Female TikTokers Love the Carnivore Diet: Is It Healthy Or Harmful? – Rolling Stone

11 minutes, 59 seconds Read

Many of the videos on Isabella Ma’s TikTok page feature the same approximate thumbnail: a grinning Ma, with razor-sharp cheekbones, stick-straight black hair, and flawlessly appointed eyebrows, her mouth wide open, poised to take a bite out of a giant stick of butter, as if it were a freshly peeled banana. Sometimes, she’ll be poised over a giant bowl of ground beef, or a baking sheet covered in ribs. But the butter is the star of the show. 

“People want to see me eat butter,” she tells Rolling Stone. “When I take a bite out of that stick of butter people will just go so crazy. I think it’s because nobody really does that. It’s the first time they’ve seen a girl eat butter before.” 

Ma, who goes by the apt handle SteakAndButterGal on social media, is one of a rapidly growing cohort of female influencers embracing what is known as the carnivore diet. Generally summarized as a high-fat, high-protein diet, carnivorism encompasses a pretty wide spectrum: some will primarily eat meat but will supplement with other foods, while others, like Ma, stick to animal-based products, and will abstain from other foods in general.

On social media, the carnivore diet is rapidly growing in popularity: there are more than 111,000 videos with the #carnivore hashtag on TikTok alone, over the past year, searches for the term have increased by 79 percent, peaking at almost 200,000 searches between Dec. 2023 and Jan. 2024, according to Google data. Influencers like Ma claim that the carnivore diet has helped improve their skin, their mental wellness, and their gut issues; there are even those in the community, she says, who claim it has helped them cure cancer. (There is little evidence to suggest this is true.) 

In the past, the carnivore diet has primarily been promoted by male, largely conservative figures, such as the influencers Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan. One of the chief proponents has been Paul Saladino, otherwise known as Carnivore MD, an influencer with more than two million followers who has advocated for an animal-based diet (and recently went viral for advocating against the use of toilet paper after pooping). 

Recently, however, the pendulum has swung slightly, with many female influencers promoting the diet. One such influencer, Ashley English, a former model who says she struggled with an eating disorder before adopting a high-protein, high-fat diet, went viral with a February 2024 TikTok titled “What I Eat In a Day as a girl who eats raw meat,” showing off her breakfast (orange slices, smoked oysters, raw milk, and a raw ribeye) and dinner (more raw ribeye, with sauerkraut, chimichurri, bone marrow, and gruyere), mixed in with shots of her sun-drenched face and her enjoying a juicy kiwi in a garden. (English did not respond to a request for comment, though as many commenters on her video note, consuming raw meat and raw milk significantly increase the risk of contracting food-borne illnesses.)

With interest in the diet increasing, the trend of female carnivores has had the effect of universalizing its appeal. The fact that many of these influencers are beautiful, slender young women does not hurt. “I totally get the whole thing of, ‘Wow, a fit, pretty woman [is] eating these shockingly large, strange ingredients,’” says Ma, who within the past year has almost doubled her subscriber base, from 123,000 in March 2023 to 243,000 in March 2024, according to data from the analytics app SocialBlade. “It’s going to catch people’s eye.”

While male carnivore influencers tend to focus on getting “ripped” and maximizing their masculinity, the trend is very different among female influencers, with them primarily focusing on weight loss, skin conditions, and autoimmune disorders, says Derek Beres, cohost of the Conspirituality podcast and coauthor of Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat. “What I see almost across the board with the female carnivore influencers is this sense that the Western diet is toxic, Western medicine is toxic, and we have found something that will bring you true health,” he explains, noting that much of this may stem from a longstanding tradition of medical sexism and women’s justifiable mistrust of Western practitioners. 

The medical experts who spoke to Rolling Stone, however, are highly skeptical of the carnivore diet, claiming that the majority of research shows increased consumption of red meat can lead to cardiovascular issues, as well as an increased risk of certain types of cancer, and that any individual benefits influencers cite might be misleading.

“It’s not something that I would recommend to any of my patients,” says Dr. Rabia Delatour, assistant professor of medicine and gastroenterologist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “We have robust data proving the diet that is the best for her health and longevity is the Mediterranean diet, which is all about balance — having a healthy amount of protein, less fats and less carbohydrates, with less pressure to eat one food in excess.” 

Isabella Ma showing off a healthy serving of meat.

Courtesy of Steak and Butter Gal

On the surface, influencers’ accounts of how the carnivore diet has changed their lives sound incredibly appealing. Ma spent six years as a vegan prior to switching to the carnivore diet, learning about it on YouTube while studying piano performance at Juilliard in New York City. “It was really stressful, and I started feeling a negative impact on my mental health, on my ability to focus and practice for long hours, and my skin was getting worse,” she recalls. “So I started searching what happens if vegans aren’t really healing, or if they’re not feeling good. And these videos popped up of vegans not only eating meat again, but specifically, vegans going directly into carnivore.”

After falling down the “carnivore rabbit hole,” Ma says, she decided to try the diet. It was the height of the pandemic when she started posting about her “carnivore journey,” and she says she was instantly entranced by “the simplicity of it — all I have to do is just eat meat or whatever comes from an animal, like butter or eggs, and I can have as much as I want,” she recalls. She claims she instantly started feeling better, with her skin clearing up and her period, which had disappeared for two years, finally coming back. Though some, like her mother, were concerned about her newfound habit of snacking on butter or eating it as a side with a plate of meat, she says it made her feel “satiated” for the first time in years. “It felt like I was finally feeding my body what it needed,” she says. 

