I know what you’re thinking – the term ‘sugar withdrawal’ sounds a bit over the top.
Surely it’s just a case of saying no to Oreo’s, ice-cream and pastries?
Well actually, sugar addiction, and sugar withdrawal are very real problems.
Many studies prove that a dependency on sugar ticks all the boxes of addiction including binging, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitization.
If you’re contemplating quitting sugar, then you’ll need to know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Here’s what I found out about sugar withdrawal.
A Very Real Addiction
Some of the anecdotal stories of sugar withdrawal I came across sounded very much like those I would expect to hear from former drug addicts.
Some of what she experienced on her second day of withdrawal was kind of shocking, I’m sure you’ll agree:
“Moving my head produced such acute pain I was almost sick. My limbs ached, as if I were coming down with the flu. All day, I endlessly fantasized about a can of full-sugar Coca-Cola”.
It sounds pretty much how you’d imagine a drug addict to sound doesn’t it?
It got worse as Nicole rummaged through the bin to find a sugary drink she had thrown out the day before. Within minutes of drinking it her headache had gone and her energy levels returned.
Of course, the headache was back soon after and the cycle began again!
It’s really worrying how much of a physical and behavioral effect sugar addiction can have.
All I can say is, brace yourself for the experience that all your body is going to go through, and keep in mind why you are kicking your habit.
In case you’ve already forgotten all the reasons to quit sugar, check out all these 7 amazing things that will happen to your body once the cravings are gone.
Factors that Influence your Sugar Withdrawal and Symptoms
According to Mental Health Daily, there are several factors that influence both the length and severity of your withdrawal symptoms.
How Long You Have Been Eating Sugar
Let’s be honest, for most of us this has been for our entire lives.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Breast milk contains the natural sugar lactose and some baby formulas actually contain added sugars like sucrose.
Experts say that sucrose conditions infants to crave sweet foods throughout their lives.
Naturally, the longer you have been consuming added sugars, the more difficult it will be to cut it completely from your diet.
How Much Sugar You Eat
If you start your day off with a sugary cereal, proceed to snack on donuts, candy and chips, and drink sodas all day long, you’re going to have a harder time kicking sugar than someone who has the occasional treat.
If you’re like the average American woman, you’re probably consuming up to 30 teaspoons of sugar per day. If you’re an average guy, that figure jumps to 45 teaspoons.
How you Withdraw
Will you gradually decrease the amount of sugar in your diet or just quit it all at once?
I prefer to go ‘cold turkey’ when it comes to things like this but you need to figure out what works best for you – there’s no hard and fast rule.
When it comes to smoking, a Gallup poll of successful quitters found going ‘cold turkey’ to be the best approach, while only 2% recommended cutting down gradually as the most effective way.
Dr. Mark Hyman also recommends quitting sugar outright as the best way to go.
However, other studies on withdrawing from addictive substances found that gradually tapering use helps retain patients in treatment and reduces drug use, when compared to other approaches.
You might think I’m extreme to compare sugar with drugs, but it has been shown that sugar is more addictive than cocaine!
Just keep in mind that if you’ve eaten a lot of sugar throughout your life, you might be better gradually weaning yourself off the white stuff over a matter of weeks, to lessen withdrawal symptoms.
What Symptoms will You Experience?
While not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, you will more than likely experience one or two as your body adjusts to this new, healthier way of living.
So naturally, by taking away this little ‘hit of happiness’, our brain is going to react.
In a 2002 study at Princeton University, rats were subjected to sugar dependence and then ‘sugar withdrawal’ (induced by food deprivation or drugs).
Both methods of withdrawal led to the rats engaging in behavior that was interpreted as anxiety. They also displayed physical symptoms that may indicate they were anxious such as teeth chattering, paw tremors and head shaking.
Depression can be defined as an intense sadness that includes feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless.
Sugar is such a powerful drug that withdrawing from it can actually cause you to feel like this too.
Another test on sugar-addicted rats found that, when withdrawing from sugar, they exhibited signs similar to depression.
In a ‘forced swim test’, the rats who were ‘coming down’ from their sugar buzz were more likely to show passive behaviors such as floating, rather than active behaviors such as trying to escape, which researchers interpreted as feelings of helplessness.
Even the most rational and calm people might struggle to control their emotions and behaviors when kicking an addiction.
This aspect of addiction and withdrawal is well-documented in those quitting alcohol, nicotine or drugs. And quitting sugar may have the same effect on our impulse control levels.
A study published in Physiology & Behavior claims that sugar withdrawal is linked to impulsive behavior.
Rats who had been trained to get water by pressing a lever, were then fed either sugar and water, or just water.
