Keto flu is a combination of flu-like symptoms that are sometimes seen at the beginning of a ketogenic diet. These symptoms usually appear within the first week of starting the keto diet.
The keto flu is caused by the body’s response to carbohydrate restriction.
Carbs are basically comfort food. A warm loaf of bread, creamy mashed potatoes, pasta drenched in cheesy garlic sauce…once you have to give them up on a keto diet, you start to crave and yearn for them. It is not a matter of desire or a willpower struggle. It is a real problem faced by the body at a cellular level as it adapts to the carbohydrate restriction. The carb withdrawal symptoms are very similar to that of the regular flu and can last anywhere from a day to a few weeks! To understand this better, let’s look at the two metabolic pathways the body uses for producing the energy it needs for its various functions.
Our body can generate energy in two metabolic pathways. As long as carbs are available in the diet, glycolysis remains its preferred method.
- Sugar-burning/Glycolysis – The body burns glucose in the bloodstream and this process is known as glycolysis. This glucose comes from the carbs we consume. High levels of blood glucose can be very harmful, which is why our body immediately releases the insulin required to metabolize the glucose. Some of it is used for energy while the excess gets stored as body fat.
- Fat- burning/Beta Oxidation – In the absence of glucose for energy, the body switches to the process of fat burning known as beta-oxidation. The by-products of fat metabolism are ketones and the metabolic state is called ketosis.
The ability to switch between these two stages is known as metabolic flexibility. When people who have always been on high to medium carb diet, switch to a low or no carb diet, their body may be initially unable to switch over to burning fat. So they experience keto flu symptoms as the body adapts to the change in fuel supply. Some people with high metabolic flexibility don’t experience it at all, while others suffer from it big time.
The symptoms mostly last for one week and this is the period when most people give up on the Keto diet plan. The major symptoms of this Keto flu or carb flu are:
- Muscle Cramps
- Sugar Cravings
- Difficulty in Concentrating
- Weak Digestion
- Sleep abnormalities
- Heart Palpitations
8 Tips for Avoiding the Keto Flu:
Keto flu symptoms are the ‘adjustment phase issues’ that happen with the beginner keto-dieters. This keto-flu phase will eventually pass. The best news is that keto flu can be avoided altogether in the first place, if you take the right precautions.
- Don’t Jump Straight In, Take Baby Steps
The switch from low carbs to no-carbs has to be taken in baby steps. As you are living in a high-carb world, it will be state of shock for your body if you cut them off abruptly. This is one of the biggest reasons behind the carb-flu. Cut down the carbs gradually and give your body the time to adapt to the carb withdrawal.
- Eliminate processed carbs like candies, sugary drink first
- Then slowly reduce the grains in your diet, for example, bread and cereals
- After all that goes, get rid of the starchy vegetables
- And finally, ditch the sugar-rich fruits in the end.
- Eat Right, Don’t Starve
Fulfilling your daily energy needs is an absolute requirement.Based on the daily calorie levels required for maintaining your current weight, you can plan a diet that is 500 to 1000 calories less. But if you go too low with your calorie intake, the diet will not work. If you have started eating fewer carbs, then you will have to add more fats in your diet to compensate for the calorie reduction.
Just make sure the added fat is keto-friendly. Saturated fats like butter, eggs, coconut oil, full-fat cream, etc. are good choices to incorporate into your daily diet. Other mono and polyunsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, flaxseed oil and avocado oil are also good options for losing belly fat while keeping the body energized
- Drink Water
Staying hydrated helps keep the keto flu symptoms at bay. There is some amount of water loss from the body at the beginning of a keto diet which aggravates the flu symptoms. The more the water you drink, the better you will feel. Drinking lots of water also helps in detoxifying the body and hydrating the skin as well.
Get rid of the sugary carbonated drinks and switch to lemon-water, coconut-water, and plain water. The color of your urine is also a good indicator of your water intake. The darker your urine is, the more water you need to drink. Don’t wait till you get thirsty!
- Have Adequate Electrolytes such as Sodium and Potassium
The daily food we are used to, especially all that junk food, has plenty of salt in it. So our bodies are used to processing certain amounts of salt on a daily basis. Once we ditch these high-salt fast foods, our body gets deficient in salt.
The reduced sodium levels mean less water retention in the body, which is a good thing. But, as the body is not used to such low levels of sodium, it reacts with cramps and muscle ache. Your heart also needs sodium-potassium balance to work efficiently. Use table salt in your salads and other meals. Minerals like magnesium and potassium are found in foods like spinach, avocado, mushrooms, tofu, and peanuts. So include them in your diet.
- Stay Physically Active
Exercise is known to increase your metabolic flexibility, that is you start burning fat during exercising and at rest as well! Studies have shown that 30 minutes of cycling (at about 55 percent of resistance) twice a week and a weight training session once a week will be enough to increase or regain your metabolic flexibility.
Remember not to do intense exercise and avoid overstraining – as it adds to the keto flu symptoms instead of relieving them. Do more low-intensity exercises such as brisk walking, yoga, jogging, swimming, etc. These also boosts your mental health.
- Be a Sleeping Beauty
Yes, sleep is that important. As your body is already going through a transition, you need rest to conserve energy. Seven to eight hours of sleep is a necessity for good brain functioning and overall health. Sleep deprivation can also make you tired, confused and can even give rise to brain-fog.
- Some Carbs are better than No carbs
Going too low on carbs may cause you to give up on the diet. If everything else fails, then increase your carb intake slightly and you will be relieved of many of the keto flu symptoms. Some clean carbs like potatoes, sweet potatoes and a bowl full of blueberries is a better choice than the processed french fries and candies.
Don’t give up the diet plan, once the symptoms get normalized, then you can start again to gradually reduce your carb intake.
- Meditate and De-stress
Taking the adequate precautions as necessary to make the keto-diet plan work. It is important not to strain as whenever you experience an overload of mental stress, it takes a toll on your physical health as well. Meditation can come to your rescue whenever you feel low. Just sitting quietly for 20 minutes will calm your mind and help motivate you to continue on the path of healthy eating.