Carnivore queen, white-hat hacker O’Hearn on magic of meat



By Marika Sboros

Today, Foodmed launches Vital Signs, an occasional series of Q&A interviews with those forging new paths in nutrition science globally. Along with top doctors and scientists, we also feature ordinary mortals. These are the brave people who make up the “wisdom of the crowds”. They aren’t swayed by eminence-based but rather genuinely evidence-based medicine.

First up is Canadian-born US-based carnivore and artificial intelligence hacker L Amber O’Hearn who lives in Colorado. O’Hearn is a data scientist by profession – and also a “white-hat hacker”. She has been researching and experimenting with ketogenic and evolution-based diets since 1997.

A  favourite raw meal

O’Hearn has now given up her day job aside to focus on researching, writing, and speaking about nutrition. She is an author at The Ketogenic Diet For Health and Empirica . Yes, she eats some of her meat meals raw. And no, she’s not aggressive because she eats only meat. Here’s what drives her dietary habits:

Marika Sboros: What was your earliest ambition?

L Amber O’Hearn: I wanted to be a singer, writer and mathematician. It never occurred to me that it’s hard to be all those things at the same time.

Which did you ditch first?

Singing, though I’m not sure why. But I carried on singing in the kitchen and the shower.

I hear that you’re singing again?

Yes. I’m back-up singer in Niwot’s Curse. It’s a punk rock band.

Interesting name for the band. Where does it come from? 

The name of an Indian chief and a town outside Boulder. Niwot means left-handed. Chief Niwot is supposed to have said that there’s a curse on the area. Many people will come here and won’t want to leave but their staying will spoil the area.

You continued with math?

Yes, I started studying mathematics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. After the second year, I switched to a Russian language program.

Why Russian? 

A lucky accident. I’ve always loved languages. I really wanted to learn Japanese but the course was full. So, I took Russian instead and instantly fell in love with it.

What made you study computer science?

A circuitous route. At first, I had no interest in computer science. I had to take theoretical computer science when I was doing a math degree.  I realised that it is mathematics and also didn’t want to be a programmer by profession. Really, I just wanted to study the theoretical aspects of programming and computer science. And I found that I was interested. I decided to study computational linguistics. It felt like a beautiful marriage of several of my interests.

You wanted to become an academic. Why didn’t you?

Family intervened – marriage, children. I needed a job and decided to try programming professionally. I became a data scientist.

You went to Hacker School in the summer of 2014. Are you a hacker?

Yes, but in the computer science community, we understand that word differently. It was originally a term of admiration for someone who really cares about how things work, and can come up with elegant solutions to problems. You have to love and understand computer science to get that nickname. Hacker School is a  unique place idea that attracts people who love computer science. They set their own goals and fulfil them in each other’s company.

What makes a good hacker?

One who has an awe for the machine and the power of what people can do and uses that to really understand what’s going on at a deep level.

And a bad hacker?

Bad hacker is an oxymoron, you’re either good at it and a hacker or you’re not. We distinguish between black and white hat hackers. White-hat hackers want to make the world a better place. Black-hat hackers are into criminal activity. They want to manipulate, harm or steal.

You started researching nutrition twenty years ago. Critics may say you should stick to what you know best: computer science. Do they have a point? 

It’s easy to give glib answers about why I’m well suited for it. The human body is a complex system. Having studied mathematics, I have special training in understanding complex systems. But that’s not why I got into writing about LCHF and ketogenic diets.

So, why did you?

If you look at the writing on my website, I choose topics where there is lack of consensus even among advocates of ketogenic diets. People were disagreeing and saying things about the science that didn’t make sense to me. Whenever that happens, I feel a need to dig.

What did you dig up?

The medical and dietetic communities have been hostile to low-carb for a long time. I think it’s because they tell and believe an unnatural story about ketosis. They say it’s not natural and that it mimics starvation. In that case, you naturally tend to see danger and problems wherever you look. Combine that with animal fat and meat—they have the mistaken idea that fat is bad. To get into a ketogenic state, you have to eat a lot of fat. That scares people. (Editor’s note: for more on ignorance about ketogenic diets, listen to O’Hearn’s recent Ancestral Health Society talk at the University of Washington.)

