It is essential to understand the effect sugar has on our bodies. Sugar can be used to celebrate something remarkable, to calm your mind, and used for your muscles for quick energy. However, the standard American adult diet tends to include way too much sugar.
According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugar you should eat in a day 25 grams or 6 teaspoons. The average American consumes 22-30 teaspoons every day.
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can lead to fat storage, and many other illnesses and complications.
- Weight Gain
- Type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Skin issues, acne, and aging
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of cancer
- Increased risk of depression
- Drains energy
- Fatty liver
- Increased kidney disease
- Poor dental health
- Increased risk of Gout
- Sugar detox
Detox can cause unpleasant physical and mental symptoms. How the body reacts to quitting sugar is different for everyone. Which symptoms you experience and the severity of these symptoms depend on how much sugar you were consuming.
What is Sugar Withdrawal?
When your body is used to high amounts of sugar regularly, it can be a shock to the system to cut it entirely from your daily lifestyle. When this happens, some people experience a variety of symptoms of withdrawal.
What causes sugar withdrawal symptoms?
One reason why sugar withdrawal occurs is due to hormones in the body. Your body releases certain hormones and compounds in the blood. When you consume sugar, your body releases dopamine into the bloodstream. Dopamine is widely known as the “happy” hormone that is present when your mind is the most euphoric. This euphoria is a level of satisfaction, and when that threshold is met, the brain may feel as though it is satisfied. When you bite into a creamy chocolate bar or drink a sugary soda, your brain releases dopamine, which is why you feel so happy when you consume sugar.
Sugar is similar to drugs
Sugar withdrawal may have severe consequences to your mental and physical health, similar to what is seen with addiction to drugs. Drug use may seem more challenging to overcome; the brain craves sugar in similar ways as it does drugs, so it feels like an addiction.
High amounts of sugar result in similar hormonal responses that drugs do; it appears that your body adjusts to sugar consumption similarly to regular drug use. The brain may crave higher amounts of sugar in an attempt to reach a specific dopamine concentration in the blood, signaling euphoria. However, as the body reacts to continuous amounts of this nutrient, you may need to consume more, which could explain why adults crave such high amounts of sugar. This constant cycle of sugar consumption, hormone release, and euphoria can play a significant role in how the brain responds and creates behavioral patterns.
Common sugar withdrawal symptoms
- Fatigue and Weakness
- Extreme Cravings
- Behavior Changes
- Muscle Aches and Pains
- Poor Sleep Quality
- Weight Loss
- Flu-like Symptoms
Some tips to help you beat the side effects and avoid or at least limit some of the symptoms of sugar detox.
Quit cold turkey
Cutting sugar from your diet gradually may help lessen the intensity of your symptoms, but it also means those symptoms will stick around longer. By cutting out sugar at once, your body will become used to living without it sooner, which means a faster end to withdrawal symptoms. Do this by cutting out all forms of sugar, including those in prepackaged foods, sweetened beverages, and white flour.
Eat more protein
Add protein to every meal to help you avoid hunger and low energy levels during your sugar detox. This will help you avoid the temptation to reach for a candy bar or other quick fix. Eat fish, poultry, and lean cuts of meat. High-protein vegetables, nuts, and seeds make great snacks.
Increase your dietary fiber
Eating high-fiber foods can help you stave off hunger. Because this helps control blood sugar, it may also help you avoid sugar detox side effects like headache and nausea while keeping cravings at bay. Aim for high-fiber vegetables, beans, and legumes.
Drink more water
Staying hydrated will help you feel better overall and can help keep you regular. This is especially important when you increase your fiber intake, which could cause constipation. Fiber-rich foods and adequate water intake are needed to help keep from getting constipated.
Also, thirst is often confused with hunger. Having a glass of water may help you resist the urge to overeat and keep your cravings under control.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
Swapping out sugar for artificial sweeteners may seem like a good idea when you’re breaking up with sugar, but it can derail your efforts. Research shows that artificial sweeteners encourage sugar cravings and dependence. Staying away from sweet foods — even those that are sugar-free — is the best way to cut sugar from your diet once and for all.
Manage your stress
There’s evidence that stress affects food preferences and increases cravings for sweets. Sugar also appears to have a calming effect on stress hormones, which contributes to your desire for sugar when feeling stressed.
Keeping your stress in check will make it easier to cut sugar from your diet and help keep cravings under control. Taking a walk, talking to a friend, or just reading a book are just a few simple ways to relieve stress.
