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Need Advise on Level of Carb Intake: Headache, No Energy on Very Low Carb Diet, but am insulin resistant

Asked on November 18, 2014
Created March 21, 2014 at 10:48 AM

I'm really struggling with headaches, feeling low energy and not being able to think clearly and would really appreciate some thoughtful perspective on what you all think I should try next.

Very quick history: I used to eat mostly carbs in my diet. I would suffer from terrible and very quick energy drops to the point of feeling really ill. My diet was like this from 0 until 37 years old.

I have been eating Paleo now for almost 5 months. 2 weeks of paleo flu, 2 weeks of bliss and energy like I was god, and the rest of the time I've been feeling terrible (headaches, low energy, foggy brain). When consulting with my Paleo friendly GP, we suggested that it was likely that I had developed some insulin resistance. As a result my insulin levels remain high despite such low intake of carbs. This must bring my glucose levels down considerably below usable levels and thus explain why I've been feeling.

Recently I've been measuring exactly how many carbs I take in, how much fat, how much salt, how much water, and how many calories in general. What has struck me is that I've been eating below the 50g recommendation that so many people seem to say is the happy place for ketosis. That could certainly explain why I've been feeling so terrible. Everything else seems in good balance.

Since that discovery I've been increasing my carbs to the 50g mark, with more time feeling reasonable around meals, but still at least 60% of the time with headaches, no energy, and an inability to think clearly.

I then increased my carb intake to about 80 grams and started to feel even better, but have begun feeling energy crashes once the carbs wear off. These crashes aren't significant in the way they were in my high carb eating days, but I do notice a very noticeable drop in energy and the return of headaches.

Here is where I am now stuck:

1) I don't want to keep increasing carbs and thus do myself continued harm in the long run. Does anyone have any thoughts on how someone who has had insulin resistance should work with finding the right amount of carbs in the diet?

2) I'm worried that everything I understand, support and believe about low carb eating will be undone if I eat more carbs. I have a feeling that my happier carb levels will be around the 150g mark per day. How do I eat if I eat more carbs? Can I still maintain a diet that is based on a lot of fat, higher amounts of salt and some protein? Or do I have to change everything again?

Thanks everyone. Sorry for the long question, but I felt the background was relevant to the specific question.

3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on April 02, 2014
at 11:50 PM

I don't agree. You lower the calories too much and your thyroid is going to dial back your metabolism. You'll have more brain fog from that.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on April 02, 2014
at 02:41 PM

You can also get electrolytes from fruit

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 11:41 AM

Aside from green veggies, sweet potato

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on April 02, 2014
at 11:39 AM

What are you consuming for your carb source?

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:52 AM

Thanks. I east a wide variety of leafy greens and a fair amount of them. Having said that, there are not a lot of carbs in leafy greens. The rest of my carbs come from sweet potatoes. I only eat a small amount of berries, and only irregularly, so those are not a significant factor. I don't think I could eat enough green matter to bring my carbs up to 100 to 150.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:49 AM

Thanks for brining up the issue of my weight, as anyone else reading this may wonder. I could loose another 10 pounds happily, but in generally I'm actually not at a bad weight now. When I started I was roughly 20 pounds heavier than I am now.

My, perhaps simplistic, understanding was that not eating carbs and eating good fats allowed the body to utilise those fats for energy, thus not requiring anything but very small amounts of carbs in the body. That is the premise I had been working under and I had most certainly lost weight. I ate enough fats to be sure.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:45 AM

All grains, legumes and processed anything has been removed from my diet, so any carb introductions would be in the form of safe carbs.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:43 AM

Thanks. I started suddenly and I started fully into paleo and a VLCD. Perhaps i need to rethink this and start again, so to speak.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:42 AM

Thank you. I can see there is a recommendation of generally somewhere between 50 and 150g of carbs per day, depending on the goal. So perhaps I should try aiming a little higher and see what happens.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:36 AM

Thank you for those suggestions. I have been trying MCT oil and coconut oil, and despite noticing considerable energy boosts and stabilising effect early on, around the first 6 weeks, I no longer feel the benefit from any of the fat I eat. I don't feel very hungry, but I am not feeling as though I am able to process the energy from fat all of a sudden.

De1095b2ba29c1035f00428cbfe3cc7c

(777)

on March 25, 2014
at 05:05 PM

Yeah if I was to reintroduce carbs it would be lentils, simply because they add a nice taste/bite to salads

5cb72179fcddcee6a6b570dc80269a1a

(78)

on March 25, 2014
at 02:51 PM

I agree. Carb phobia. It's so much better to look at it in terms of ENERGY intake. Yes different macros have different properties, but caloric intake to me, is everything, nutrition aside. The only thing I would be conscious of is sugar intake, because, as Lustig suggests, sugar behaves like a toxin. Different pathway. But yeah, I'd say up the calories, even the carbs but generally keep carb intake between 70-100, with reasonable amounts of fats, and some protein. I'm not big on the mass amounts of protein intake most in the paleo community embrace.

