words Alexa Wang
You’re all in.
You heard about all the celebrities who’ve used the keto diet, from Halle Berry to LeBron James. You figured that if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Your friends couldn’t stop singing the praises of their ketogenic diets, and they kept telling you how much weight they’ve lost. They certainly do look good.
You were sick of dragging all that extra weight around, and were more than ready for all of the other benefits attributed to keto. After all, who could argue with heart health, better brain function, increased focus and more energy?
But you started the keto diet last week, and you can’t stop wondering: why am I so exhausted all of the time? Stop worrying, and have another serving of bacon and eggs. (Extra bacon, please!)
When you start feeling tired after beginning the keto diet, that’s actually a good thing. It means the diet is working.
Why does that happen – and how long will it last? Read on.
What Keto Does to Your Body
The keto diet causes major changes in the way your body processes, uses and stores the food you eat. That, in turn, causes major changes in the way you’re going to feel – at least, at first.
To understand how that happens, it’s important to learn a little more about ketosis and the keto diet, explained more fully at Diet Hive.
The keto diet’s name actually stems from what happens in your body when you go low-carb, high fat. Here are the key facts in a nutshell.
- Glucose, a simple sugar, is the body’s primary source of energy. In the body, it’s often called blood sugar.
- The body usually gets its energy from the food you eat, by converting carbs into glucose. If there’s too much glucose, it’s stored as fat in the muscles and liver.
- But when you don’t eat “enough” carbs to meet the body’s energy needs, it has to find another source of energy. What it does is break down stored fat, turning it into an alternate energy source called ketones (through a process known as ketogenesis).
- Once the body is burning stored fat and producing ketones for its energy needs, it enters a metabolic state known as ketosis. That’s the basis of the keto diet.
So in short, keto is a low-carb diet designed to force your body into ketosis. In that metabolic state, the body burns fat you have stored up over time, and doesn’t have excess glucose to store as new fat.
And the name “keto diet” is really just shorthand for “ketogenic diet,” describing the process by which the body burns fat – and the process by which you lose weight. You can look into recipes for people on a keto diet for some examples.
Why the Keto Diet Can Temporarily Make You Exhausted
According to The Healthy, The keto diet is a huge change for your body. Instead of eating a high-carb diet, you’re eating lots of fats and protein while avoiding most carbs, entering a state of ketosis as a result. All of a sudden, the body has to adapt to a complete diet, and has to find a different method of obtaining the energy it needs.
That’s a difficult process for the body to adjust to, and it can make you exhausted – for a while. But it’s not abnormal. In fact, it’s to be expected and there’s even an informal name for it: the keto flu. (The more scientific name for it is keto induction, and it’s sometimes called ketogenic fatigue.)
It’s not really a flu, and it’s not caused by a virus. But the symptoms are quite similar. Fatigue and weakness, headache, nausea and vomiting are the most common ones. You might also notice muscle cramps, constipation, a rash or even bad breath. (Bad breath? One ketone the body produces is acetone, which you may recognize as a common – and smelly – solvent.)
You commonly experience the keto flu, and its telltale low energy levels, when your body is in the process of entering ketosis. Since your body is using up all of its stored glucose and you’re not adding more via carbs, you end up with low levels of insulin in your bloodstream.
That’s a good thing for fat burning and weight loss, but it also causes you to urinate a lot. And in the process, you lose a lot of bodily fluid, sodium and potassium. As you might have guessed, that means you may get dehydrated and weak.
There are three pieces of good news, though. First, the keto flu means that you’re entering ketosis, the key to the diet’s success. Second, it doesn’t last all that long. According to Diet Hive, most people only experience the keto flu for a week or two, although it can last as long as a month for some.
Third, in many people, ketogenic fatigue only lasts a few days – and there are things you can do to feel better even faster.
Easing Symptoms of the Keto Flu
If you know that a problem is imminent, you can prepare for it. In the case of the keto flu, that means being ready to supplement or alter your diet during the first few weeks.
- Most of the keto flu’s side effects are caused by the decrease in fluids, salt and potassium we’ve mentioned.
A good first step is to be sure that you’re drinking at least 2-3 quarts of fluids every day. It doesn’t have to be just water (or flavored water); you can also drink tea, broth or diet soda, although you should keep your caffeine consumption to reasonable levels. If the symptoms worsen during the day or you get a headache, drink a cup of water with a teaspoon of salt mixed in and you should feel better.
It’s also important to get enough electrolytes like salt, magnesium and potassium, but avoid the sugar-based drinks you can buy at the store. Get them from salted broth and keto-friendly foods like avocado and nuts, and don’t skimp on salt at mealtime. Many electrolyte-heavy foods will also help you avoid constipation.
- Eat more fats: many (like avocado) contribute electrolytes, and they will also help you reach full ketosis more quickly.
- Don’t exercise too much and get extra sleep: Your body is adjusting. Go easy on it until you’re in full ketosis and the flu is just a bad memory.
- Slow things down: If those other suggestions don’t help it may be worth eating more carbs (perhaps 30-50 total grams per day) for a few days, to ease the transition. It’s worth trying before you get so sick of being tired that you just give up.
Almost everyone has to endure the keto flu when they start a ketogenic diet. Don’t panic; it’s worth it. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying that extra energy and focus “they” promised, as you watch the weight fall off.