The Zero Carb Experience

Cave painting of primitive man hunting for mammoth

There are few things as polarizing as nutrition. For some reason, it’s similar to religion in how it brings out the best and worst in people. It’s as if the foods you choose to eat defines you as a human being. And when I started posting about my experiment with eating an all-meat, zero-carbohydrate diet, I got to see this with my own eyes.

Ranging from “wow, that’s interesting, tell me more” to “wow, you are incredibly stupid, and if you promote the killing of animals for food, you deserve to be killed yourself”.

Yeah, I’m dead serious.

I know a few vegans (after that horrible junk-science propaganda movie What The Health? many people turned vegan—without realizing that even vegans thought it was horrible (click the link)), and I have even successfully coached a few vegans (yeah, just because you are eating tons of bread with peanut butter and jelly, doesn’t mean you are going to be healthy), but for some reason, vegans as a whole seem to be the most dogmatic and least accepting of other people’s preferences or views when it comes to food choices.

Maybe it’s because the diet isn’t really good for them and their digestive issues are making them cranky? (click link)

Ok, I’m kidding, but read the comments of that link for some cheap fun.

I think we should all accept that everyone can’t be the same. If you accept that we were born and grew up in different countries, have different skin colors, sexual preferences, like different movies and different clothes, have different favorite colors, have different thoughts, dreams and ambitions…then why can’t we also accept that we like different foods—and more importantly—that we thrive on different foods?

There simply cannot be a single diet or food that is perfect for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Even the same person can’t be expected to have the same macro- and micronutrient needs every day, regardless of his activity type, activity level, health and even season.

I have written about this in many forms before, but the short summary is that there are both daily (circadian) rhythms that dictate when and what we should eat during the day, but also seasonal (circannual) rhythms that dictate what we should eat throughout the year, so my recommendation is that you choose local foods in season, first of all.

You should also consider eating foods that are common to where you were born or grew up, or where your great-great-great-etc-grandparents were born or grew up. Evolutionary- or selective pressure, has formed traits and genetic predispositions through hundreds and thousands of years, but even in the last few generations, there will be clues to be found as to what your body will most likely thrive on.

For instance, Asians have a 90% prevalence of lactose intolerance, whereas Scandinavians have the opposite numbers: up to 80% lactose tolerance. So the GOMAD approach (Gallon Of Milk A Day) for getting big and strong can perhaps get you jacked if you’re a Norwegian weightlifter, but jack you up (read: explosive diarrhea) if you’re a Chinese weightlifter.

Incidentally, this is also a great position for solving constipation issues.

Ok, so with my genes being 70% Scandinavian, and being of Viking ancestry, it would probably make sense for me to eat a diet of what was seasonably available for the last few hundred years.The ability to store grains and plant foods in underground cellars didn’t become common until the last few generations, so during wintertime, my great-great-great-etc grandparents would most likely either have to hunt or fish, or go hungry during this cold and harsh season. Incidentally, I have always liked eating meat—not that preference for food means you should eat it…I also like chocolate but wouldn’t feel good if it was a staple food of my diet.

Also, as a species, humans have been eating meat for tens of thousands of years and even hundreds of thousands of years. Despite there being some Facebook warriors vehemently protesting this, there is a wealth of evidence to support ancient people being meat eaters and that they likely had to—or preferred to—eat zero carbs for shorter or longer periods of time. We would have to survive through periods of famine and lack of animal foods, though – so the ability to gather and eat plant foods was a necessity.

This means that humans aren’t true carnivores, but rather omnivores—which means that we are adapted to both digest and function well on plant foods, albeit to varying degrees. Although we can certainly say that grains, vegetables, fruits, and berries are “healthy” from a nutritional standpoint, not everyone will thrive on large amounts of it, all the time.

I have previously unsuccessfully tried a ketogenic diet. I gave it plenty of time but still couldn’t get the benefits that many in the keto-sphere raved about. Even after 6 weeks of strictly limiting my protein consumption to ensure I didn’t limit ketone production, eating liberally from high-fiber veggies and avocado for satiety, and drenching my foods in butter and oils to ensure I got sufficient fats—I was constantly bloated, tired, hungry and even had breakouts of eczema and acne. It was like I hit puberty again, just without the spontaneous, raging boners—which were also non-existent.

