Mikhaila Peterson eats beef three times a day. She fries or roasts it, adds some salt, and washes it down with sparkling water — and that’s it. No fruits or vegetables. Just meat.
It’s the “carnivore diet,” the latest food trend to sweep the internet, and the 26-year-old swears that it cured her depression and rheumatoid arthritis. Yes, she admits, it “sounds absolutely insane,” there is no research to back it up, and she isn’t qualified to give medical diagnoses. But now she’s offering Skype “consultations” about the diet for about $90 an hour, following in her famous dad’s financial footsteps.
Her father is Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychologist turned YouTube star, best-selling author, and influential thought leader who rallies against political correctness and identity politics. He’s also her regimen’s biggest booster.
The professor tweets about his daughter’s diet and recently talked about her on the popular Joe Rogan podcast. He told Rogan in early July that he’d been on an all-meat regimen for two months, after a year of eating mostly meat and some vegetables. He’d been severely depressed since he was 13 and had always struggled to wake up, he said, but his daughter’s diet changed all that.
“I lost 50 pounds,” he told Rogan. “My appetite has probably fallen by 70%. I don’t get blood sugar dysregulation problems. I need way less sleep.” His depression and anxiety vanished; his mind was sharp. “And my gum disease is gone. Like, what the hell?”
Mikhaila Peterson champions her cause on her blog (“Don’t Eat That”) and courts donors on Patreon. Her website attracts anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a month, she said. Last week, after getting flooded with emails and requests to chat, she started charging for Skype consultations. As she explained on her site, “I'm here to lend an ear and to go into more detail about what made me feel better.” A half hour costs $75 Canadian dollars and an hour is $120. She said she simply can’t afford to blog all the time, while raising a child, for free. (Her husband is a business consultant.)
Medical experts told BuzzFeed News that there is no evidence that an all-meat diet can treat depression or arthritis. It’s also unlikely to do serious harm. Still, some worry about selling false hope.
“Especially for somebody who’s untrained and not very knowledgeable, I think it’s dangerous for her to be pushing this as a lifestyle,” said Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “People are very impressionable, especially people who are sick and they want to be better, and they’ll try anything. I worry that this kind of thing is taking advantage of some people who are really struggling.”
Peterson didn’t invent the carnivore diet — it’s the next evolution of the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic and paleo diets. The World Carnivore Tribe, a Facebook group for the trend, is 15,000 members strong. It’s run by Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon who sells a $49-a-month nutrition and fitness plan called the “Carnivore Training System” and has 40,000 Instagram followers. (Baker’s medical license has been revoked.) There’s an Instagram hashtag, #MeatHeals, affixed to 17,000 posts.
As laid out in subreddits like /r/carnivore and /r/zerocarb, the diet’s rules are simple: Eat meat and other animal products, drink water, and choose fattier over leaner meats. Proponents believe that meat has all the nutrients the body needs, and eliminating all carbs forces the body to use its fats for energy.
But doctors don’t think it’s healthy to have all meat, all the time. To prevent heart disease, the American Heart Association and the World Heart Federation recommend a low amount of saturated fats, the kind found in beef, pork, chicken, and other foods. Research links red meat to colorectal cancer. And an absence of vitamins and fibers, which normally come from fruits and vegetables, is a precursor to conditions like scurvy and constipation.
“I don’t see any health benefits of a diet focused primarily on red meat,” said Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Academy of Nutritionists and Dietetics, who said she’s seen the carnivore diet’s popularity grow on social media. “There’s currently no research to support that this type of diet has favorable long-term health outcomes.”
But Peterson is a true believer. Before becoming a carnivore, she told BuzzFeed News, she was sick for most of her life. At age 7, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It was so severe that, at 17, she had to have her right hip and left ankle replaced. On top of that, she started taking antidepressants in fifth grade and, later in life, dropped out of Concordia University in Montreal due to mental health issues. Constant fatigue and cystic acne made everything that much worse. At her peak, she was taking six medications at once.
“I never believed in diet for treating anything serious at all,” she said. But when she developed a rash that wouldn’t go away, she tried cutting out gluten, which she’d heard had worked for some people who had celiac and skin issues. That led to experimenting with a limited ketogenic diet, to some improvement but mixed results. Finally, she came across the story of a woman who claimed that a meat diet had treated her Lyme disease. “That night I just decided, ‘OK, I’ll just go down to all meat and see what happens’ — mostly out of desperation,” she recalled.
That was in December. Since then, she said, she’s lost weight without exercising (10 pounds in the first two weeks). Her joints no longer feel stiff. She doesn’t wake up dreading the day, nor does she crave any other foods, and she has lots of energy. Best of all, she’s off all her medications. “I’m probably better every month than I am the month before,” she said.
And now, Dad is on board. In April, she blogged of her father, “It’s been so stressful watching him improve physically but not all the way mentally for the last 3 years. Plus then he shot to fame and there’s been extra stress so it’s been hard to tell what’s life and what’s diet. Turns out the anxiety was diet! So that’s great.”
Reached through a spokesperson, Jordan Peterson did not return a request for comment.
Weiss, the cardiologist, is not surprised that Mikhaila Peterson has shed pounds, since protein makes people feel full faster and therefore eat less. (Plus, he added, “How much beef can you eat in a day?”) If the diet has improved her autoimmune diseases or depression, he said, it’s probably due to a placebo effect. “But if she’s feeling good doing that and prefers that to taking a bunch of medications, that’s okay. It’s what she wants to do.”
Cholesterol is one of Weiss’s concerns, since too much of a certain kind of cholesterol heightens risk of heart disease and heart attacks. (Saturated fats, found in red meat, have long been assumed to drive up that risk, although some new evidence suggests that they may be less dangerous than believed. In a controversial editorial last year that departed from the recommendations of major public health groups, three cardiologists argued that saturated fats do not clog arteries and are not on their own a problem.)
Peterson said switching to the carnivore diet wasn’t all smooth: She had diarrhea for the first six weeks. But she says her digestion is now stable and her cholesterol levels normal. She’s still waiting for the results of a vitamin blood test. As far as she knows, though, she doesn’t have scurvy, nor is she worried enough to take vitamin supplements.
She claims she’s speaking about her own experience, not diagnosing other people or telling them what to do. “I would feel ethically worse not telling people what happened to me than explaining what happened to me,” she added.
Her daughter, almost a year old, is healthy and ailment-free. So far, Peterson has been feeding her breast milk and, yes, meat.
But she doesn’t plan to stick to that menu forever. “After her first birthday, I’m going to start really slowly, just one vegetable at a time, and see how she does,” she said.