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Let’s say you have committed to trying the ketogenic diet. You have a complete list of the do’s and don’ts, whittled your carb intake down to about 10 percent, boosted your protein intake to around 75 percent, and explored the healthy fats you can consume to round out your diet. But after several days, you begin to feel—let’s say—like crap. You can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning, you have a headache, you can’t think straight, and you feel nauseous. Is this what you signed up for? Why do you feel so bad?
You likely have the keto flu, a common but temporary side effect of switching your diet to a high-protein, moderate fat, and low carb way of eating. Suddenly your body is confused: where are the carbs it has been using for energy? Why can’t you get up the motivation to leave the house? Why are you lightheaded?
Symptoms of keto flu
Keto flu hits everyone differently. Some people press through the symptoms within a few days; for others, the symptoms may last a week or longer. Those symptoms can be intolerable as your body makes adjustments to changes in hormone and electrolyte levels.
In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, you may also experience the following:
- Stomach pains
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Muscle soreness or cramping
- Sugar cravings
Frankly, everyone reacts to the metabolic changes associated with altering your diet to a high-fat, low-carb approach in various degrees of severity.
What causes keto flu?
For most people who start the ketogenic diet, their way of eating changes dramatically, and the body responds to those changes in a number of ways. For example, if you have been eating lots of processed foods, foods with added sugar, factory-farmed meat and dairy, and a high percentage of carbs, all of that has just changed if you truly adopt the new diet.
Here are a few major things that occur:
- When switching from a diet of processed foods, which are high in salts and sugars, to one low in both, your body will retain less water because there is less sodium. Lower carbs also means lower levels of insulin. All of this results in significant water loss.
- When you excrete more water through urination, you lose electrolytes, which can cause an imbalance and dehydration, and thus flu-like symptoms until the body regains balance.
- The process of switching from burning glucose (sugar) for energy to burning fat requires some flexibility in metabolism. Some people have less metabolic flexibility than others, and so they are more likely to experience harsher keto flu symptoms.
- When we experience a dramatic decline in carb intake, it is common to experience withdrawal symptoms, which include sugar cravings, irritability, and mood swings. These will lessen as the body adapts to fat burning.
Managing keto flu
There is hope, however. Countless people have initiated the keto diet and experienced these symptoms, and many come out on the other side feeling fine. If you want to help restore your nutrient levels and significantly reduce any symptoms associated with keto flu, try the following:
- Focus on mineral-rich foods, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables
- Take Epsom salt baths to boost your magnesium
- Drink a high-quality, no-sugar-added electrolyte formula
- Try mineral-rich bone broth (remember, it should be organic)
- Stay well hydrated
- Engage in light exercise several times a week
- If symptoms persist for longer than several days, boost your carb intake slightly
- Get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Take a power nap if necessary
The good news is that the keto flu goes away—no need for a flu shot or medication! With some patience and attention to the symptoms, you can get through the keto flu with flying colors.