By Marika Sboros
Canadian Mikhaila Peterson is the poster girl for low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) living. Actually, not just LCHF – she’s the global poster girl for a carnivorous, ketogenic lifestyle.
Following in her ketogenic footsteps is her famous father, Dr Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and University of Toronto psychology professor. His diet is not as restrictive as his daughter’s. He eats meat and greens only – and olive oil. Mikhaila eats meat and salt only and drinks lots of sparkling water. (Editor’s note: Jordan recently ditched the greens to follow his daughter on the meat-only path.)
Both father and daughter have reversed all symptoms of serious auto-immune illness that plagued them for decades in body and mind. And Jordan no longer has digestive issues, minor psoriasis, mouth ulcers, fatigue or any difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
Comparisons are odious but he freely admits that his daughter has had a much rougher ride. That’s putting it mildly because the ride reads like a medical horror story. Mikhaila (26) tells her story with insight and intelligence, peppered with detached wit and humorous acceptance. It’s a redemptive tale of beating the odds and fighting back from the living hell of life-threatening illness and pain. Ultimately, Mikhaila rescued herself by ignoring conventional medical and dietary “wisdom”.
By the time she was 17, Mikhaila had 38 affected joints and multiple joint replacements. At one stage, she was walking around on two broken legs for a year. She also suffered eczema, rashes over her entire body, never-ending itchiness, severe acne on her face, cystic acne on her buttocks, vaginal area, and armpits.
That’s all gone and both father and daughter have also overcome debilitating depression.
Through ketogenic (very-low-carb, high-fat) living, both are off all drugs that doctors prescribed. They’ve never felt better in body and mind and say they won’t revert to their former eating habits.
Mikhaila says she was “a really sick person” from toddlerhood. She has documented her journey back to health on her Don’t Eat That blog. It’s a fascinating read.
Her father tells his story on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. (It’s long and he only comes in at the end of the first six minutes.) Jordan is also author of the best-selling 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote to Chaos.
Mikhaila’s story is a powerful antidote to the chaos of scare tactics, myths and misinformation she faced on diet and nutrition.
As a child, Mikhaila dreamed of becoming a surgeon. That dream dissipated once she realised it wasn’t a good choice for someone with arthritic hands. But the medical profession’s loss became nutrition science’s gain.
Arthritis is just one of the many serious ailments that showed up in Mikhaila’s early childhood. She has a genetic predisposition on the maternal side. Her mother, Tammy, also reversed her own arthritis symptoms after changing to an LCHF diet.
From the age of two, Mikhaila was prone to bacterial infections – strep throat, colds, flu, respiratory problem, yeast infections. You name it, she suffered from it.
When she was seven, doctors diagnosed severe rheumatoid arthritis. That diagnosis was almost a relief. Her parents initially dismissed her moans and groans as symptoms of a spirited, high-maintenance, attention-seeking child.
As her illnesses progressed, the symptoms quickly dispelled that notion. And over the years, her moods began to swing.
In Grade 5, doctors diagnosed severe depression, anxiety and occasional hypomania. The latter is a mild form of mania, marked by elation and hyperactivity). They prescribed drugs.
“Antidepressants were honestly a godsend,” Mikhaila says.
Doctors also diagnosed “idiopathic hypersomnia”, a condition not too distinct from narcolepsy. In other words, Mikhaila battled to stay awake. She spent around 17 hours a day sleeping. The rest of the time she existed in a “half daze”.
Along with the extensive joint replacement surgery and chronic pain, that affected her academic performance. Mikhaila had to take a fifth year of high school. Aged 19, she went to university to study psychology but that “didn’t work”.
“My grades were good but I couldn’t stay awake.”
As her mental health issues worsened, she had to drop out. Mikhaila made a brief foray into makeup school but dropped out there too.
“Who was I kidding?” she asks rhetorically. And anyway, her wrists bothered her. Another bad career move for someone with arthritis as well as a host of other health problems.
She took high-school maths and sciences that she had missed. Her aim? “I wanted to study medical science at university. I wanted to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.”
She was living a real, live hell.