Even with all my knowledge, I couldn’t make a ketogenic diet work for me, and my regular, carb-based diet also didn’t work all that well for me. Being considered an expert and authority in nutrition, you almost feel obliged to both walk the walk and talk the talk, and even if my clients were getting great results I just couldn’t figure out my own diet.

Before I started my Zero Carb experiment, I had been dieting on a balanced, carb-based diet for 8 weeks but was stuck at 100kg/220lbs of bodyweight even with calories down in the 1800-2200kcal range—which isn’t a lot of food and obviously made me suffer.

My digestion and gut function had been up and down for a long time, with bloating being a good day, and stomach cramps and diarrhea on the worst days. I had to cut some of my deadlift sessions short on some days, let’s leave it at that.

Overall, I was obviously not happy with how things were going.

Then, I listened to a 2-part podcast with Dr. Shawn Baker, a 50-year old board certified orthopedic surgeon who is also a multi-sport world record holder Masters Athlete with several world records on the indoor rower Concept2. He was eating an all-meat/carnivore diet with zero carbohydrates, and was feeling great on it.

I was intrigued and started searching around for more information on this way of eating. There were several blogs and Facebook groups on it, where people had been experiencing weight loss, muscle gain, and some pretty dramatic health improvements by eating nothing but meat for a couple of months up to several decades!

I also read the book Fat Of The Land from 1956 by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, and arctic explorer and anthropologist documenting his life with the Inuit as well as a 1-year all-meat experiment at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Both him and another participant showed no ill effects whatsoever, experienced no signs of nutrient deficiencies, lost a lot of weight, and improved several health markers during that year.

So I decided to give it a fair trial for at least 30 days.

The first few days I felt pretty good. I loved eating meat and didn’t really feel like I needed to load my plate up with broccoli to be healthier.

Around day 4-5 I started feeling sluggish and weak, but since I chose to make it extra hard on myself and cut coffee at the same time, that compounded the issue.

I did lose a lot of weight, though—water weight, for sure—but my waist was tightening up on a daily basis and bodyfat caliper measurements were finally moving in the right direction again.

Around day 7-8 I started feeling much better. Mental clarity improved, and my mood was much better. My joints hurt less, and gym performance was almost back to normal. I started getting comments such as: “you look different, what’s going on”.

That motivated me to keep going.

I didn’t comply strictly with the recommendation to eat beef and drink only water through the full 30-day experiment and included eggs, bacon, and some occasional cheese. I just let my intuition guide me.

While I didn’t feel the need to weigh and measure my food, I did find that hunger was somehow “different” on zero carbs. I needed to eat more than I thought I needed to avoid feeling faint and weak a couple of hours before the next meal. I started off at 4 meals per day, but given the lower volume of food compared to a carbohydrate- or plant-based diet, I could eat more at each meal and thus stayed satiated for longer—so I naturally gravitated towards 3 meals.

Breakfast was consumed within an hour or two after waking (I found myself waking earlier, too—around 5-6am in the morning), then lunch around noon-2pm, and finally dinner around 6-7pm and no later than 8pm.

Weight loss didn’t slow down after that first week, so I had to consciously make an effort to eat more food, and even with some days up around 3000-3300kcals I was still losing weight, and bodyfat seemed to literally be melting before my eyes.

Digestion was dramatically improved. No bloating, no gas, no cramps. There was obviously less mass with the complete absence of fiber, but after the adaptation period, everything was completely normal, i.e. daily. A smooth 30-second bathroom visit compared to being stuck there for the time it takes to read half of a Harry Potter novel is another benefit of this diet, the way I see it.

I kept going beyond the initial 30 days I had planned, and about 6 weeks into the diet I documented my progress over 10 weeks, with the left picture showing what I looked like over halfway into my carb-based diet.

The lighting is obviously different, but I think the pictures give a fair representation of the progress I could feel and see with my own eyes.

I had dropped 5-6cm off my waist and 5kg of weight, although even my better two-thirds, Ingeborg, thought I had gotten bigger. I find that hard to believe, but there is definitely a different type of fullness to my muscles on Zero Carb. Obviously, that roundness is enhanced when there is less fat and water retention cover the muscle.

