Well, does it?
We’re all going to be putting food in our bodies just about every day for the rest of our lives. Most of us will do it several times a day. We’ll chew it, send it down the esophagus into our stomach, and expose it to gastric juices and digestive enzymes. We’ll strip it of nutrients and send the excess down to the colon for dismissal, feeding resident gut bacteria along the way. The whole process should go smoothly. There shouldn’t be any pain or discomfort, bloating or constipation. Oh sure, nobody’s perfect, and there will be slow-downs or speed-ups from time to time, but in general a vital, fundamental process like digestion shouldn’t even register in our waking, conscious lives.
But sometimes it does.
Over the first few days (up to two weeks) of eating low-carb, you may run into some frustration. Where is all of this energy I’m supposed to have? Why do I want to mow through that bag of chips right now? Am I coming down with a cold? For some people, the transition from burning glucose to burning fat comes with unwanted symptoms that range from slightly uncomfortable to miserable. This transition period is known as keto flu, or low-carb flu. It’s real, and it can be pretty terrible.
But, it’s temporary.
What is Low Carb Flu?
Low carb flu, or keto flu, is a set of symptoms that you may feel over the first few days of limiting carbohydrates. Low carb flu isn’t a flu or infection at all, and it’s not a medical term. It got its name because some of the symptoms of carb restriction can feel like you’re sick with the flu.
Low carb flu has dissuaded millions of people from pursuing and sticking to a healthy diet. You can laugh now that you’re fat-adapted and humming along on stored body fat, but you’ve forgotten just how terrible the transition from sugar-burning to fat-burning can be.
Symptoms of Keto Flu, or Low Carb Flu
Let me guess. You’ve been on keto for 5-6 months and enthusiastically thinking this is how you’ll finally wrangle your sugar cravings into submission! You’re loading up on healthy fats, avoiding grains, and ditching highly processed, high-carb foods. Yet there’s that incessant nagging. You know, the one that tells you that life is too short not to indulge in that giant Costco muffin or the more paleo-friendly version, another square (or three) of dark chocolate. For a lot of people, including my own clients, moving toward a fat- or protein-dominant diet does the trick. You may have seen this article that Mark wrote earlier this year where he says “it takes two to three days of very-low-carb eating for the liver to start pumping out ketones” and that cravings will “decrease noticeably within three to ten days.” Research backs it up too, concluding that cravings are significantly reduced almost immediately as people get into ketosis. Things like sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and gut dysbiosis are also shown to cause cravings for a variety of physiological reasons. But let’s say you’re getting a solid 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, your stress levels are under control, your gut microbiome is balanced — and you’re still struggling with cravings. Then what? Why Can’t I Quit Sugar? Cravings are often more psychological than they are physiological. Maybe you’ve noticed that too. Maybe you’ve noticed that you start to have cravings any time you have a stressful day or feel anxious or deprived or smell something that reminds you of your favorite snickerdoodle cookie from childhood. In my experience, these are the top 5 emotionally driven reasons you might still be struggling with sugar cravings: 1. Your Diet is Too Restrictive Eliminating certain foods and food-like items like grains, sugar, and refined carbohydrates is a good thing in general. But being too restrictive — or perceiving how you’re eating as a diet can end up backfiring. In fact, this study shows a direct correlation between food restriction and cravings. Researchers looked at food cravings records of 52 women dieting to lose weight and 37 non-dieters and found that the dieters experienced significantly more food cravings, especially for sugary foods like chocolate. 2. Emotional Association Cravings are tied to the brain’s memory center. From celebrating birthdays and holidays with sugary desserts to being rewarded with a treat for good grades, sugar has always been along for the ride. So, it’s no surprise that when you go to a party or achieve a goal, or even feel down, your sugar cravings might feel irresistible. Not to mention the fact that your hippocampus, caudate, and insula (areas of the brain activated by cravings) are also in charge of housing your memories and experiences. 3. State of Mental Health Australian researchers conducted a study on pandemic-related depression, stress, anxiety, and well-being and found that 79% of the participants were struggling with mental health issues due to COVID-19. If you’ve been dealing with a new routine, financial uncertainty, isolation, or … Continue reading “5 Reasons You Can’t Quit Sugar”
You talk a lot about the evils of grains. I follow your logic on why a grain free diet is best, and I have seen weight loss and just feel better overall since heeding your advice. But there is one thing (well, more than one) that I don’t understand but hear about often. Could you explain what gluten intolerance is and why you should avoid gluten?
Excellent question. Even though we’re seeing gluten-free labeling more and more, it’s not always clear why gluten can be problematic. Because of cross-contamination, it’s not always obvious whether a food contains gluten or not. Further, gluten intolerance symptoms can masquerade as other conditions. Let’s break it all down.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a large, water-soluble protein that creates the elasticity in dough. It’s found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats. These days it’s also found in additives like thickeners and fillers used in everything from lunch meat to soup to candy. You can also find gluten in beers and vinegars that have been fermented from gluten-containing grains.
At this point, intermittent fasting isn’t a new concept, nor is it a difficult one. You take in all of your calories for the day within a limited window of time, and the rest of the day, you stick with water, maybe a cup of coffee, or tea in the morning if you feel so inclined. The idea is that giving your body a period of time “off” from digesting food allows your cells to heal and renew in other ways.
A Practice Born Because Calorie Restriction is Unpleasant
Intermittent fasting became popular because calorie restriction was found to contribute to healthy aging. A few mouse and worm studies seem to show that drastic reductions in food intake over a long period of time could prolong your life.
When describing someone that has successfully made the transition to a Primal or Keto way of eating I often refer to them as “fat-adapted” or as “fat-burning beasts”. But what exactly does it mean to be fat-adapted? How can you tell if you’re fat-adapted or still a sugar-burner?
As I’ve mentioned before, fat-adaptation is the normal, preferred metabolic state of the human animal. It’s nothing special. It’s just how we’re meant to fuel ourselves. That’s actually why we have all this fat on our bodies – turns out it’s a pretty reliable source of energy.
Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of becoming fat adapted, or keto adapted, and why it works with your biology.