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. Oh, my aching head. I am close to the end of day two of no sugar, and it only just dawned on me earlier this morning that my body might have to endure some headaches. This is not a sinus headache, and it feels more like a migraine. Movement, lights…even this computer monitor seem to be stabbing at my migraine. I have more experience with sinus headaches and seem to be at a loss for this kind. I took some tylenol and that has made a tiny dent in it, but I’m not sure what other things might work.

    So two questions: What methods help headaches aside from a glass of merlot and hershey’s chocolate bar :)? I see that staying quiet and resting might help. And, understanding that everyone is different, should I expect headaches for 2 weeks?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Carrie. That sounds really painful. Most withdrawal symptoms go away quickly, unless they’re caused by some underlying medical condition that the sugar was masking. I did find some good advice on another forum – the last post on this page. She said it helps if you eat the “good” carbs – the ones that aren’t sugar or white flour, basically, like beans, squash, and other healthy foods that contain carbohydrates. It sure would be worth a try.

      You didn’t, by any chance, give up caffeinated drinks? Withdrawals from Pepsi are really tough, because of the caffeine headaches. Worse than giving up coffee.

      • Thanks, Jonni for the speedy reply. I went to check that post out, and was glad to find some easy work-in solutions for meals. I just happen to have a couple of good carbs on hand, like squash and hummus…plus lots of tomatoes. I’ll be sure to pepper those in. I appreciate you finding that information for me!

        The headaches seem to have tapered off since I started Saturday (it’s Tuesday, now) and I’m glad of that. But glad to know there is something I can easily incorporate into my meals to keep the headaches at bay. And thank you, too, for providing this forum for us to all find/share information!

        Carrie

  2. I haven’t noticed anyone mention heartburn as a side effect. I am on day 5 of my new diet. I completely cut out refined sugar and grains. Yesterday I woke up with terrible heartburn which I rarely get and I am still suffereing from it today. Nothing seems to be helping. Could the heartburn be a side effect? I have noticed that I have been very agitated as well.

    • Lyndsay, I think it would be a good idea to ask your doctor about your symptoms. There’s always a possibility that you may be feeling ill for reasons that are completely unrelated to your no-sugar diet. It’s always safer to know for sure. I didn’t experience heartburn, and a fast Google search didn’t turn up anything – but we’re all different. Please let us know what you find out.

    • Hi Lyndsay: Maybe I am a bit late but just in case you read it , I am off sugar for 4 weeks and I had terrible heartburn after my first two days! ( I have never ever had before heartburn in my entire life) Though it didn’t last long, just for a week or so. I also couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights and now it’s all gone but I still feel a bit week and sleepy, don’t know maybe because I go to the gym 5 times a week but I am falling asleep even on the way to work and I have my mood swings as well.
      I hope it will help

      All the best

    • I am so glad to find your post. I am on day two and awoke with the most severe heartburn that I have ever had and wondered whether it is a side effect ?

      • Did you guys decide the heartburn was just a side effect? As I am on day 4 of sugar withdrawal and have got heartburn like never had before… Did it evenutally go?

        Deb

        • I didn’t experience heartburn myself. If it doesn’t go away rather soon, you might want to make an appointment with your doctor. I could be totally unrelated to your diet.

        • Thanks for posting this! I have recently quit sugar, usually never have heartburn, but day 2 and day 3, have pretty bad heartburn. It is NOT from anything else.

  3. I am on day 5 of total sugar and caffeine withdrawl. The first few days of headaches were so intense I took Excedrine for the pain. Excedrine has caffeine but it will knock out the really intense headaches. As the headaches get milder you can deal with them on your own.
    I am not marketing for Excedrine, but it will work better then asprin, Tylenol, etc., for eliminating headaches in particular.
    My other symptoms are feeling faint at times, shaky, hungry (although I am eating a great deal, all I want, of unrefined grains and fresh vegetables), muddled, tired and grouchy at times. The good things I notice: Overall a lot more calm and balanced and the red vessels in the whites of my eyes are diminishing. Oh, Glutemine will help with sugar cravings … A LOT.