Cf08ad26759fdd206a2c9f9385080a57

(995)

on March 25, 2014
at 12:57 PM

Switch the Alpha-GPC for eggs. Lots of bright pastured eggs.

Cf08ad26759fdd206a2c9f9385080a57

(995)

on March 25, 2014
at 11:52 AM

Actually, I would argue to focus completely on them. Avoiding grains and legumes / artificial sugars is Day 1 paleo stuff. The trick is that balance around when your breath begins to turns to acetone. Lately, I'm working to add more legumes / lentils to my diet. Sprouted / fermented grains are not an issue.

Maybe the real enemies are the high GI foods, although I feel like those have a time and a place in a balanced diet. (Summer time, with a meal, after exercise, earlier or later in the day.)

A709635907662a2fff5c97c01e41afaa

(0)

on March 25, 2014
at 11:40 AM

In addition, don't just focus on carbs - they're just a byproduct of the real enemies; grains, legumes and artificial sugars.

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7 Answers

0
3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on April 03, 2014
at 12:02 AM

I'm a big believer in VLC for treating insulin resistance (it has helped me immensely!), but I agree you may need to back off a little to give your body time to adjust. I'd take the carbs up between 50 and 100 total using starchy veggies and "safe starches" in addition to the vegies you already eat--I personally have blood sugar issues with fruit but you could try that, too. Try to make some of those carbs resistant starches (e.g. cooked and cooled potatoes and rice, green banana or plantain) See how you feel, and watch your blood sugars with a meter. If you start to feel better but your blood sugars start to roller coaster up and down, bring your carbs slowly down about 10 g at a time until you find the (excuse the expression) sweet spot for you. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water, have adequate electrolyte levels, etc. Some resistance exercises MIGHT help your muscles be more insulin sensitive, but don't overdo cardio.

0
8b9c2dcd3dfc929a0428d3d6dac4918e

(70)

on April 02, 2014
at 10:50 PM

Exercise lowers insulin resistance. Even if your carbs are a litle higher. You could throw in the odd peice of fruit, or tuber, some coconut oil, and hit the gym....

Another tip is on very low carb you need more electrolytes. Thats primarily stuff like sodium (salt), potassium (some fruit and tubers often have this), magnesium (nuts and dark leafy greens have this), calcium (nuts and dairy have this). If your very low carb, it might pay to drink more water, and do some googling to find out what foods you can eat to up your lytes.

0
Medium avatar

on March 25, 2014
at 03:29 PM

I wonder what types of carbs you're eating when you do? What I mean is tubers vs. leafy greens. Also, keep track of what types of carbs tend to make you feel worse later on. I'm almost wondering if you're eating things like sweet potatoes and/or fruit and then feeling a crash. I would definitely bring up your carb level to 100-150 but try to use low insulin response foods like leafy greens as your carb sources. This will give you more steady energy throughout the day instead of spikes and lows. If you choose to go this route don't forget to also rotate the green families you're eating from to ensure that you're getting a good mixture of nutrients, and avoid any oxalate/anti-nutrient issues.

I hope this is helpful!

Stephanie Stuart

Original Eating

Editor

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:52 AM

Thanks. I east a wide variety of leafy greens and a fair amount of them. Having said that, there are not a lot of carbs in leafy greens. The rest of my carbs come from sweet potatoes. I only eat a small amount of berries, and only irregularly, so those are not a significant factor. I don't think I could eat enough green matter to bring my carbs up to 100 to 150.

0
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on March 25, 2014
at 01:22 PM

Ok, you're insulin resistant. Insulin resistance means you have excess glucose in the blood, the excess glucose didn't cause the insulin resistance. You bought into the carb/sugar-phobia and that oversimplifies your metabolism and biology… so much so that it gets things wrong.

You need to watch ENERGY intake, not necessarily carbohydrate intake. Excess energy is stored and insulin does that. You've probably got a few (quite a few?) pounds you could shed. Eating below maintenance (250-500 calories below) will shed the pounds and increase insulin sensitivity. No need to do a crash diet, but crash diets (VLCDs) do benefit insulin sensitivity greatly. The former means counting calories (which I recommend doing), the latter doesn't (but it does nothing fix the underlying eating issues).

5cb72179fcddcee6a6b570dc80269a1a

(78)

on March 25, 2014
at 02:51 PM

I agree. Carb phobia. It's so much better to look at it in terms of ENERGY intake. Yes different macros have different properties, but caloric intake to me, is everything, nutrition aside. The only thing I would be conscious of is sugar intake, because, as Lustig suggests, sugar behaves like a toxin. Different pathway. But yeah, I'd say up the calories, even the carbs but generally keep carb intake between 70-100, with reasonable amounts of fats, and some protein. I'm not big on the mass amounts of protein intake most in the paleo community embrace.

