Are you transitioning to a Paleo diet and not feeling the way you thought all this hard work would make you feel? Maybe you’re experiencing the low-carb flu.
Obviously, the low-carb food isn’t a contagious disease but named after one because it feels just as lousy. The biology behind the low-carb flu is fairly simple: you switch from burning mainly carbohydrates (sugar) for fuel to burning mainly fat and your body needs some time to adapt.
Carbohydrates are a much quicker-acting course of energy (this is why you get a sugar rush from eating too much candy), so suddenly switching to a lower-carb diet essentially puts your body into carb withdrawal. It’s used to getting that hit of easily digestible instant energy multiple times a day, and when you oblige it, it can get very cranky.
In the long term, this metabolic switch is very useful, because it weans you off the need for constant energy boosts from carbohydrates. People with predominantly sugar-burning metabolisms often experience a series of blood sugar highs and crashes (with accompanying periods of high and low energy) throughout the day; a fat-burning metabolism is much more stable and allows you to skip or delay a meal (or two, or three) without feeling ready to start the next World War. In the short term, though, your body often has a rocky adjustment period for a few weeks.
Low-carb flu symptoms frequently include headaches, brain fog, constant exhaustion and a general feeling of being run-down and weak – just like the regular flu. Some people also report intense mood swings and other more individual symptoms; everybody’s body is different, so the withdrawal will vary depending on how your particular metabolism reacts to it. This can be even worse for people who have intestinal bacterial overgrowth problems. A low-carb diet is ultimately very beneficial for SIBO or other bacterial overgrowth, because it starves the harmful bacteria of their favorite form of nourishment, but in the short term it can be extremely unpleasant as the bacteria die off.
The way to handle the initial adjustment period of a lower-carb diet is just to tough it out. Like any other kind of withdrawal, the low-carb flu doesn’t last forever. If you can hold out for a few weeks, you’ll start to notice your body getting used to using fat as a fuel source, and the “flu” symptoms will disappear.
Good luck on your new journey! If you have any questions about the Paleo diet – or just improving your overall nutrition – stop by a CFK location and let a coach get you on the right track.
We’ll see you on the other side of the bar.