Why Does a Low Carb Diet Make You Feel Shaky?

Faux Hypoglycemia is Responsible for Most Shakiness on Atkins Induction
Is Feeling Shaky on a Low-Carb Diet 
Something to Worry About?

It is a myth that all overweight people have insulin resistance and/or metabolic syndrome.

Truth is:

Only 1 in 3 overweight individuals do not respond to insulin correctly. It is also a myth that everyone’s insulin and blood glucose levels soar into the clouds when they eat carbohydrates. This type of reaction means something is metabolically wrong.

If you have normal blood glucose control, your body’s sensitivity to insulin will quickly take care of the small rise in glucose you get after you eat. In fact, typical folks never see a rise in blood sugar levels much above 120 mg/dl (6.6 mmol/L) – no matter how much starch and sugar they eat.

The rise in both blood glucose and insulin is only problematic for those with an abnormal blood glucose or insulin response to the carbohydrates you eat. Reasons for these strange reactions will vary from individual to individual, but taking the necessary steps to correct the problem can often make you feel worse instead of better.

Here's why:

Is the Low-Carb Flu Real?

The first two weeks of a low-carb diet can send the body into a tizzy. You are:
  • restricting the body’s first-used fuel source
  • emptying out glycogen stores
  • dumping a lot of excess water
  • coaxing the liver to break down stored body fat
While these changes can seriously disrupt your electrolyte balance if you don’t get enough sodium and potassium -- what the low-carb flu actually is -- you can also feel tired and crave your favorite foods as your blood begins to clean out the allergens.

The labels the low-carb community has adopted for this situation are not accurate. You do not:
  • get the flu
  • detox from sugar
  • go through carbohydrate withdrawal
You do experience body changes and cleansing that sometimes takes several weeks to adjust too.

One of those changes is a drop in your basal insulin level, a lower glucose response to the foods you are now eating, and therefore, a lower post-meal insulin response, as well.

Pseudohypoglycemia Makes You Shaky

If you have had moderate or high blood glucose levels for any length of time, after a couple of days on a  low-carb diet, you can feel downright awful.

The body adapts to that higher glucose level, thinking that high blood sugar is normal. Improving your numbers through healthier food choices causes the body to panic, believing you are in a dangerously low blood sugar situation. This is especially common if your blood glucose level falls fairly quickly.

Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, secreted due to the falling blood glucose level, swiftly coax the liver to break down its glycogen stores into glucose and dump the freshly made glucose into the bloodstream, even though your blood sugar level might still be above normal.

This reaction is known as pseudohypoglycemia because it mimics some of the same symptoms as reactive hypoglycemia. Since the body isn't in a real threat situation, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about the:
  • shakiness
  • pounding pulse and heat beat
  • sweatiness
  • and anxiety
Except -- wait it out.

Real hypoglycemia kicks in when your numbers consistently drop below 70 mg/dl (3.8 mmol/L), with the key word here being consistently. When blood sugar gets too low, the body secretes cortisol and adrenaline to take care of the problem.

It is the presence of adrenaline that causes the uncomfortable symptoms. Once you feel shaky, the body has already moved to take care of the problem, even if the problem doesn't really exist.

It is not unheard of for a low-carb dieter to find their glucose dipping down into the 60s, however, after liver glycogen depletes.

This is generally a temporary situation.

I have never had this happen more than a few days.

Converting stored body fat into fuel isn’t as fast as using glycogen, especially in the early stages when the brain has not fully adapted to burning ketones yet, so occasionally the body can find itself in a slightly hypoglycemic condition while the body is adapting to burning fat instead of sugar.

When Stress Hormones Interfere with Your Life

A low-carb diet helps correct metabolic imbalance.

It does this by restricting carbohydrates. If you give your body the time it needs to adjust to these new, normal blood glucose levels, the shakiness will go away.

However, the 20 grams of carbohydrate per day that The Atkins Diet recommends for Induction isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. It is a recommendation meant to get as many people as possible into the state of ketosis quick and effortlessly.

If you’re having a difficult time dealing with the consequences of cortisol and adrenaline secretion, Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. advises you to:

Add an additional 5 grams of vegetable carbohydrate per day to your current plan and see if that fixes the problem. 

What you don’t want to do is go back to the food choices that caused your high blood glucose levels in the first place.