Are those fears founded in any way?

Not significantly. If you look at nutrition through a different lens, how it naturally arose through evolution, you can more easily see the benefits of it. To me, it’s as much a language problem as much as a systems problem.

You a red rag to conventional dietitians. Why?

I find that the dietetics profession generally has a pessimistic view of disease, health and healing. I don’t see a lot of critical thinking going on. And I have no problem with their criticism of my work but they should judge it on its own merit, not my credentials. I don’t think that science supports what orthodox dietitians learn during their training.

They aren’t taught how to evaluate evidence properly. And when I ask for evidence, they bring epidemiological evidence. That’s weak evidence, good mostly for generating hypotheses.

Prof Tim Noakes cited your research as evidence during his trial in South Africa. What prompted the research?

I noticed that even textbooks about newborn infants acknowledge that babies are in ketosis when breastfeeding. I saw that as strong confirmation that ketosis is a natural state not just for adults but also for infants and growing children. Following that, I found the work of (Canadian professor) Stephen Cunnane. He refers to other research showing that the brain doesn’t just use ketone bodies for fuel.

What’s so great about ketones?

Ketone bodies are the brain’s building blocks because they cross the blood-brain barrier. Once I saw that connection, it made sense. Many mammals, or most, are in ketosis when they are suckling. I used to think that the main reason they stopped being in ketosis was because their natural post-weaning diet prevented it. But then, coincidentally, brain growth stops. In many species, such as rodents, they are not in ketosis after weaning but their brains have grown to full capacity, but human brains continue to grow long past weaning. And human children will stay in ketosis as long as you don’t introduce carbs into the diet.

Does that apply to all species?

This is not the case in other carnivore species. Interestingly, the natural diet of dogs and cats has no carbs but they’re not in ketosis. Just having only meat is not enough. They need caloric or protein restriction to get into ketosis. As part of my research, I spoke to people at the Keto Pet Sanctuary. They are treating cancer in dogs by keeping them in ketosis. That involves caloric and protein restriction and feeding them MCT oil.  So, I interpret this as evidence that ketosis is a natural state for human children past weaning because it facilitates brain growth. And that is why we stay in ketosis past weaning if carbs are kept low, unlike other species.

What do you see as an optimal weaning diet for infants?

Once they stop breastfeeding, the best source of brain nutrients are animal sources. Some of the nutrients infants need you just can’t get in plants or can’t get easily. So, meat is essential. It’s not just about low-carb foods but also getting enough protein. The main consideration is that if you feed infants something that is high enough in carbs to prevent ketosis, you are displacing a healthier food.

Click here to read: Real beef dietitians have with Noakes 


You have “graduated” from LCHF to carnivore. When and why? 

I was a vegetarian for many years and even vegan at one point, but I was overweight and not healthy. Once I read Protein Power, (by Dr Michael Eades) I found the nutrition advice logical and persuasive. I’ve been eating low-carb ever since. Initially, I lost 30lbs. But after a few years maintaining that, I wasn’t able to maintain all of the weight loss. Perhaps it was from pregnancies, getting older, or the anti-depressant medication I was on.  At one stage before my last pregnancy, I weighed over 195 lbs. I don’t know exactly how much; I didn’t even want to look at the scale.

Apart from losing 60lbs, any other benefits since becoming a carnivore?

At the end of 2008, I heard about people benefiting from eating only meat. My only motivation at the time was weight loss. But it very quickly became apparent that it had a positive effect on my mood. I had been on anti-depressants since 1993 aged 20. Doctors diagnosed major depressive disorder. Then in my early 30s, they diagnosed bipolar type 2. That diagnosis was a relief. I thought it explained why the medication I was on for 15 years hadn’t worked well. But the new meds also didn’t work.

Some might say it was the placebo effect?

I had grown to distrust my own evaluation of my mental state. But even my husband said that my mood was more significantly improved and more stable than ever since I went carnivore. That was in early 2009.