  4. Day One

    Today is day one of kicking the sugar habit that I didn’t know I had. I never really ate a lot of sweets but with the holiday season just ending, I think I may have over done it. My sister and I decided to do a 12 week exercise program and I really would like to lose the weight that I have gained in college. So after doing a lot of research about sugar, I realized that I was eating a disgusting amount every day which was not helping my weightloss at all! So far I have had the shakes, chills, nausea, hungry allllll the time (even though I am eating plenty of food and every 3 hours), extreme thirst (have drank 12 sixteen ounces glasses of water with lemon juice), and the worst migraine I have experienced in years. Working out did help but only for an hour. I took Excedrin Migraine and it only dulled the pain. I know that this is only day one and it will get worse before it gets better but it is good to know that I am not alone in this battle. I really didn’t realize how sugar was controlling my life. It is quite disgusting how it is in EVERYTHING that we eat now. Anyways, thank you so much for having this blog. I think that it will really help me to maintain focus on my goal.

    • I have completely gone off sugar now for about 8 days and I still have a headache. I quit smoking years ago and I think this is almost as bad. I really am a sugar addict. Once I have one piece of anything, I can’t stop. Good luck with your battle. Just remember not one bite!!!

  5. Last Wednesday my doctor told me I had diabetes, but could turn it around if I get on a diet/nutrition plan immediately. I thought about the prospect of medicating myself and resolved to quit sugar and get healthy that day. It’s now been 6 days since then and I am in foggy, headache ridden misery. I’ve stuck to veggies and low carbs. I made vegetarian chili this weekend with bulgur. I’ve had tons of water. When should I expect to emerge on the other side of this?

    • Ally if your current symptoms are just coming from the sugar withdrawals, you should be at least half-way through the worst of it, and you could feel better in just a day or two. And just think how much better it is to start your new diet, even with the current symptoms, than having to take medication and possibly even shots every day – you’re determination to take control of your health is a real inspiration for the rest of us.

      I do hope your doctor gave you a specific diet plan to follow. If so, your doctor should be familiar with the withdrawal symptoms, since most of the patients who switch to the same plan should have similar issues. Maybe he or she would have some ideas for making the transition a little easier.

  6. I too have started a reduced sugar/caffiene/fat diet.
    I’m not especially fat but I know I am not happy the way I am at the minute so im now into my second day of reduced everything.
    I find eating regularly helps with the headache pain, started with a Muller Light yoghurt and a small bag of grapes for breakfast. Having a small ham sandwich with some fruit and water for my lunch. Tea will be a grilled chicken breast with sweet potato and other veg.

    I used to drink 1litre of Sprite a day as well as various chocolate bars and things like that. It is hurting quite a lot today but I know if I just get through the first week like this then it should be easier from then.

    So far the symptoms are headaches and I am finding it really hard to concentrate.

    Good luck to others trying this.

  7. Thanks for the great ideas on your site. I’ve gotten some good tips to take away. I would say though that I disagree with sugar withdrawl symptoms being relatively mild. Mine have been quite severe (headache, anxiety & depression alternately, brain fog, crying at odd momemts, feelings of abandonment). My doctor’s been with me every step of the way and she has seen this severity in many of her patients, and has experienced these symptoms herself. I’m so happy for anyone who is able to get through this with minimal discomfort. I wouldn’t wish what I’ve gone through on anyone, but it will be worth it once I’m on the backside and I see the benefits in my improved health.

  8. wow, I haven’t read everything yet, but so far everything fits my fiance symptoms. How do I help him though this withdraw period?

    • Hi Susan. If your fiance really wants to give this a try, the best thing you can do would be to refrain from cooking or eating anything that he doesn’t want to eat himself (just as you probably wouldn’t drink a beer in front of someone who just committed to giving up alcohol), and give him lots of quiet space. He won’t feel great, and he might be grouchy – this would not be a good time for long conversations about anything stressful, or a time for him to make any major decisions. And finally, offer him some delicious meals made from really healthy foods, with lots of veggies and soups, and let nature take it’s course.

  9. I’ve enjoyed reading this blog. Great to read that so many people are trying to eat healthier – I’m going to try to do the same by kicking my sugar habit.

  10. This is a great website/blog! I always somehow “knew” that sugar and refined (white) carbs had to be addictive, but there isn’t really a lot of scientific literature out there to support this theory. However, now on day 6 of “no sugar; no refined carbs”; the only carbs I’m consuming are vegetables and legumes/beans, I am also suffering from most of the things everyone describes here: headaches, irritability, low energy, mood swings, lethargy, “foggy brain” and just general “ick”. This morning as I awoke, I thought “maybe, just maybe I won’t have a headache” and half-way into that thought the pounding started; however it is slightly less than yesterday so maybe the worst of it is over! In my opinion, this is by far, much worse than withdrawing from caffeine; at least that was over in about 3 days. I do have to say just finding this site has been helpful! To know I’m not “crazy” for all the things I’m feeling! Hang in there everyone!

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