So I have been training a lady for the past few weeks and I want to share with you her journey because I feel it will resonate with so many of you.
This woman has been trying to lose weight for a very long time. she has not been able to stick to any kind of exercise /diet plan and she was just feeling completely defeated. She is in her late forties and is seeing the weight gain around her middle and NOTHING and I mean NOTHING was working. She called me in complete desperation.
First off let me say this, all the things that used to work for her in the past were no longer working: Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, juicing etc.
So what to do ? Well first off we started with working out 4x a week. 2 days on her own and 2 days with me. Great now she’s moving, feeling better, but still no weight loss. sound familiar? WTF? It seems for her as it is with most my clients following through on the food was just so challenging. She would work hard all week, but then of course on the weekends she would allow herself some drinks and a few cheat meals and boom time to start over on Monday
I really had to go into the diet aspect with her because the working out was not cutting it. I reviewed her meal plan and we made some major adjustments the first one being her carbohydrate intake. We needed to have her body switch over from carbs as her source of fuel to fat.
She felt really sick at first but it started to work.. finally. So sick how? I call it the Low Carb Flu
For some, it kicks in immediately. For others, after a few weeks. For a particular few, it never happens. When you cut your overall carbohydrate intake, chances are you’ll experience flu like symptoms. The more drastic the cut, the harder it hits. It feels like you’re having the flu, only you’re not sick–you’re just cutting carbs. Low-carb flu can include any one or combination of the following:
- You feel fuzzy and foggy, like your brain just isn’t working right.
- You wake up or can’t go to sleep because of persistent headaches.
- You’re exhausted, cranky, and irritable for seemingly no reason.
- You feel empty, lost, depressed even.
- Going to the gym feels like an insurmountable challenge. If you do make it, your performance is hampered.
- You feel ravenously hungry, even after consciously eating more than enough of the good stuff.
- You experiences non-stop cravings for anything with carbs – fruit, soda, bagels, pasta, pizza, sandwiches, mashed potatoes, candy, chocolate.
The experience of any of the above can range from mild to strong to unbearable. At some point, you know the magic is going to kick in and you’ll start feeling like a human again, but the transition period can be rough. and I mean rough. You might begin to doubt if you can endure it from a pure “is it worth it?” perspective. You worry that your responsibilities will fall to the wayside, you’ve got a job and a million things going on. This was supposed to be a lifestyle evolution with the intention of elevating your experience life, and this lifestyle is already demanding too much.
These can be destructive thoughts, and there’s no reason to endure any of them beyond the point of ‘mildly uncomfortable.’ Change is hard, but it shouldn’t be painful.
So what gives? Isn’t a low-carb diet supposed to make you feel better, not worse? YES.. but there might be an adjustment period and I will explain how it works with a sweet potato with butter!
Let me explain the gist of it. The body either burns fat or carbohydrates for energy. Metabolic flexibility is the ability to switch back and forth between carbs and fat for energy without a problem. This is how healthy humans are set up. If you eat a sweet potato with butter, get up, and go along with your day, you’re metabolically flexible. First you burn through the carbohydrates in the sweet potato; then you burn through the fat in the butter. That’s how the metabolism: carbs first, fat second. Finally, several hours later, you notice your hunger gradually increasing and get up to find something else to eat.
If you eat the sweet potato with butter, and then an hour later you think you need some crackers because your blood sugar is tanking, then you have impaired metabolism. Your body burned through all the carbs, but the switch to burning fat is difficult for a whole host of reasons that are beyond this example – so it stores the fat and demands more carbs for energy. If you eat the crackers and keep providing those carbs, the cycle keeps repeating (while you slowly gain weight from all that stored fat).
This impairs the metabolism which clearly becomes a problem – it’s a hallmark of diabetes, for example, and related metabolic disorders, and it’s a symptom of the Standard American Diet. Even if you’re not “fat,” if you experience life as described per the above, then you’re metabolically impaired – and you’re setting yourself up for a life of illness and run-down.