Ma is now a leader of what she calls the “carnivore community,” and has transitioned from teaching piano and playing gigs to being a full-time influencer. (Though she declined to answer questions about her income, she says she started making enough to support herself as a content creator about two years ago.) The majority of her revenue stems from YouTube, where she has 180,000 subscribers, and she also runs a personalized community where, for $30 a month, she offers tips to her 13,000 members looking to go carnivore.  

Ma’s content is, on the surface, a cardiologist’s worst nightmare. She regularly chows down on bowls of ground beef, eggs, and butter, eschewing fruits and vegetables, or even vitamin supplements, altogether. She says while she initially struggled from sugar withdrawals, after a month or two her taste buds eventually adapted and she no longer has cravings for anything outside meat, though she will partake in a yogurt every once in a while. (She says she has also lost weight, though it was a lot more gradual than it has been for others on the carnivore diet and she did not start the diet with the intention of weight loss.)

This is, of course, counter to conventional medical wisdom, which recommends people eat no more than three portions of red meat per week to reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues or colorectal cancer. For women specifically, there may be some additional risks, though the body of research is much smaller in this regard, says Dr. Elise Boden, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. “There is some evidence that [a high fat, high protein diet] can increase calcium losses in the urine and calcium is really important for building bones. So there may be an increased risk for osteoporosis,” she says. “This is somewhat theoretical, but women are more at risk for osteoporosis. So I think anyone who is on this type of a diet, I would recommend they’d be really careful about their calcium and vitamin D intake.”

Indeed, many of Ma’s commenters are flabbergasted by her diet. “The reactions are always like, ‘Oh my god, this is crazy. Is she out of her mind? She’s going to get a heart attack or she’s going to clog her arteries,’” she says, laughing. Many ask her to release the results of her bloodwork (Ma says the last time she got a blood test, her LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels measuring her cholesterol were “pristine,” but she says she hasn’t gone to get a test in about two years, “because I feel so good.”)

Courtesy of Steak and Butter Gal

Historically, many male influencers who have promoted the carnivore diet have skewed conservative, equating eating meat with freedom of individual choice and sticking it to the left, particularly in light of mounting evidence linking factory farming and meat consumption with climate change. “With meat being part of Americana, [the trend] just naturally bent right wing,” says Beres. “With the contrarian nature of right wing politics, that seems where it really got into that territory.” But that’s not as much the case for female influencers like Ma, who frame meat consumption in much more of a wellness context: “I personally don’t [think it is political at all], and I really never, ever touch the topic of politics with my content,” she says. “I simply am online to share my healing story.”

Many prominent female carnivore influencers have also advocated for the diet as a weight loss method, similar to the keto diet, a low-carb, high-fat diet that has been trendy in recent years. One prominent Australian YouTuber, Limitless Lindy, claims to have lost 500 pounds over a little more than two years by adhering to a strict carnivore diet.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Barker says that she was 800 pounds and housebound at the time that she stumbled across the carnivore diet on YouTube. For years, she had struggled with overeating, relying on food as a coping mechanism following the death of her mother. Doctors had begged her to lose weight, and she’d even had lap band surgery in her 20s, to no avail; she says she had tried almost every single diet imaginable. “I stumbled on some carnivore videos and I thought, ‘This is crazy. Just eat meat? I’ll end up with cancer,’” she recalls. “[But] I thought, ‘I’ve tried everything else. This is my last hope.’”

At the time, Barker says, she was severely depressed: “I had one foot in the grave. I didn’t want to be here,” she says. “I thought, either there’ll be a miracle or I’ll die quickly of a heart attack.” But she says that going carnivore was exactly the “reset” button she needed. “There was no off switch for me. Now I have an off switch. I have a meal and I don’t think about food for 10, 12 hours.”

Like many of the other influencers who have tried the carnivore diet, Barker says her negative experiences with the medical establishment largely drove her to find solutions for herself, and to tell her story on social media. “I’d go to the doctor and they’d say, ‘lose weight.’ I’d say, ‘how do I lose weight? Tell me. And don’t just say moderate food or eat a balanced diet. I’ve done all that, and I’ve been there.’ I couldn’t sustain any of that,” she says. “I honestly felt like a failure as a human.” Since restricting to meat, “something has changed to make me not broken anymore,” she says.

While Barker’s story is extreme, there is indeed evidence to support the claim that high-protein, high-fat diets can lead to weight loss. Boden says that there is a “significant body of data” to support the efficacy of low-carb diets, and have been associated with short-term improvements in things like cholesterol and blood sugar. She notes that many people with diabetes or metabolic disorders have also tried such diets to improve their health outcomes, with some successful short-term effects.

Regarding the long-term weight-loss effects of a high-fat, high-protein diet, however, Boden says the jury is largely still out. “The effects on weight loss and metabolic health have not really been proven to be better than other dietary patterns in the long term,” she says. “So that is something I talk to my patients about.” Delatour agrees, adding that what may be effective for one person and their metabolism may have the opposite effect for another: “weight loss is highly individual, and there really is no magic bullet for everyone,” she says. 

This is the primary objection that health care providers have to the carnivore diet: though there are significant issues with the average American diet and its overreliance on processed foods, cutting out all other foods except for red meat is an overreaction, says Delatour. 


“People in the West have finally realized what people in Eastern cultures have known for millennia, which is that what you put in your body, and eating more natural things, is better for you,” she says. “We’ve been ingesting processed foods at a violently aggressive rate for the last several decades, and we were told by our government and by the food regulation system that it was okay to eat. And now the pendulum is swinging the other way. And people are realizing, ‘this is really bad for me.’” 

But there is a “middle ground,” Delatour says, between avoiding processed foods and exclusively eating animal-based food products that are known to carry health risks when overconsumed. “If you want real health advice, don’t go to TikTok. Ask your doctor,” she says. 

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