Beware the Keto Flu
By Intermountain Healthcare
Oct 24, 2023
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
Yes, the keto flu, also known as the “carb flu,” is a real thing. It can happen to you if you drastically and suddenly remove carbs from your diet. If you’ve been interested in starting the ketogenic diet then you may end up experiencing these flu-like symptoms.
Your body’s response to entering ketosis can often mimic symptoms of the flu, thus the name “keto flu.” Essentially, you’re feeling the symptoms of withdrawal from carbs. Your body burns carbohydrates (glucose) for energy by default so switching to a fat-burning process confuses your body. When carb intake is drastically reduced, such as on the ketogenic diet, your body is depleted of stored glucose and instead turns to burning fatty acids for energy. This is the metabolic process of ketosis.
Some of the most frequent reported symptoms are:
Symptoms of the keto flu generally begin within the first day or two of removing carbs. For an average person, the keto flu can last a week or less but in extreme cases the keto flu can last up to a month. However, depending on your genetics, you may never experience the keto flu. Some people are naturally “metabolically flexible,” meaning they can shift metabolic states easily without experiencing health symptoms.
1. Start slowly
When making harsh diet changes, it’s always helpful to ease into it. The best approach would be to start with a typical low-carb diet and give your body time to adjust. Try that a week, and then you can go the full extent into the keto diet.
2. Stay hydrated
Hydration and loss of minerals is a huge factor of the keto flu. Make sure you’re drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated helps with headaches and boosts your energy levels. One way to help yourself remember to drink water is to set a reminder on your phone, or always keep a full glass of water within reach. Most people don’t know how much water to drink every day, but it’s easy to determine — just take your current body weight and divide it by two. That’ll give you the minimum ounces of water to drink every day. If you’re very active, make sure you drink a little extra on top of the minimum ounces you need.
3. Take an electrolyte supplement
Along with hydration, be sure to add plenty of electrolytes like salts, potassium and magnesium to your diet. Doing this can stop cramps and nausea. An extremely low carb keto diet means you end up cutting out some of the richest natural resources of electrolytes, such as starchy fruits and vegetables. Ensure that you’re getting enough salt and electrolytes by drinking sports drinks or taking supplements.
4. Consume more fat
When on the keto diet, intake of healthy fats is crucial, as low calories can lead to keto flu symptoms. Do not reduce your calorie intake too much, and try not to go low-carb AND low-fat. Ramping up your fat consumption can help speed up the transition of burning fat instead of glucose for fuel. Try snacking on half of an avocado and some bacon, or loading up on egg yolks at dinner.
5. Get plenty of rest
If you’re having a hard time falling asleep or sleeping through the night, try taking an Epsom salt bath, as it will help soothe and relax your muscles as well as improve electrolyte absorption. You can also add on a keto-friendly herbal tea with a blend of herbs that calm your nervous system to help promote a deeper sleep. Chamomile is a great option.
6. Try light exercise
Although, exercise is the least appealing thing when you’re nauseated or have sore muscles, light exercise will help relieve muscle pain and tension. Try a restorative yoga class, which can help loosen muscles and release endorphins to help boost your mood and motivation.
The keto flu symptoms sound very unappealing, so use these suggestions to help prevent it. Remember, everyone’s body deals with the keto diet differently. Consult with your doctor or request nutrition counseling and discuss any concerns you may have with the diet.