Knowing all of this BEFORE it happens is empowering. Now we can prepare for it and not feel side-swiped. It’s normal, which means you don’t have to freak out.
So how do I get through the Effects of the Low Carb Flu:
1. Baby steps.First, replace grain carbs with natural-source carbs as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to eat a sweet potato, 1-2 servings of your favorite fruit, and/or beans to ease the process. This will help your body adjust more slowly into becoming a fat burner, and it’ll reduce the brutal week of low carb flu.
Action Step: If you’re in serious pain, or feeling utterly empty, depressed even, then dear God please do something about it! Add a sweet potato to your dinner 3 nights per week and a piece of fruit (like berries or an apple) to your lunch/snack. Keep breakfast as low-carb as possible. If you haven’t been on the journey for 4 weeks yet, then withhold from a full-blown cheat meal and see how you feel after making the above fixes.
2. Experiment. Don’t reduce carbs unnecessarily. There’s no point to being low-carb for the sake of being low-carb. If you’re struggling with low energy and other flu-like symptoms for more than three weeks, then maybe it’s not an adaptation period; maybe your body just does better with a few more carbs. That’s fine! It’s not an excuse to eat shit, just make sure to eat more evolution-healthy carbs. For you special few who need a few more carbs, shoot between 100-150 g of carbs per day and you’re golden.
I personally have switched over from 300 grams to about 200.. and I feel amazing.. but heads up .. my goal is not weigh loss and I am extremely active.
Action Step: Use the advice given above: add a sweet potato, or some beans, or some rice to your dinner on most nights, and a piece of fruit (like berries or an apple) to your lunch/snack.
3. Cut back from exercising. Are you over-training? If you’re exercising like a maniac while beginning your evolution, and you come to the process with a particularly carbohydrate-heavy history, then you’re going to exhaust yourself, confuse metabolic demands, and exacerbate symptoms.
Action Step: Unless you’re an athlete with years of training to fall back on, you should not be training hard for more than 3 days per week. Period. especially if your goal is to lose weight. (Crazy, right?)
4. Get enough electrolytes. Salt deficiency and potassium deficiency can cause some of the same symptoms (especially exhaustion and exercise apathy).
Action Step: Avocados and Himalayan Mountain Salt are your friends. Eat one avocado per day. Don’t be afraid of salt. Removing processed foods will eliminate the excess salt from your diet. Salt to taste and dress your meals and be at peace.
5. Eat enough fat. If you’re going to lower your carbohydrate intake, you absolutely must increase fat to make up your calories. Fat does not make you fat. Trust this. You’ll be happier, less fatigued, and more likely to stick with the diet. Action Step:
Go food shopping and get some fats!
6. Low Intensity Exercise. In the throes of carb withdrawal, a trip to the gym is probably the last thing on your to-do list, and that’s fine. Instead of forcing yourself through a workout at the gym, just be sure to add as many low-intensity walks to your schedule as possible. This will accelerate your return to humanity. Action Step:
Walk at least 30 minutes every day, at minimum.
7. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration will just make the headaches worse, and it’s hard on your whole system. Action Step
: Drink 90oz of water per day, every day, until symptoms stop. Then stay above 60oz.
8. Cut alcohol (for the time being).
** ** **
If your experience of the low carb flu is such that it has you doubting whether this lifestyle is right for you, then please do something about it. Eat some more natural carbs, for starters. You’re not going to “mess anything up.” Everything will “still work”—I promise; you have my word.
Remember this… Some people do beautifully in the 100-150g of carbohydrate per day range; depending on your history and starting point (folks eating the Standard American Diet take in as much as 400g per day) – that range is more than sufficient to help you lose weight and repair your metabolism.
Ultimately, a hellish week of low carb flu shouldn’t be the price of admission. You shouldn’t have to take vacation time just to change your diet. So if you’re in the throes of the low-carb blues, don’t just suffer through it; take a second to stop and think what you might do differently to make the transition less rocky and more sustainable.