On Episode 409 of the Paleo Solution Podcast we have guest Amber O’Hearn. Amber is a data scientist by profession with a background in math, computer science, linguistics, and psychology. She has been studying and experimenting with ketogenic diets since 1997, and more recently writing and speaking about her findings. Her review on the evolutionary appropriateness and benefit of weaning babies onto a meat-based, high fat, low carb diet, was included as testimony defending Tim Noakes in his recent trial. Amber has been eating a plant-free diet since 2009.
00:48 – Summary/Pre-Intro
1:50 – Amber O’Hearn’s story and background
7:46 – Process of getting into a carnivore diet
11:31 – The stories of transformation and autoimmunity treatment with the carnivore diet
14:08 – Variance in the carnivore diet and what foods it consists of
18:25 – Experimenting with food removal and where to start
22:18 – Exercising while very sick
25:43 – Depression
28:23 – Fecal transplants and gut microbiome
34:50 – Individual results are what matters
38:06 – Comparing drug response efficacy to diet
40:20 – Risk/Reward for a carnivorous diet
43:18 – Who should not do a carnivore diet
45:50 – Social Ostracism
47:52 – Anaerobic exercise, carnivore, and keto
48:30 – Chasing ketones and good protein intake
55:30 – Gluconeogenesis
57:26 – Carnivore diet resources
Amber’s Guide: http://www.empiri.ca/p/eat-meat-not-too-little-mostly-fat.html
Facebook: L. Amber Ohearn
Download a copy of this transcript here (PDF)
Paleo Solution – 409
Robb: Six listeners can’t be wrong. Another edition of the Paleo Solution Podcast. Hey guys. How are you? Hope that all is well. I’ve been trying to put this podcast together for a long time. It is with Amber O’Hearn. She is well known within the carnivore diet community. She has been eating this way for over ten years. Just a fascinating woman.
She is a computer scientist and mathematician by training, struggled with a host of health issues ranging from depression to just kind of a weird systemic malaise that kind of an incremental approach to exploring ancestral eating, starting off with a low carb then ketogenic and ultimately, carnivore has transformed her life.
I know the carnivore diet topic is both hot and controversial, but I think Amber brings just a remarkably balanced and thoughtful approach to the whole thing. I think you’ll really enjoy this one given lesson.
Amber, how are you doing?
Amber: I’m doing great, Robb. How are you?
Robb: I’m good. Thank you for being patient with me. We’ve been trying to put this thing together for the better part of a year. Given my squirliness and dodgy schedule, we’ve had to punch a couple of times. Thank you for being patient.
Amber: Well, I’m sure, it’d well worth the wait.
Robb: Hopefully. Hopefully. It will be because you’re here, I’m never sure if it’s worth it when I’m here, but we’ll do the best that we can. Amber, you have a really fascinating story. You are one of these folks that have approached this carnivore way of eating and you’ve been doing it for a very long time. Can you give folks some of that back story?
Amber: Yes, absolutely. Well, I came to the carnivore diet through the low carb lens because my story– The way I used to conceive of it was always a weight loss story. I had ups and downs in my weight as a child. When I first went to university, that’s when the weight really started piling on for me. At that time, I had been brought up vegetarian and so it matched all my biases when I looked up what to do about weight and it told me to go vegetarian.
I tried that for a while and it didn’t help me. It wasn’t until I really got to an end of frustration with that that I decided maybe this low carb idea that I had heard about that sounded so crazy might be beneficial for me. That was, I guess, it was 1997 that I first decided to try a low-carb diet. That was from reading the Eades’ book Protein Power and it worked–
Robb: Which is a phenomenal book. Yeah.
Amber: It is. I think, even though we’ve learned so much since that time, the things that they were writing about then are still relevant. But it worked for me and it also had a lot of references that they addressed the skepticism that I had because I was able to go to the library and say, “Oh well, actually, the thing that they’re claiming in here is actually correct.” I started learning a lot about low carb and insulin resistance, as well as having the experience of it helping me. But then–
Robb: Just really quickly, when you say skepticism, you have a little bit of a scientific and technical background, can you tell folks what that is?