Exercise is beneficial in several ways when doing a sugar detox. Exercise increases energy and reduces stress, which can help combat withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, low energy levels, and stress-induced cravings.
Even short bouts of exercise, such as a brisk 15-minute walk, reduced cravings for sugary foods.
Get enough sleep
Insufficient sleep can worsen symptoms of sugar detox, such as fatigue, cravings, and depression. Not getting enough sleep has been shown to increase cravings for sugar and other unhealthy “comfort foods.”
Getting a good night’s sleep has been linked to:
- better food choices
- lowered stress
- higher energy levels
- improved concentration and memory
Stages of Sugar Withdrawal:
Stage 1: Motivation
This first part is when motivation is highest, and it can genuinely drive your ability to accomplish your goals. Similar to a New Year’s resolution, hitting stage 1 hard means you are likely to be very motivated for a new you. When you start to experience sugar withdrawal symptoms, your motivation will need to be strong to overcome them.
Stage 2: Intense Cravings
As you cut out sugar from your diet, it should be expected that you’ll have cravings from time to time, and yes, the intensity can be very overwhelming at times. When you hit the intense cravings stage, it is best to try and find healthy substitutes that bring you joy or activities to help distract your mind. Otherwise, you could spend a great deal of time fixating on your cravings, and it could eventually turn into you giving in to temptation.
Stage 3: Headaches
Typically, headaches appear after the cravings stage, and this is usually something that progresses with time. Cravings can appear soon after cutting sugar from the diet, but it typically takes some time for headaches to start appearing. For some people, this may be a day or two, but for others, it could be longer.
Stage 4: Aches, Pains, and Other Symptoms
Stage 4 is typically when you can expect a wide range of symptoms to take full effect. Within this time, you may notice dull aches, pains, chills, tremors, as well as mood changes. At the peak of all the symptoms, it could be a time when depression sets in and even a time when the sugar-free lifestyle comes to an abrupt end, but this is truly where you should stick with it. This stage can test your willpower, and as long as you continue to remain motivated, you have the best chance at succeeding.
Stage 5: Symptoms Resolve
The previous two steps typically are the worst of all the steps, but once you make it past those stages, the rest all comes together. One of the biggest reasons individuals make a lifestyle change and decide to cut sugar from the diet is to feel better and to lose weight, and once the stage 3 and 4 symptoms resolve, the rest seems relatively straightforward. When the symptoms resolve, you may feel energized, free, or even as if you have been given an entirely new outlook in life, health, and appearance.
Withdrawal symptoms can last from a few days to two weeks.
If you can stick to the plan for 10 days, you should be past the worst part. The longer your body goes without sugar, the less intense your symptoms and cravings for sugar will be.
You may find that your symptoms are worse at certain times of the day, such as between meals. Stress is also known to trigger cravings for sugar, so you may find your symptoms seem worse during times of stress.
Stage 1 is an essential stage in which your motivation levels are the highest, but it is in step 5 where you feel your best.
Before and After
Consider taking photos before you begin your journey, to create the before and after, consider sharing your experiences with friends, family, and colleagues, and even consider rewarding yourself with a new workout outfit, shoes, or a fancy water bottle after stage five. After all, you made it this far, so consider making it fun along the way.
If you are going to cut sugar entirely from your life, you will need to cut out some of your old dietary habits and choose healthy alternatives. For starters, avoiding sugar is something you will want to do, but be mindful that sugar substitutes may not be the best solution. Sugar substitutes tend to trick the mind into thinking you are consuming high amounts of sugar when indeed, you are not. This can create a confusing state for your brain and can cause a stronger addiction to sweet foods and beverages.
Try eating foods in their pure state, such as unsweetened tea, coffee, vegetables without sweetened dips, as well as berries. If you are having intense cravings for chocolate, then consider your options and make an informed decision.
It is always essential to have an idea as to what you are putting into your body, so be sure to read all food labels before consuming anything, and if there is no label, do your best with alternatives.
Accept that we all slip up
Saying goodbye to sugar is no easy feat, so don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. Write down your motivating factors for giving up sugar to help keep your eye on the prize when you feel yourself slipping.
If you do give in to temptation, just start again. Use any slipups as a learning experience to help you avoid falling into the same trap the next time. For instance, if you find temptation is worse during certain times of the day, schedule activities to keep yourself busy during that time or be prepared with high-protein snacks and water to help get you through.