Low-carbohydrate diets, including both paleo and ketogenic diets, can help with mood, energy, weight loss, inflammation, skin health, gut health, and balancing your hormones, but only when done properly! If you’ve ever tried a low-carbohydrate diet and felt like total crap, there are a few common pitfalls you might have accidentally fallen into. I’ve made many of these mistakes myself in the past and see them again and again with clients, so if you’re in the same boat, look into these top 5 reasons for why you might not be feeling great on a low-carb diet.
- Your electrolytes are out of balance. When you switch to a low-carbohydrate diet, it’s important to consume extra salt to help balance your electrolytes. The main electrolytes to track are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. If your electrolytes are out of balance, you might deal with fatigue, headaches, irritability, sugar cravings, trouble sleeping, or leg cramps. When you reduce your carb intake and your glycogen stores get depleted, your body excretes extra water through your urine, sweat, and breath, excreting electrolytes at the same time. For most people, eating more salt solves the issue. Don’t fear high-quality sea salt – my favorite is Redmond’s Real Salt. Cook your food in salt and add more on top. You’ll know if you’re eating too much salt – your food will taste way too salty!
- You accidentally cut your calories way too low. If you replace all of your bread, pasta, tortillas, and other sources of carbs with low-carb vegetables, that creates a drastic decrease in calories throughout the day. A huge cut in calories will lead to fatigue, headaches, and other unwanted symptoms. I’ve seen people accidentally cut their calories by more than half, especially if they’re still a little afraid of adding more fat to their meals. Sometimes you’ll feel better as soon as you simply eat more food. Remember, non-starchy vegetables are very low in calories, so you need to make sure you eat enough calorically dense foods. You’ll most likely need to eat more protein and fat than you’re used to.
- You’re not consuming enough fat. Sometimes the issue with eating too low-fat on a low-carb diet is that you’re simply not getting enough calories, and sometimes the issue is that your body just doesn’t know what its fuel source is. Many people make the mistake of eating a high protein, low-carb, low-fat diet when they first switch to low-carb or keto, but this is a very stressful state for the body to immediately transition to. Your body needs either fat or glucose for fuel, so when you’re first making the transition to a low-carb diet, you need to give it enough fat for fuel if it’s not getting carbs! Don’t depend on gluconeogenesis for energy when you first switch to low-carb. When your body doesn’t have easy access to fat or glucose, this will leave you feeling exhausted and hungry, with hormonal imbalances longterm.
- There is a mismatch between your training style and your carbohydrate intake. If you’re engaging in high-intensity workouts that use glucose to fuel performance, and then you drastically reduce your carb intake, your workouts might really be suffering and you might be feeling exhausted. The classic example of this is trying to do CrossFit while consuming a ketogenic diet. It works for some people, but most people feel better when they give themselves more carbohydrates to fuel their performance, or they change their training style. Fat can easily fuel other forms of activity, but if you’re an athlete engaging in high-intensity workouts then you might feel much better incorporating carbs before and after your workouts.
- Maybe you need a carb-up! There is a common misconception that you can never eat carbs on a low-carbohydrate diet, but you can definitely incorporate carbohydrates! Many people feel much better when they add in some carbs strategically, and the frequency will be different for everyone. Many women, especially, find they feel much better adding in starchy carbohydrates a few times a week, once a week, every night, or around their workouts specifically to keep their hormones in balance. Don’t think of a low-carb diet as a no-carb diet. There are plenty of benefits to cycling in carbohydrates. In fact, cycling carbs is what I recommend most.
Many people find that one of these adjustments makes a huge difference in how they feel on a low-carb diet so they can finally feel their best. It really can be as simple as one change!
Have you ever fallen into one of these pitfalls? Comment below!