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Navigating Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms
Reducing or eliminating added sugar from your diet can lead to weight loss and many other health benefits. However, for individuals with dependence or addiction to sugar, lowering sugar can lead to many unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Sugar withdrawal can make it very difficult for sugar addicts to free themselves of their compulsive sweet tooth. Understanding the causes of sugar withdrawal and how to combat its symptoms is essential for sugar addicts looking to improve their health and mend their relationship with sugar intake.
Top 8 Symptoms of Sugar Withdrawal
Sugar withdrawal can cause a whole host of mental and physical symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are usually caused when completely cutting sugar, but some people experience withdrawal symptoms even when trying low-sugar or low-carb diets.
The relationship between sugar and anxiety is quite complex due to how sugar affects brain chemistry. Sugar consumption can have a powerful effect on the brain’s production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter strongly associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Taking in a large amount of sugar releases dopamine, which leads to dependence. When a sugar addict stops consuming sugar cold turkey, symptoms of anxiety often skyrocket because dopamine levels tend to plummet.
Being easily irritated is one of the most common withdrawal symptoms for sugar addiction and many other addictions. While irritability is a normal part of the human experience, this emotion can escalate when quitting sugar.
Any change in brain chemistry can lead to feelings of irritation. However, just like with anxiety, the increase in irritability is caused by lower levels of dopamine in the brain.
Sugar, specifically the molecule glucose, is what fuels our bodies. Most of the food we eat is broken down into simple sugars that our cells can use as energy. Super sugary foods don’t require as much breaking down by our digestive systems, often causing a huge burst of energy.
Although the energy from sugary foods doesn’t last as long, losing that energy source can lead to unpleasant fatigue and low energy levels when quitting sugar.
Chemical balances in the brain and blood sugar levels can have a strong effect on feelings of queasiness and nausea. Many people who stop eating sugar complain of feeling nauseous and even vomiting due to the changes in dopamine levels and blood sugar levels.
Dopamine plays a major role in our mood. Even small changes can lead to mood swings or irregularities. Because dopamine and serotonin levels are often disrupted by suddenly quitting sugar, many sugar addicts will struggle with intense, unexplainable mood swings and worsened depression.
Like with other addictive substances, sugar addicts who cut their sugar intake often experience intense sugar cravings for sweet foods like ice cream, candy, and other sweetened processed foods. Many addicts will try switching to artificial sweeteners, but these “alternatives” can be just as addictive.
As dopamine levels lower, many sugar addicts find it difficult to concentrate and may struggle with brain fog. Combined with dopamine disruption, not having the constant hits of sugar for energy can make staying focused on complex tasks very difficult.
Sleep cycles can easily be interrupted for many reasons, including changes in diet and brain chemistry. In the case of sugar addiction, many sugar addicts complain of trouble falling asleep while trying to quit sugar or even try low-sugar diets.
What Is Sugar Withdrawal?
Sugar withdrawal is a collection of symptoms caused by cutting or significantly lowering sugar intake. While sugar withdrawal can happen to someone who only has sugar dependence, people with sugar addiction tend to struggle with cutting sugar out because of these unpleasant symptoms.
Sugar dependence refers to when the individual’s brain has become dependent on the dopamine sugar triggers in the brain’s reward center. Sugar addiction, on the other hand, includes a pattern of addictive and compulsive behaviors related to consuming sugar.
What Causes Sugar Withdrawal?
Sugar withdrawal is generally caused by lowered dopamine levels in the brain as a result of cutting added sugar intake. The brain may become dependent on excessive sugar entering the body and struggle to function normally without it.
In addition to changes in brain chemistry, cutting out sugar also changes energy levels. Our bodies convert sugar into energy, so lower levels of sugar being consumed can lead to fatigue and tiredness no matter how much sleep you get.
Sugar Withdrawal Timeline
Sugar withdrawal generally lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Each person will go through the withdrawal process differently, and the intensity of symptoms will depend on whether you fully cut out sugar or slowly wean off it.
Common symptoms in the early stages of sugar withdrawal include physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Mental symptoms include irritability, anxiety, mood swings, and generally worsened mental health.
The important thing is to stick with whatever diet change you make. Some people try and fail to cut sugar completely, thus going through rounds of withdrawal, relapse, and withdrawal. If you find it difficult to do a complete sugar detox, try slowly eliminating sugar or a low-sugar diet.
Easing Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms
Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for sugar withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, you just have to weather the symptoms and stick to avoiding sugar so as not to start the cycle all over again. However, there are some steps you can take to lessen the severity of these symptoms.
These options are not a replacement for medical advice. Make sure you consult your doctor about your sugar withdrawal symptoms before trying these methods.
Balance Your Diet
Eating a balanced healthy diet will ensure you get the nutrients your body needs to cope with withdrawal symptoms. For example, eating whole grains and vegetables will keep you feeling full and satisfied, so you aren’t tempted to binge on sweets while craving them.
Withdrawal symptoms like headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue can be improved by making sure you’re well-hydrated. Dehydration is a common side effect of excessive sugar consumption, so if you are simply lowering your sugar intake, you still want to make sure you drink water throughout the day.
Drink Cold, Non-Sweetened Beverages
Sugary beverages are a sneaky way to consume lots of sugar without realizing it. Drinks like soda, fruit juice, and coffee with sugary creamers are common culprits. Instead, opt for completely sugar-free beverages, avoid artificial sweeteners, and make sure the drinks are ice cold.
Many sugar addicts claim that very cold, sugar-free drinks can help curb sugar and food cravings throughout the day.
Balance Your Magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral that we get from our food and helps with important processes like blood sugar regulation. It’s because of this that many patients with type 2 diabetes are recommended to take magnesium supplements.
Aside from its effects on blood sugar, magnesium has also been shown to help with headaches and migraines, a common side effect of sugar withdrawal. If you plan to use magnesium supplements to help with withdrawal headaches, talk to your doctor first and make sure supplements are safe for you.
Get Treatment for Sugar Addiction
The main form of treatment for sugar addiction is in the form of dietary changes, ideally under the supervision of a dietitian. Therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy can also help with the compulsive or addictive behaviors around sugar addiction and food addiction to sugar-rich foods.
Start by talking to your healthcare provider about the symptoms you’re experiencing and see what treatment options best suits you. If you don’t know where to start, try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to see what treatment options are available in your area.
FAQs About Sugar Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms
How long does it take for sugar to get out of your system?
“Getting sugar out of your system” is misleading, as we need sugar to fuel our bodies. In general, most people without certain health conditions like diabetes will have their glucose levels return to normal levels around two hours after eating.
Everything we eat is eventually broken down into sugar; where that sugar comes from is what matters more. For example, getting sugar from complex carbohydrates found in whole grains is much better and safer than getting refined sugars like fructose from candy or desserts.
How long do sugar withdrawal symptoms last?
Symptoms of sugar withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The length of time will depend on many factors, such as age, diet, existing health conditions, and if you keep relapsing on sugary foods.
What are some common sugar withdrawal symptoms?
The most common symptoms of sugar withdrawal include:
- Sleep issues
- Muscle aches
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Trouble focusing
- Mood swings
- Intense sugar cravings
What is the best way to get over sugar addiction?
The best way to treat sugar addiction is through diet changes by lowering or cutting out added sugar intake and increasing healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients. Certain diets like keto have become very popular to combat sugar dependence and addiction.
Keto works by completely cutting out added sugars, significantly lowering carb intake, and increasing healthy fats. However, this diet is quite extreme, and you should consult with your physician before starting it, as certain types of health issues are incompatible with the diet.