So you're ready to start the keto diet!
You’ve heard that being in ketosis can help you lose fat, gain mental clarity, reduce inflammation and brain fog, feel more energized, and generally become a better version of yourself.
The problem? You can’t seem to get off the couch, and that headache won’t go away.
Where is the energy? Why do you feel like someone rolled you over with a Mack truck? What gives?
For people switching to the ketogenic diet from a carb-heavy diet, the transition to ketosis can be a bit of a shock.
You might hear people talking about keto flu or ketosis flu.
What they’re saying is their body is experiencing a roadblock switching their metabolism in a glucose burning environment to thriving in a fat-burning state.
From a young age, we’re taught that carbs are what take up most of the plate.
Breakfast begins with toast, cereal, muffins, croissants, bagels, and pancakes or waffles. Lunch has sandwiches, wraps, more bagels, and subs. Basically mini loaves of bread.
Then comes dinner and dessert.
Fries, mashed potatoes, pasta, pizza, cake, calzones, garlic bread, biscuits, breading, fried foods, and more. It’s a wonder we can even get to the bottom of our plates with all this stuff on top.
But what’s the one thing all these foods have in common? Carbs.
Everything we eat in America revolves around the instant gratification (not to mention the insulin response) from eating a carb-heavy, grain-based diet.
If you are overweight, feel lethargic, have food sensitivities, or are prone to inflammation, it’s time to discover what’s going on. And what’s causing all that bloating?
Keep reading to learn the symptoms of ketosis flu and what you can do to get into ketosis faster, and learn how to stop those awful symptoms from rearing their heads ever again.
The Harsh Reality of Carbs
To fully understand ketosis flu, it’s best to look at the nutritional landscape.
The average American eats around 50% of their daily calories from carbs; this can be further broken down into sugar, starch, and fiber (1).
Hmm, not a lot of nutritional value there. This roughly translates to around 225-300g of carbs every day, per adult.
You don’t have to be a nutritionist to realize that’s a lot of carbs.
If you’ve ever eaten a bread basket before dinner at a restaurant, you know how filling bread is, and then quickly, how hungry you feel soon after you leave.
Carbs manifest in two problems:
First, if you’re filling up on grains, it’s hard to get in many other nutrients.
Eating lots of bread and pasta is dead calories. They don’t do much besides give you a short burst of energy.
Secondly, eating a lot of carbs in one sitting can cause a massive insulin spike. Insulin stops the liver from releasing glycogen back into the blood as glucose.
If you eat a lot of carbs, your body has to send in more insulin to take care of the problem.
This sounds fine on the offset, but too much insulin and too much insulin production can lead to insulin resistance. And insulin resistance is the precursor to diabetes (2).
So now you can see why we have such an epidemic on our hands. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, eating a lot of carbs, and more specifically, eating a lot of carbs in one sitting, can be a significant recipe for disaster.
- You aren’t giving your body a sustainable fuel source.
- You aren't inviting in whole foods with a rich nutrient range.
- And most of all, if you can’t burn off all those carbs, they get stored as fat.
The sad fact of the matter is carbs have been ingrained into our diet for over 60 years. Since the industrial revolution took off, cheaply produced grains have afforded us with even cheaper aisles of junk food and snacks.
We’ve lost touch as a nation with diet, and most importantly, with fat.
Our ancestors thrived on a high-fat diet. They consumed a lot of meats, green veggies, and a few strategic carbs. They ate plentifully, but it’s worth noting they did not eat every day.
This is called intermittent fasting (IF) and has the opposite effect of insulin resistance. IF can help to restore insulin sensitivity, and rewind the risk of type 2 diabetes by reducing the number of times insulin is released (3).
If insulin is deployed fewer times, even if the amount of insulin stays the same, studies have found you can reduce the overall damage and eat more.
Now enter the ketogenic diet. This is not an anti-carb diet as much as it’s a back to our primal roots awakening.
