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The ketogenic diet has started to soar in popularity recently and has become a fast favorite among those looking to lose weight and improve their health. It’s often preferred over other plans because it’s not nearly as restrictive as other diets and allows you to enjoy many of your favorite foods without meticulously counting calories or tracking points.
Once you get going, it’s also easy to follow and doesn’t require you to purchase special supplements, shakes, or pre-packaged products in order to see real results.
The ketogenic diet focuses on decreasing carb consumption and increasing fat intake, allowing your body to start burning fat instead of carbs for fuel. It has been associated with a number of impressive health benefits, including lower cholesterol levels, increased insulin sensitivity, and even a reduced risk of acne.
But while the diet has been proven to be safe and effective for many, it can be tricky to get started for keto beginners thanks to the “keto flu,” a set of symptoms that often occur as your body begins its transition into ketosis.
So what is the keto flu and how can you minimize symptoms to maximize the potential health benefits?
Let’s take a closer look and discuss these questions one at a time.
What Is the Keto Flu?
When you first get started on the ketogenic diet, it forces your body to go through some serious changes. By cutting down on carbs and upping your intake of healthy fats and proteins, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state that forces it to burn through fat stores instead of carbohydrates to supply the body with a steady stream of energy.
During ketosis, your body produces ketone bodies, which are byproducts that are created through the breakdown of fats in the liver. Ketone bodies can help provide energy to the brain and the rest of the body to keep you going throughout the day. They are also responsible for many of the health benefits associated with the ketogenic diet, including its positive impact on weight loss, epilepsy, blood sugar levels, and more.
However, when you first start cutting down on carbs, it takes your body a bit of time before it’s able to fully enter a state of ketosis. This can lead to fatigue and decreased energy levels as you start to adjust to burning through ketone bodies instead of glucose for fuel. It may also impact the composition of your gut microbiome, leading to digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
The term “keto flu” refers to a set of symptoms that many often experience when transitioning to a ketogenic diet. Some of the most common symptoms of the keto flu include:
- Low energy levels
- Loss of appetite
- Brain fog
- Bad breath
- Mood changes
- Low libido
- Increased cravings
- Muscle aches
These symptoms are temporary and typically subside within a few days once your body has depleted its glucose stores and starts using ketones for energy instead. For many, however, keto flu symptoms can be severe enough to tank motivation levels and hinder progress altogether. Fortunately, there are several ways to sidestep symptoms and start taking advantage of the many health benefits that the ketogenic diet has to offer.
Here’s what you need to know…
How to Overcome the Keto Flu
Typically, most keto flu symptoms clear up on their own within just a few days as your body starts to adapt to the ketogenic diet. However, there are several strategies you can use to speed up this process and help minimize symptoms. Here are a few easy ways to overcome the keto flu:
1. Drink Plenty of Water
Staying well-hydrated is absolutely key when it comes to preventing keto flu symptoms. Not only can dehydration worsen issues like constipation and headaches, but drinking more water becomes especially important if you’re experiencing symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting.
Try drinking a glass of water with each meal and keep a refillable water bottle on hand throughout the day to easily meet your fluid needs. In addition to drinking water, you can also up your fluid intake with bone broth, keto smoothies, or hydrating keto fruits and non-starchy veggies. Although fluid requirements can vary based on a number of different factors, many sources recommend aiming for about 74-101 ounces of water per day, which equates to about 9-13 cups in total.
2. Eat More Fiber
If you’re experiencing increased hunger or digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation, you may want to start including a few servings of keto-friendly fiber foods into your daily diet. Fiber moves through the body undigested, adding bulk to the stool and promoting regularity. It also slows the emptying of the stomach and helps keep you feeling fuller for longer to ward off cravings.
Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, mushrooms, and artichokes are all excellent sources of fiber along with a host of other key nutrients your body needs. Avocado also doubles as a high-fat, fiber-rich ingredient that’s as versatile as it is delicious. In moderation, certain nuts and seeds can also be used to boost your intake of fiber and heart-healthy fats in a single shot.
3. Consume Enough Calories
Cutting calories too much is a common mistake that many people make when first starting on the ketogenic diet. Because it’s more satiating than carbohydrates, it’s much easier to fill up on fat and accidentally slip into a calorie deficit. Not getting enough calories in your diet can cause you to feel sluggish and weak. It may also contribute to other keto flu symptoms like brain fog, mood changes, and increased cravings.
Try tracking your calories for a few days to ensure you’re getting enough to meet your daily needs. Online food journals and apps make it easy to track your intake and calculate how many calories you should be consuming each day.
4. Check Your Fat Intake
Just as important as decreasing your carb intake is increasing your consumption of heart-healthy fats. Your body needs extra fat to produce ketone bodies, which supply your cells with the energy they need to function and thrive. Not getting enough fat can keep you from reaching ketosis, stalling your body in the “in-between” state where keto flu symptoms are at their worst.
To speed up ketosis and make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs, include plenty of healthy keto fats like avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, MCT oil, and fatty fish in your daily diet. If symptoms persist, try tracking your macronutrient intake and adjusting your ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs accordingly to find what works for you.
5. Get Enough Rest
When you’re first getting started on keto, it’s totally normal to feel low on energy and motivation. In fact, it’s often recommended to scale back your workouts at the gym and take some time to allow your body to fully rest and recover.
Stick to light forms of exercise during the beginning of the ketogenic diet by including activities like walking or stretching in your routine before slowly working your way up to more intense activities like cardio or resistance training. Additionally, be sure to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night to give your body the energy that it needs to fight fatigue and other keto flu symptoms.
6. Balance Your Electrolytes
During ketosis, your body loses electrolytes more quickly as the kidneys start flushing out excess sodium and excreting urine more rapidly. If you’re not regularly repleting key electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium, it may worsen keto flu symptoms like fatigue, headaches, constipation, and muscle aches.
Coconut water and certain fruits and vegetables such as avocados, watermelon, and berries are all great sources of magnesium and potassium, which can help prevent electrolyte imbalances to prevent adverse side effects. Many people also find that adding a sprinkle or two of sea salt can supply an extra dose of sodium to keep electrolytes in check as well.