Many people (not everyone!) who start a low carb diet experience what’s called the “keto flu” or the “induction flu” in the first few days while the body is adapting to burning ketones instead of glucose.
What is keto flu?
The basic symptoms are:
- upset stomach
- Lack of mental clarity (brain fog)
It’s called the “keto flu” for a reason: you feel sick. I’ve gone through it, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Fortunately, it only lasted four days (2 of them were pretty bad) but then suddenly I woke up feeling much better, less hungry and my energy level was high and consistent throughout the day! While at one point (or three or four) I thought to myself: “what the serious F am I doing? I’m going to die!” but I plowed through it, and when it was over I didn’t regret a thing because what I gained mentally and physically was 100% worth it.
Keto and autoimmune disorders
I have an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, and Fibromyalgia to top it off. So, I’m no stranger to brain fog and fatigue, but the fatigue and brain fog that comes with keto flu is a little different, and feel much more like having the regular flu.
How long will the keto flu last?
It depends. Some people don’t experience any symptoms at all, but some suffer anywhere from a day to a week. In rare cases up to 15 days. Everybody’s bodies are different, and some people handle switching over better than others. You might consider starting keto on the weekend or sometime when you’re able to get good rest deal with the symptoms.
For those of you that are going through the keto flu, don’t give up! I know you feel like it’s never going to get better but stick with it and you´ll be so happy you did! I’m telling you, waking up refreshed for the first time in years, not getting the afternoon “blah” feeling and stuffing my face with carbs to try to boost my energy is the best side effect of the lchf/keto diet I’ve experienced. Okay, losing weight while eating good food, feeling full and satisfied is great too 😉
How to lessen the symptoms of keto flu
First, you have to understand why your body is reacting this way. Your body’s been burning glucose for energy, so it’s full of enzymes that are waiting to deal with the carbs you eat (and probably store them as fat) reference. But now the body needs to make new enzymes that burn fat for fuel instead of carbs, and the transition period causes your flu-like symptoms. There are some things you can do to lessen the signs of the keto flu and to make it go away sooner (to force the body to transition sooner) Ok, let’s get to the significant part.
Steps to take:
- First of all – you’re probably dehydrated. Drink PLENTY of water while you’re on the keto diet. And then some more.
- Watch your electrolytes. When the body is getting rid of excess insulin from your former carb-crazy diet, you´ll lose lots of fluids that your body has retained. This causes the rapid weight loss most people see in their first few days of ketosis, it’s mostly water, sorry. When you lose all the retained water you also lose electrolytes like sodium, magnesium and potassium. When you lack them, you´ll feel like crap. So, when you’re feeling ill on the keto flu try things like chicken/beef broth and look for foods rich in these minerals. Take a multi-vitamin and a multi-mineral. I have a hard time getting my electrolytes balance correct. But I try because it’s essential when you eat low carb. 5 grams of sodium, 1 of potassium and 0.3 of magnesium a day or you´ll feel bad. I don’t like taking pills, so I supplement with electrolyte tablets in my water. Usually, I go for the High5 brand and add lite salt that has extra potassium in it. You might think that drinking salt water doesn’t sound great, but honestly, I don’t notice it because of the electrolyte tabs. If you get leg cramps, try to drink bouillon for extra salt, and have a relaxing magnesium drink before bed.
- Eat more fat – Yup, load up. Butter everything, bacon everything, eat fatty meats and put heavy cream in your coffee. The fat consumption will force your body to hurry up the transition. You´ll think this is crazy and think you´ll never get skinny eating this way, but you will.
- Don’t overeat protein – The body can transform protein into glucose. So, if you eat too much of it in the first days it will slow down the transition. Go for fatty meat and cheese if you can, add fat to protein shakes etc. The first instinct when you’re on a diet might be to nibble on a chicken breast to lose weight. Don’t do that unless it’s smothered in cheese, wrapped with bacon and has some mayo on the side 🙂
tl;dr: Drink water, replenish electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium) with food and supplements. Remember to drink broth, eat fat and not too much protein.
If you’re wondering if you’re in ketosis already, check out my article: Am I in ketosis?
If you’re having trouble with lousy breath on the keto diet, check out my article on keto and bad breath.
I hope this helps. I know it helped me get over the worst of the dreaded keto flu.