Two centuries ago, the average person ate only two pounds of sugar a year. Today, the average American eats more than 150 pounds of sugar in one year, which equals six cups of sugar in one week, and we are only talking about the average figures.
It is understandable why people like sugar so much. It is found in some of the most delicious snacks and we eat a lot of sugar because we find it in the most unexpected places (e.g. low-fat yoghurt, ketchup, granola, and flavoured coffees).
Unfortunately, eating too much sugar is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, dental plaque and cavities, liver disease, cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other conditions. Reducing the consumption could, therefore, minimise the risk for these situations, but also speed up your recovery if you already have a medical condition.
If you have decided to give up sugar, you need to know it is not easy. In fact, it is quite similar to giving up tobacco and drugs. However, just as with the two, it is rewarding. Here are some of the withdrawal symptoms you need to be prepared for and ways to deal with them.
The mental symptoms of sugar withdrawal
There is a reason why ice cream is one of the most frequent breakup comfort foods – it contains a lot of sugar which triggers your brain to release the feel-good neurotransmitters. It is natural that when you cut down or completely renounce sugar, you feel sad, and maybe even depressed. Even the things you once found enjoyable may not provoke the same amount of joy anymore. What follows are the feelings of anxiety, irritability, and restlessness.
Some people have reported changes in sleep patterns after cutting sugar. This can affect the ability to concentrate and cause focus problems and forgettability.
Finally, you will probably fall victim to food cravings, and not just sugary foods but others too, and ignoring them will require incredible mental and physical strength.
The physical symptoms of sugar withdrawal
The most common physical symptom of sugar withdrawal is a headache, along with feeling tired. However, there are other possible side-effects that can include dizziness, light-headedness, tingling, and nausea.
You should be aware, though, that not everyone experiences the same side-effects when quitting sugar. You might notice symptoms that are not “in the book”, such as flickering in your peripheral vision and even memory loss, to a degree.
Dealing with the withdrawal symptoms
The symptoms will seem unbearable at times, but if you stick to it, after ten days or so, you won’t even remember it happening. Here are some tips to get you through until then.
1. Go straight to the point
Renouncing sugar gradually can lessen the intensity of the symptoms but it will also prolong them. Our advice – quit all sources of sugar at once including processed food, artificial juices and white flour.
2. Avoid hunger with protein
By including protein into every meal, you will avoid hunger and increase your energy levels during the detox. Lean meat, fish, high-protein vegetables, nuts, seeds, and poultry will do.
3. Stay hydrated
Fatigue and headaches are among the most common indicators of dehydration. Combine that with sugar withdrawal symptoms, and you will have a disaster.
4. Eat high-fibre foods
Similar to protein, high-fibre foods can help you avoid hunger and keep at bay other side-effects by regulating the blood sugar levels. Legumes, beans, and high-fibre vegetables are recommended.
5. Find adequate substitutes
And we don’t mean artificial sweeteners or other sugar alternatives. Research suggests that these sweeteners only encourage cravings and addiction. A better option is to eat bananas, apples, or some other fruits (in moderate amounts). As for the favourite kick-starter of the day, you can make a delicious keto coffee with a minimum of carbohydrates with coconut oil and unsalted butter.
6. Be active
Research showed that short periods of exercise can reduce cravings for sweet foods. Other benefits of being active during sugar withdrawal are reduced stress and increased energy levels.
7. Get enough shut-eye
As mentioned, sleeping can be a problem in the first days of quitting sugar. Not getting enough sleep can also worsen the symptoms you already have so aim for a consistent routine and adequate sleeping environment. Check out our tips on how to get better sleep in our previous article.
8. Choose bitter foods
A 2013 study showed that bitter tastes helps control sugar cravings, which can be useful for addressing various symptoms of sugar withdrawal. Time to load up on bittergourd or green tea?
Quitting sugar is no easy task and the mere fact you have made this decision is commendable. So don’t feel bad if you slip. There will be temptations and moments when you will give up. But if that happens, just start again. Use it as an experience, and keep your eyes on the prize – a healthier you.