Carb flu is a real thing. I used to laugh it off, before I actually tried diets that curbed my intake of white starches and sugar. Well, I don’t laugh any more.
Carb flu and its wicked effects
I discovered something crazy about cutting sugar and starch from my diet. First, I found that I removed the ability to consume many of my favorite and staple foods. Then I learned that removing those foods, the ones that have proven to be so bad for my health, had wicked consequences. My energy plummeted, my mood was rotten. I wasn’t necessarily hungry but I craved the worst of the worst foods. My head hurt and my thoughts were slow and foggy.
I had contracted (or inflicted) carb flu. The first time I felt it I was doing a juice-only fast. I literally got as sick as though I’d come down with a flu virus. It laid me out for two days. I was feverish and lethargic and I ached all over.
The idea of more fresh and healthy juice was repugnant. I was crashing out and the only medicine I wanted was a fast food hamburger.
By the third day I administered a steak and baked potato dinner, black coffee with lots of sugar, and a whole bag of salty potato chips with sour cream dip.
The treatment took effect with almost immediate results. My mind cleared, my fever abated, and my mood improved. The juice diet was abandoned and I fell back into my old dietary routine without ever really seeing any benefits from my nearly week-long juicing experiment.
Why carb flu is so common while dieting
Carb flu is often experienced among dieters who are going Atkins, Keto, or Paleo. In all cases, the diets rely on a strict restriction of carbs from starchy foods and sugars.
The “flu-like” symptoms are the body’s reaction to no longer having access to quick burning glucose. At this point, the body has to switch over to burning stored fat. But before it does it sends out messages to the brain that include cravings for quick sugar-fix foods.
Many dieters struggle with the carb flu and throw in the towel after a couple of days of carb flu. I have been among them. I self-medicated my way back to normality with fried chicken and french fries and ice cream and pasta. Just talking about it now makes my mouth water and my stomach ache.
Breaking my sugar addiction
And coming off sugar cold turkey is hard, too. The brain is fueled by glucose and learns to expect the dopamine rush sugar provides. The same parts of the brain affected by cocaine light up when spiked with sugar.
Getting off sugar is not just a matter of willpower, it is a matter of working to change the way your brain operates, fuels itself, and rewards itself.
Everything from my teeth to my waist, from my liver to my brain, has been affected by my sugar addiction. My impending diabetes is a result of my abuse of sugar.
And my sugar consumption has been nearly impossible to track. Sugar is included in so many foods we often consume it unknowingly. Curbing my use was not sufficient. For example, I calculated that I was using nearly 70 pounds of refined white sugar per year in my coffee consumption alone!
So that is why I needed to exercise my sugar demon as close to 100% as possible. My diet is strict not only to control my calories but the source of those calories as well. Sugar is like a poison to me, and I must purge myself from it. Not just the emotional and psychological grip, but the physical alterations it has carved into my brain, body, and chemistry.
How I know I’m catching the carb flu
I’ve been waylaid by the carb flu on each and every serious diet I undertook, including earlier this year when I was sofa-bound for two days in January. Yet, if I had suffered through and stuck with my program I likely would adjusted after a few days and adapted to my new eating regimen.
Now in Day Four I’m hit again with symptoms that I recognize will develop into carb flu. I’m demonstrating classic signs such as:
- lethergy and a lack of motivation
- shortness of temper and moodiness
- aches in my joint (but not yet any signs of fever)
- headaches and lack of concentration
It is not at the “I’ve got to lay down before I fall down” stage yet. And I’m not allowing it to get there, either.
7 steps to beat my carb flu
Based on what I have learned, and what I know from experience, there are at least 7 things I can do to mitigate or at least suffer through this episode of carb flu.
- Clear my pantry, fridge, and household – Remove sugar so that it is unavailable if I do give in to temptation. There won’t be anything to backslide with.
- Limit exercise – While I’m feeling down there is no value in trying to exercise since my body depends on sugar for energy and my cravings will go into overdrive. Better to wait out this transition until my body adapts.
- Hydrate – I need to drink more water. It helps me feel full and keeps my metabolism up.
- Eat plenty of good food – Although I am eating once a day I must make sure that I consume enough program meals to abate hunger and allow my body to burn good, low-carbohydrate food.
- Meditate – It keeps me focused and on my program. It also lowers stress and allows me to control my urge for carbs and sugar.
- Get a good night’s sleep – Getting the rest I need won’t sap my energy reserves or deplete my willpower bank.
- Use affirmations – Keeping a positive state of mind and repeating strong affirmations will remind me that this stage will not last forever. Also, I should visualize the success I will experience by standing fast and fighting through the next few days of carb flu.
Where I am today:
I weighed in this morning at 244.8 pounds. I missed this week’s goal. But I hit my first 10-pound weight loss mark.
My blood glucose, measured this morning, was a decent 118 mg.
I got in 40 minutes of meditation, naturally focusing on getting through this episode and staying on program.
Finally, there is little I can do in the physical sense to break this physical addiction, and little I can do to not suffer through the malaise of carb flu. This is an unavoidable stage in changing my lifestyle, losing the weight I want, and regaining the health I deserve.