A common complaint from transitioning from a high carbohydrate diet to high fat, low carbohydrate diet is the keto flu and more specifically, a keto headache and immense brain fog. All these symptoms mean a body is getting used to burning ketones instead of glucose, and there will be an adjustment period. That’s when it’s typical to experience headaches, brain fog, the keto flu, or all of the above. Even if a headache and brain fog seem discouraging, don’t give up! The Body Reboot book outlines several benefits of the keto diet, from having less body inflammation, a potential improvement in certain diseases, feeling more energetic, and the list goes on!
Luckily if you learn about what you can do ahead of time to prevent a keto headache and brain fog from happening (even though it’s still likely you’ll have it at some point), at least, you’ll know how to combat it. Learn about some nutrient protocols and lifestyle hacks to prevent low-carb headaches.
When you first go through ketosis, it’s normal to experience changes in your body. During this period your body will be getting used to a new way of functioning, and it may take some time for it to adjust! Perfect Keto explains what to expect during the induction phase and why it happens:
There’s a good chance you’ve spent a good portion of your life feeding your body large amounts of carbohydrates, many of them from processed sources.
This means your cells, hormones, and brain have adapted to using carbohydrates as its main source of energy for the body.
Transitioning to a fat dominant fuel source will confuse your body’s metabolism in the beginning.
This metabolic confusion will put your body through an “induction phase”.
This is the time when your metabolism works in overtime to become accustomed to using ketones for energy (from fats) rather than glucose (from carbohydrates).
During this phase, you may experience flu-like symptoms — which is called the “keto flu” — especially headaches and brain fog — because your body is going through a physical withdrawal from carbohydrates.
Diet Doctor also says it’s perfectly normal to have headaches and brain fog during the transition period. They also recommend eating more fat. That’s right, fat! Now that you’re on the keto diet you shouldn’t be afraid of fat. The more you eat (within moderation, of course) the more likely your body will go into ketosis a lot faster.
Headaches are very common during this transition, as is feeling tired, lethargic and unmotivated. Nausea is also common. It’s also possible to experience confusion or “brain fog” – feeling not smart at all. Finally, it’s common to feel irritable – perhaps most clearly experienced by the rest of your family.
Make sure to eat enough fat. Going low carb, low fat is a recipe for starvation and feeling hungry and tired. You should never endure hunger as you start on a low-carb diet. A proper low-carb diet contains enough fat to make you feel satiated and energetic. This can speed up the transition time and minimize the time spent feeling low when starting low carb.
So how do you get enough fat on low carb? There are any number of options, but when in doubt add butter to whatever you’re eating.
Mark’s Daily Apple mentions that the flu-like symptoms may take a few weeks to pass, but you can look forward to the many benefits waiting for you on the other side.
For many people, it takes about two to three weeks to move beyond the temporary fog and fatigue. Studies following the physical performance of low carbers showed that initial disadvantages were erased after this window of time. 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.
Don’t be dismayed that the symptoms may take some time to pass, Mr. Skinny Pants offers a few excellent tips to hopefully get through the carb withdrawals sooner!
You might want to try the simplest solution first. Add half a teaspoon of table salt to a 24 ounce glass of warm water (3 cups) and drink it. This should cure your headache within 20-30 minutes if it’s being caused dehydration or sodium deficit.
If warm salt water isn’t to your tastes, then try sipping down a carton of bone broth. You can drink chicken or beef bone broth, doesn’t matter. Drink 16 ounces (2 cups) or more to ensure you get enough sodium.
If your keto headache won’t go away and you were a coffee or soda drinker, then try drinking a cup of coffee with two tablespoons of butter or coconut oil and a half teaspoon of salt says one Redditor who cured persistent keto headaches.
As we mentioned earlier, sometimes the best course of action to get rid of a headache is to eat more food, especially fat! Have fun by trying out a few recipes such as fat bombs or if you really don’t feel good eat a few hardboiled eggs or an avocado to boost your energy! Gretchen from Fit Mom Journey outlines a few ideas below:
Just because you don't feel good, don't let that be an excuse not to eat.
Your body is going through a tough transition that requires lots of energy, and if you're not feeding it you will only prolong the symptoms of Keto Flu.
If you're looking for Fat Bombs or recipe ideas, check out my Keto Recipe Index for lots of inspiration.
You're an athlete or used to an extremely high carb intake, it may be wise to slowly wean yourself off of carbs rather than going cold turkey. You'll still have Keto Flu symptoms but they will be much milder than they would normally.
Your body will still find it's way into Ketosis, the process will just happen slower than going cold turkey, and there's absolutely no shame in that.
Similar to the tips above, BoxingScene.com reminds you how important it is to make sure you stay hydrated when experiencing brain fog or a keto headache because it’s likely your body is just lacking electrolytes.
The last factor is dehydration. If you are losing weight rapidly on a “no-carb” initial phase, you are also losing a lot of water that is bound upin your carbohydrate reserves. In fact, you are actually losing four-times as many grams of water as you are grams of glycogen (or stored carbohydrates).
In addition to preventing dehydration, your body needs to replenish all of the water it loses daily to simply maintain organ functionality, flush out toxins, replace electrolytes, and promote good skin health.
Most low carb dietitians suggest that you consume 8 eight-ounce glasses of water each day. This is especially important if you are losing more than average amount of water each day, so make sure you are sticking to the “8 x 8”–or whatever amount you comfortably each day–so you don't become dehydrated during the first phase of your low carb diet.
The key to preventing low carb diet headaches is to make sure you are consuming enough water and to scale-down your potential “addictions” before you start.
Perfect Keto is more specific in regards to what supplements you should while on the diet because electrolyte requirements are higher on a ketogenic diet.
The main electrolytes to keep a close eye on are magnesium, sodium and potassium.
When your body excretes water from the body, you begin to flush out these essential electrolytes needed for optimal brain and body functioning.
They are crucial for several different bodily functions like energy production, body temperature control and optimal brain function.
Each of the daily electrolyte requirements are higher on a ketogenic diet compared to a normal diet.
Supplements can greatly help your body convert to a fat-fueled machine.
But it’s important to never use supplements as a replacement for any dietary deficiencies.
At the time of writing this post, we're currently giving away free copies of the Body Reboot book because it's our mission to increase awareness and to help people lose weight and get healthy! If you help us cover the cost of shipping, we’ll send a copy to your door FREE. Go over to this page to see if there are any copies left.
Sources: Perfect Keto, Diet Doctor, Mark’s Daily Apple, Mr. Skinny Pants, Fit Mom Journey, BoxingScene.com
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