The keto diet can be mentally and physically very challenging. Even more so if you have epilepsy (or any other disability or illness for that matter).
Before diving into any diet or lifestyle change, it’s wise to make yourself aware about the pitfalls and any difficulties you might face.
The ‘Keto Flu’ isn’t actually a “flu” per se (it’s not contagious!!!). It’s a wide range of symptoms that people can experience when going through the induction phase of the ketogenic diet, and it can feel very exhausting on the body and mind.
Your body is is going through ketosis, withdrawing from sugar and carbs and converting glucose for energy and instead learning how to burn fat for fuel. If you’re currently experiencing bad Keto Flu, it could possibly be a symptom that your body was heavily dependent on sugar and carbs. Logic says that the more it has to adapt, the harder withdrawal is.
So although it might seem like you’re sick, you’re not, you and your immune system are just recovering from the beating it has taken!
Signs of a Keto Flu
Symptoms of the keto flu can feel similar to a regular flu and more. Some of them are listed below in alphabetical order:
- Arryhthmia (Heart palpitations)
- Blood Pressure – High or Low
- ‘Brain Fog’ – i.e. lack of mental focus
- Digestive issues: constipation, diarrhea
- Fatigue, tiredness, lethargy
How long will it last?
I’m a part of a few Keto and epilepsy social media groups, and the overall consensus on the duration of Keto Flu is that well, there is no consensus.
Whilst some people are fortunate to not experience the Keto Flu, some may only get it for a few days, whilst some have reported feeling poorly for 3-4 weeks.
However long it is, it is temporary, train the mind to think positive! Once you’re in ketosis and your body has adapted to burning fat (ketones) for fuel, your energy will increase and the symptoms should ease.
Tips to avoid / deal with Keto Flu
- Sufficient electrolytes: Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium. These can come from a number of sources:
– Food & beverages: I monitor my macros using Chronometer because it shows me units such as vitamins and minerals, and I can then adjust my food intake accordingly.
– Himalayan salts: add it to your food, water, or directly under your tongue when you’re feeling weak.
– Drink homemade bone broth.
– Supplements as required.
– Dead Sea Salt / Epsom Salt / Magnesium Salt baths.
- Stay hydrated!
- Lots and lots of H2O. The diet is dehydrating, so it’s important to stay hydrated. I find this to be quite challenging personally.
- Eat more fat! Remember fat = energy on this diet, so review your macros if needed to increase the amount of fat in your diet.
- Limit your protein to an adequate amount – just enough for your body to do what it needs to – again, watch those macros. If you’re watching your calories (if you’re trying to lose weight, I would focus on cutting the carbs and increasing the dietary fat for energy, and then filling the remaining recommended calorie intake with protein.)
- Sufficient nutrition: The Keto diet isn’t lacking in nutrition, although there might be some individual areas of contention. I really like this article on compoundsolutions.com which highlights food sources of micronutrients in the ketogenic diet.
- Prepare for a few days off!!! Bear in mind that Keto Flu will probably strike 3-4 days after you start the diet, so it would be a good idea to take a few days off to spends a few days in bed with Netflix. Prepare comfort Keto food in advance so you don’t have to worry about cooking on those days. Pre-keto, my mum would make me chicken stew and ‘Gola bhaath’ (rice porridge). So I had the same, but with cauli-rice instead and it worked a treat! And lots and lots of bone broth – I cannot stress its importance.
- Take any other medications you’re on, on time. If you forget your anti-epileptic (or other medications), it can affect your side effects of both your drug, your condition, as well as keto flu. Set a reminder and alarm on your phone for each day.
Keto Flu & The Epilepsy Dilemma
Personally, I got diarrhea and a dodgy tummy about 4 days into the lifestyle (which only lasted for about 2 days). But the problem with having epilepsy AND doing the Keto diet, is that ‘Brain Fog’ and tiredness seems to be a constant, and it’s been a good few months on the diet now.
I’m on a medication called Zonisamide (Zonegran) and like all medications it has side effects. The side effects of Zonegran include ‘flu symptoms’ (!!!), light-headedness, trouble concentrating, tired feeling, loss of appetite, problems with thinking or speech and drowsiness. There are more but I’ve just picked some of the side effects I’ve experienced, which also tally with Keto Flu side effects. (As I’m taking all the necessary precautions, I don’t think it’s a rare case of the keto flu lasting more than a month!)
What I’m hoping for is that as time goes on and my body becomes stronger and gains more energy with the help of the Keto lifestyle, this will enable me to counter the side effects of Zonegran (maybe even reduce the dose) and thereby solve the dilemma. Watch this space!
My one other tip for those with epilepsy going through the Keto Flu (in addition to the above):
- Allow yourself to sleep and rest. And then sleep and rest some more! Your BRAIN already works double-time trying to keep up with normal life, now it’s working triple-time trying to figure out what you’re doing to the body, and both your brain and body needs the rest. Give yourself a break!
Have you experienced the Keto Flu with epilepsy? Write to me and tell me about your experience!