Mikhaila was on a cocktail of powerful drugs daily: antidepressants, immune suppressants, opioid-derived painkillers and, amphetamines. She took high doses of the stimulant drug, Ritalin, to get her out of bed and stay there, at least for some hours of the day. The drugs weren’t helping much.
Her skin started to itch. With all the other health challenges, she ignored that one. But the skin problems grew worse. And at age 19 she began to have cystic acnes – blistering and painful bumps.
Vanity was the first key that drove her to start experimenting with diet. “The sight of sores on my face that would not heal scared me.”
All in their heads?
In December 2014, she consulted doctors. They either had no idea what was happened or said that her high levels of anxiety were the cause. In other words, that her problems were psychosomatic, all in her head.
“Blame the patient, thanks,” Mikhaila says ruefully.
Doctors tend to resort to labels when they don’t know the real cause of a patient’s problem. Thus began her chronic scepticism of the medical profession.
It motivated her to investigate food as medicine. One target became clear: gluten. Mikhaila cut out gluten from her diet in May 2015.
It helped a little but not much. She made herself a “treat”: gluten-free, sugar-free almond flour banana muffins. They were delicious and she wolfed them down. The next morning her hands hurt.
She had a couple more muffins “because they were so tasty”. Two days later, she couldn’t walk.
Mikhaila spent much of that year learning. And most of the time she felt miserable about her increasingly severe food intolerances.
But there was another driver, an even more defining moment than simple vanity. In the summer of 2015, a distant cousin on her father’s side died suddenly aged just 30. That cousin also had skin problems that wouldn’t heal – an autoimmune disorder. Doctors had no idea what caused her death.
That terrified Mikhaila, coming so soon after her own skin sores that would not heal.
She recalls thinking: “Holy shit. I’m dying. I’m on 15 medications so I can wake up in the morning. And if I don’t figure out what the hell is wrong with me I’m going to die.”
In September 2015, she began an elimination LCHF diet “completely randomly”. She was still sceptical about the role of diet in illness.
Mikhaila cut her diet down to chicken, beef, fish, rice, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and salad greens. She used coconut, olive oil and apple cider vinegar and most spices. Some of those foods still irritated her but she had removed most of the worst offenders.
Within a month, her health had improved. Her skin healed and arthritis vanished. The fatigue and depression, however, stuck around for a bit longer.
Mikhaila tried to reintroduce cheese – she was always a huge cheese fan. That precipitated a lactose intolerance response that nearly required another hospital stint. She tried reintroducing almond butter but her skin broke out again. The itch and arthritis returned.
Mikhaila even tried reintroducing Sour Patch Kids. The company that makes the candy calls it a ” fun, soft, and chewy candy for children and adults”. As it contains no soy, dairy or gluten, Mikhaila thought it was unlikely to do any harm. Her skin told “a different story”.
One problem was that experts had based everything she had read until then on the premise that it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you exercise.
“That is a HUGE and dangerous lie,” Mikhaila says. “What you put into your body is as important as what medications you’re taking. Changing the way you eat can change your life.”
Consequently, she embarked on the path to prove that life change. And when she became pregnant with her daughter, Elizabeth Scarlett, Mikhaila found it easy to resist conventional dietary advice.
She ate LCHF throughout her pregnancy. “No cheating, ever.”
After Scarlett’s birth in August 2017, Mikhaila began researching the benefits of very LCHF, ketogenic diets. She decided to try a “zero-carb”, all-meat diet. It’s the one she follows to this day. She eats mostly ribeye steak, 2-3 pounds of meat a day. She drinks lots of water, sparkling whenever possible.
Results, she says, have been nothing short of “amazing”.
The carnivorous diet also helped her lose pregnancy weight in an enviably short time. Mikhaila posted a selfie on Instagram, showing her streamlined form eight months after giving birth.
She was in her underwear, no different, really, from wearing a bikini. Not surprisingly, that brought out the trolls, mostly males.
The sexism is breathtaking. After all, Mikhaila wasn’t naked. And medical doctors who also eat a high-meat diet, beefcake US physicians Ted Naiman and Shawn Baker among them, show even more flesh.
Naiman’s diet is 70% meat and Baker is carnivorous. Both often post pictures of themselves online.