After 30 days, those who were fed the sugar solution pressed the lever far more times than the water animals, indicating impulsive behavior.
Hunger and Cravings
Sugar fuels every cell in our brains and is also seen as a reward, which naturally makes us want more.
The more we eat sugar, the more we reinforce that reward, making it a hard habit to break.
In addition to craving sugar, you might find yourself wanting a lot of carbs. But filling up on processed breads, pasta and fries, means you’re still feeding your sugar habit.
These starchy foods are broken down by our bodies into simple sugars, which won’t help you on your goal to being sugar-free.
A pounding head is one of the most common, and painful, side-effects of sugar withdrawal, as you may have learned from Nicole’s story.
Livestrong.com recommends consuming small amounts of sugar to relieve the headaches.
If you’re going to try this method, don’t reach for a soda! Try a piece of fruit instead – apples, blueberries, cherries and watermelon are all good options, and taste much better than junk food.
If your headaches are severe, then you should consider a more gradual approach to removing sugar from your diet.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that can cause a quick burst of energy to the body, and it just as quickly ends in a crash.
Unfortunately, if you consume a high level of sugar or simple carbs regularly, your body will become conditioned to use carbs as its go-to source of fuel.
When you cut out this source, your body is left confused and lethargic.
According to Dr. Mercola, switching from a carb-based diet to a fat and protein based diet will help rebalance your body’s chemistry and train it to gain energy from these sources.
Now, that’s not to say that we don’t need carbs at all. We do.
But choose your carbs wisely – stick to the whole grain and vegetable varieties.
Other symptoms experienced by people who have detoxed from sugar include:
How to Make Sugar Withdrawal Easier
If the above symptoms are enough to put you off detoxing from sugar, I don’t blame you. But you should know that there are plenty of tips and tricks to make the process easier.
According to Dr. Frank Lipman, some of the things you can try include:
- Eating three meals and two snacks, or five small meals, a day to keep hunger and cravings at bay.
- Incorporate protein and fat into each meal, to balance blood sugar.
- Add spices such as coriander, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to naturally sweeten your food.
- Remove all sugary foods from your house – if it’s not there, you can’t eat it!
- Don’t use artificial sweeteners, which just cause you to crave sweet things. If you have to use a sweetener, make it stevia.
- Drink lots of water – apparently sometimes this can help with cravings.
In addition to those tips you should also try these.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Make sure to get eight to nine hours sleep a night to boost your energy levels.
A lack of sleep can also worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, which you may be experiencing as your body detoxes from sugar.
Working out is one of my top tips to prevent excess sugar in your diet, but it’s also an amazing way to offset any cravings you may have during sugar detox.
It’ll lift your mood and energy levels too.
Vitamins & Minerals
Some nutrients that are said to help reduce sugar cravings and symptoms of withdrawal include the B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, chromium, and the amino acid l-glutamine.
You can take supplements or look for these vitamins and minerals in whole foods instead.
- The B vitamins can be found in fruits and vegetables especially dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans, fish, eggs and dairy.
- For vitamin C, stay away from orange juice which is loaded with sugar. Instead go for bell peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries.
- Zinc can be found in turkey, salmon, shrimp, spinach, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds and egg yolks.
- Chromium can be ingested from whole grains, chicken, beef, broccoli, mushrooms, cheese, eggs, fish and seafood.
- Dr Axe lists the highest sources of l- glutamine as grass-fed beef, spirulina, Chinese cabbage, cottage cheese, asparagus, wild-caught fish and turkey.
Apple Cider Vinegar
A top trick, from Kate Quit Sugar, to help with cravings is to stir two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into a cup of warmed water and drink.
Apple cider vinegar can also help balance blood sugar and boost weight loss.
Watch for Hidden Sugar
Sugar is everywhere! From low fat foods to salad dressings, it’s hard to escape the white stuff.
But if you do accidentally eat sugar-laden products while detoxing, it will just prolong the withdrawal process.
Become a label-reading expert and get to know sugar’s aliases such as corn syrup, maltodextrin and anything ending in ‘ose’.
Don’t go into work on an empty stomach without expecting to hijack a vending machine on your way.
Start the day off with a hearty breakfast and keep snacks on you at all times.
Check out these tasty and filling high-protein snacks – many of which can be made in advance, and travel well.
Quitting sugar isn’t going to be easy. Not only is it difficult to avoid sources of sugar but the symptoms of withdrawal, especially the cravings, can be tough.
But you know what they say ‘no pain, no gain’!
When you make it through the sugar ‘detox’, the results will all be worth it.
I’d love to hear from all of you – are you surprised to read about the crazy symptoms of sugar withdrawal? Or have you ever experienced any?