Let’s talk turkey about 2023. It hasn’t been a banner year for most of us. The quarantine has left many of us with too much time on our hands and a few too many pounds under our belt.
If you are like many people, you want to get back into shape and drop those extra pounds so when this is all over, you can hit the road, the beach, or see your relatives and not have to face those “You put on some weight” comments.
The keto diet is the hottest trend this year and has been on many top 10 diet lists for at least the past decade. Why? Because it works!
Lowering the amount of carbohydrates, we eat forces the body to rely on other sources for energy, most oftentimes, our stored body fat. When our bodies metabolize fat as a source of energy, we generate ketones, which is where the name “keto diet” comes from.
So why does this diet tend to give some people horrific headaches and/or nausea? While sugar cravings are easy to understand, the lack of energy and headaches are not.
Let’s see why this happens and how you can stop these side effects or prevent them entirely.
The Krazy Keto Flu
When people start the keto diet, it often comes with some unexpected but well-known side effects often called the keto flu.
While this isn’t a virus, it can certainly feel that way. Common side effects include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Brain fog
- Sleep issues, such as insomnia
These symptoms are not “all in your head” nor are they a sign of a lack of willpower or self-discipline. There is science behind these symptoms and once you understand how it works, you should be able to prevent these annoying problems.
The Cause Behind the Keto Headaches and Nausea
When our bodies use fat as a source of energy, rather than carbohydrates, the liver produces ketones. Ketones also remove water from the body. Some experts believe that the first few pounds that are lost are not so much fat, but water loss.
The brain and central nervous system’s preferred source of energy is glucose made from carbohydrates. When we cut way back on carbs, our brain and nervous system go through a sort of carb withdrawal. This leads to reduced functioning of the brain and nervous system, resulting in headaches.
In addition to cutting carbohydrates, the keto diet involves the consumption of high levels of fat. Since fat takes much longer for the body to digest, this can lead to feelings of nausea, sometimes even vomiting.
While these symptoms are quite annoying and uncomfortable, the good news is that they generally last no more than 2 weeks and, if you plan ahead, you might be able to avoid them entirely.
How to Stop or Prevent the Keto Flu
There are several fast ways to get rid of a headache that is caused by the keto diet, as well as other annoying symptoms.
1. Replace Lost Electrolytes
Professional athletes know that taking supplements, including electrolyte-rich supplements, can help keep their bodies in the best possible condition. When we follow the keto diet, we lose important electrolytes and sodium.
Consider drinking electrolyte-rich replacement drinks (with no added sugar) or consuming a bit more salt than you normally would. You can also add a pinch of salt to each glass of water.
Eat plenty of potassium-rich foods like avocados and leafy green vegetables as well to help prevent headaches.
2. Stay Hydrated
I can’t stress this one enough. I have had several patients tell me how exhausted they are, along with unrelenting headaches since they started the keto diet. When I ask how much water they are consuming, they had no idea. Most thought two or three glasses of water was plenty.
The keto diet forces your body to remove water. LOTS of water! Glycogen is stored in your body in the form of carbs. Glycogen binds water to the body. When you reduce carbs, water is immediately removed.
Set a timer if you must and drink a minimum of 10 glasses of water each day. Add just a pinch of salt if you wish to help replace lost electrolytes. After just 24 hours, most people say that nearly all of their keto flu symptoms went away, especially the headaches and nausea.
3. Hold Off on Exercise
Exercise is important for everyone, yes, but during the first two weeks of the keto diet, you should hold off on anything more strenuous than walking.
Give your body time to adjust to your new way of eating. Many people find that doing lighter exercise, such as yoga or tai chi, help to make them feel better.
Avoid running, jogging, weightlifting, or other types of hard exercise until your body has become adjusted to your new diet.
4. Be Sure You are Eating Enough Fat
It’s common to feel cravings for foods you are accustomed to eating, such as bread, pasta, sugary treats, or crackers.
Eating plenty of fat will help give your body a new source of fuel that it needs to operate properly. This will also help to reduce those cravings and keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Over time, studies have found that a low-carb diet like the keto diet can reduce cravings for sugar or other high-carb foods like pizza or lasagna.
If you still have a difficult time with the keto diet, try cutting back carbs gradually to give your body time to adjust.
5. Sleep as Much as You Need to
In addition to headaches and nausea, some people complain of fatigue as well. Getting plenty of sleep is important on this diet since a lack of sleep causes higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make any keto-flu symptom feel worse.
If you are having sleep problems, try the following:
- Cut off all sources of light including alarm clocks, cell phones, and televisions. Make the room as dark as possible
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed to relax your body
- Try to get up at the same time of day, even on weekends to normalize a schedule for your body
- Reduce your consumption of caffeine during the day and stop all caffeine consumption at least 3-4 hours before bedtime
The Bottom Line
Everyone is different so no two people react the same to the same dietary habits. While your friend may experience no side effects on the keto diet, you might experience them all!
If you follow the above tips and your headaches or nausea still do not subside, it might be time to seek professional help from your chiropractor or primary care physician.