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. I started on sugar at a young age, the staple of the old English diet.

    Early on I found out the various reasons why it is bad in some ways – the refining process – chemical bleaching – over processing – even the old story about the warehouse rats being absorbed into the process etc. But having that lunchtime tea with my mom I always remember and could never cut sugar in tea out completely. But I did cut it out everywhere else. I never, ever, have dessert. If I am still hungry, I have more salad, or vegetables. And pretend that that is the dessert. A little unorthodox but I felt if I can’t get rid of the sugar in the tea, at least I can get rid of it everywhere else. Also, if the food based sugar as well is unremovable.

    But then decades and decades later, I also noticed the invariable dental problems – root canals, breaking teeth etc. So a friend recommended Xylitol and I was floored. If what they say about it is true, it is a miracle food. It is really expensive, but the final rationale is – look – if what they insist you must now have – when – you become diabetic – is Xylitol – then my rationale is why not spend the money now and – skip the diabetes entirely – and – save thousands of dollars in future root canals.

    So I happily have been using it for a few weeks. I found that being expensive, actually made me more careful about using it – not wasting half used cups of tea – maybe even drinking less cups the whole day – all good things so the cost isn’t really that high. I already only use Earl Grey anyway which is a little more expensive. And I save, by never having dessert…

    So in a way I have cutout that part of the sugar diet I’ve been on since a kid, made me wonder, this is a significant profound life change. All the above posted symptoms I’ve gone through – needing to sleep an extra 2 hours a day. Feeling like the day is always missing something. Headachy, lightness, disorientation. All mild but kind of strange.

    But I think the profound part is, in some ways people don’t appreciate exactly what the high sugar diet does in the first place. It is like its own macro organism living inside you. Entire microbiology forces are at work – trillions of bacteria in various interlocking living families living in your body for years and years in a harmonic balanced existence – giving you energy in exchange for probably a higher probability of certain infections and inflammations.

    But the big factor is the constant and ongoing overloading of hormone systems – thyroid, pancreatic, and others, from constant sugar bombardment, that in eventually getting burned out – lead to diabetes or other problems – often seemingly overnight as hormone systems decide to quit working.

    Is fairly understood.

    But to pre-emptively suddenly shutdown the biological environment for a major internal source of life for a flora that’s been living inside you for decades and decades, maybe itself, is its own obscure part of the withdrawal.

    It’s like cutting off a part of yourself, never to see again. The whole body functions through interactions of huge and complicated interactions between cells and micro-organisms. The brain itself, i.e. thinking, only happens because of these interactions on a huge scale moment to moment. The high sugar diet makes an internal pact between all the interlocking systems with certain advantages and disadvantages in complex mutual relationships. What happens when you suddenly remove the food source – for a few trillion bacteria in your system that have been living with you, for 50 years?

    In a way, it is like cutting off the food source, for a friend. A friend who may later on kill you – still the same, the thing in itself must have some, effect. People talk of depression – well maybe the depression comes from the necessary yes parting of ways with someone who has been with your all your life. That’s the emotional. But on the physical, there may be a whole similar dynamic as well, we all ignore.

    All those sugar based flora living all this time, may not like, being cutoff, at the first early detection of the change in incoming food source. Think of it as similar if less than the parasite/host mutual relationship. Which is a lot what the sugar based diet does – you invite a higher level of bacterial activity into your system, in a mutual biological relationship. In a parasite/host relationship, nature has evolved in such a way that often, the design of the parasite is such that it is very, very, difficult, to remove it. In the extreme – difficult wthout, killing the host. That’s just the way nature works. The parasite, is meant to survive, and in a way, propagates in such a way as to keep the host alive. Both mutually benefit, from both living. Try to remove the one, and the other is made to suffer. Is the actual mechanism albeit bizarre but is how it works to keep the host from trying to destroy the parasite.

    So, on the bacterial level I hypothesize that on a lower less extreme level, but tangible just the same, the same kind of thing is probably going on. The sugar diet gives big energy spikes, that allow harmonic resonances to go on – to now be suddenly killing off that food supply – means a) lots of dead bacteria that previously would be getting regenerated through ongoing feeding/waste/mortality cycles etc, would now suddently cutoff.

