I often get this question from people who are new to a healthy way of living and are experiencing some uncomfortable symptoms. Especially if you are switching from a conventional low-fat, high grain diet, you might be noticing that you are tired and have some uncomfortable symptoms like headache, fatigue, achy muscles or brain fog. Don’t worry… you don’t have the flu… at least not the viral one!
This discomfort during the transition phase is often called “carb flu” and should pass in about a week or so. The good news is that you’ll feel much better on the other side and once you start to feel better, all the symptoms go away almost instantly. The bad news is that there isn’t too terribly much you can do make it go faster.
The other bad news (I’m not sounding very positive today, am I?) is that there are things you can do that will make the carb flu worse! Cheating, even a little, at this point will make the fatigue and headache better temporarily, but will make the symptoms worse.
It is completely normal to experience these symptoms as your body switches from burning glucose to being able to use fat and protein instead. As Mark Sisson explains:
If your body is used to employing easy glucose carbs and now must create glucose from fats and protein (a slightly more complex but entirely natural mode of operation), it can take some time to get up to speed. Rest assured that our bodies can and are doing the job. It simply takes time to work efficiently. The transition actually shifts metabolic related gene expression, increasing fat oxidation pathways and decreasing fat storage pathways. (That’s nothing to shake a stick at!) Within a few weeks, the body should be fairly efficient at converting protein and fat for the liver’s glycogen stores, which provide all the glucose we need for the brain, red blood cells, muscles, etc. under regular circumstances.
If you are interested in understanding more about why the carb flu happens, check out this article at Mark’s Daily Apple and this very detailed explanation from J. Stanton at Gnolls.org.
If you’re not interested in feeling like you have the flu any longer than needed, here are some suggestions for cutting down the amount of time you feel this way:
- Make sure you are actually eating enough, especially of fat. It won’t hurt to eat a few extra tablespoons of coconut oil to make sure you are consuming enough calories and for more energy.
- Drink enough water! The symptoms of carb flu can also be caused by minor dehydration, so make sure you are drinking enough. You naturally lose water weight during this transition period, so you will need to drink to replenish it.
- As you lose water, you lose sodium and other minerals as well. Make sure you are getting enough sodium, preferably through sea salt. For me, I felt a lot better when I drank a homemade electrolyte drink.
- Get enough sleep!
- Back off the exercise a little, at least for a day or so!
- Read these articles about staring low-carb from Dr. Michael Eades (whose blog I highly recommend!) Tips for Starting Low Carb Part I and Tips for Starting Low Carb Part II