Prior to becoming a diabetic you probably were like the rest of us and didn’t really think about carbs, fats, and proteins. Based upon what we had always been told was healthy for us we ate breads and grains, cereal, and any other number of high carbohydrate foods. And as long as we were not diabetic, that really didn’t cause us any trouble. The carbs were good fuel for our bodies. Or so we well told. The truth of the matter is that the carbs and sugars made many of us gain weight, start having high blood sugar numbers, which caused pancreas damage, which further reduced the effective amount of insulin our body produced, making our numbers even higher. A very vicious circle. And one that is still continued to this day in main stream medicine and nutrition. Their solution is to keep the carbs but treat it with insulin and meds.
I am not here to talk about that specifically, and you can read up on it further in other articles elsewhere in our blog. What I would like to explain is what you will probably experience when you start reducing carbs and eating more ketogenic. Namely false hypos, or false hypoglycemic episodes. For you new folks that simply means feeling like you are having a low or a low blood sugar episode. That may or not be what is actually happening. Many describe it as a feeling of anxiety or impending doom.
The only way you can tell if it’s an actual low is with a meter. If you have had high blood sugar for a while your body has gotten used to it being high. It is normal and a comfort zone. The problem is, the body does not know what is best for it in this case. It has been found that a sustained blood sugar above 140 will cause damage to your body. Whether it is causing beta cell damage, eye damage, damage to your kidneys, or any other area that out of control diabetes effects, it is occurring. So you cannot trust your body to tell you what it is doing. Always verify.
Let’s say as an example that you have been averaging 400 as a blood sugar level and you finally decide that you are going to modify your carb intake by going keto. Within 24 hours your blood sugar drops to the 250-300 range. Your body falls out of that false comfort zone you have been killing yourself in. It starts giving you signals (anxiety and panic attacks) that you are having a low blood sugar episode. And yet that 250-300 range is still above the point where no damage occurs. Your scale is all messed up from being so high for so long. That is why we suggest a gradual reduction in blood sugars of about 50 points every 48 hours, or so until you get down to where you should be. This gradual reduction amount will vary from individual to individual and has many factors involved.
If you take insulin shots or blood sugar lowering meds, you should contact your doctor and have him put you on a sliding scale for insulin, and perhaps an eventual reduction in the meds you are taking as your number start coming down. This will reduce or eliminate actual hypoglycemic episodes. Some MD’s may want to argue with you stating that you need carbs to be healthy. This is not true. The body is miraculous in that it is able to convert what it needs. If it needs glucose, it can convert protein into it, which is called gluconeogenesis. The nice thing about this conversion is it will only convert what it needs so there will not be an excess to store and convert into fat. By removing carbs from your diet you should eventually need less insulin and/or medicine. Again this will vary from person to person on what you need to do. Getting your numbers down into a non-dangerous range is critical to gain your health back.
One of the big benefits of reducing your BG (blood glucose) is that your body will start to heal itself as much as it can. After you go into ketosis and get over the carb flu, (which I will get into later) you will start to feel better, feel more youthful and have less pain and less bathroom trips from having to pee. Again, this healing will vary from person to person and may be a very long, involved process. The only thing you have to gain is as much of your life back as you can get.
After being on a ketogenic diet for a while some people cannot understand when they have doing good with low numbers, all of a sudden they start having higher morning numbers, even though they have changed nothing else in their daily routine. This can be caused by several things. The one I will discuss is a liver glucose dump. You may want to do additional study about the Somogyi Effect and Dawn Phenomenon for additional info on high morning numbers.
Many suffer from what is called a glucose dump. The liver is used as a storage area for excessive glucose and has been doing that since cavemen walked the Earth. It was natures’s way of how to store fuel for lean times in the feast and famine eating habits back then. Cavemen used to pack on the pounds in the summer when food was abundant, then almost starve to death in the lean winter months. How it works is if your body determines you are running out of fuel (glucose) it will send an emergency request to the liver to release glucose to stop it from what it thinks it is starving to death. Remember, up above we were talking about your body not really having a correct blood sugar scale? Same difference when it thinks you are starving. Odds are you are not. This usually happens in the wee hours of the morning when we are asleep. Too much insulin or meds can also stimulate this to occur. Many of us have found that eating a small amount (teaspoon to tablespoon) of either peanut butter or even grass fed butter just before bed stops this from happening. Just that little amount for some people makes all the difference.
