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What is the Animal-Based Diet? A Deep-Dive into the Online Community that Hates Vegetables

Imagine that one day I appear at your doorstep shirtless. And then, instead of offering myself, I ask you to stop eating vegetables.


Like, for forever. You cannot touch a vegetable your whole life. Not even eggplant emojis.


I go on a huge rant on how vegetables are in fact, fucking bad for you and that our system has been lying to us this whole damn time. You watch in horror as I namedrop one harmful chemical component after another faster than your chemistry teacher can do on meth.


I wouldn’t have to wait for long before you call me a madman and chase me out with a broccoli in your hand.


But apart from my invasion of your privacy, this isn’t a far-fetched story. Because there is a growing movement on the internet that is challenging our notions of vegetables and meat. And it has a huge number of followers.


It's called the animal-based diet.


Huh…The Animal-Based What?

The main idea I understood is this: to obtain most of your daily nutrition from animals or animal-based products. Like, the opposite of a vegan. But far more annoying.


You might think? Hmm, that seems simple. 


But NO. 


The animal-based diet has multiple versions. There is the carnivore diet, whose adherents stick to just meat and animal products. Then, there is the lion diet, whose adherents eat just three items: beef, salt, and water. However, most animal-based diet followers consume a diet that also includes fruits and raw honey.


But for all of them, vegetables are a NO-NO.


The Characters

Let me now turn my attention to the various people who have played pivotal roles in making the animal-based diet penetrate our cultural zeitgeist.


1. The Bear

The animal-based diet is not a new phenomenon. The earliest evidence of it (at least one that I could find) is a 2006 post in the forum Low Carber. The post is from Owsley “The Bear” Stanley, best known for his stint as the sound engineer of Grateful Dead. Over multiple posts in the forum, he explained his personal experience and various theories on the animal-based diet.


2. Shawn Baker

If the Bear ignited it, Shawn Baker spread it. Because the core ideas of the animal-based diet first became popular through Shawn Baker. 


Shawn Baker is an American orthopaedic surgeon who adheres to the carnivore diet. Right after his appearance in the Joe Rogan podcast, you can see a spike in Google Trends (a tool that tracks the trends in Google searches since 2004) for the search term 'carnivore diet.'


3. Paul Saladino

However, if the movement has a messiah, it is Dr. Paul Saladino. Dr. Saladino is an American psychiatrist with a massive social media presence (at the time of this writing, he has 500k+ followers on TikTok and 1.9 million followers on Instagram.)


In 2020, he released a book titled ‘The Carnviore Code,’ where he advised that we should all follow an all-meat diet. 


But for a lot of social media users, Saladino would be familiar because of his supermarket raids. In these raids, he visits supermarket aisles, picks out different items there, and lists out the “harmful” chemicals contained in them. So far, his victims have included Kale, Broccoli, and Oats. 


(Sidenote: For some reason, he is shirtless in most of these raids, and his many other videos, showing off his toned physique. )


4. The Liver King

Talking of appearing shirtless, let’s move on to the biggest star among the cast of animal-based diet: The Liver King.


Brian Johnson AKA The Liver King is a social media personality. In Instagram alone, he boasts 2.3 million followers. 


Johnson is most known for eating raw organs (particularly the liver, hence the name.) In many of his videos, you can see him dining on meat, along with his wife (whom he refers to as The Liver Queen) and his sons (The Liver Princes.) 


(Sidenote: Like Saladino, he is also shirtless in nearly all of them.)


On his website, Johnson writes, “LK Media is the war drum of the ancient spirit, the voice echoing through the concrete jungle bringing the ancestral message to the masses. It's the lifeline to our past, blasting truths from our savage roots straight into the heart of modernity, tearing away the veil of comfort, awakening you with raw, unfiltered wisdom.”


(I have no idea what that means.)


Bold Claims

The proponents of the animal-based diet make numerous claims. Let’s have a look at some of them.


1. Vegetables Are Harmful For Your Health

The most audacious claim is that vegetables are harmful. 


Yes, you heard that right. 


Not that veggies have zero health benefits; but that they are actively harmful for us.


Both Shawn Baker and Paul Saladino explain the logic of it like this: Plants don’t want us to eat their vegetables. So, they have evolved harmful defence chemicals to protect the vegetables. 


Figures like Saladino and Baker cite a few studies in support of their argument. 


The first one is a 2021 study, where the experimenters concluded that a plant-based diet not only had zero health benefits but also didn't reduce any harmful risks.


The second are two meta-analyses' from 2021 that showed a negative correlation between a plant-based diet and mental health. Both the studies showed that on markers of mental health (such as rates of depression and anxiety) vegetarians and vegans fared worse compared to followers of animal-based and omnivorous diets.


2. Humans Are (Kind of) Carnivores

The second claim is similarly sciency. It goes like this: pre-historic humans relied on animal-based sources (like hunting, fishing, running behind a mammoth or two, etc.) for their nutritional needs. Until agriculture came along and we fucked it up.


In support of their claim, animal-based diet followers cite the 'your-brain-on-meat' hypothesis (I just made that name up. Only the name though - the rest are from scientists. I promise.) 