Just goes to show how meaningless the bathroom scale number is, and that how you feel on the inside can be an indicator of how you actually look on the outside…

My Instagram pictures of the foods I was eating got a lot of engagement and comments, both good and bad, and given that there were very few resources on Zero Carb online and a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding it, I decided to write an e-book on it.

But first of all, I want to share a free PDF with you.

In this PDF I have provided a short summary of the Zero Carb diet, what it can do for you in terms of fat loss, muscle building and health benefits, and simplified it into a practical guide.

All you have to do is fill out your First name and best E-mail below, and I will send it to you with no strings attached, and no commitments.

In this free PDF, you will also find how to get my complete e-book “The Zero Carb Diet: The ancestral way to lose weight, increase libido, improve physical and mental performance, and forget cravings”.

Together with that I also offer you 2 free bonuses: a Zero Carb recipe cookbook, and my long-awaited e-book “Myo-reps: The Secret Norwegian Method to Build Lean Muscle in 70% Less Time”.

Some people told me that just the Myo-reps ebook is worth many times the price of the whole package, but I decided to give it away for free with my Zero Carb ebook. Because I’m a nice person who likes to give away stuff to help you achieve the best body you can in a smart way. 🙂

Hope you enjoy it!

P.S. If you are very impatient and want to get your hands on the ebook right away, then go here: http://borgefagerli.com/zcbook

40 Comments

  1. Spennende! Er utdannet kostveileder i Lchf og paleo. Jar ikke prøvd Zero carb over tid, men elsker å lese om andre og vise til det faktum at vi MÅ ikke spise korn og frukt for å få optimal helse

    • Nei, og som jeg sier i boka: I consider plant foods CONDITIONALLY healthy, dvs at noen mennesker i perioder så absolutt vil få positive helseeffekter av å spise mye frukt og grønnsaker, men å tre en og samme anbefaling over huet på absolutt alle, alltid – det er det jeg forsøker å kvele med roten blant annet med denne boka.

  2. You need to read Weston Price “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” and Francis Pottenger “Pottenger’s Cats” for an older yet still valid look at nutrition

  3. Great content as always, my friend. Hope more people to check out and grab your stuff….you serve it and hope to see more from you soon….some deep-dive online training for example:).

  4. Interesting read overall. What are your thoughts performance wise on the diet? Applicable to performance athletes or is more research needed? Since eating more calories and still dropping body fat with this diet has your views on CICO changed?

    • I already answered this on Facebook, so I’ll just copy it here for completeness:
      “I have written extensively about performance in the book. It varies individually and depending on the sport. A lot of strength, power sports athletes involved in combinations of lower intensity and high intensity bursts have noticed significant improvements, often due to simply having lower inflammation and improved recovery, but also because the higher protein intake and lower insulin levels can drive dopamine levels (responsible for arousal and motivation).

      A Tour de France competitor or some of our Cross-Country Skiiing champions would not do very well on this diet.

      My views on CICO are the same as before, I have been outspoken about the “black box” model before. It’s still a matter of calories in-calories out, but most tend to forget—or just ignore—what the body actually does with those calories (incoming and stored), so the goal should be to affect nutrient partitioning and flux/NEAT positively.”

  5. Hi! I just want to thank you for all your contributions and that you take your time to answer so many questions and comments on articles, Facebook, emails etc. Even if you have to bash your head against the wall sometimes for answering the same question for the umpteenth time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone be as responsive and thorough to comments as you are, especially on this level of quality. The commitment is inspiring.

    Keep up the great work, Børge. It’s always exciting when you release new stuff. 🙂

    • Wow, thank you so much – I really appreciate this, Peter 🙂 I just do what I love, and if I can save the world one person at a time, I feel like I am following my Ikigai perfectly.

  6. Hva med etter dietten? Jeg kunne gjort dette en stund for å oppnå det jeg ønsker, men det blir hardt å leve hele livet slik…Jeg har forsåvidt prøvd lignende i 30 dager med god effekt, men rykket tilbake til start etter kort stund.

  7. Hi Borge, first of all I second everything Peter wrote above.

    And indeed, even If I’m not going to try a Zero Carb diet anytime soon, I’ve bought the e-book nonetheless. I’m saying this not because I want the world to know how amazing of a human being I am, but because I strongly feel that good work MUST be rewarded, especially in the “fitness” field where too much crap is still circulating. And over the years you put out a ton of good work, often for free, always replying to random guys on the web like me.