They are naked from the waist up, showing six packs and arm muscles on a high-meat diet. No one breathes a word of criticism and rightly so.
Mikhaila describes the effects of diet on her wellbeing as like waking up. But it was also terrifying.
“The fact that I could have prevented all my horrible diseases with diet, and I could have avoided hip and ankle replacements scarred me. I’m still not over it.”
She couldn’t even go into hospitals for a while because the idea of a doctor enraged her. “I’m a bit better now but I still don’t have a good relationship with the medical community.”
Her menu can sound Spartan, scarily dangerous – or perfectly natural. Mikhaila calls it “simple, easy and tasty”.
She no longer takes vitamin and mineral supplementation. “I had my mineral and vitamin levels tested. And I experimented with vitamins and minerals a lot,” she says. ” I hoped they would minimize the food reactions and arthritic symptoms. They did nothing.”
She receives emailed suggestions daily from people. “Honestly, I’ve tried everything. What works best for me is a carnivorous diet.”
Mikhaila isn’t suggesting that a carnivorous diet will work for everyone. Far from it. But for anyone with serious health problems, she says that it makes sense to try radical dietary change before heavy drugs.
So, is Mikhaila really a paragon of meat-eating virtue? Does she ever resort to the odd “cheat” day? And what’s the most unhealthy thing she does – if anything?
Mikhaila enjoys alcohol. However, once she changed to an LCHF diet, she realised that alcohol affected her mood.
“I seem to tolerate (alcohol) much better on the zero-carb diet,” she says. “So I will drink bourbon or vodka but rarely.”
Mikhaila intends to breastfeed Scarlett for at least 12 months. “And then whenever she naturally wants to stop, we’ll stop. We’ll just play it by ear,” she says.
Will she raise Scarlett LCHF? Not zero-carb or meat-only but Mikhaila says Scarlett is “already a fan of steak”. She won’t feed her daughter dairy, gluten, or sugar. And she’ll keep fruits “for treats”.
Mikhaila makes light of the hard journey she has travelled in body and mind. On the question of where her remarkable resilience comes from, she is offhand.
“What are the options? When life throws you curveballs you can give up and die or deal with it.
“I didn’t want to give up and die.”
She recalls the moment a doctor told her at age 14 that she had not outgrown arthritis – and likely never would. She lay bed thinking: “Fuck you, world! I am not letting this get to me.”
She credits her parents with that resilience. Her father always told her to never use illness as an excuse. “He helped me with that. It’s a very important lesson.”
Click here to read: Carnivore Queen: Amber O’Hearn on magic of meat
Her mother looked into diet before it became the trendy thing to do. When Mikhaila was in Grade 2, her mother told doctors that oranges caused her daughter’s arthritis flare-up.
“They laughed at her,” Mikhaila says.
“I can’t imagine having a sick child. I get tearful just thinking about it. My mother is strong and pushed us to look at diet.
“She’s always ahead of the curve. She bought an infrared sauna before that was a health fad. My mother started low level-lasering before that was a thing. She’s really cool.”
Among Mikhaila’s strengths is a forward-looking disposition. But if she could edit her life, there is one thing she would change.She would have started an all-meat diet from day one. Or at least she would have figured it out before she needed surgery.
She has few pet peeves. One is people telling her that the gluten-free trend is for “stupid California girls”. Another is people ” who speak as if they know what they’re talking about when they don’t. Therefore, they spread misinformation.
And her biggest fear is that she’ll do “something wrong” with Scarlett.
“Parents can’t be perfect but what I went through was horrific. I don’t want anyone to experience that if I can help it. And I’m worried about Scarlett and her reactions to food.
As for her hopes and dreams, Mikhaila hopes that her extended family will figure their diets out. And that doctors will use diet as first-line treatment for chronic disease.
“I hope all the unhappy, overweight, sick people find out that it’s food causing their problems. And that it’s not their fault and they can get better.
“I just want this information to spread.”
That leads to her idea of paradise. “A place where gluten is illegal, misinformation about diet doesn’t exist and people don’t think vegetarianism is the healthiest diet,” she says.
“Food almost ruined my life, my dad’s life, my husband’s life. This won’t continue through my line.”