What Is Sugar Withdrawal?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2016
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Sugar withdrawal is the experience of unpleasant symptoms as an individual eliminates or cuts down on the consumption of sugar in her diet. While there is not a large body of scientific literature that describes the mechanism of sugar withdrawal, there is significant anecdotal evidence that, when deprived of sugar for a period of time, many people develop symptoms similar to those experienced by individuals who are going through withdrawal from other addictive substances. These symptoms may include irritability, lethargy, and tremors. Some experts argue that while people do not develop the same type of dependence on sugar as they do on other drugs, the consumption of refined sugar can have a similar effect on brain chemistry as some recreational drugs, making it difficult for an individual to stop consuming sugar.

In many parts of the world, people regularly consume sugars as part of their daily diet. Sugar is frequently used as an ingredient in many recipes as well as in processed and prepared foods. In fact, it is often used in foods that people don't typically think of as being sweet. Salad dressings, for example, often contain significant amounts of sugar. As a result, when a person makes the decision to cut sugar from his diet, its absence can be a significant jolt to his system. These individuals may begin to experience symptoms of sugar withdrawal that can last for several days, possibly even longer.


During the withdrawal process, an individual may be overwhelmed by sugar cravings. Although giving into these cravings can lessen the withdrawal symptoms, this step is typically self-defeating, as the person simply resumes old behavior patterns that can be damaging to her health. In some cases, individuals may find it very difficult to eliminate sugar from their diet even if it is necessary as part of a weight-loss diet or treatment protocol for a condition such as diabetes. It is advisable for these individuals to speak to their doctor about their symptoms and the difficulties that they are having. They may also want to consider entering into a short-term treatment program for individuals with eating disorders so as to receive support during sugar withdrawal.

Some individuals find that the process of sugar withdrawal can be made easier by in engaging in healthy habits during the process. This may mean taking an extra vitamin and mineral supplement, exercising, and drinking plenty of water. Eating a healthy diet made up of whole, unprocessed foods can help nourish the body and reduce sugar cravings, minimizing some of the distress that the sugar-addicted individual may be experiencing.


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