While eating a bowl of Lucky Charms or snatching up a couple of chocolate chip cookies might make you feel better, it won’t help correct your metabolic issues. It will just prolong the time it takes for your body to adjust to and learn what normal blood glucose levels are.

A Low Carb Diet Helps You Attain Safe Blood Glucose Levels

If you have metabolic problems, high glucose comes from eating more carbohydrates than you can process.

Until your body learns what a normal blood sugar level is, you may have to grin-and-bare several stress hormone reactions. Many low carbers have learned to handle the difficult times by calling these problems detox or withdrawal symptoms.

While that isn’t exactly true, a low-carb diet does work in the way that a good, solid elimination diet does.

An elimination diet is extremely restrictive, much like Atkins Induction.

You go into it knowing (and hoping) the restrictions are only a temporary measure. It becomes a diet you can build on one food at a time. In the same way that Atkins asks you to return 5 grams of carbohydrate per day to your diet (at realistic intervals), elimination diets do the same thing. 

While initially these metabolic-healing programs are hard, and the shakiness can make you want to quit and walk away, a low-carb diet can help you discover which foods will keep your blood glucose within safe parameters. 

And that can well be worth the effort.


  1. Today is day 6 of a really low carb diet. I have been dizzy and shaky for the first 5 days but today was much better. Already down 5 lbs. I have been strongaling to lose weight for the last 4 months. I think it is a great weightloss program and lifestyle change. Have done this type of diet in the past and have falled missrabally but now have a whole new aproach. Roger Spanos

  2. I'm so glad I found this book! My mother is overweight and for years doctors simply told her to eat less. However, she eats very little, excercises constantly and continues to gain weight. She's tried several diets and the results have always been minimal. Finally, one doctor said she might be insulin resistant. This book clearly details how your body's metabolic system can function more effectively by linking protein with carbohydrates at every meal. Unlike other diets that ask you to eliminate carbohydrates, which is unhealthy, this book tells you how to effectively keep carbohydrates in your diet. Some great recipes are also included. This book is better than a diet! It tells you how to successfully boost your metabolism with the foods that you eat!

  3. what book are you referring to? Please let me know so I can figure it out.

  4. I haven't a clue what book Italia is talking about, but if it claims that metabolism works more effectively by linking protein and carbs at every meal, then he author doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Your metabolism doesn't work that way.

  5. This is a good diet and projected plan. However, as someone who's 32 years old, does have a slight elevated BP and on 5mg of Lisinopril, you must be careful. I'm also on 163mg of Levoxyl (hormone replacement) from a full thyroidectomy 3 years ago due to cancer. What has always worked for me is exercise 4-5 times a week, balanced nutrition and a low salt/sodium diet, otherwise the BP can spike. I lost 20 .lbs on a work related (biggest looser) competition but then gained 5 back. I need to loose now 30-35 .lbs and then my PC physician said I should be able to come off the Lisinopril if the BP is where it ought to be. The other trick is I've always drank plenty of water throughout the day and always have decaf green tea with half teaspoon of honey and a lemon wedge if I've got it.

  6. Anonymous,
    Thanks for your comments. Thyroid issues change the parameters because you need a higher carbohydrate intake to maintain correct thyroid function. Many of us who have been low carbing for a long time have found that upping our carbs to not less than 30 or 35 net carbs per day is a must for good thyroid function. But that's an individual concern. It has to do with how easily your body is able to convert T4 into T3.

    My own experience with elevated blood pressure is that insulin levels have a lot to do with that, but then so do food and chemical sensitivities. Once I got the food and chemicals I'm sensitive to out of my life, both my blood glucose and blood pressure quickly corrected themselves.

    That's why a low carb lifestyle is such an individual journey.

  7. I found this site when I googled, "Can a low carb diet make you shaky?" Due to food sensitivities and weight that won't budge for many years, I am on an elimination and rotation diet...while it isn't too low carb - i am eating fruit and veggies, I am eating a lot less carbs, no cane sugar, no dairy, no chocolate, no regular bread...I wake up feeling fine, but if I don't eat in the first two hours, I start to feel shaky. Since I used to suffer from panic attacks, this is scarey and brings back old memories that make it worse. My blood sugar does rise with eating, but since its not much carbs, it takes a bit longer. I appreciate what you're saying on this page. I've dropped about 5 pounds in about a week-- water weight due to elimination of allergens most likely and carbs. Hope I can keep going! like you!

