If you want to successfully lose weight on the keto diet, then it’s important that you’re aware of the challenges that come with it. Not just challenges, but also the solutions to these challenges. You must’ve heard of the keto flu- it’s the worst of all of those challenges. If you want to overcome keto flu, then THIS is the article for you.
Everyone’s talking about the keto diet and its awesome effects when it comes to weight loss transformations, diabetes control, PCOS management, etc. Some even swear by the diet as a lifestyle choice for better physical and mental energy.
So much promise definitely makes keto worth a shot, right?
Well, if you’re even slightly skeptical, or even realistic, you will see that there’s more to it. Following keto isn’t cake walk (although cake you can eat on keto, even cookies). Keto is an extreme diet and while it can produce amazing results, there’s always a catch- it’s too good to be true after all, isn’t it?
Of course there’s the fundamentals itself- giving up carbs which includes what might seem all your favorite foods. But there’s tons of alternatives and workarounds- keto food has gotten tastier over time with some keto recipes whipping up even better food than regular carb-filled foods.
The bigger catch though is the keto flu.
Flu?? The very thought of it can be scary, right?
But no, keto flu isn’t really a “flu”. No, it’s not as dramatic- and let’s make this loud and clear, there is NO “keto virus” and no, there’s no need to get all panicky (although completely understandable given the current circumstances).
Keto flu is indeed just some side effects beginners face just after getting on the keto diet.
These symptoms or side effects are the result of the body’s withdrawal from carb consumption. While some may experience mild symptoms like dizziness and tiredness, others may struggle with severe ones like diarrhea, muscle cramps and headaches, while still others don’t see any symptoms at all.
Fortunately, these symptoms are temporary and can be fixed within a week or two. However, what’s unfortunate is that keto flu causes many dieters to give up on the keto diet.
Don’t be one of them.
Awareness is your weapon, use it. Be smart and take the necessary preventive measures and follow some keto systems to beat the keto flu before it hampers your weight loss efforts.
This article is everything you need to know about and deal with keto flu from symptoms and why they show up to cures and necessary prevention strategies.
So if you are trying the keto, why not give it a real shot, right?
The Symptoms You May Experience
- Irritability and mood swings
- Brain fog and difficulty concentrating
- Lack of motivation
- Dizziness and Nausea
- Muscle cramps
- Stomach ache
- Bad breath
If it’s not the “keto virus”, then what causes the keto flu?
It’s nothing but the switch in the body’s metabolic system from glucosis to ketosis is what causes the symptoms.
Simply put, the body is generally used to deriving its fuel from carbs and it is very happy doing so as it’s what we’ve been doing all our lives and this is the body’s default mode.
When we switch from carb burning (glucosis) to fat burning (ketosis), the body takes a little while used to the fuel switch and this manifests as symptoms that comprise the keto flu.
Here’s what’s happening in the body when the switch occurs:
1. Blood sugar/ glucose level drop
The keto diet allows for less than 50g of carbs in a day (some even go to 20-30g a day) and this is a huge contrast when compared with the usual 200-300g regular carb-filled diet, right?
We’re so used to the carbs and sugars in our food that we’re “addicted” to them a sudden elimination of carbs can cause the body to go into withdrawal leading to cravings and mood swings.
This bit might get a little science-y but if you really want to understand the deal with keto flu, here goes-
Evolutionally, the brain releases the hormone seratonin after carb-consumption as a reward mechanism that drives us to crave carbs and hence push our survival instincts. It’s what we call the ‘sugar high’.
It is the deprivation of this ‘high’ that causes the lack of motivation and the feeling of misery for a few days after getting on the keto diet.
Both glucose (energy source derived from carbs) and ketones (energy source derived from fats) can fuel the brain and other organs. However, the latter is not preferred because the default mode of the brain is to recognize glucose. It takes a bit of adaptation to replace this default mode with ketones instead.
The process of adaptation leads to a temporary low supply of energy to the brain which causes the brain fog and fatigue.
2. Electrolyte Imbalance
On a regular carb-filled diet, the body releases the hormone insulin after a meal, which in turn triggers the process of glucosis. However, the body’s process of digestion is very complex- It’s not one single process but several multiple processes happening simultaneously.
One such process is the reabsorption of electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, etc. by the kidneys. These electrolytes need to be reabsorbed in optimal quantities because they are responsible for regulating the water content in the body.
In the absence of insulin production (or rather low production of insulin), the reabsorption of electrolytes is reduced and they get excreted by the body instead. This imbalance of electrolytes causes water loss and dehydration.
In addition to this, the lack of carbs in the body as the primary energy source also leads to the breakdown of glycogen (reserves of glucose before they are converted to fat) which releases the water molecules (excreting them) that are part of glycogen. This adds to the dehydration.
