In life, we can become accustomed to the idea that in some cases, things tend to get worse before they get better. We bear hardships of all kinds for the sake of reward or desired result in the end. Temporary discomforts have a milder sting when you’re aiming for a bigger reward. This idea is common with the choice to take on a new diet. One might be aware that it will be challenging, but that end result glistens in the distance, fueling motivation.
Diets do tend to bring their respective discomforts, however. Even if you’ve got yourself solid mental willpower, physical discomfort is a different ball game. It’s especially true if the physical discomfort is more consistent with feeling physically ill.
By now, you’re familiar with the ever-popular keto diet. If you’re not exactly sure what it entails, you can probably still recall one or two instances where you’ve heard others attesting to it. However, the keto diet is known to provoke a particular undesired response called the keto flu.
If trying the keto diet has landed you here because you’re wondering if you’re having keto flu symptoms, take the quiz.
Keep in mind that it is always best to consult with a physician about symptoms when you’re feeling sick. The keto flu is not presently in the diagnostic manual and therefore is not an officially diagnosable condition, but more on that below.
How the Keto Diet Works
First pioneered in 1923 by Dr. Russel Wilder at the Mayo Clinic, the keto diet (short for ketogenic), was initially developed for the treatment of epilepsy. There are five variations of the diet recognized for their effect on epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and metabolic dysregulation.
Each of these versions is rooted in what is called the “classic keto diet.” It serves as a foundation. All keto diets aim for high fat intake, sufficient protein, and a particularly low carb intake.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that a healthy daily serving of carbs should make up anywhere from 45-65% of intake. However, taking on a keto diet will reduce that intake to approximately 5-10%. On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this would calculate to approximately less than 50 grams a day.
It’s similar to the way the Atkins diet works, which also employs the technique of cutting carbs drastically. However, the Atkins diet allows for gradual re-introduction of steady carbs as weight loss happens. The keto diet is different in the way that the goal is to shift the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which is supported by keeping carb intake low.
If your diet is not optimal in nutrition and provides too much non-useable material, it will likely result in the storage of fat and toxins. The body will draw upon daily intake as opposed to using fat for fuel, or in other words, burning it.
Ketosis describes the exact opposite of this reaction. The main goal behind following a ketogenic diet is forcing the body into a position where it treats fat differently. During ketosis, fat converts to fatty acids and ketones in the liver. Therefore, it kicks the body into a fat-burning mode.
Achieving ketosis is certainly not exclusive to the keto diet. It is also the logic between dieting techniques like intermittent fasting, where it occurs in the windows of time that the person is refraining from eating.
Are Ketones Safe?
Having exceptionally high levels of ketones in the body is not good. They can build up in the blood, and cause an excess amount of acidity, endangering health. For this reason, some question if the keto diet is truly safe. If this happens, the body enters a state of ketoacidosis, which may have an impact on the liver, kidneys and brain. It’s more typical for those with diabetes than those trying a keto diet.
However, a keto diet could provoke it. Despite being an associated possible side effect, ketoacidosis and keto flu are not the same thing. For your safety and convenience, here are the associated symptoms with ketoacidosis.
- Urinating frequently
- Feeling excessively thirsty
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Pain in the abdomen
- Bodily fatigue and weakness
- Fruit-like breath odor
If you’re concerned you may be experiencing ketoacidosis, see your doctor. Some of these symptoms are similar to keto flu but more serious. In any case, if you’re feeling unwell, always check with a physician.
Know that while containing the potential to lead to ketoacidosis, ketosis at a moderate rate is not dangerous. It is associated with health benefits for both sick and healthy people. However, as mentioned, it may lead to the onset of keto flu symptoms, which should be watched with care for reasons of general health.
What is Keto Flu?
Firstly, the keto flu is not the same as the flu. While sharing some similar symptoms, one should not experience a fever or severe physical decline that is often a result of having the flu. Keto flu can happen as a direct result of a shock that occurs in the body during weight loss. Particularly, low-carb induced weight loss.
Also referred to as the “carb flu,” symptoms of the keto flu may occur in any situation or diet where carbs have been abruptly removed or reduced from your diet.
The key challenge with identifying keto flu with certainty is the fact that it does not exist in the diagnostic manual as a diagnosable illness.
That said, it’s important to understand the symptoms to have an idea if your body is responding to a keto diet this way.
Symptoms of the keto flu may arise within the first few days of cutting carbs, or not at all. Because everyone’s body is different, symptoms may be more severe in some than others. If you do experience symptoms, it could be due to a drastic difference between the diet practices you had before beginning, and the keto diet. However, this is only one inference.
Be mindful of the following symptoms:
- Feeling nausea or vomiting
- Sugar cravings
- Muscle fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
These symptoms may subside after a few days once the body is acclimated. However, they may also continue for an extended period of time.
Potential Causes of Keto Flu
An isolated cause of keto flu is unknown. Suspected causes involve reactions from the digestive tract, microbiome, immune system response, or carb withdrawal in general. Adaptation to a low-carb diet may be more difficult for some than others.
What to Do If You’re Not Feeling Well
If you think the keto flu is what has you feeling unwell, it can be stressful. There’s nothing like trying to do good for your body and having what feels like a physical punishment happen.
If you’re feeling sick, try your best not to further stress. There are some things that you can do to help alleviate keto flu symptoms if you’ve got them.
One of the most common causes of fatigue during dieting is the depletion of sodium combined with a lack of hydration. Loss of salt and water can lead to the discomfort associated with the majority of symptoms of keto flu. Make sure to combat these possible effects by keeping a steadily high water intake and replenishing electrolytes.
Go for the Fats
As stated, the keto diet relies on fats in substitution of the caloric intake of carbs. These aren’t harmful saturated or trans fats. Though, some keto recipes can call for a bit of butter. It’s ideal to stick with healthy fats like coconut and olive oil, avocado, or salmon. If you’re feeling symptoms, these kind of fats will help to reduce them.
Take Your Time Transitioning
If you find that symptoms are not improved with small fixes or after the initial start of the diet, a ketogenic diet may be too much for you. You don’t have to give up on it, but rather, slow down your efforts. Instead of cutting carbs to such a low percentage, do so gradually as you feel comfortable.
Limit Physical Activity
The start of a diet is hard enough on the body. If you’re someone who is also just getting used to being active, this could lead to too much change for the body at once. Even if you are very active, it’s still possible that you’ll need to build up to adding exercise slowly. Depending on the type of exercise you choose and the number of calories you’re burning, a keto diet may not be adequate support. In this case, it might be worth toning it down while on a diet.
A note from GR8NESS
Always check with your doctor before making drastic changes to your diet or activity level.