  8. The shakiness happens when the body releases stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. It's the adrenaline that you're feeling. Adrenaline coaxes the liver to release glycogen or grab triglycerides from your fat stores for fuel.

    Food sensitivities can really mess up your insulin levels and glucose control. For me, the shakiness clears within a week or so after eliminating what I'm sensitive too. So hopefully, the worst is over now.

    If it doesn't get better, try adding a few more carbs than you're currently eating. The amount of carbs in your diet doesn't have to be extremely low to be too low for you. We're all different.

  9. I know I'm posting to a really old thread but I wanted to say that I found your site from Googling "Atkins '72" and boy am I glad I did! I discovered new things -- one, tweaking is not only possible, it's almost mandatory; and, two, that I may need to not go so low in my daily carb intake due to sluggish thyroid and leptin issues. So for that, I thank you.

    As for the book that Italia references, I think it might be the Insulin Resistance Diet. They talk about linking carbs to protein to balance out intake. Really, it's more of a diabetic diet, as I followed pretty much the same when I was gestaionally diabetic.

    Anyway -- long comment to say thank you for your information posted here.

  10. I am new to this food lifestyle.....how much weight does one typically loose in the first few weeks

    1. There is no typical weight loss. There are just a ton of variables that can affect the rate at which you lose. Those who are new to low carb tend to lose more quickly, but a lot depends on if you've ever dieted before and how much weight you have to lose.

  11. I am on day 13 & have lost 17 lbs.! Normal? I don't know, but am thrilled-40 to go:)

    1. SWEET! Glad to hear you are doing so well. Good luck on getting rid of the other 40!

  12. Im in Ketosis and lost the first 30 lbs fast. Now I have leveled out and will loose weight slowly. The great thing about ketosis is if you consume more cals than you need in a day your not going to put on weight because your body turns fat into ketones to use as energy and cannot turn ketones back to fat. Now its about focusing on consuming less cals a day than I need to continue the weight loss, the nice thing is if I dont want to count cals on the weekend no big deal just avoid carbs like normal and its not going to set me back like on other diets.

    1. Congratulations on such a nice weight loss! Keep in touch. I'd love to hear how your new strategy works out.

  13. I have been on this diet for about 3 weeks with the exception of Thanksgiving and have lost nearly 15 pounds. The only downside is that I am constantly shaky. I work in a high stress job but didn't have any issues dealing with everyday activities prior to transitioning to this meal plan. I get really shaky anytime I have to speak in front of people or get multiple things done in a short period of time which is something I have never had an issue with. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Jeffrey,

      Going low carb puts physical stress on the body, so if you couple that with a high-stress job, you can wind up with elevated cortisol, and it's accompanying adrenaline (which is what you feel when you get shaky.)

      How many carbs are you eating? Which plan are you following? Most low-carb plans are actually "very" low carb.

      From what you've said here, I'd up the carbs a bit at a time, until you find the right level that gets rid of that. Only 1 in 3 people who are overweight are insulin resistant. If you're not insulin resistant, eating at a higher carb level can get rid of the physical stress that low carb causes.

      I personally eat between 35 and 60 because it aggravates the Graves Disease when I try to go lower. I get that shaky stuff you're describing when I go too low.

  14. I am around 50 carbs a day but a lot of those are fibers so net carbs may be closer to 25. I am not extremely overweight. I'm 30 years old at 5'11" and weigh about 190. The main reason for transitioning into this diet was for a healthier lifestyle and a more consistent energy level. I'm not sure what kind of carbs I should be adding. Also I have bought multiple supplements including magnesium citrate, potassium, and an adrenal fatigue fighter which seem to have a very minimal affect on the shakes and anxiety.

    1. You're eating a lot of salt, too, right?

      The Atkins folks recommend that anyone with less than 40 pounds to lose start off at 40 net carbs a day. That diet is called Atkins 40. Their reasoning is that the likelihood of metabolic damage is rare in anyone who has never been seriously overweight.

      Most people do not know that Atkins did not put all of his patients on low-carb diets. Only those who were overweight and/or unhealthy.