    As I said in the volume post, your writings are always thought-provoking, and after reading the book I started wondering about fibrous foods, especially their availabilty, and digestion, also because I suffer from various gut (stomach mostly) problems, that generally are adviced to be healed with even more fibers.

    Is there any scientific/evolutionary rationale for the “food combining” thing, like eating fruit only alone away from other types of foods? I’ve always thought it didn’t make much sense, but maybe I’m wrong.

    Keep up the good work and sorry for the long comment. Thanks!

    • Thank you, Frank, I really appreciate it!

      There is no real science to back the food combining thing, no-at least not from a macronutrient perspective. There are many people who indeed notice that eating fibrous foods makes a meal harder to digest, and so eating them separately from other foods can lessen the digestive burden. This is highly individual, though-and some improve their digestion by combining fiber with their meal. I.e. if you eat rice and some dairy by itself, some people may bloat up from the insulin surge and feel horrible from the subsequent hypoglycemia (also refer to the section on carb tolerance in the book), while the quick digestion leads to incomplete digestion and cause issues for them.

      Adding some veggies will slow down digestion and allow the digestive enzymes to work more thoroughly while evening out the blood sugar and insulin response.

      • Thank you Borge. I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing (“self-fulfilling prophecy”, the simple act of reading stuff on the web can instill unconscious fears), but if I eat fruit at the end of a meal, it sits on my stomach like a brick.

        Anyway, back on serious topics, I’m really curious about a thing. For someone like me who has a Mediterranean genetic heritage and a pretty good carb tolerance, would be crazy to try a high carb (especially high starch), low(er) protein and low/moderate fat diet, something in line with his or her nutritional ancestry?

        • It’s not crazy if you have the carb tolerance and training volume for it, but I think that skimping on fats wouldn’t be a particularly good idea long-term for health or hormone balance.

  8. Great post, Borge. Did you have any blood work done? Are you going to go back to a more traditional Viking diet, that is one with grains, root vegetables, cabbage, and berries? Or, given how well this worked for you, are you going to stick with it indefinitely?

    • I did have blood work done, all discussed in the book.

      I transitioned back to more carbs in the diet, but started experiencing a reversal of several positive benefits, so I went back to ZC but will eat some plant foods and starches on occasion, whenever I feel like it. I also discussed the transition back to a normal diet in the book.

    • I’m on HRT for life, so these tests wouldn’t tell you anything, but I have seen it improve testosterone as well as dramatically drop CRP (a marker for inflammation) on some of my male clients on ZC.

      Cortisol is very dependent on when you test it, so for that test to have any value you would need to test it at least 3 times in a given day.

  9. Could this diet be combined with a fasting protocoll.. lets say you only eat 1 hour a day and during the week you also put in a 48 hour fast aswell to keep your insulin low and autophagy effect high.

    • I have no problems with fasting once in a while, if it feels natural to you and not forced or restrictive. I do think 48hrs is kinda stretching it, though – and since insulin is already low on Zero Carbs and autophagy can be triggered by just eating less and following the recommended meal pattern in the book (12-14hrs of fasting for most people) on some days, it would be a case of cracking a nut with a sledgehammer vs. using the proper tool for the job…if you get my metaphor 🙂

  10. Hei Børge,
    Takk for at du deler spennende erfaringer. Dette var gøy lesning! Jeg har tidligere forsøkt å spise etter dine anbefalinger og prinsipper fra biorytmedietten, uten hell. Det ble for mye karbohydrater, til tross for relativt høyt aktivitetsnivå med ukentlige styrkeøkter, intervall- og lavterskeløkter. Jeg ble oppblåst, vannete og stresset i kroppen, og jeg fikk dessuten problemer med fordøyelsen. Prinsippene du her deler om et lavere inntrykk av karbohydrater stemmer overens med erfaringer jeg selv har gjort meg ved egen kostholdseksperimentering. Jeg spiser nå en liten dose raske karbohydrater i form av en banan, svisker eller lignende i forbindelse med trening, og deretter en liten dose på feks 40 gram havregryn på kvelden. Ellers går det i fett og proteiner ved siden av det minimum av karbohydrater som finnes i nøtter, mv. Hva er dine tanker om en slik kostholdstilnærming over tid? Og hva er dine tanker om å leve tilnærmet zero carb over lengre perioder enn i forsøket som du viser til her? Ved tidligere intervjuer og artikler har jeg oppfattet deg slik at du anbefaler et balansert inntak av karbohydrater, proteiner og fett. Har du andre tanker og refleksjoner vedrørende langsiktig karbohydratinntak nå i etterkant av gjennomførte zero carb prosjektet? Som kvinne i begynnelsen av 30-årene er jeg ikke bare opptatt av en flat mage og god fordøyelse, men også stabile hormoner og god generell helse.