Amber: Sure. Well, my background is very meandering because my interests have always been really broad. Since the time when I was a child, I wanted to be a mathematician, but I also wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be a singer, all kinds of things that I wanted to do. I did eventually get a degree in Math and Computer Science.
I have a little bit of the hard sciences as part of those degrees. But I do have a strong background in data science and numerical kinds of analysis, as well as I’ve also studied Russian and linguistics and psychology. There isn’t anything that I get involved in that I don’t get really interested in which is kind of a flaw sometimes because it’s hard to get into one thing really deeply when other things are also calling you.
Robb: Right. Right. I have a conversation with my wife. She did a decent amount of Russian at some point too and she every once a while will be traveling and she’ll dish some out. The shock that people have is pretty funny to witness, particularly when they figure out that she’s American. She looks Italian, but when they figure out she’s American. She can do some passing Russian and her accent is totally on point, like folks are a little shocked, so that’s awesome.
Amber: Atlee’chna [Russian: Excellent]
Robb: You’ve got this well steeped, hard science background which I think is just so incredibly valuable. Really interesting to me that so many of the folks that I think are major contributors in this kind of low-carb ancestral health scene, like when the engineers and mathematicians kind of sink their teeth into this, they oftentimes arrive without a ton of biases, but arguably without the bias of like a formalized medical background, for example. But they’re armed with a really good ability to analyze data, look at statistics and whatnot.
Frequently, they end up saying, “Oh yeah, there’s kind of something to this lower carb, may be ancestral way of eating.” I just kind of find that intriguing. It sounds like this probably served you well in both this kind of empirical and equals one. Okay, you started experimenting with this stuff, you individually felt better, but then you were able to look at the primary science and really give it a good go. As far I get, the stuff looks pretty legit.
Amber: Yeah. I think that also my early experiences with vegetarianism failing me and seeing how some kinds of data can be used to support results that don’t seem to actually be real or have the kind of validity that they’re claimed to have, that also really made me become much more alert and skeptical. If I had just come at it with the mathematical background and hadn’t also had the experience of that kind of feeling of betrayal from the way literature was being presented, I don’t know if it would have been a complete picture.
Robb: Right. Right. It seems like your story, it’s similar in that most people don’t arrive at this carnivore diet concept and they just jump directly and there’s kind of a step-wise process. Paleo might be an entry point. Low carb might be an entry point. The distinction between those is nebulous even to me oftentimes. But could you kind of detail what that process look like?
Amber: Yes. Well, for me, as a personal story, I had begun to gain weight again. In particular, every time I got pregnant and I had two pregnancies before I discovered carnivore one after, I would gain a lot of weight and then that didn’t necessarily completely recede when I went back to a low-carb diet. There may have been a component of aging, there may have been a component of antidepressants because it turns out that I was also struggling with a mood disorder.
But for whatever reason, by the end of 19– Oh sorry, 2008, I was still in a low-carb diet and yet I was nearly 200 pounds and I’m 5’6”. It’s just way more than I need to weigh and it wasn’t all muscle. I was at this point of real desperation and I had studied so much about low carb and ketogenic diets. I didn’t know where else to turn. It seemed like the diet couldn’t be doing me wrong, but was this really the best that I could do? I was always on the lookout for something.
At the end of that year, I came across this forum that Charles Washington and Dana Spencer were running called Zeroing in on Health. They had a lot of people like me who had come from the low-carb community, but it wasn’t getting them everywhere that they wanted to be or they were stalled out. When they took out the plants– They were calling it zero carb then just to– I think to distinguish it from using– They weren’t using net carbs, but it really was even then all about plants versus animals.
They were having the same kind of success that I was hoping for which was that they were able to lose weight again and get back to their ideal weight and so I decided to try it. But you know back then, now, everything is so different now that this diet has become so much more popularized because I think a lot of people are hearing it without necessarily having a low-carb background or they’re hearing it and they’re hearing about all these different effects that really we didn’t have any idea about back in 2009.
People would come onto the form and…