      Here's the Atkins Carbohydrate Ladder:

      more salad and other vegetables (which you're already doing)
      fresh cheese like cottage cheese and ricotta
      seeds and nuts
      berries and melon
      wine and other spirits low in carbs
      legumes and beans
      fruits other than berries and melon
      starchy vegetables like peas
      whole grains

      This order of this list follows the old low-glycemic theory, which has now been shown to not be accurate. However, it gives you an idea of the variety that you can add back. On Atkins 40, there are no restrictions, so you can choose from "anything" on this list, as long as you don't eat more than 40 net carbs per day.

      The idea behind eating low carb for health is that no one needs to eat 300 to 500 carbs per day. The old diabetic exchange program use to give you between 120 and 150 carbs per day, and they were extremely healthy, well-balanced diets back then.

      Paleo and Primal diets are a bit higher in carb than Atkins, and they eat winter squash, sweet potatoes, and fruit.

  15. I am a 60 year old female who is doing aqua aerobics daily for an hour and 10,000 steps daily. Eating no grains, and low calarie diet. After five days I started getting shaky high palpitations. My husband recommended eating one slice of bread with every meal and my jitters stopped. Recently my FSH came slightly high and fT4 borderline low. On BP medication as a precautionary. Due to family history.
    Any insight as to how I can lose 10 lbs? I am 4'11 and 140 lbs.

    1. The above article is pretty old, so here's what I know today:

      There are a few reasons for shakiness. One is, your blood sugar was too high before you started dieting, and it's dropping to normal, but doing that too quickly. This is the reason the above article addresses.

      As far as weight loss is concerned, grains are only an issue if you are insulin resistant. If you are insulin sensitive, your blood sugar will drop too low if you don't eat enough carbs, and you'll get shaky as your body attempts to correct the problem.

      Only one in three people who are overweight are insulin resistant. Most people are not. If you're close to a healthy weight, which you are, the odds are very high that you are not insulin resistant, so you'll need to eat more carbs.

      You're grain free and low calorie, but how many carbs are you eating a day?

      Weight is driven by calorie deficit, even on low carb, so as long as you're able to stick with the necessary calorie deficit, you'll lose weight, no matter how many carbs you eat. So eat healthy carbs to comfort (where hunger is controlled and you don't have the shakiness).

      People who are insulin sensitive need to eat more carbs per day than those who are insulin resistant.

  16. Hi, although the article is a few years old, as you say above, are the reasons for the shakiness still true today? I've gone low carb in the last few days and I can't sleep I'm shaking so much, like my whole body is vibrating. Thank you!

    1. The reasons are still valid. However, if you're shaking for more than a few minutes, then you might need to raise your carbs. Another reason why blood sugar drops fast like that is because you're likely insulin "sensitive" rather than insulin resistant, meaning your insulin wasn't high when you went low carb, so now it's dropped too low. Try adding 5 or 10 carbs a day and see if that helps the shakiness.

    2. Thanks Vickie, I think what happened is that going low carb too fast (and yes maybe my insulin wasn't high in the first place!) caused a massive dump of adrenaline. Then when the shaking started I panicked thinking it was the onset of some awful neurological condition, which made me panic more, and dumped more adrenaline! Whole muscle groups were shaking wildly and I couldn't sleep for shaking. Shaking was worse at rest as obviously the body isn't using the adrenaline then, as it's still. I've added carbs back in now and am hopefully levelling out. Thank you so much for this page which helped me work out what was happening - not many low carb sites mention this issue at all! So thank you! This page here is also great for realising that you have to let the shakes take their course, rather than fight them! http://natural-alternative-therapies.com/shaking-from-anxiety/ Thanks again so much!

    3. You're quite welcome. I sincerely appreciate you sharing your experience with me. Others will definitely find it helpful as well. And thanks for the link. I have problems with anxiety, due to having hyperthyrodism, so I'll check it out.

    4. I LOVED the article! And her advice to get up and MOVE when you feel anxious and shaky is right on target. By the time the shaking manifests, glucose has already been dumped into the bloodstream, so you need to find a way to use it up.

    5. Yes it's great isn't it, especially the knowledge that the shaking is the end of the process and a good thing and just to let it happen. :-) There's some great tips on that site, really glad I found it! Thanks again!


Post a Comment

I'm sincerely interested in your thoughts and questions, but due to a spam issue lately, I've put comments on moderated status. I will approve your comments as soon as possible.