    That would mean for this initial period of time – a higher load on waste removing systems all throughout – that have perhaps never had to deal with ever before.

    Sluggishness. One would expect, or hope, that this sudden huge internal bodily mortality, would eventually be cleaned out, and presumably one would feel back to normal. But perhaps, if the energy from the sugar had evolved to the extent that it itself, was assisting itself in the waste removal process, we have a positive feedback loop, which is bad.

    If the sudden mortality of flora in your system, from the cutting off a huge flora of healthy living bacteria blooms, now results in a very big abnormal waste removal requirement, at the same time that your waste removal systems, are getting a cutback in their available energy, then it is a double whammy.

    So the question is, can the waste removal system evolve and compensate for the change in energy flows and waste removal requirements, in such a short time migrating away from the old system that you functioned under, many many years since you were a child? I wonder. Perhaps the eventual benefit of hormone systems not being completely overstimulated like in the previous high sugar diet, quickly adapts to the benefit of not being like such over-revved motors, leads to improved energy levels and health.

    Which is the basis for Doctor Abravanel’s diet. So you eventually have a more stable energy without having to over-rev the thyroid, pancreas, liver, and other hormone systems.

    Finally I wondered about maybe doing a 50/50 split – sugar in the tea in the first half of the day, then moving to Xylitol in the second. Seems to make sense. But somehow the idea of completely being off sugar – at least the part that is controllable outside the food sourced, seems the better goal – go to Zero Dollars for root canals rather than Thousands of Dollars divided by two.

    Perhaps at the same time, increasing on liver and pancreatic helping vitamins, like Milk Thistle, to help in an increased waste removal requirement during the initial weeks or months, might help.

    If the theory is even sound.

    – WW

    • Interesting theory. I think most of the micro organisms that travel with us have a very short life span, and they can multiply explosively when there’s more favorable environment for their particular needs. Just ask any woman who has had a yeast infection right after getting antibiotic treatment, or when her hormones change as she becomes diabetic. Environment changes, wee bitty life forms take over. Wouldn’t the same thing happen if a healthy change happened that allowed the beneficial bacteria the nutrients they need?

      But, since your theory does make sense, maybe eating some unsweetened yogurt, or taking an acidophilus pill, would help get us through the uncomfortable symptoms of sugar withdrawal. It would sure be worth trying, just to find out.

  2. just day two no sugar coffee or bread would put too much sugar in my coffee and koolaid as well so headache bodyache all nite so surprised that its like i have been on hard drugs today i love to crochet and actually first time missing club mother was worried cause layed down most of day today this seems like it will be almost like it was giving up cigarettes 20 yrs ago

  3. I am about to start a sugar detox… i rely on suger to keep me awake/focussed and evrything especially as i am a uni student and awake at random hours, i rely on sugary energydrinks.
    I really do want to give up sugar, every other aspect of my life is good, i have a good training plan at my gym and so on, but i just cant loose any weight, an i think its because of the sugar.
    i was just wondering how bad are the side effects? i eat alot of sugar each day.
    Also, i think my biggest fear is getting a breakout of pimples from detoxing… can anyone shed some light on how bad this gets?
    Thanks

    • Skye, if you give up the energy drinks in order to get away from sugar, your biggest symptoms will be from caffeine withdrawal. That means a killer headache – so start on a Friday night when you won’t need to make any major decisions in the next few days. You’ll also be a bit lethargic for a few days. Try to eat an especially healthy diet, including healthy carbs like potatoes, squash, beans, etc. That can really help keep your blood sugar at a normal level and avoid the problems associated with a no-carb diet.

      Good luck – when it’s over you’ll actually have more energy and feel more awake than you do now, but without all the self-medicating.

