We know that sugar isn’t good for us. Its common knowledge that excessive sugar consumption can lead to weight gain .
Additionally, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to a number of different diseases and illnesses.
These include cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, obesity, and diabetes.
Ultimately, consuming too much sugar is not good. As such, it might seem like common sense too simply eliminate sugar from our diet completely?
And while this will undoubtedly have positive effects on both our weight and our health, it may not be as easy as we think.
You see our body genuinely becomes accustomed to a consistent level of sugar consumption. And as a result, we can develop what is known as ‘sugar addiction’.
This addiction doesn’t necessarily mean that we NEED sugar to function, but rather our body is accustomed to that regular intake of sugar. It gets used to using this sugar for energy, and to maintain metabolic processes. By removing it from our diet completely, our body has to readjust to our lack of sugar intake.
This requires using finding and using different pathways to produce energy, and readjusting to the use of other substrates to maintain the metabolic processes of the body.
This readjusting takes time. And during this period of readjustment, we actually undergo sugar withdrawals.
While sugar withdrawal sounds a little bit excessive, it can truly be a genuine problem.
Sugar addiction can be nasty. In addition to using sugar for energy, sugar has the capacity to fuel every cell within the brain.
When we eat sugar, the brain receives a large influx of energy to the neural tissue. In response to this, the brain stimulates hormones that provide a sense of satisfaction.
This sense of satisfaction creates the need for more sugar, which becomes a cycle that promotes sugar addiction.The longer this cycle goes on, the harder it is to break.
Eventually the brain becomes dependant on sugar for energy. This dependence is what causes sugar withdrawals, and can make breaking sugar addiction so difficult .
Factors that affect the symptoms of sugar withdrawal
There are a number of different factors that influence the severity of our sugar addiction.
It is these same factors that affect the severity of our sugar withdrawals.
How long we have been consuming sugar
The amount of time we have been consistently consuming sugar affects the brains reliance on sugar for energy.
The longer we have been providing the brain with a steady stream of sugar, the more severe our addiction is likely to be.
Unfortunately, for most of us, we have been consuming sugar regularly for most of our lives.
How regularly we consume sugar
This is arguably more important than the previous point.
If we have been consuming sugar for years, but only intermittently, our addiction may not be that bad.
If we have been consuming a lesser amount every day for the past 6 months (6 years…?), our body becomes accustomed to that regular intake.
It is this regular, habituated sugar intake that leads to addiction
How much sugar we consume
This one does seem obvious.
And it is.
But it still warrants attention.
Pretty simply, the more sugar we consume on a regular basis, the greater our addiction will become.
So, we decide to eliminate sugar from our diet.
We know that we consume too much, and are aware that it is time to make a change.
What symptoms are we likely to expect?
Lack of energy
This is arguably the most commonly experienced symptom associated with sugar withdrawals.
Sugar is a form of fuel that the body has become accustomed to using.
When we remove sugar from our diet, we remove a readily available source of energy. As a result, the body must reaccustom itself with other means of getting energy.
This leaves us in brief stage of readjustment, where energy is not readily available.
During this stage we can experience a serious lack of energy, and even feelings of fatigue and lethargy .
A lot of people may actually find this hard to believe, but sugar withdrawals can actually lead to depressive signs and symptoms.
We can feel unexplained feelings of sadness.
This is often associated with the lack of energy and lethargy that we also experience.
Feelings of Anxiety and Irritability
In addition to getting feelings of depression during sugar withdrawals, it is also quite common to experience sensations of anxiety and irritability.
This anxiety and irritability is often explained by the body’s unsatisfied demand for sugar. The body ultimately needs sugar to function in its current state, and sends signals to the brain to create a demand for sugar.
If sugar isn’t consumed, we become irritable.
If this is prolonged, these feelings of irritability can develop into more severe feelings of anxiety.
As mentioned, are body is used to using sugar for energy.
Once we remove it from the diet, the body must readjust. In these initial stages of readjustment, the body sends hunger signals to the brain in the attempt to increase su8gar consumption.
If these cravings are not satisfied then then signals increase.
This creates feelings of hunger, which can become quite difficult to manage .
Headaches are one of the most commonly experienced symptoms of sugar withdrawals.
Sugar, when stored for energy, is stored with water molecules. As these stores reduce, we also lose the water it is stored with.
This can lead to mild dehydration, which results in painful headaches.
*It is important to note that the duration of these symptoms differ person to person, but the average is approximately 1-2 weeks.
How to manage sugar withdrawal
Fortunately, it is not all bad.
While the removal of sugar from our diet can at times be difficult, there are a number of things we can do to make the transition to a sugar free diet much easier!
This one is important.
By consuming lots of water we limit the dehydration associated with the reduction in sugar stores.
This reduces our likelihood 0of getting headaches during this period of sugar withdrawals.
Additional, the consumption of water can actually satisfy some of the hunger signals we receive from the brain.
This can reduce sensations of hunger.
Consume a well-balanced diet
While this may seem obvious, it is an important step in kicking our sugar addiction.
Fat and protein are very satisfying.
By eating protein and fats at each meal, we can satisfy the hunger signals associated with sugar withdrawals.
Our carbohydrates should come from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables.
This allows us to still have an available supply of carbohydrates for energy, but they are much more slowly absorbed.
This allows the body to gradually adjust to the removal of sugar from the diet.
Remove sugary foods from the house
This one is simple, but effective.
If sugar isn’t available you won’t eat it.
Removing sugar (and sugary products) from your house entirely, it will be much easier to get through this stage of sugar withdrawal.
Get lots of Sleep
Insufficient sleep can increase the feelings of lethargy, anxiety, and depression associated with sugar withdrawals.
By getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night we can limit these feelings significantly.
This may seem counterintuitive, but exercise has shown to improve energy levels and increase mood.
This can go a long way in improving the negative feelings we experience with sugar withdrawals\, while also increasing our energy levels.
While sugar withdrawals can be a nasty experience, removing sugar from our diet can have massive improvements on our health and our body weight.
It is because of this that the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Especially if you follow are tips to deal with the symptoms of sugar withdrawal effectively!
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2. Avena, Nicole M., Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 32.1 (2008): 20-39. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617461
3. Pickering, Chris, et al. “Withdrawal from free-choice high-fat high-sugar diet induces craving only in obesity-prone animals.” Psychopharmacology 204.3 (2009): 431-443. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19205668
4. Ahmed, Serge H., Karine Guillem, and Youna Vandaele. “Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 16.4 (2013): 434-439. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23719144
John has been a fitness enthusiast for over 10 years, starting out while struggling with obesity as a teenager. Over the years he has advised numerous clients on how to transform their physiques and their lives. As a writer on Nutrition Inspector he aims to help others achieve real results by staying clear of the common hype and false claims in the supplement industry!