Have you decided to start the infamous ketogenic diet? Maybe it’s been a few days and you’re beginning to feel a little under the weather. It turns out that this is completely normal and nothing to be overly concerned about.
Headaches and fatigue, and just feeling low all-around, are normal side effects to any form of big change to your body. It could be a new diet, exercise regime, or even living in a new climate. It may seem obvious, but our bodies don’t react so well to drastic differences, so it seems an adjustment period is necessary.
This unpleasant phenomenon is what the keto world likes to call “the keto flu.” So what exactly is the keto flu and how do you deal with it? Let’s get into the details, including the symptoms, and more importantly, the cure.
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What Is Keto Flu?
Keto flu just happens to be an extremely common occurrence. It typically shows up between two and seven days after beginning the keto diet. Since the keto flu isn’t an actual illness, there isn’t a magical medicine to make it all better.
You won’t need to suffer for too long, though, because the keto flu typically only lasts about a week.
What Causes Keto Flu?
The keto diet has gained quite the following lately. It consists of foods low in sugar and carbohydrates, and puts a bigger focus on eating fats. The point of the ketogenic diet is to bring your body into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis happens when the body has low levels of glucose, the body’s primary fuel source, to burn. Instead, fat stores are broken down to produce energy.
When your body is starting the process of ketosis, it probably isn’t used to the sudden lack of carbs. The keto flu is your body’s way of adapting to this new way of life, dehydration and all.
Surprisingly, you can imagine it as something similar to addiction withdrawal. It shocks your system, which causes your body to throw itself out of whack for a few days.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much research out there about why our bodies react this way when starting the keto diet. In our experience, the bigger the diet change, the more susceptible a person is.
Keto Flu Symptoms
Keto flu symptoms are practically identical to any regular cold or flu bug. This video highlights some of the most common symptoms and side effects:
- Lethargy or irritability.
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- Muscle cramps.
Lethargy and Irritability
Because of this new dietary change, you’re likely going to feel lethargic and tired while your body adjusts.
On top of that, you might be feeling irritable. With the mixture of all the different keto flu symptoms, this is completely normal, especially if you’re tired or aren’t getting good sleep. Not to worry, it won’t last forever.
The CDC recommends that adults get no less than seven hours of good sleep per night. Consider these tips for practicing good sleeping habits:
- Be consistent with your sleep schedule. Try going to bed around the same time every night. Our bodies thrive on routine.
- Relax your body before falling asleep. Consider doing meditation or listening to gentle music before bed, to calm your body.
- Try to refrain from using your phone or computer right before bed. Electronics emit blue light, which can have a negative impact on our circadian rhythms.
- Stay physically active during the day. This will keep your mind off your symptoms and also help you sleep better.
Constipation or Diarrhea
The keto diet can quickly cause your body to shed its water stores. This can cause constipation if you aren’t drinking an adequate amount of water every day.
To avoid stomach discomfort from constipation, make sure you’re eating plenty of fiber along with your daily water intake. Think green vegetables. Stool softeners can also help if you have recurring issues.
If you’re experiencing diarrhea, this is probably due to your body getting used to burning energy from fat instead of glucose. Imagine going from eating lots of carbs and fruits to eating virtually none of that.
Fat takes a fair amount of energy to break down. Most people aren’t accustomed to having so much fat in their diet and that initially causes an imbalance in your body.
This is where the diarrhea is coming from. It’s just your body trying to dispose of the excess fat it doesn’t know how to use yet.
Because your body is switching over from burning sugar to burning fat for energy, this can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Headaches are one of the most common symptoms.
Headaches can also develop because of dehydration, so your water intake is vital. We’re going to sound like your mother with how many times we’re reminding you to drink water. Trust us, it’s important.
This is another result of dehydration. When your body isn’t getting enough water or other important nutrients, it can cause your muscles to spasm and feel sore.
If you’re experiencing muscle cramps, it can also be due to strenuous exercise, or electrolyte imbalance. It’s good to do some stretches at home to help work the muscle back to normal. If you prefer, a hot or cool pad can help with the pain as well.
These should go away with time but if they persist and are extremely painful, you may want to consult your doctor.
Because this is such a big change for most people, you’re probably going to give up some of your all-time favorite foods. Bread-based items, both sweet and savory, will have to go. As much as cravings can totally suck, it’s bound to happen at the beginning of your keto journey.
You can alleviate these by making sure you’re eating enough fat and by drinking water anytime you feel a craving coming on. It may not make it totally go away, but it will certainly make them suck a little less.
If you’re plagued with cravings, try some of these tricks to beat them.
- Exercise. Avoid any hardcore workouts, but a brisk walk every day can help keep your mind off what you’re craving.