  4. Hi Skye,

    I totally understand about working out and everything but not being able to lose the weight! I don’t know if u know this but wheat spikes your blood sugar worse than sugar does. they say if u cut out all foods with wheat/gluten that the weight will really come off. i know quite a few people that have confirmed this. there is a book called “Wheat Belly” that is a must read. apparently there has been so much hybridizing of the wheat that it can no longer process in our bodies properly. anyways, good luck – hugs

  5. Okay, so how long until the symptoms are over, in general? I get that since I’m not sedating myself with sugar anymore, I’m going to be a bit sharper, a bit more irritable; I don’t feel particularly peaceful at the moment, though. Some of the coping techniques I’ve picked up from comments here include:
    – exercise (for the endorphins!)
    – regular meals
    – healthy food to sub for the junk
    – lots of water.

    • Hi Nicole. Every body is different, but two weeks should be enough for your body to re-balance itself. I think the worst symptoms come from excess insulin, which is released in anticipation of the daily sugar rush. When it doesn’t happen, you end up with low blood sugar symptoms, and it isn’t much fun. However, things get back to normal pretty soon.

  6. Hi, my names Allen. I’ve started weight watchers about a month ago. I cut out sugar, I dont drink sugary drinks anymore or eat deserts, the most sugar I get is from fruits. Literally, the last week I’ve been feeling horrible almost like I was about to black out a couple times. I’ve been feeling very faint and at times like my brain is slow, even my vision is a little off. I don’t know what to do because I honestly feel like if this keeps going on I need to forget about it hah. Just to tell you more about me I’ve lost 15 pounds in one month and I’ve always been big and at my steady weight so can you please tell me if this is normal. I’ve even went to the ER I felt so bad. I never felt that I was addicted to sugar but then again I always ate what I felt until now. Sorry for the long message I’m just worried about all of this.

    • Allen, I don’t want to discourage you from seeing a doctor to make sure everything is OK. However, it is possible that your symptoms are caused by giving up sugar. I think (although I can’t cite an expert on this) that our bodies get into a schedule. If we eat a candy bar every day at 10 am, we can get the rush of insulin from the pancreas in anticipation of this expected event. If no candy bar is eaten, the excess insulin will keep working anyway, and you can end up with low blood sugar. It does seem to help if you eat a lot of healthy carbs, like sweet potatoes, while making the switch away from sugar.

      However, it’s always a good idea to get a checkup, anyway.

  7. Thanks for putting this up here. Last November I cut out caffine & yes the headache followed. Since then I’ve admitted to myself that I’m addicted to sugar. Being diagnoseed with Insulin Resistance & PCOS sugar is a big no no. So I’ve been trying to cut out sugar but keeping track of it first so I know just how much I’m having. This is the beginning of my Protein vs Sugar wars. I know I am tring to cut back and have had the headache. That’s why I’m going slowly. Being overweight, (345 was my highest). I know it’s time to cut this out & to lose this extra weight. Knowing what to expect will help me in the long run. I’ll bookmark your site so I can come back and read more comments.

    • HI Patricia. I’m glad you intend to do something about the excess sugar in your diet, especially since you have already been diagnosed with insulin resistance. I might add that I don’t know anyone who has been successful in “cutting down” on sugar. Going cold turkey sounds harder, but in the end it’s a lot easier. That way, you go through one withdrawal phase that takes a week or so, instead of having withdrawal symptoms every single day as you eat less sugar, but crave more because the sugar will make you temporarily feel better. If at all possible, I would strongly suggest that you just stop eating all sugar. (Corn syrup, too – which is in almost every processed food and drink).

      Good luck~

  8. I have been on the New Adkins diet for 4 days now. I have been nausated ever since. Nothing seems to help and drinking water seems to make the symptoms worse. Hasve any of you experience these symptoms, and if so, what did you do to ease them?

    • I had the same symptoms when I tried that diet. I decided to honor my own body’s signals, and I went on a diet that made me feel better. But that’s just me – I know a lot of people swear by the Atkins diet, although I don’t know anyone who actually stayed on it for very long.

  9. Great info…day 9 no sugar no flour! 🙂 I feel great … mornings are hard, just trying to minimize the demands I place on myself so I am not too overwhelmed during this transition! Thanks again for your article, and for everyone’s comments, I needed some validation! 🙂

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