Started the Ketogenic diet and feeling sick? This is why

By on February 15, 2018

Started the Ketogenic diet and feeling sick? This is why

Started the Ketogenic diet and feeling sick? This is why

Dr Evelyn Lewin

You might have the ‘keto flu’ – and this is what a GP wants you to know about feeling off after switching to this high-fat, low-carb eating plan. 

Photo: iStock

When Mim Jenkinson decided to go on the ketogenic diet, she braced herself for the ‘keto flu’.

The family and lifestyle blogger from Love From Mim had done plenty of research on the diet and had heard how “horrendous” you could feel when the ‘keto flu’ struck.

Five days into the diet, Mim’s symptoms began.

Her biggest issues were headaches, along with overwhelming fatigue.

“The fatigue was nuts,” she says. “I’d have to go to bed, or at least lie down, around the 2-3pm mark. I was that exhausted.”

She also developed a “brain fog” which completely clouded her memory.

So is ‘keto flu’ a real condition?

Accredited Practicing Dietitian Sylvia North certainly believes you’re likely to feel “off” for a few days when you switch to the keto diet.

However, she prefers not to “catastrophise” the adjustment by giving it a formal title.

She says there’s a good reason why your body tends to react the way it does when you experience those symptoms.

Because you’re used to having a continuous influx of blood glucose from dietary carbohydrate, in the initial few days of the keto diet you don’t have the “metabolic gear in place” to efficiently burn fat for fuel.

“Symptoms of ‘keto flu’ happen when our bodies are learning to be flexible with using both fat and blood glucose for energy.”

Mim experienced headaches, brain fog and fatigue, all of which are common symptoms, says North.

Other symptoms can include moodiness (anyone say ‘hangry’?), migraines and muscle cramping or tightness. North says these usually occur as a result of electrolyte changes or dehydration.

So yes, she says, you certainly can feel like you’ve got the flu.

The good news is there are things you can do to help alleviate those symptoms.

Firstly, before going on the ketogenic diet, you should see your doctor and get the okay to go ahead. This is especially true if you have an existing medical condition, like type 1 diabetes.

Then, if you’ve started the diet and develop symptoms of the ‘keto flu’, check in with yourself.

If you think your symptoms might be due to something else (like the actual flu), or if they’re worrying you, see your GP again.

However, if you’re pretty sure you’re going through the ‘keto flu’, North offers the following suggestions to help manage your symptoms.

Start by drinking plenty of fluid, while avoiding activities that can dehydrate such as sweating it out on hot days.

Then, increase your salt intake by adding half a teaspoon to two teaspoons of salt into your food.

“Often a stock cube or cup of salty broth also helps.”

However, if you think you’re becoming dehydrated, or if you plan to increase your salt intake significantly, see your doctor for advice.

While some people struggle with ‘keto flu’, North says others are less affected.

“Generally, the higher carb or higher insulin levels you had before starting [the keto diet], the worse your symptoms will be.”

She says those symptoms start to go away when you become more efficient at using fat for fuel, which is commonly referred to as being “fat adapted” or “keto-adapted”.

“Certainly, it’s not a fun time, but the worst of it should generally only last a few days before one starts to reap the benefits of mental clarity, reduced appetite, and consistent energy levels.”

Mind you, she says it can take 4-8 weeks until you regain your “top end” energy or performance power when exercising.

Mim’s symptoms of keto flu only lasted for around four days, during which time she kept her fluids up and added extra salt to her food.

While she found the keto flu unpleasant, she took her symptoms to be a sign the diet was actually working.

“Because I’d done all this research, I knew [the keto flu] was coming but I was also really excited to go into it because I knew that it meant my body was becoming ‘fat adapted’.”

In the two weeks since Mim started the diet, she has lost over five kilos in body weight and over 11cm, mainly around her waist.

Her ‘keto flu’ symptoms are also well and truly over, and her energy levels are back to normal.

“Now the weight is definitely going… it’s making me really happy,” says Mim.

“I’ve got more energy, I don’t feel like I look six months pregnant anymore,” she laughs.

“I feel really good.”

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