- Stress relief. If you’re a stress eater, this is where cravings really become the enemy. Have some healthy snacks nearby.
- Don’t starve yourself. Eating proper meals each day will help keep you full. Make sure you have plenty of protein and fat to help fill your belly.
- Chew gum. If worst comes to worst, chewing a stick of gum may help satisfy your cravings.
If you want to chew gum to help your cravings, make sure it’s keto-friendly. Find a gum that is sugar-free and doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners.
This is another unwelcome side effect that happens because of the sudden change in the number of fats in your diet. Because your body isn’t used to a high-fat diet, it goes into overdrive, trying to figure out how to dispose of the excess.
This can then cause nausea and even vomiting. A well-known agent in reducing nausea is ginger. Ginger can be consumed in tea form or sauteed in foods, just to name a few.
How to Cure Keto Flu
For the most part, you really just need to let it run its course. Give yourself reminders that it’s only temporary and things will definitely get easier. You don’t need to completely suffer though.
Here are our recommendations for alleviating your symptoms.
- Stay hydrated. Replenishing your body with water will help keep your body balanced. Use this calculator to see how much you should be drinking based on your weight. Keep in mind that if you’re exercising or have constipation or diarrhea, you’ll probably need to drink even more.
- Supplement if needed. These aren’t required if you’re feeling symptoms, but they can help alleviate the side effects of nutrient imbalance.
- Avoid strenuous exercise. Working out too hard will exhaust your body.
- Get plenty of sleep. As mentioned above, it’s really a no-brainer.
- Make sure you’re eating enough fat. Since your body is burning its fat stores, you’ll need to keep your body from losing too much of it.
- Replace electrolytes. Your body is shedding electrolytes more than ever due to switching over to burning fat instead of sugar. Make sure you’re getting plenty, to help fight against dehydration and fatigue. To replace your electrolytes, consider these foods when making your next meal: spinach, celery, coconut water, and more.
While you’re adapting to this new diet, it’s common to accidentally leave out important nutrients during the learning process. If you’re worried about lacking nutrients, there are specific supplements that can benefit you.
Here are some of the most beneficial:
- MCT oil.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Digestive enzymes.
- Electrolyte supplements.
Magnesium is a natural energy booster that regulates your blood sugar levels and helps maintain a healthy immune system. Most foods with magnesium in them aren’t keto-friendly, which makes it hard to consume enough of the mineral.
This will help if you’re feeling irritable or experiencing any muscle cramps. It’s recommended to take 200–400 mg of magnesium per day. Magnesium also comes in oil form and can be rubbed on sore muscles.
If you’re using keto as a weight loss tool, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are your friends. These are natural metabolism boosters and the oil form can be hidden in cooking or smoothies with no added taste at all. Coconut oil is a wonderful example.
MCT oil really comes in handy to combat food cravings. Regular use can help curb hunger and give you the feeling of being full quicker.
We should note though, MCT oil has been known to cause nausea and diarrhea in some cases. Start out with 50 grams of oil and build up a tolerance if you’re having issues. The maximum dose should be no more than 100 grams.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are great for reducing inflammation and provide a good balance for your body. You can get omega-3s through foods like fatty fish (think: salmon) or by supplements, like fish or krill oil.
A study was actually done on ketogenic dieters who supplemented with krill oil. It showed that dieters who used the oil supplement had a greater decrease in insulin levels and inflammation than those who didn’t.
Because keto can be such a drastic change to your body, it may be wise to take a good digestive enzyme. These complex proteins could help break down the extra fat your body is getting used to.
Digestive enzymes can be made up of pancreatic enzymes, plant-derived enzymes, and fungal-derived enzymes. If you have a preference, make sure to read labels before purchasing.
The enzymes will work with your body’s natural fat burning process to keep everything balanced. This may, in turn, reduce issues with constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
If you’re experiencing headaches, fatigue, or nausea then it may be a good idea to invest in some electrolyte supplements, too. In the beginning, your body may lose a lot of sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Supplementing these electrolytes will help keep your body in balance. They’ll also alleviate some of the most common symptoms of keto flu, like headaches and dehydration.
It’s Not the End of the World
Keto flu sucks. It’s as simple as that. But, as long as you read your body’s cues and stay hydrated, you’re going to beat this bug in no time.
So maybe you’re feeling so sick right now, you feel like you might actually be dying. I can assure you that you are, in fact, going to survive. You just need to stick it out for a few more days and then you can conquer the world.
We’ve been there and we’re here to help.
What kind of symptoms are you experiencing? Why don’t you try some of our tips and then come back and let us know your experience? We’re here to answer any questions and help you defeat this beast.
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