    • Hei Camilla, og takk for hyggelig tilbakemelding.

      Jeg har gått i dybden på det du spør om her i boka om Zero Carb, så jeg vil anbefale at du leser den for å den nødvendige forståelsen. De $10 er vel verdt investeringen, jeg lover! 🙂

  11. Hei Børge 😊 Utrolig gøy å lese! Fikk du testet kolesterolnivået, triglyserider og vitamin – og mineral status også? Utrolig gøy st du testet dette og laget en bok ut av det!

  12. Hei Børge!

    Utrolig spennende å lese om dette. Takk for all info du deler. Gleder meg veldig til seminaret om 2 uker i Question for you:

    Have you noticed any difference in terms of sleep? As discussed with you earlier when I was a client of yours, I fall asleep easily but wake up several times. Have you noticed that a ZC diet help in terms of staying asleep?

    It’s just anecdotal and something I probably would have to try for myself, but would love your input here.

    • I tend to sleep slightly less on ZC, and some of my clients also noticed this. Eating high protein ramps up dopamine and if you end up in a deficit there may be some elevation of adrenaline and cortisol, too. Still, there is no sign of sleep deprivation, so my assumption is that sleep quality is improved. I am getting a sleep monitor to get some data on this.

      • Thanks for your answer. Would love to see those results.

        Side note:
        Have you any thoughts about ZC for someone who’s already lean trying to build muscle in a caloric surplus?

        And btw: based on what I read about your experience of this diet, I guess that you are not going for a 30 day vegan “challenge ” soon. Hah!

        • ZC for gaining muscle is covered in the book, and yes – it is most definitely possible. I have a client now who has gained 3kg of bodyweight—without any change if caliper measurements—by just eating a lot of food on ZC. He got really lean first, though (4-6mm on all sites), which is the strategy I always recommend.

          I have already done the vegan challenge. I have never felt so horrible in all of my life. 🙂

          • Thanks for your answer.

            It’s really tempting to go for a diet like this. How do you determine which clients it suits for?
            Myself workout early in the morning (highest bosy temp and most energy at that point). I would believe that a ZC diet would fit really well into that setup and my lifestyle in general. But I am afraid of not eating any carbs at all, given the big emphasis experts give them.
            Listening to you and Shawn Baker makes me wonder though!

  13. “Even after 6 weeks of strictly limiting my protein consumption to ensure I didn’t limit ketone production”. Mener du karb her, eller er det noe jeg ikke henger med på?

    • Nei, jeg mener protein. Via glukoneogenese (omdanning til glukose) kan høyere proteininntak (anslått til rundt 1,5g/kg kroppsvekt) hemme ketonproduksjonen.

  14. Hi Borge,

    I recently bought your zero carb book and associated myo-reps book – thank you for the excellent resources!

    I am at intermediate level for all my lifts on strength standards. I have also just read about the 8 sets to failure squat study (https://www.strongerbyscience.com/more-is-more/) which I am sure you are familiar with. It clicked with me as I seem to do well on high volume, and the lifters seem to be at a similar level to me. I was therefore thinking of structuring a training block of something like:
    Day 1: full body myo-reps. Day2: 8 sets of Squats, 8 sets Bench, minimal chest/legs assistance. Day 3: full body myo-reps. Day 4: 8 sets Press, 8 sets Chins, minimal shoulders/arms assistance. Repeat, with rest days when appropriate.

    What do you think of this plan?

    • There are a number of caveats with that study. 1. Lower body does seem to respond better to volume than upper body. 2. Anyone who has worked in research knows how incredibly hard it is to get participants to go to failure, even on leg extension machines. So 8 sets to failure on squats? Highly unlikely they reached failure in more than 1-2 sets.

      Other than that, if you’ve read my book, I think my views on training volume are pretty clear 🙂

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