Sugar Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms


For many years my own addiction to sugar and fat made weight loss almost impossible for me. I want to share a few things I’ve learned about sugar addiction, and addictions in general, because there are some common misconceptions.

One thing many people don’t know is that the vast majority of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol (and sugar) are able to kick their habits all by themselves.

Yes, there are withdrawal symptoms.

And it often isn’t easy.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give up your habit. In fact, compared to many addictions, giving up sugar and other refined carbs is easy. It’s staying “clean” afterwards that’s hard.

Like many people, I got to experience withdrawal symptoms when I decided to stop drinking coffee. I knew there would be a headache (and there was), so I scheduled my headache for the weekend.

I didn’t get much done around the house that weekend, but by Monday morning my headache was gone. Caffeine is addictive, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stop drinking coffee – it just means I’ll pay a small price if I do.

Other drugs, such as tobacco, have far longer and more disturbing withdrawal symptoms. Sugar addiction’s withdrawal symptoms, by comparison, are quite mild. The symptoms of sugar withdrawal can include headaches, fatigue, depression, drowsiness, skin eruptions, and mucus or throat discomfort.

Some of these symptoms, especially the mood swings, fatigue and drowsiness, can occur on a daily basis as the blood sugar rises and falls on a high-sugar diet. Whether or not you’re successful in kicking an addictive habit depends on how you handle three different stages in the process.

To make it easy to see what I’ll be talking about, I’ve drawn out the three stages here.

The black line on the left represents the status quo – before you’ve given up your habit. The red square represents the withdrawal symptoms that are a natural consequence of removing an addictive substance, like sugar, from your body. With sugar addiction, the withdrawal symptoms may be weakness, slight nausea, headache, and other fairly mild but possibly uncomfortable symptoms.

My caffeine withdrawal headache lasted 2 days, sugar withdrawal symptoms may last for a week or two. Some people may experience little or no discomfort at all.The blue line on the right represents life after withdrawal. That’s our goal, because it leads towards health.

The first step towards giving up a habit that involves an addictive substance is acknowledgment. It is very important to acknowledge that there are perfectly good reasons why you would like to make no changes – you enjoy the bagel in the morning, you like the taste of sugar, it helps you feel better in the afternoon, you enjoy sharing your baked goods with your friends and family, etc.

We all have reasons for eating the way we do now. Acknowledge those reasons – it’s an important part of the process.There are also very good reasons for giving up the sugar and white flour habit – it makes you fat, it leads to heart disease and diabetes, etc.

Look at both sides of the issue, educate yourself as much as possible about nutrition, and then make an informed choice. I hope you’ll see that life without sugar is worth it, in spite of the few days when you’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

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560 thoughts on “Sugar Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  1. An informative read on this subject is ‘Big fat lies’ by David Gillespie. Peer reviewed research has found that the destructive and highly fattening component in sugar (sucrose) is another sugar called fructose. When sugar or corn syrup etc is ingested it splits into glucose (dextrose) and fructose. Glucose is the fuel burned in muscles and the brain. The body, however, can only convert the fructose into fat. It can not be utilised in any other way in the body. Weigh gained as fat increases appatite and may be involved in the addictive nature of sugary foods. Removing fructose from the diet, while a bit tricky, involves using glucose as a sweetener and avoiding sucrose and fructose in all its ubiquitous forms. The reward is that you can still enjoy sweet tasting treats without the weight gain. Read the book.

  2. I just wanted to say, WOW I’m happy I found this site.

    I suffer from Trichitillomania, an obsessive hair pulling disorder (same thing as obsessive nail biting) that I’ve had since I was 4 years old. I seen a nutritionist recently because medications weren’t working for me. She told me I should stop sugar. I was a sugar addict. I used sugar to get me happy, to get me going but it always made my anxiety disorder worse.

    I’m day three and I feel horrible.
    Recently I detoxed off Cymbalta (anxiety medication) and I felt bad.
    I feel almost as worse!!
    I couldn’t believe it.
    I’m so angry . My head HURTS. I’m so tired and just overall, sad. I honestly feel like I won’t feel myself ever again.

    The weird thing is, the urges to pull my hair isn’t as bad as it usually is. The second day I didn’t pull anything. Today is a litle harder not to because I feel the withdrawl symptoms are even worse.

    • The good news is that the headache and other withdrawal symptoms will go away, and you’ll soon feel much better. I would really like to know if this helps with the Trichitillomania, long term. Please keep us updated.

  3. I just discovered a wonderful book to assist all who are struggling with sugar addiction. “Potatoes not Prozac”. Find it at Amazon.com or at the author’s website RadiantRecovery.com. Hope this helps.

  4. Its now been almost 2 weeks since I haven’t eaten refined sugar or wheat products and I feel wonderful!! I eat all fruits, grains that aren’t wheat related (make my own flour) and all veggies but white potatoes. I also make my own peanut butter and add puree fruit to it to make it not so thick…delicious. Did you know that peanuts help you curb your hunger pangs? They do. I will have maybe 6 rice cakes with my peanut butter for breakfast and I am not hungry for hours. I also sleep better at night too and have more energy….hang in there everyone, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Thanks, Marcia. Your story is very encouraging for all of us. I’ll have to try the peanut butter fruit combo – it sounds delicious.

    • The bad thing for me is having Trichotillomania as s disorder, we are NOT supposed to eat peanuts. Peanuts somehow spike up the urges and make it unbearable. It’s sad because I love peanuts.

    • Marcia, how is that cutting sugar from your diet? Fruits for the most part are loaded with sugar. All potatoes are loaded with carbs regardless of color. Sort of defeats the whole purpose unless you have something else in mind.

