The new year is by far the most popular time to make big changes to the way you eat. Many people are coming off a holiday season spent feasting, and are ready to cut back and eat better.
Removing sugar from your diet is often the first step and for good reason. Simple sugars are linked to a host of health problems and chronic diseases. Diets high in sugar contribute to issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and increased cancer risk.
If you’re looking to start the new year out right, eliminating sugar is a no-brainer. But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Anyone who has given up sugar can attest to the initial struggle you are bound to experience as the symptoms of sugar withdrawal rear their ugly heads.
Studies examining the potential addictive qualities of sugar have found neurological adaptations similar to those for other addictive substances. As a result, when you remove sugar from your diet, you need to be prepared to tackle withdrawal symptoms head-on. While managing the symptoms of sugar withdrawal is unlikely to be as intense an experience as, say, quitting smoking, you still don’t want to be caught off guard.
Giving up sugar can help you lose weight, have more energy, and lower your risk of disease, and it’s worth every bit of initial discomfort. It’s important to remember that the symptoms of sugar withdrawal are temporary and manageable—the benefits of eating sugar-free are priceless.
Recognizing The Symptoms Of Sugar Withdrawal
We are naturally creatures of habit and our eating patterns are no exception. When your brain is used to a steady influx of sugar it’s going to notice—and not be happy about—when you suddenly stop eating it.
However, our brains are also teachable, meaning if you stay the course and resist giving in to sugar, your brain will adapt to the new normal. Your taste buds and food cravings will adapt as well, and soon the foods you want to eat will also be the ones that are good for you.
These five symptoms of sugar withdrawal are among the most common. If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t get discouraged, and most importantly, don’t set yourself back by consuming sugar!
Use our tips to manage the symptoms of sugar withdrawal and within a few days to a week, you’ll be on the path to better eating.
In the first few days of cutting out sugar, headaches are one of the most likely side effects. While scientists aren’t exactly sure why this happens, there are a few potential causes.
One is changes in the level of dopamine in the brain. When you binge on sugary foods, it stimulates the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Conversely, when you cut out sugar, your brain will need time to adjust. A headache may be a signal that your brain is adapting to your new eating pattern.
Secondly, any change in your eating habits may result in a change in your fluid status. If you are not careful, mild dehydration could trigger a headache.
What you should do:
- Drink plenty of fluids! Set a timer on your phone to remind you to take regular sips, or use a water bottle that tracks your fluid intake.
- Gradually taper off your sugar intake in the days leading up to your planned withdrawal. This will allow your brain to adapt slowly to the changes.
- Consume regular, high protein meals and snacks to provide a steady supply of quality energy to the brain.
Intense Sweets Cravings
This can feel like one of the most difficult symptoms of sugar withdrawal to manage. Transitioning from a high-sugar diet to a sugar-free diet quickly triggers an increase in cravings for sweets and other junky, high-calorie foods.
Your body is smart and it knows a good thing when it sees it. And more than likely, your brain was enjoying your sugar habit and the steady surges of dopamine. When you remove sugar, it’s perfectly normal for your body to protest.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give in. Just like you wouldn’t give in to a tantruming toddler, you have to hold the line and do what is in your long-term best interest. Don’t worry; this phase will pass!
What you should do:
- When a craving hits, have a high-protein snack to satisfy your hunger.
- If hunger isn’t the problem, try a short burst of exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep so you will have the energy to resist cravings.
- Stop an intense craving in its tracks by eating something bitter instead.
While no one wants to start the year off in a bad mood, it’s not uncommon for people to feel irritable when withdrawing from sugar.
As your body adjusts to your new way of eating, you may experience mood swings, blood sugar dips, and changes in hormone levels. But, don’t worry, it’s temporary and should pass quickly.
What you should do:
- Exercise is a great mood lifter. Be sure to devote time daily to get your heart rate up and your body moving.
- Engage in activities that decrease stress and balance your moods, such as meditation, yoga, or a relaxing hobby.
- Schedule at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Now isn’t the time to be pulling all-nighters!
It’s no secret that sugar provides a surge of energy. If you’ve ever seen a child hopped up on sweets, you know exactly what that can look like. Many adults use sugar as a pick-me-up to boost energy and focus. (Unfortunately, that short pick-me-up is followed by an energy crash.)
One of the earliest symptoms of sugar withdrawal is feeling “foggy” and struggle to concentrate. This happens because your body and brain are working to be more energy-efficient and maintain blood glucose levels without the sugar binge. It’s a good thing! Though it may not feel great at the moment, you’ll be healthier and more clear-headed in the long run.
What you should do:
- Eat regular high-protein meals and snacks to provide a steady source of energy.
- Plan to complete high-focus tasks earlier in the day when you will naturally be more alert.
- When you feel foggy, try going for a brisk walk to increase blood flow to the brain.
Feeling tired is another common symptom of sugar withdrawal. You’ve likely been using sugar as an energizer when you were tired, maybe without even realizing it. Because sugar provides such quick energy, it’s easy to use it as a crutch for lack of quality rest.
In addition, some people experience trouble sleeping when they give up sugar, leading to more fatigue. All of these symptoms will pass, and most of the time, people report feeling more energetic than ever once they break the sugar habit.
What you should do:
- Be prepared to move at a slower pace for the first few days of your sugar detox. Allow time for your body to adjust.
- Stick to your exercise routine if you can, but if you are too tired, intersperse small pockets of movement in your day to wake your body up.
- Take a nap in the early afternoon or spend ten minutes resting. Don’t try to fight your body’s need for a little extra rest!
Beat The Sugar Habit For Good
While the symptoms of sugar withdrawal can be frustrating, thankfully, they are short-lived (provided you don’t give in to your cravings!). Usually, within a few days to a week, most people are past the worst of the side effects and feel better than they have in a long while.
Cutting out sugar can improve your energy, sleep, focus, mood, weight, and even your skin. It’s worth the early, short-term discomfort. Though you may have to dig deep at times to resist temptation, each time you hold fast, it will get a little bit easier.
Before you know it, the cravings will be gone, your mind will be clear, and you’ll be well on your way to your weight loss goals. Plus, the most important thing is that you will be feeding your body quality food that will keep you healthy for life.