You have three sons, aged 16, 13 and seven. Is there a carnivore among them?

We have had a low-carb household for years. It has become more meat-centric since I found my own benefi but I don’t force them to eat the way I would prefer. That’s bound to fail with teenagers.  So, I give them what’s healthy at home and also teach them ideas on how to evaluate nutritional science. And then they make their own decisions out in the world.

Vegetarians – and vegans especially –  often say that meat makes people aggressive. They even suggest that the carnivore is prone to violence. When did you last punch someone?

Never, even as a vegetarian. That accusation is an inconsistency from the vegetarian community. They like to say that carnivores are more aggressive but also have a lower sex drive. That makes no sense because it’s like saying we have too much testosterone driving aggression and too little for libido.  So, which is it? If I try to understand the vegan position, I think they call us violent because they equate eating animals with murdering people. I think that’s inappropriate as a comparison.

Click here to read:  Medical evangelism: a cover for plant-based dietary advice?

How do you start your day?

With something unrelated to food. I write in my journal. I find it an effective way of getting in touch with the day. And I have coffee, black, not “bulletproof” (with butter, cream and/or MCT oil). My first meal is usually not till 11 am or noon.

What are the staples of your diet?

I have a few basic staples that I eat for my meals whether it’s the first or second meal of the day. I usually have ground beef or steak or eggs, pork, fish chicken. I eat dairy but only very occasionally. It affects my weight – but not mood, as far as I can tell.

What are your  fat sources? 

I eat fatty cuts of meat, sometimes I will augment that with fat I have collected, such as tallow or lard. I respond to my hunger. If I feel I need more fat, I eat more fat. I don’t sweat it too much.

What’s your percentage protein intake?

I haven’t measured it for a long time but it generally comes out at 20-35% of my calories. And mostly 65- 80% fat.

Do you ever worry about your cholesterol levels and saturated fat clogging your arteries?

Never. My vascular system isn’t a drain pipe.

What’s the least healthy thing you do?

I reintroduced alcohol into my diet. I have an occasional wine or scotch and don’t think it’s particularly healthy as long as it’s genuinely moderate, I don’t think it’s much of a problem.

Have you had mentors in life?

Yes, I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of people who have given me time and advice. One was my advisor during computer linguistics, Prof Graeme Hirst. He was exceedingly kind and always believed in me.

Ever read a book – apart from Protein Power – that changed your life?

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Initially, it was hard to read in some ways. I am an atheist and it has a very spiritual message. But that book gave me the ability to see everything I do as a creative endeavour.

What are you reading now?

A textbook on epistemology. I’m taking a course at Colorado University, Boulder.  I’m interested in how it is that we decide we know something and form our beliefs.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Trust your feelings. As someone who has had so much influence and explicit desire to be rational, that took a long time to sink in.

If you could edit your life, what would you change?

Nothing. I love where I am. I wouldn’t want to disturb that, even by accident.

What’s your biggest fear?


And your hopes and dreams?

To become a neuroscientist.




  1. Thanks for the great interview, Marika. Nursing babies are in ketosis – I didn’t know that. With all of the evidence supporting low carb diets, it is amazing to me that any nutritional scientist does not believe LCHF is the best diet for most people.

    Hacker O’Hearn has led a life with great diversity following her passion into many fields. She reminds me of Allan Savory. He helped manage a wildlife refuge and was a tracker, soldier, rebel, legislator, prime minister candidate, all the while he developed and taught methods to stop desertification. Even though his primary goal is to stop desertification, a side effect of his Holistic Management is to improve the nutritional content of our food. Thus, making meat even better for our bodies.

    Lastly, I look forward to your interview with Ivor. He interviewed Dr. Priyanka Wali and posted it on YouTube. I saw the interview and found that she, who is also a comedian, practices medicine in San Francisco near me. So, now I have a primary care doctor who understands low carb. Very cool.

  2. Great interview! Medical professionals like Tim Noakes, Andreas Eenfeldt, and Jason Fung are rebels within the system, so to speak. But there are also those like L Amber O’Hearn and Ivor Cummins: people with keen analytical skills they have honed outside the medical profession and who, looking at nutrition dogma “from the outside,” can readily perceive the inherent logical and evidential fallacies.