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state that steps around carbs and goes back to our innate desire to eat a high-fat diet. Protein is moderate, and carbs are kept low.
However, for many people looking to come into this world, the thought of coming off carbs is a bit like overcoming an addiction. In the case of keto flu, it can feel like it. Our body wants the fast-acting sugars because it’s easy, not because they’re good. It’s going to do whatever it takes to get them.
To understand this process, it’s time to look at the symptoms of ketosis flu.
The Symptoms of Ketosis Flu
When you remove carbs from your diet, especially if you’re on a high-carb diet, you can induce a state of shock known as keto flu or ketosis flu.
This is a bit unfair, as the name implies that the fault is on ketosis; when in fact, the problem is carb-withdrawal.
When in ketosis, you feel energized, refreshed, full of energy and like your best self. If you’ve ever woken up and thought for no reason you’ve just had the best day ever, this is what being in ketosis feels like.
Except it’s every single day.
Ketosis flu, on the other hand, can be like the real flu virus; which is how this transitional phase got its name… people associate the flu when trying to get into ketosis.
All opinions on the name aside, this is a time when lots of complex metabolic changes are happening.
These are many symptoms of ketosis flu:
- Lack of motivation
- Sugar cravings
- Brain fog
It’s unfair to blame your body for something we did. Eating a lot of grains and then expecting your body to be a fat-burning machine is problematic at best.
It’s time to rekindle how we treat our bodies, and how we approach fat loss if we want to regain our optimal health.
During the induction phase, you can experience many of the same symptoms as the regular flu, but one thing that makes the real flu and ketosis flu different is this is not contagious; you cannot catch ketosis flu. You can only get it by reducing the number of carbs you eat too quickly.
While you might be thinking the answer is simple: eat more carbs, that squanders the objective of getting into ketosis. So what else can you do?
While it’s true these don’t sound fun, the good news is the transition into ketosis can take a few hours or days, and if you follow our tips, these symptoms can go away quickly. Not everyone has all of the symptoms all of the time. Or even every time.
It’s important to learn these symptoms and begin to feel when your body is going into ketosis so you can make some small changes.
This can stop full-blown keto flu from kicking down the door but what happens to cause this to happen in the first place?
If you feel the symptoms of ketosis flu coming on, you can either increase your carbs (which will prevent you from getting into ketosis) or follow our steps coming up.
What you shouldn’t do is nothing.
Many people experience keto flu for weeks without realizing it should be actively monitored on a keto diet.
At the end of this article, we’ll show you how to get rid of the symptoms of ketosis flu in under a minute per day.
How to Avoid Ketosis Flu
Carb-withdrawal is a reliable indicator that your body has received the message to switch from glucose metabolism to a ketogenic metabolism.
Ketones are produced in the liver when there is very little, to no glucose present.
Your liver turns fat into ketones and sends them into your bloodstream. Your muscles and other tissues can then use them for fuel. What makes ketones very exciting is that they can use all the stored fat as fuel; this is the only way to use up this fat.
If you eat a lot of carbs, you have to deplete what you have recently eaten, plus the glycogen reserves in your liver, before you can begin to burn fat.
This is fine for professional athletes, who expend a lot of energy daily, but if you’re a regular Joe, this isn’t an effective way to drop excess fat. And you won’t be in ketosis.
When you lower your carbs, your body goes straight to the stored fat for fuel. Many people who start keto are so surprised when their bellies, thighs, and back fat all go first.
These are the most stubborn fats and are visceral. This is a dangerous type of body fat that increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes and other severe health conditions (4).
Before your body becomes fat-adapted, it must first learn to find this fat and metabolize it into ketones. This is why some people experience ketosis flu. In this time, your body is learning to metabolize the fats.
After about 3-4 weeks of metabolizing fat full time, you can confidently say you are fat-adapted. This means fat becomes your primary source of fuel.
