In the first week or two of the Atkins Diet, the body makes a number of adjustments as it transitions to burning primarily fat for energy, after which the metabolic advantage we call the Atkins Edge kicks in. However, in those first few weeks, it is not uncommon for patients to encounter a few symptoms. The most common are headaches, dizziness, weakness and fatigue—sometimes referred to as Atkins flu—as well as muscle cramps and constipation.
Cutting Carbs Flushes Out Water
Consuming lots of carbs, but shifting over to fat burning has a diuretic effect. As a result, salt is excreted along with fluid. If a patient used to feel bloated and no longer does, that’s a good thing. Or if he/she had hypertension, the diuretic effect may resolve it in the first few days or weeks. But for many people, fluid loss can be too much of a good thing.
Salt Is Not the Enemy
Salt is essential to life and well-being. The symptoms described above are not the result of the diet—too little carbohydrate, too much protein or whatever. The real problem is the lack of just a daily pinch of sodium. Yes, individuals who are sensitive to salt may experience bloating and high blood pressure if they eat lots of salt. But interestingly, these conditions are most pronounced when people eat high-carb diets—in part, no doubt, because so many processed foods are extremely high in salt. Adapting to the low-carb state fundamentally changes how the system handles nutrients that might cause problems in a high-carb setting.
How to Manage the Problem
To restore the balance of fluids and salt—and stop most symptoms before they begin—in addition to consuming 12 to 15 daily grams of Net Carbs as foundation (nonstarchy) vegetables, it’s important to simply drink plenty of water and consume adequate salt. Normally salting food to taste is not adequate. Instead, beginning on the first day on Atkins, patients should follow one of the three regimens below and continue until carb intake exceeds 50 grams of Net Carbs.
- Broth: Drink one cup midmorning and another midafternoon. Use regular (not low-sodium) chicken, beef or vegetable broth from a can or tetra pak or dissolve a bouillon cube in water.
- Salt: Measure out ? teaspoonful in the morning and sprinkle it on food throughout the day.
- Soy sauce: consume a total of 2 tablespoons of regular (not low-sodium) soy sauce daily in at least two portions as a condiment or cooking ingredient.
If a patient is taking a diuretic medication or is on a salt-restricted diet, be sure he/she eats the recommended amount of vegetables, including half a Haas avocado, which is high in potassium, and sufficient protein with every meal. Obviously, he or she should also drink enough fluids and take the recommended supplements. If symptoms do crop up or remain, you can advise temporarily increasing intake to 25 grams of Net Carbs by eating more foundation vegetables. Or your patient can have some nuts or seeds or even a half-cup of tomato juice, all of which would not normally be reintroduced until Ongoing Weight Loss. Once symptoms resolve, he or she should eliminate these foods for the time being and return to 20 grams of Net Carbs to speed weight loss.