3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on April 02, 2014
at 11:50 PM

I don't agree. You lower the calories too much and your thyroid is going to dial back your metabolism. You'll have more brain fog from that.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:49 AM

Thanks for brining up the issue of my weight, as anyone else reading this may wonder. I could loose another 10 pounds happily, but in generally I'm actually not at a bad weight now. When I started I was roughly 20 pounds heavier than I am now.

My, perhaps simplistic, understanding was that not eating carbs and eating good fats allowed the body to utilise those fats for energy, thus not requiring anything but very small amounts of carbs in the body. That is the premise I had been working under and I had most certainly lost weight. I ate enough fats to be sure.

0
Medium avatar

on March 25, 2014
at 12:53 PM

Don't know, but your headaches might be because of a electrolyte imbalance. When I first started low carb, I took salt caps. A person can get them on amazon or http://www.succeedscaps.com/products/s_caps/ . I only use half a capsule.

Something to experiment with is coconut oil, or MCT oil. Coconut oil is 50% MCT oil and cheaper. Eat a tablespoon in the morning, and one in the evening. MCT oil will provide your brain with energy. Good stuff.

Fat bombs are a good way to get more fat into the diet: http://dietketo.com/keto-food/fat-bombs/

For myself, I have to stay away from sugar, carbs, and grains. If I eat any, a couple hours later I am hungry. The cycle never ends. Eating LCHF, I can easily go 5-6 hours without eating and not be hungry.

For energy, my diet is 60-70% daily calories from fat. I eat good fat like butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. Once the body is fat adapted, the craving for carbs with decrease and you just will not feel hungry or want to eat. But, you will have a ton of energy. It is a cool feeling.

A good supplement for the brain and memory is Alpha-GPC. https://www.swansonvitamins.com/swanson-ultra-alpha-gpc-alpha-glycerol-phosphoryl-choline-300-mg-60-caps

Cf08ad26759fdd206a2c9f9385080a57

(995)

on March 25, 2014
at 12:57 PM

Switch the Alpha-GPC for eggs. Lots of bright pastured eggs.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:36 AM

Thank you for those suggestions. I have been trying MCT oil and coconut oil, and despite noticing considerable energy boosts and stabilising effect early on, around the first 6 weeks, I no longer feel the benefit from any of the fat I eat. I don't feel very hungry, but I am not feeling as though I am able to process the energy from fat all of a sudden.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on April 02, 2014
at 02:41 PM

You can also get electrolytes from fruit

0
Cf08ad26759fdd206a2c9f9385080a57

(995)

on March 25, 2014
at 11:27 AM

Generally, when I couldn't make a low carb diet work it was because I made the transition too suddenly, I wasn't eating enough food consistently, or my electrolytes were out of whack. What do the macros / calories / electrolytes look like?

It could be the sudden change after 30+ years of high carbs, to now barely any carbs, that's taking some time to adjust against. It seems like this usually takes months to really keto adapt.

If you're not exercising, I would start putting in the hours there. I dialed my carbs down gradually over about a year. In the beginning as a noob, I attempted brief periods of suddenly dialing back carbs that made me feel all adrenal and stressed out until I soon failed. I think it's best done gradually and with plenty of fats.

A709635907662a2fff5c97c01e41afaa

(0)

on March 25, 2014
at 11:40 AM

In addition, don't just focus on carbs - they're just a byproduct of the real enemies; grains, legumes and artificial sugars.

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:43 AM

Thanks. I started suddenly and I started fully into paleo and a VLCD. Perhaps i need to rethink this and start again, so to speak.

0
A709635907662a2fff5c97c01e41afaa

on March 25, 2014
at 10:52 AM

Sorry, I dont have time for a long comment, but I would recommend increasing your carbs (from paleo friendly sources of course). 50g daily is fine if you feel great and everything (or need to loose fat, quick), but it's likely you're missing out on something. As a type 1 diabetic, low blood sugar is awful to maintain, and definitely to do so safely. I suggest looking up marksdailyapple.com for the carb curve. Its a nice summation of where carb levels fall and the likely consequences. Also rmember that the standard american diet (or SAD, which i prefer). If you're worried about health problems from high carb then consider this. Its not the high carbs per se that cause most of the damage, its the grains, legumes and so on that you're already cutting by eating paleo. It depends on your goals, but to be frank, feeling s****y all the time wouldn't be on my to do list for the sake of cutting down on carbs alone.

Suggestion; eat a piece of fruit as a mid morning and mid afternoon snack on top of your current diet. This will add say 30-50g (healthy, paleo friendly) carbs and may help the headaches etc. Experiment and you'll find the best solution for you.

Sorry if that was rambling, no time to edit.

Good luck

Medium avatar

(-5)

on April 02, 2014
at 04:42 AM

Thank you. I can see there is a recommendation of generally somewhere between 50 and 150g of carbs per day, depending on the goal. So perhaps I should try aiming a little higher and see what happens.

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