From Greens to Meat: Why Women Are Choosing the Carnivore Diet

4 min read

June 28, 2024 -- Steak and eggs in the morning, salmon at noon, and turkey burgers in the evening might sound like a typical menu for a fitness enthusiast. But for a growing group of women embracing the carnivore dietthese meals are part of a strategic approach to building lean muscle through targeted nutrition and rigorous training. 

This animal-based diet also includes small amounts of cream and hard cheeses, said Gabrielle Lyon, DO, a family physician who advocates for optimizing muscle health to tackle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. “It's an elimination diet that really maintains the health of skeletal muscle because of its high protein content.”

Victoria Ferraz, 24, has followed a carnivore diet for 2 years and says it has “changed her life for the better in all aspects.” After experiencing major health issues like fatigue, extreme bloating, and hypothyroidism -- a condition where the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone -- the Atlanta-based lifestyle entrepreneur says she saw improvements to her health after 6months on a meat-based diet. 

“My lab work on carnivore showed that my thyroid levels were all normal, vitamins were good, total cholesterol high, triglycerides low,” saidFerraz. “Everything looked great and better than ever. All those issues and symptoms disappeared.”

Ferraz says a meat-based diet has also helped her achieve her “dream body,” with increased energy in the gym and longer-lasting feelings of satiety. 

“I’ve noticed that I gained muscle mass back, not fat,” Ferraz said. “When I was eating only plants, I lost all my muscle mass. Going to the gym and being on carnivore allows my body to be lean and fit. It’s easy to maintain.”

Jennifer Funk, 47, has also seen improvements in her health since starting the carnivore diet. Before, she experienced a painful autoimmune disease that attacked tissues in her mouth, creating sores that would bleed continuously. Funk, a life coach in Canada, has been on a carnivore diet for almost 90 days and said the disease has gone into remission. She has also noticed less cramping and bloating after meals and clearer skin with less acne 

While it is a fairly new diet and long-term effects are still being investigated, a carnivore diet can be used cyclically and intermittently, according to Lyon, author of Forever Strong: A New, Science-Based Strategy for Aging Well

“The human body is incredibly flexible and can thrive on multiple different diets for multiple different time frames,” Lyon said. Certain groups of people may be genetically prone to thrive on different exclusionary diets -- such as meat or plant-based diets. But for most people, “a one-dimensional eating plan over the long term is not ideal,” she said. 

And cutting all plant foods from your diet can be cause for concern, according to many health experts. A purely animal-based diet can starve your body of key nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains, according to Mascha Davis, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins. For example, fiber -- a carbohydrate found exclusively in plants -- plays a key role in our digestive health.

“A carnivore diet makes it extremely challenging to meet the recommended daily intake of fiber (25-30 grams per day), which is crucial for maintaining proper gut function,” Davis said. “Fiber feeds the ‘good bacteria’ in our gut, and without it, there are serious disruptions to the microbiome, which can have a cascade effect.” Dietary guidelines for Americans suggest that saturated fat should account for less than 10% of your daily calories, which would be very difficult following the carnivore diet, she noted. 

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids in fresh fish -- along with fruits, vegetables, and legumes -- is an optimal diet plan, said Davis. But don’t overlook lean beef, which research has shown to be beneficial -- and can even improve total and LDL cholesterol -- when accompanied with the Mediterranean diet, said Lyon. 

Even if you don’t follow an animal-based diet, zeroing in on protein can significantly aid women seeking to build or maintain muscle, Lyon said, noting that a“protein-forward” nutrition plan, along with resistance training a few times per week, is ideal. She encourages women shed fears of “getting too bulky” or “looking manly,” as these are just myths. 

“I think that this is one reason why we're seeing and going to see an epidemic of sarcopenia and osteoporosis like we've never seen it,” Lyon said. “The good news is it's all preventable with education.”