      • If I can jump in, Dr. Lustig says that fruit and other whole foods have fiber and nutrients that reduce the danger of fructose, the unhealthy part of table sugar. I don’t know if there’s any fructose in potatoes or not, but as a natural product I’m sure they’re 1000 times healthier for you than a candy bar. The latest research seems to be pointing not at carbs in general, but specifically fructose, that causes all the problems for with our health.

        • Joni, I read related items too that you pointed out and understand where you are coming from with that.

          I guess there are multiple goals here and mines may be different than others. I was never really into pastries, just gained weight and couldn’t loose it because of all the carbs in rice and bread (even though it was whole grain), plus I used to drink a glass of “natural orange, cranberry, etc. juice” in the mornings or regular sodas or sweet tea at random which didn’t help either. I’m about 25 days back into my low carb diet again and now that I’ve retrained my body to burn fat instead of sugars, I am no longer moody or out of energy by any means, nor could I care less about eating carbs or sweets. Urges are completely gone.

  5. Hi Whitney…sorry to hear about you not being able to eat peanuts. I have done some reading and it might be because of the protein in the nuts (which actually I found out are beans!!) I found this website that might be useful for you if you like. Its” Trichotillomania Support Online Forums-view topics peanuts”

    Marcia

  6. Hubert.. I should have explained that I have cut out all REFINED sugar in my diet. You need some sugar for energy which you get from fruits and veggies. White potatoes turn to carbs which inturn turns to sugar. I know people who are diabetic and have been told to stay away from refine sugar,white potatoes (yams and sweet potatoes are fine) breads because of the white flour which by the way are bleached by the same method you bleach your clothes…yuck! But all wheat flour is a no no because of the bad carbs.

  7. Hi,

    This is my fourth day sugar free (also no booze, refined carbs or processed foods in general). I am feeling much better today – yesterday I was pretty lethargic and cranky. Today, I am feeling little headachy but generally awake and focused. I think maybe a factor that helped me was continuing to eat fruit – I am not cutting out all sugars, just unnatural man-made sugars so I see no point in removing very healthy fruit from my diet (not that I am eating more than 2-3 servings a day anyways). I guess the key is to remember why you are doing this, if it is just generally to be more healthy I think the key is to keep all natural foods in there and as Jonni says you have to find what works best for your body. I have basically just switched to a diet of “one ingredient” foods (including organic dairy, eggs, etc.) and I am feeling great and have already lost a couple pounds. I am posting this on here for those who might be daunted by trying to go sugar free and the fear of two weeks or more of torture.

    • Thanks, Jane. I’m glad you’re feeling better. I’ll bet you’re right, and the fruit saved you from some of the worst withdrawal symptoms – my theory (which you should take with a grain of salt, of course) is that it takes time for the body to get used to regulating it’s own blood sugar levels without the regular “fix” of table sugar and corn syrup. Good carbs, like fruit and sweet potatoes, seem to help during the transition. Since the withdrawal symptoms push many people back to eating sugar, anything that helps get through the first few weeks is really important. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. Holy moly… I’ve been reading these posts while munching on a chocolate bar… It’s been suggested to me by my sponsor (I’m clean 7.5 years from another addiction) that I may want to take a look at kicking my sugar habit… EEK! The thought scares the living crap out of me – it’s my security blanket, my friend, my enemy and first ever addiction all rolled into one. But it’s a very temporary comfort and a pretty destructive friendship and I know I need to – if not kick it completely – at least put a whole lot of space between us. I can’t wrap my brain around all the complex carbohydrate stuff yet, but am trying to find the courage to drop all the obvious sugars and junk food. One of the many concerns I have around it though is the withdrawal symptoms. I’m a flat-tack sleep-deprived already-emotional single mum of a 19 month-old and I can’t go to bed with a headache or lie on the couch with fatigue. Have any other single mums battled this and won and can give me some sage advice?

    • My daughter is all grown up, but I’ll jump in with some advice anyway. The one thing that seems to help people the most is to not go low-carb. The thing to avoid is just fructose in the form of table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. To keep your blood sugar from going crazy without the regular hits of sugar, replace the candy bars with potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, whole wheat crackers, and anything else that contains carbohydrates along with real, honest food. This seems to make a big difference in how much the withdrawal symptoms affect people. The good news is that, in a few weeks, you may find yourself much less emotional than you are now, and you may sleep better. It’s worth a bit of work in the short run to find out. And, with no sugar around your house, your 19-month old child will have a much lower chance of getting diabetes or any of the other sugar-related illnesses that are plaguing America’s kids.

  9. Has anyone read the book “Heal yourself 101” by Markus Rothkranz? If so, what did u think of it. I 2 have been off the sugar, caffeine and carbs. I am having the same with drawals as mentioned above. The foggy mind and headache is what I struggle with the most whole being at work. Ppl look at me like I have no brain ATM, as I am staring into space. So hard. When I ppl I am doing it for better health they look at me as some kind of freak. It is so hard n so lonely. Usually a social person, though now stay home as sick if explaining to ppl why I’m not eating out ect.

    • I haven’t read the book. Going off carbs entirely, as well as also giving up caffeine, has probably made your symptoms a lot worse than just giving up sugar. You will probably feel a lot better soon, but if you don’t you should consider adding some good carbs, like sweet potatoes and other high-value foods, back into your diet. It can help you with your moods and fatigue. The headache may be caused by caffeine withdrawals, and they’ll go away eventually. However, if you don’t feel better reasonably soon, it wouldn’t hurt to make an appointment with your doctor.

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