    • Well, Arthur, you must be psychic! Ivor Cummins is next up on Vital Signs. Still trying to pin him down timewise. The Fat Emperor is a very busy man knocking nutrition dogma “from the outside” as you so rightly observe.

  3. A common phrase used by vegans / vegetarians : “Carnivores are often more aggressive and prone to violence than vegans / vegetarians.” Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, was he gentle and peaceful?

    • Doriand, he was a deranged fantatic and that’s all too familiar with many of the vegans I know, although certainly not all. It’s a moral position, and respectable when it stays that way, but saying it’s good for me is nonsense, as some of the more scrupulous vegans admit. I’m told that many of the paleo people began as vegans, but became disillusioned when the truth became clear. Anything built on saying things that aren’t true has weak foundations.

      • Yup, I was an early convert to an Ornish-style high carb low fat grain-based vegan diet, which was when I passed my first gallstone and had my first attack of gout. Whoops!

        After that I dutifully ate “low fat grain based” for decades until I nearly became diabetic. Whoops 2!

        The dietician told me I was still eating too much fat and should replace it with even more grains. My lipids got worse and I rapidly gained weight which I’d never done before. Whoops 3!

        Like Gary Fettke I eat a largely vegan diet – along with my meat. poultry, game and fish. That seems to work . . . oh I forgot the curdled cow pus (butter and cheese) and instantly lethal coconut oil. Chicken abortions (another veganism) not so much, I don’t like the flavour or texture, though I accept like meat (and especially liver) they are comparatively a genuine superfood.

        Now off to eat some meat and greens.

        • I totally get what you are saying. Right out of college I was a dietitian. Twenty plus years later, I am a overweight nurse starting on LCHF diet probably going carnivore. I was indoctrined with “all foods can fit” and everything in moderation”. What a educational waste.!!!!

  4. Oh – this is a great blog in my eyes.

    And a great interview!

    Everyone though seems to have his/her own entry into the LCHF but most of us due to own health concerns and where weight might be one major entrance. For me it was though CVD and for my wife serious diabetes T2 which made us jump on board on the strict LCHF train 2009 and with amazing health benefits and where weight was surely a secondary issue but still we lost significant and now being two poster boy/girls at 70 +.

    What triggered me to comment now was my full agreement with this post and that I just now am processing a 55 kg boar which I bought from a hunter yesterday and that I also expect my ketone meter, Ketonix, to arrive today so we will be able to stay in control.

    • Amber is the best advert for what she ‘preaches’, or rather lectures. She appears to have gained in IQ and EQ since becoming a carnivore!

  5. Like so many in the low carb/paleo/keto community”, doesn’t she look so fit and healthy – and cute as a button?

    Not descriptions I could use on most dieticians, or many doctors or nurses, let alone members of the HCLF public. The staff in our local farm shop/butcher’s, for sure, but not so many in the Supermarket, especially not the young ones. Not many under fifty are not covered in a layer of lard there.

    “The main consideration is that if you feed infants something that is high enough in carbs to prevent ketosis, you are displacing a healthier food.”

    Yes that’s a question I have never received a reply to from “medical professionals”, which of my nutritious foods should I give up in order to cram in my 300g starchy carbs per day?

    • Good point, Chris.

      I was at the Public Health Collaboration conference in Manchester, England, last June. I don’t think I’ve seen so many adults in one place for a very long time who looked so well and easily in control of their weight. They’re obviously doing something wrong. Not enough low-fat pseudo foods or ‘healthy’ grains, probably.

      And let’s contrast with the almost inevitably overweight dietitians, who tell us it’s hard because they fail with their own bad advice. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny.

      • Yes, when one of the few not-fat women in the supermarket has noticed the fat customers buying their “low fat!!!” processed foodlike substances while growing inexorably fatter, while all the thin healthy old folks inhabit the butchers, veg shops and farm shops you might think that well-paid and highly “qualified” healthcare professionals like dieticians might have noticed the same thing.

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