While it can take a few days or weeks to become competent at burning fat, once you do, reports have shown that the longer you stay in ketosis, the faster you can bounce back (5). This is important.
If you plan to eat carbs in the future, either as part of a maintenance plan or on a cheat day, you want to become fat-adapted to bounce back and prevent ketosis flu from happening each time.
Once fat-adapted, even if you eat carbs, your body will seek out the fats.
Next up, we’re going to look at three simple ways you can prevent the symptoms of ketosis flu from coming back.
1. Drink Electrolytes
Our first piece of advice is crucial on a ketogenic diet. To stop ketosis flu, you must be drinking enough water with electrolytes.
Regular water is insufficient as without electrolytes you are not getting the mineral blend of sodium, potassium, and magnesium, needed to sustain your core bodily functions.
Electrolytes are incredibly essential, but what many people don’t know is that carbs store a lot of water.
When you stop eating carbs, it’s common to have a significant weight loss in the first week; it is no secret this is water weight, but out with that water goes the essential minerals.
One of the hardest symptoms to read in time is feeling unwell or off. In many cases, a tall glass of H20 can be a great way to replenish your energy levels and get back to health.
Dehydration is also mostly responsible for the first signs of ketosis flu. When dehydrated, even just a little bit, you can expect your body to rebuke.
Common symptoms of dehydration include:
- Increased thirst and a dry or sticky mouth
- Signs of fatigue, confusion or anger
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness or fatigue
- A headache
- Blurred vision
Adding in a daily electrolyte drink or bone broth supplement is a simple way to overcome ketosis flu and will make you feel amazing when used daily. You can also eat salted foods, such as pork rinds, jerky, and soft cheeses.
Bone broth, which contains a lot of sodium, is tasty and promotes gut health (another common complaint on the keto diet). You should drink grass-fed bone broth and check that it’s from humanely raised cows, which don’t use grain in their feed.
This will keep everything moving along nicely and prevent ketosis flu symptoms from occurring in most cases.
If you are dehydrated, seek medical help right away.
Next up, we’re going to look at what you’re eating.
As the ketogenic diet largely depends on the food you eat to get into ketosis, this is super important.
2. Increase Fats
After dehydration, one of the most common symptoms of ketosis flu is feeling hungry.
You might be getting stronger hunger cues or sugar cravings. While it seems tough now, there is an easy way to get through these.
To stop the keto flu from wiping you out, it’s a great idea to eat more fats. We’re not just talking more fats in general, but a lot of fats.
At first most of us are pretty resistant to add fats on a keto diet. For inherent reasons though once you are committed to lowering your carbs, you have to replace the fuel source with fat.
By feeding your body lots of delicious fats, you'll have more energy and feel much better, right off the bat.
During the first week or so, you will want to overeat fat. You shouldn’t be scared to eat more than your daily calories to compensate for the change. You won’t store this fat.
Plus, eating lots of fats will give you more energy and satisfy your hunger cravings. Listen to your body and feed it what it needs.
There are two ways to eat more fats:
First, you should eat more MCTs. These are medium-chain triglycerides, and provide fast-acting fuel to your body.
We recommend beginners to the keto diet opt for a powder MCT oil. This is a very pure medium-chain triglyceride and can be blended into coffee and keto smoothies.
While MCT powder has some carbs (usually around 2g net carbs per serving), powders tend to digest more comfortable and won’t be as intense as oils.
Just start with a half serving and work up to your comfort level. You can take MCT oil throughout the day for a quick boost, but it won’t be as useful as our recommendation in step 3.
The other way to get more fats into your diet is to eat more nuts, seeds, fish, and butter. These form the backbone of the ketogenic diet and prevent ketosis flu.
You can read our article on how to prepare a fully ketogenic grocery list here.
When you first start keto, your body has to work extra hard to find the fats.
Many people come to the keto table, and try to cut their calories and carbs at the same time. This defeats the purpose of the keto diet and makes it hard for your body to adjust.
