The Dreaded Carb Flu
Hello friends! I’ve been searching for a template for my blog that I like, and I’ve spent several hours on that. For some reason I was having trouble finding a template that allowed comments, and I have finally found one. So I hope you like it. And now that my blog looks like I want it to, I will be posting more often. So I hope you have stayed on board with me. So here we go 🙂
I’ve had a couple of friends recently give me their individual accounts of what I can only attribute to the “carb flu”… also known to some people as the “paleo flu”. These are slang terms for several different physiological symptoms people experience when switching to a low carb diet. One friend said he couldn’t live without carbs. That’s a bit dramatic, I know!
-For my female readers-
Another friend was asking for advice, and when I told him “try and stay under 50g of carbs a day”, he said “but there are carbs in everything”. Another friend said she felt nausea. Many of the paleo foods I suggested made her feed sick to her stomach. I must admit that I was quite lucky when I first started paleo. I managed somehow to avoid most of these terrible things. The only real symptom I experienced was intense cravings. I wanted to eat all of the donuts at the coffee shop (I would say “Timmies” but I noticed that there are a couple of people from other countries that have somehow read my blog… and I don’t think Timmies is in Australia). All I wanted to do was eat bread and pastries. I have my theories on why that happened to me, and I’ll dive into that later. But other than cravings, I didn’t have much in the way of flu-like symptoms, brain fog, stomach pain, or anything else like that. I did however become VERY grumpy for a while. I still become grumpy if I allow myself to cheat and then get back into paleo. It’s crazy how your body tells you in different ways that you have been eating like crap. At the first sign of unhealthy food… diarrhea (sorry). Want to have a donut? Stomach ache. How about a delicious french vanilla coffee? Migraine. It sucks!
But the good thing is that it’s a reminder that your body has become used to eating what it was meant to eat. It’s like my sister said to me about exercise. Once you get used to it, and once you start to strongly desire it… you feel terrible if you deviate from it. And that is the point we need to get to! So in this post I am going to do my best to explain exactly what you can expect will happen to your body when you are starting the paleo lifestyle. Notice that I didn’t call it a diet?? Amanda bugs me that I call it a “diet” on my blog even though I don’t consider it a diet. The only reason I call it a diet on my blog is because that is the easiest way to classify it. As I have said before, one of the best things about paleo is that it is sustainable for the long haul. And having been on the paleo diet almost 5 months now, I think I have proved that. So here is a list of some stuff to expect when adopting the paleo lifestyle, including the reasons why they happen and the things you can do to combat them.
1) Having headaches, being grumpy, and having intense cravings.
This is probably the easiest thing to predict when you are starting paleo. Since a large portion of your diet was likely made up of wheat products, it’s a no-brainer that instantly eliminating that type of food might spread havoc in your body. These symptoms are most likely the product of wheat and sugar withdrawl. Yes, I said “withdrawl”. And no, you aren’t a drug addict. But after you hear what I have to say about wheat, you may think you are.
-I just thought this was cute-
Your body experiences different forms of withdrawl in several situations. Do you think I am crazy? Consider the following. Don’t drink any coffee tomorrow. When you get home in the evening, let me know if you have a headache. Caffeine is the most used drug in the world, and millions of people are unconsciously addicted to it. For most people (including myself), skipping coffee on any given day will likely lead to headaches, which are a direct result of withdrawal. This can happen with many different things such as smoking, drinking, video games, or anything that has become a large part of your life.
Think about it. When you do something every single day for an extended period of time, and then all of the sudden elimiate it, what do you expect will happen? You will crave it, since your body has come to expect it. And this is what happens when you eliminate wheat, and I will give you a few reasons why.
Now although I just explained a reason why you will feel symptoms of withdrawl, I have another reason that will blow your mind. It certainly made my head spin. So here it is. As we all know, wheat contains a protein called gluten. Gluten is made up of two different proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is the evil protein I am going to talk about. And if you read Wheat Belly, you will know what I am talking about. Gliadin actually binds to your brain’s opiate receptors. I am not kidding friends. This is one of the biggest reasons that wheat cessation leads to symptoms of withdrawl. When you consume something that binds to your dopamine receptors, you experience symptoms of pleasure. So when you eat wheat, something happens in your brain that signals you to think that the food you just ate is good for you. So a couple hours after you eat, your body starts to crave more wheat… not only because of the blood sugar spike and crash, but also because of the effects of gliadin. This can partially explain why we crave wheat when we have’t had any for a while. This stimulates your appetite, leading to more wheat consumption… and the cycle continues. Now I realize this sounds slightly insane, but I encourage you to do your own research on the subject. Here are a couple of links on the subject:
2) Being tired or lethargic
This is another common problem that results from starting the paleo diet. If you ask people what their biggest reasons are for wanting a healthier lifestyle, I bet that “I’m always tired” will be high on the list. Being tired sucks! And adopting the paleo lifestyle often leads to a lack of energy for a short time. Wheat/bread/grains are converted into glucose for your body to use for energy. Glucose is automatically your body’s first source of energy. This means that your body is probably used to the fast, readily-available source of glucose you have been continually feeding it through carbs. So when you start to restrict that energy source, your body will take a while to adapt to utilizing fats for energy instead.
