases; every day for a few days and then not again for a few weeks. I enjoy bone marrow also.
I mostly eat two meals a day, at lunch time and again at supper. I often feel better if my first meal is a little later than traditional lunch, but lunch is a social activity at my workplace, and it's a trade-off.
I do drink coffee and occasionally herbal tea.
I have played around with a variety of supplements, but the only ones I take with any consistency are: turmeric and citrus bioflavonoids, to reduce symptoms of endometriosis; and magnesium, just because I think our whole food chain is deficient in it.
Buying cheaper cuts and mixing in pork, poultry, and eggs helps keep cost down. Don't forget that ill health is a major expense. I've never missed work due to illness and have seen my doctor only for labs and preventive care.
I do a slow-burn style weight-lifting once a week, and walk, run or bike now and then if I feel like it.
I've had depression all my adult life. I was about 20, when I was first diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. And that came back many times throughout the years, and it was getting worse and worse.
Depression feels like low energy and low motivation and kind of loss of faith in the world and that anything is going to go well for you. There's a real disengagement with people and a real disillusionment with life. It's often talked about as some kind of a brain imbalance where it's just part of your physiology to be depressed. It's talked about as a disease that should be managed throughout your life. I was initially put on Prozac. At that time I couldn't imagine that my depression was diet related.
There have been times when I tried different antidepressant's, and some of them were helpful for a time.
I started taking other antidepressant's because the Prozac wasn't helping. What is known now but wasn't known, at least to me then, is that antidepressants, if you have bipolar disorder, can increase the progress of that disease.
Bipolar is often described as feeling depressed but also, alternating with feeling manic. Not being able to sleep. Getting a little too high. In Bipolar Type I, you can have psychotic episodes, you can have extreme mania. It's life destroying. It's very scary. Later on I started having symptoms of BiPolar II, which is mostly characterized by what are called “hypo-manias,” which are like mania but less severe. I now believe that it was the antidepressants that were hastening the progress of that propensity that I had. So it's like I had bipolar disorder but it was latent and it was progressing.
There are things like wanting to talk really fast. Having ideas that seem really exiting to you. It actually feels really good to have a hypo-mania. But it doesn't feel so good when you then crash. And it can be concerning for the people around you.
I was really excited, when I was re diagnosed with bipolar II. That may not sound very exiting. It's a bit of a more dangerous disease. But I thought, oh, this is the reason the medications have not been helping me is that they're not the right ones. Now I can start taking the right kind of medication and I will finally get better. That wasn't the case.
Not only did they not help me. But they made my life miserable, and my disease was progressing. My cycles of mood changes were becoming more rapid, and the states were becoming what they call mixed states. So it wasn't just a matter of being super depressed.
Living as a Carnivore
I lost over 60 pounds eating this way, but the most important benefit was that my Type II Bipolar Disorder, which mainly manifested as severe suicidal depression, is in complete remission. I've been off all psychiatric drugs since I started eating a carnivorous diet, and the only times I've had symptoms are when I have done experiments with plant foods, supplements, or had excessive alcohol consumption.
My third child was conceived when I started this diet the first time, and I didn't stay Zero carbohydrate during the first two trimesters, due to severe nausea and crabohydrate cravings. By the third trimester I ate very low crabohydrate with some carnivorous days. I've been essentially plant free since the birth, so that included his entire breast feeding period. I had better milk supply and better mood and stamina than with the previous two children.
My youngest child ate almost no plants for the first few years of his life. Now he has just few plants in his diet, mainly carrots and bell peppers. The others have eaten lower crabohydrate and even zero crabohydrate in the past, but eat high crabohydrate out in the world. It is a difficult social navigation for them, even though they understand the benefits.
One thing I love about my diet is that I trust my appetite completely now. My body stays in a range of about five pounds no matter what I do. That's freeing. I also love that I'm especially resistant to disease now. I never worry about the latest viruses going around. I feel robust.
My advice to a beginner is to commit to going into it as completely as possible for at least three weeks. You want to eliminate as many confounding factors as possible and stay at it long enough to start seeing changes. Please see my and Zooko’s blog post “Eat Meat. Not Too Little. Mostly Fat.” for our full advice on starting.
"Ketogenic Diets, Caloric Restriction, and Hormones - L. Amber O'Hearn"
There are significant benefits associated with caloric restriction, many through mechanisms in common with ketosis. Likewise, there are similar hormonal effects seen in both caloric restriction and ketogenic diets. It's not surprising, therefore that ketosis and starvation have been conflated. Measured hormone levels in ad libitum ketogenic dieters, that resemble those in caloric restriction, are sometimes mistakenly taken as signs of stress.
Ketosis is easily achieved in humans as long as dietary carbohydrate is limited. This means humans can be in ketosis without suffering under nutrition. In this presentation, I will show why the changes in thyroid and cortisol that accompany ketogenic diets should be considered beneficial, not dangerous.