This hypothesis states that the brain size of our direct ancestor Homo Erectus (I know, right!) increased once they started eating cooked meat. Because meat consumption finally gave us the energy required to run a huge brain. To put this into context, the human brain uses 20% of our body’s energy. Apes? 8%.


In addition to the your-brain-on-meat hypothesis, the animal-based diet’s proponents take modern hunter-gatherers as evidence. Like the Hadza, from Tanzania. 


The Hadza are a frequent example of this because their main food is allegedly meat.


3. There Are Numerous Benefits

The animal-based diet has so many health benefits according to its followers.


For example in one study of 2029 participants, the people who followed an animal-based diet reported positive results, including weight loss (It was an internet study conducted among animal-based diet adherents with the data being self-reported.)


A lot of the adherents mention how the diet has led to the disappearance of lifelong physical and mental troubles.


Like, Saladino who claims his lifelong Eczema disappeared after he switched to an animal-based diet. Kelly Hogan, a diet coach who follows an all-meat diet explains ”Every single thing about my health has just improved.” Meanwhile, Johnson claims that following his diet helps you get a physique like his (we’ll get to that in a while.)


The Criticism

To nobody's surprise, the claims from animal-based diet adherents have received backlash.Let’s have a look at them.


1. Plant-Based Diets are Rad

Time and time again, eating vegetables has been proven to have numerous health benefits - including lower risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and type 2 diabetes.


In fact, if you remove plants from your diet, you're going to get into a shitstorm of nutritional deficiencies.


For instance, fibre is absent in animal-based foods. The lack of fibre can lead to chronic inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and a lower lifespan. 


Likewise, it is hard to get enough Vitamin C from animal sources alone. And a lack of Vitamin C can lead to scurvy.


Further cracks appear the more you look into the studies and meta-analyses that animal-based diet experts cite. 


For example, the study that shows zero improvement on a plant-based diet has received criticism of data misinterpretation from the researchers themselves. 


Of the two meta-analyses, both have been subject to embellishment; one set of researchers has openly mentioned their conclusion is not final and the second set has concluded there exists no positive causation or correlation between meat eating and better mental health outcomes. Yet, the animal-based diet proponents parade the studies as conclusive evidence.


2. Our Ancestor’s Diet

The short answer? All our ancestors didn't eat the same shit.


Instead, there was a hell lot of variation. For example, those living near the coastal regions mostly ate fish and seafood. Meanwhile, their forest-dwelling counterparts ate what was available during the particular season.


Also, the analogy of the Hadza? Yeah, that doesn't hold up either. Because it turns out that the Hadza don’t follow a strict animal-based diet but a varied diet that includes plants. 


Besides, the Hadza example conveniently ignores the counter-evidence: other modern hunter-gatherer communities. 


Of which, there are the Tikiġaġmiut of Alaska, who mostly eat fish and marine animals. And the Gwi San from Botswana, who eat mostly sugary melons and starchy roots.


3. The Science of the Diet

By now, you'll have a hunch that the so-called scientific evidence for the diet has some cracks. And you would be right. 


It was best summed up by nutritionist Katy Zanville. She said, “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.”


For instance, let's take the cited study. It has the following problems:

  • The participants were not random. Instead, all of them already adhered to the extreme carnivore diet. 

  • The study used self-reported data. And self-reported data is subject to multiple biases such as recall and reporting bias. 

  • The data was not verified by medical professionals.


Likewise, the weight loss could be because of the protein content in meat. Because protein makes you feel full for longer. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that links high protein diets and weight loss.


So, contrary to the claims, an animal-based diet is not a magical antidote for improved health or weight loss. You can achieve the same on a balanced diet.


The Motive? Monetization

For a long time, Brian Johnson has been accused of using steroids. But he denied all accusations and maintained that his physique was solely the result of his animal-based diet and ancestral lifestyle.


Until he was busted. 


Because just a few months after he denied using steroids in a GQ interview, Johnson's emails leaked. They revealed that Johnson was taking steroids worth $12,000.


Every. Fucking. Month.


Johnson soon released a bizarre apology video. In it, he claimed he did steroids to spread the ancestral tenets he lives by and thus help the millions who suffer around the world. Including the thousands who commit suicide every year.


Naturally, the apology wasn't received well. 


Instead, Johnson should have said the real reason he created the Liver King character. 


To sell supplements.


Because Johnson is behind The Fittest, an online store that sells animal-based products. If you are a MAN, then for $64 you can use his product KING to 'support your manhood and virility.' And if you are a woman, you have QUEEN, to help you 'support optimal hormones and feminine dominance.'


(I am not even making these up)


Likewise, our supermarket-raiding friend Paul Saladino has his own supplement company Heart and Soil. And guess who is a partner in that? 


Brian Johnson.


Last but not least, there is Shawn Baker. In 2017, Baker had his medical license revoked by the New Mexico Medical Board. The reasons cited for it include concerns about his competency. His license was re-instated in 2019 but his medical practice was asked to be conducted under supervision.


Nowadays, he offers a host of services. This includes a $12.99 subscription-based program that grants access to expert guidance, dietary advice, and the access to an exclusive community.


I might be wrong, but to me, it seems obvious that all this diet bullshit is a front to make money. 


Because for all the solutions they offer and all the claims they make, one thing stands out to me.


Not one of them is a nutritionist. 


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