This means you may feel tired or lethargic or “brain foggy” at times. Push through it! Your body is incredibly adaptive, and it will soon learn to deal with your new diet by using fats for energy instead of carbs. This is all I can really say about how to deal with this problem. You just have to tough it out.
3) Feeling nausea or being “sick to you stomach”
This is something I have some experience in, but on a very small scale. I tried something called “bulletproof coffee” one morning. This is coffee with butter and coconut oil in it, which is supposed to be a breakfast replacement. It tasted awesome, and kept me full for a few hours, but I felt quite nauseous. Since my “meal” was very high in fat, my body may have not had a chance to produce enough enzymes to accommodate it. And undigested fat can lead to nausea. So this may be the reason you are feeling sick to your stomach. It’s simply because your body is not used to the high fat content (regardless of the proteins you eat). As with any “paleo flu” symptoms, if you push through it I promise it will dissipate.
4) Constipation or diarrhea
Yes, I know this is gross to talk about. But bear with me okay? Another thing that I have had issues with on the paleo diet is diarrhea. I have done extensive research on this subject, and it seems that it was most likely because I was not eating enough proteins WITH my fats, or just eating too many fats in general before my body adapted. I may have not given my body enough time to adapt and produce the proper amount of digestive enzymes for the new, higher level of fats.
As for constipation… I think this problem is a tad easier to solve. And it relates to one of the main arguments that “anti-paleo” people bring up. “How do you get your fibre?!?” they ask. My answer is that there is PLENTY of fibre in paleo foods such as broccoli, leafy greens, onions, apples, berries, coconut, avocados, and nuts. So if you are “bunged up” (as my parents would say) on the paleo diet, then consider increasing your fibre intake by eating more of these wonderful foods.
5) Feeling hungry
This is by far the most feared symptom of starting a new diet. You are scared that you will feel limited. Deprived. Restricted. Even robbed! Being hungry on the paleo diet is simply a result of a lack of research and preparation. When you suddenly remove a type of food that made up 40% to 60% of your calories, you NEED to replace those calories! You need to plan. You have to know what you are going to be eating in place of those carbs, or you are going to be hungry. It’s that simple.
When I started, I made a list of paleo-friendly foods, including a couple of recipes I planned on cooking for my first week. This was a HUGE reason why I was able to stick to the diet. I made sure I ate enough calories to keep me satisfied.
And you need to make sure you are getting the correct ratio of proteins/fats/carbs as well. Most people are under the impression that protein is the perfect nutrient, and so they replace the bread with endless piles of chicken breast and extra lean ground beef. This is a monumental mistake because as I have said before, you NEED to increase your fat intake to make this diet work. And keeping a food journal is absolutely essential for the first month while you adapt and learn how to eat in this new way. So by ensuring you are replacing the missing carb calories, and ensuring you are eating enough fats, you will kick those hunger pains. I promise. On a side note, if you are exercising at all you need to adjust your food intake to accommodate that. An hour of moderate to intense exercise can burn 1,000 calories. I usually eat a Lara Bar before the gym, which is made up of fruits and nuts. The kind I like has about 20g of carbs. I am completely okay with that though, because I know that my body is going to use that glucose immediately for energy, so there is no chance it will be stored as fat.
-Carbs aren’t always this evil-
The point of this post is to make you realize that you may feel gross or lethargic or irritable when first starting paleo… but that those feelings will not last. You just have to push through the phase when your body is adapting to the diet. Give it a chance. The easiest way I can put this into perspective is by asking you to think about your whole life. Let’s say you are 30 years old. You have been eating a certain way for 30 years. And now you have removed wheat and beans and legumes and added sugars. You have removed 40 to 60% of your diet, and replaced it with something else. How do you expect your body to react? Of course it’s going to rebel against you. Of course you are going to feel like crap. The problem is that some people assume these symptoms are a result of the diet itself, when in reality they are a result of your body adjusting to the diet. Eventually you will reach an equilibrium. If you are reading this and you are considering trying paleo, please do me a favour. Give your body a month to adjust. This should be enough time for the withdrawl symptoms to dissipate. If you are still feeling like crap after a month, then you have my blessing to try something else. But I am willing to bet several thousand dollars that will never happen 🙂
“Try something new. What have you got to lose? At worst, you will end up where you started. But at best, you will discover something amazing. And you will wonder how you ever lived without it”.