Dieters who just start the ketogenic diet lose a sharp amount of weight in their first week-10 days. Most of this weight loss is due to the water loss caused by the electrolyte imbalance. Don’t confuse it for “actual weight loss!”
Dehydration is one of the main causes of headache, fatigue, stomach cramps and brain fog.
3. Hormonal Imbalance
Most keto beginners start unplanned or not sufficiently planned and the change in diet ends up also being a huge calorie deficit for the body. In fact, some dieters deliberately reduce their calorie consumption in the hope to lose weight faster.
This is a terrible mistake!
The calorie deficit pushes the body into ‘survival mode’ and the body releases stress hormones like cortisol as an instinctive response. What does cortisol do? You guessed it, yes, it leads to stress and body strain causing keto flu.
And, what adds to cortisol secretion?
Overexerting the body with exercise- also a common mistake beginners make.
The limitation of carbs also results in reduced production of the thyroid hormones (T3) which play a crucial role in metabolism and therefore control our energy levels. The temporary T3 deficiency also causes fatigue and difficulty focusing.
Why Keto Flu May Affect You Differently From Others
Fortunately or unfortunately, keto flu is a huge discriminator– it attacks people with varying degrees of severity and at varying phases of the diet. You may have only mild symptoms or even none at all while someone else may be seriously pulled down by keto flu.
What are the factors of this “discrimination?”
1. Your Metabolic Flexibility
Your genetic composition plays a huge role here. If your body can inherently adapt better to the change in metabolic activity, then keto flu probably won’t be able to cause much damage but the opposite is true too. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this, it’s almost entirely dependent on your genes.
2. Your Lifestyle
Fortunately, this is entirely in your control. If your lifestyle includes consuming large quantities of processed food and sugar then it’s likely that your symptoms will be more pronounced than that of a person who consumes whole foods.
Also, if your understanding of the keto diet is limited to bacon and cheese, then there’s a good chance you may experience gastric or digestive issues. On the other hand, if you’re balancing your meals with a decent chunk of low-carb vegetables, you’re set.
It’s also easier to keto-adapt if you’re used to exercising regularly, light exercise helps with the symptoms tremendously.
The bottom line is that there’s no point comparing yourself to others. It’s better to listen to your own body, observe any oncoming symptoms and take the necessary measures of prevention and cure.
How You Can Beat the Keto Flu
Now that you understand what’s causing all these symptoms that are trying to defeat your weight loss goal with keto, it’ll be a whole lot easier for you to get the solutions too!
You’d be surprised by how basic changes can make massive differences and make sure you remain undeterred on your keto journey. Here are a few of them-
1. Drink sufficient water
Since dehydration is one of the worst offenders of starting the keto diet, make sure you compensate by drinking sufficient water. Include a lot of fluids in your diet to stay hydrated. One simple rule of thumb for calculating your daily requirement is:
75% of your body weight (in pounds) = Daily requirement of water (in ounces)
So if your weight is 160 pounds, then you need to drink 75% of 160 = 120 oz or 3.5L of water every day for the first 7-10 days of ketosis to stay hydrated enough to avoid the keto flu.
2. Include Electrolytes in your diet
Supplementing electrolytes naturally in the foods you eat is the best way to deal with electrolyte imbalance. Here’s a simple list of foods that have different electrolytes-
Imbalance leads to: headache, brain fog, fatigue, dizziness and nausea, restlessness, lack of motivation
Foods with Sodium: Himalayan salt, buillon, salted nuts, bacon, bone broth
Imbalance leads to: muscle weakness, lethargy, muscle cramps, anxiety, irritability, nausea
Foods with Sodium: almonds, dark chocolate, avocados, spinach, seaweed, seeds
Imbalance leads to: constipation, indigestion, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, cramping
Foods with Sodium: avocados, salmon, mushrooms, dark leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, pork
3. Don’t do very strenuous physical exercise, include low intensity exercise
While it’s understandable that you’re all motivated and want your keto efforts to produce quick results, you need to take it slow, especially when it comes to exercise.
Avoid very strenuous exercise at least for the first two weeks of beginning keto as the body is already stressed due to the carb restriction and you don’t want to overstrain it with heavy exercise.
You must avoid it even more so if your lifestyle doesn’t already include exercise.
Instead of HIIT and CrossFit, try some low intensity exercises like walking or yoga. Do remember that you need to keep your cortisol levels as low as possible to reduce the severity of keto flu. Start after 2-3 weeks into the diet and even then, you’d want to gradually increase the intensity.
If you’re just starting out with exercise, here’s a simple and detailed guide to exercises for beginners– you can practice this at home without spending a dime on gym memberships!