Instead, do one thing and do it well and then move to the second stage.
One of the reasons you want to be in ketosis is, you can burn fat and don’t have to eat less to lose weight. It will happen naturally.
Feed your body the fats now, and it will thank you later.
By eating lots of fats, your body will not feel like it’s in crisis mode or verging on starvation.
And, if you’ve only ever been able to lose weight on those crazy fad diets, you may be surprised to hear that many people on keto can actually eat more calories per day and still burn fat.
This is because your whole metabolism is running efficiently and on a different fuel source. It’s cool to expect different results.
Speaking of which, If you want faster results, check out this next step for the best approach on how to get over the keto flu almost instantly.
3. Add Exogenous Ketones
Finally, and most importantly, the easiest way to stop ketosis flu from happening is to drink an exogenous ketone drink. This is especially true during the induction phase.
Exogenous ketones are merely ketones made outside of the body, but they play a critical role.
At the root of the keto flu, your body is crying out for fuel. It wants ketones, but it has forgotten how to make them.
When you provide them, it gives your body time to recover and figure things out.
You know how it feels if you’re hungry and can’t think straight. Imagine being your body and starved of ketones or energy!
When you drink exogenous ketones, your body can use the ones you have given it until it learns to become fat-adapted. This is such a huge relief.
Exogenous ketones also contain essential minerals and salts, to help balance electrolytes. This is why you can get a pleasant rush of energy.
For beginners, exogenous ketones are a game-changer as it removes ketosis flu and gives you time to adapt to a lower carb regimen. The salts replenish electrolytes and provide you with time to get fat-adapted.
Simply take a scoop of Keto Activate each day, starting with a half scoop. Take more throughout the day as needed.
Unlike sugar or caffeine, there are no crashes. Just all-day energy.
As you continue to eat a keto diet, it’s important to read the signs of ketosis flu.
For people at the higher level, exogenous ketones are an ideal pre-workout supplement.
Instead of loading up on sugar-rich energy drinks, many professional ketogenic athletes use exogenous ketones to perform marathons and other cardio-based sports.
If you swim, do yoga, love to hit the treadmill or Stairmaster, this might be an excellent pre-workout for you.
Let’s look at the main ingredient in exogenous ketones in more detail.
Why Beta-hydroxybutyrate Kicks Ketosis Flu
Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is a ketone body produced by the liver, from fat, for energy when glucose isn’t available.
It becomes the body and the brain’s primary source of energy. And is the principal ingredient used in exogenous ketone supplements.
Adding in Beta-Hydroxybutyrate to your day is always a great idea, but it’s especially helpful during the induction stage of ketosis.
This is when your body is learning to metabolize fat and is looking for a helping hand.
Later, your body will learn to make BHBs for itself, but for now, you can kick-start the process.
You can also use Beta-Hydroxybutyrate strategically to overcome keto flu by increasing your bodies natural demand for ketones.
When you take an exogenous ketone supplement, you’re telling your body this is the energy you need each day.
The more Beta-Hydroxybutyrate you have in your system, the more your body will need to produce to meet this demand when you stop taking it.
You can incorporate a simple step-up routine for a week, and add in a daily serving to increase your natural ketone production; whether to overcome ketosis flu or to get more energy per day, the choice is up to you.
We like to use exogenous ketones to get into ketosis quickly.
Sometimes if we eat a higher carb meal, or do a refeed day, we'll use exogenous ketones to get back into keto within a few hours. Keto Activate gives you more flexibility in what you can eat.
What exogenous ketones are not, is a way out.
You will still need to lower your carbs to get the full effects of ketosis, but many people enjoy drinking exogenous ketones because our body loves the fuel that ketones provide.
It’s ok if all you do is drink ketones and enjoy the cognitive benefits.
Not everyone is looking to lose weight, but for those who are, drinking exogenous ketones and doing a keto diet at the same time is like rocket fuel.
You’ll get the fastest results we can currently fathom.