The long term goal is to remove or deplete that store of glucose out of the liver. Remember, the body can convert glucose if it needs it, so by reducing your carb intake over time will eventually empty your liver of most of that excess glucose. Again, it will vary by individuals how many carbs you can eat a day and still stay in ketosis. Which is why you should not take a day off or a cheat day. This could throw you back to burning glucose as your main fuel instead of fat. It makes it very hard to get back on track if you drop out of ketosis. Remember, you are fighting your body for the fuel it wants to use. Carbs are easier, very addictive, and it is the lazy way for the body to maintain itself. Why it is not built in it to realize the very carbs it is craving is slowly killing it off I cannot say.
Anyway, it is all trial and error and if you fall, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and begin again. When you have gone through the carb flu a few times (which I will get into next) you will be less enthusiastic to have a cheat day. It just isn’t worth it.
As I have said before your body has used glucose as it’s primary fuel probably since you were little. And your family was only following societies recommendations. But let me ask you a question. A rancher raises cattle. Now he wants to be the best rancher he can be so he wants to make the most from the sale of his cattle, right? He doesn’t want them skinny, he wants them big, full of fat to marble and tenderize that nice piece of beef. Should he feed them fat to make them fat? Of course not. The rancher knows that fat will not make his cattle fat. Only grain will do that. So if grain makes them fat, why is it suggested that we eat grains and carbs? Many think it is a conspiracy to make us fat and sick so that they can make money off of us for prescriptions, surgeries, and care. That is not what I am here to discuss, so let’s move on. It is, however, food for thought, huh!
Carb flu can be terrible at times. And each person experiences it differently. It is a withdrawal from sugars and carbs. You body is addicted and craves them. It doesn’t like to burn fat for fuel. It is not as easy to do so. You will probably have the flu for about 10-14 days, maybe less. Eating too many carbs while converting could prolong this, having you sitting on the fence trying to cross into ketoland. That is why it is important to reduce carbs as quickly as you can. You have to balance that with the false hypos, but luckily the carb flu shouldn’t hit until after you have pretty much stabilized your blood sugars.
The way to monitor your progress of going keto is using ketosticks. They are test strips that you use to check for ketones in your urine. You need to reduce carbs until you find ketones in your urine. Then you can maintain the ketosis by keeping carbs down and daily checking. Times of checking will vary the ketones present, based upon when meals were taken. Usually the best time to test is first thing in the morning. It may show a larger amount of ketones present since you have slept and not ate and your urine is probably more concentrated. Some people save money by cutting their ketone strips in half, getting two tests out of each strips. You may want to try this.
Last but certainly not least, when you change your diet, you may become constipated. Eating a higher amount of healthy fat will help this and you may even have to resort to a softener until your body adapts. This condition won’t last forever and should be viewed as another aspect of carb withdrawal.
Here are a few ways to minimize the carb flu:
Any problems can be minimized and sometimes entirely cured by getting enough water and salt into your system.
For example try adding half a teaspoon of regular salt to a large glass of water. Drink it. This may reduce or eliminate side effects in 15-30 minutes. If so, this may be repeated once daily if needed during the first week.
A better-tasting option is to use broth, e.g. chicken, beef or bone broth.
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 low carb. A proper low-carb diet contains enough fat to feel satisfied and energetic. This can speed up the transition and minimize the time spent feeling low when starting low carb.
So how do you get enough fat when eating low carb? There are any number of options, but when in doubt add butter to whatever you’re eating.
If adding salt and water (and fat) do not completely eliminate the induction flu the best option is usually to hang in there. Any remaining symptoms are likely to be resolved within days, as the body adapts to low carb and starts burning fat for fuel.
If necessary it’s of course possible to have some carbs and make the transition to low carb more gradual and slower. This is not recommended as a first option, as it slows down the process and makes the benefit of weight loss etc. less immediately noticeable.
Here are some additional links for more study. Hang in there! If you can get through the hard part you have it made.