4. Don’t count your calories, eat sufficient fat
You need to remember this over and over again- the keto diet needs to be eased into if you don’t want to give up on it. It’s quite a massive change from your regular diet and you need to let your body get used to it gradually.
So don’t begin counting your calories (following the calories in calories out model) and limiting your intake right from the start. Your body is already deprived of energy. You don’t want to put it into an extreme energy deficit.
In an extreme calorie deficit, the body will go into starvation mode and, in the process, release cortisol which will most definitely cause keto flu.
While getting on the diet, just focus on cutting out the carbs initially and eat as much fat as you feel the need to in order to feel full and energized.
5. What about MCTs?
MCTs are recommended by several ketoers, in fact many swear by the fact that MCTs help reduce or eliminate keto flu symptoms.
MCT oil digests as easily as carbohydrates (in the liver) and pushes the body into ketosis at a much faster rate, thereby helping with keto adaptation.
6. Get enough sleep
If you’re smart, you won’t underestimate the power of sleep, especially when it comes to following the keto diet. Rest and sleep is one of the best ways to mitigate and avoid symptoms of keto flu as is the case with other sicknesses.
Lack of sufficient sleep causes a rise in cortisol and T3 levels which are the main culprits behind the keto flu.
Make sure you’re following a fixed routine to aid a minimum of 8 hours of sleep every day. Create a good sleeping environment – a quiet, dark and cool room keeping all screens away. If you’re still unable to get enough quality sleep, try supplements that contain magnesium and melatonin.
7. Practice yoga and meditation to relieve the stress
Avoiding the build-up of stress is one thing, you can also work on reducing stress with simple activities like yoga and meditation. These will help you ease anxiety, depression and restlessness as they bring down the cortisol levels.
Meditation is indeed a great practice, not just during the induction phase but also for overall well-being. It’s a way of training the mind to stay focused.
Sit quiet with eyes closed for 15-20 minutes every day (the more the better, of course!) focusing on your breathing. When your mind wanders, just gently shift the focus back to your breathing.
It’s a simple concept but is very powerful.
Meditation will also help get rid of brain fog and the struggle with concentration. I’m sure the ubiquitous trend of meditation and mindfulness in the last 2-3 years has not escaped you and I can vouch for it.
Meditation is simple, it’s effective; it keeps the stress away and makes you more mindful and is a skill definitely worth investing in, keto or not.
8. Eat whole foods with an optimal amount of fruits and vegetables
While cheese and bacon do present as great options while on the keto diet, unfortunately, many have assumed the keto diet to be only about them. It’s, in fact, what attracts many who want to lost weight without giving up their favorite foods.
The problem with cheese, eggs, bacon? They contain very little fiber and few micronutrients causing gastro intestinal trouble like constipation and cramps and low immunity. These lead to not just keto flu but also poor wellbeing in the long term.
Include plenty of whole foods and fruits and vegetables in your keto meal plan. Instead of limiting your meals to bacon and cheese, add a bunch of vegetables like broccoli, avocado, cauliflower, spinach, kale, zucchini, carrots, eggplant, etc.
Eat a handful of seeds or nuts for snacks and add some berries to your smoothies every now and then. These fibrous foods will help maintaining a healthy gut and avoid symptoms like constipation and cramps.
Fruits and vegetables are also a great source of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals, which are crucial for overall health and wellbeing. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc, which are responsible for water balance in the body, are also micronutrients supplied by fruits and vegetables.
9. Gradually reduce your carbs from 200g to 150 to 100 to 7g to 50g instead of jumping right into the keto diet
One of the best tips while getting started on keto is to gradually reduce your carbs by 10-15g every day. This will help you significantly in avoiding the keto flu. Your the body will be eased into the carb restriction, therefore avoiding stress.
As a system, you could start eliminating a carb source from your diet every week. Start with eliminating soda and sugar-filled beverage first. Next, cut out processed foods. Then, the sugary desserts and finally eliminate breads and high-carb fruits and vegetables.
Without even realizing it, you will graduate into ketosis in 4-5 weeks with minimum to no carb withdrawal and other keto flu symptoms.
Your Key Take Away
All said, finally, the bottom line is to listen to your body. If you’re feeling the oncoming of some symptoms, take it easy on the keto and try some of the solutions and see how you’re feeling. If you’re still feeling miserable, it’s best to consult a dietician. Nothing is worth it if you’re buried in misery.
Get on the keto diet with patience while observing its effects on the body slowly and gradually. Don’t try to overdo it in the haste to see weight loss transformation. Establish systems as you go so you can maintain the diet for a longer period sustainably. Apart from your awareness, Patience and Consistency are your best friends to a Happy Keto!
If you found this article of help, then do share it! Nobody should suffer from keto flu and sharing knowledge and awareness can save many a dieters struggling their way into keto and sticking to it. So go ahead, share the love!