The first few weeks following the keto diet can bring about some very exciting changes. Maybe you’ve already noticed some weight dropping, you feel less bloated, or you’re starting to have more consistent energy. It can be a bit of a buzz kill to suddenly start experiencing headaches, difficulty concentrating or decreased energy just as you’re starting to notice improvement. These symptoms are all a part of what is referred to as the keto flu, and as you'll learn, are very common.
The Keto Flu
As your body is transitioning from burning sugar to burning fat for fuel, many people experience what is known as the keto flu. The keto flu is a term used to describe a range of symptoms that usually occur within the first two weeks of starting the keto diet (especially days 3-5). Although it is not really a flu, it can be uncomfortable and cause some people to feel discouraged.
It is important to know that these symptoms are 1) normal and 2) temporary!
Common symptoms include:
- Sugar cravings
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty focusing
- Lack of motivation
Please know these symptoms are temporary and will go away! How long or when they arise will be different for every individual. Some do not experience symptoms at all, while others feel they are out of commission for a few days. On average, symptoms do not last longer than a week and there are many things you can do to help with the transition and prevent any discomfort from arising.
Before knowing how to prevent the flu, it is important to understand why it occurs. Put simply, the keto flu is caused by our body adapting to the change from burning glucose for fuel to burning fat. When you begin the keto diet, you’re likely drastically reducing the amount of carbohydrates you’re consuming. This is going to lower your body’s insulin levels (which is a good thing!) and in the absence of glucose, your body will start producing ketone bodies (made from stored fat) for fuel. These ketone bodies are what helps us thrive on the keto diet, but it can take our organs some time to get used to this new source of energy.
Additionally, as our insulin levels begin to drop, our body will begin excreting more sodium in the urine (along with water). It is this new fuel source and loss of electrolytes and water that are responsible for the symptoms of the keto flu.
There are a number of strategies to help your body adjust during the beginning stages of keto and prevent symptoms from arising. Two that have the biggest impact with symptoms are drinking more water and increasing salt and electrolyte intake. This will help replenish your body as you are likely losing more water and salt in your urine. Additionally, if you’re used to eating a lot of carbs, try gradually reducing your intake rather than all at once to start. This may help your body slowly adapt and reduce discomfort in the transition.
Drink lots of water: you're body is loosing a lot of water weight in the beginning stages! Keeping hydrated is very important to preventing flu symptoms.
Increase salt/electrolyte intake: your body is also loosing a lot of it's electrolytes with the water weight. Just as athletes need to replenish after a big workout, ensuring your body is receiving all the lost electrolytes as you're transitioning into ketosis is important. Try purchasing an electrolyte supplement or Phat Tea which comes with salt and MCT in it! You can also add salt to bone broth or other drinks.
- Gradually cut down the carbs: going zero to one-hundred with carb reducing can be a bit of a shock to the system. Slowly cutting out carbs can be a way to ease your body into it. Try choosing one category at a time and letting your body adjust. If you're used to eating a lot of bread/cereal/pasta try removing these, then work your way down to starchy veggies etc.