Chocolate, candies, or baked goods — what’s your go-to treat? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sugar sometimes, but we usually eat more sugar than we need.
Many of you ask me if you should try cutting back on sugar, how to cut back, and what will happen if you eat less sugar. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you. :)
Why You Should Reduce Sugar
You probably already know that sugar is not the best thing for your body, but you might not know why this is the case.
Too much sugar, especially refined sugar, is linked to:
- Excess belly fat.
- Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and types of cancer.
- Developing resistance to leptin, a hormone that helps tell your body when to stop and start eating.
To understand how sugar works, you should know that there are two types of sugar: refined (or added) sugars and natural sugars.
Refined sugars are added to foods to make them taste better. Two of the most common refined sugars to look out for are table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
You’ll find refined sugars in packaged foods and drinks, like in a frappuccino, candy, or a bar of chocolate. They also sneak into many store-bought sauces and salad dressings, which is why it is important to read the label before you make a purchase.
Refined sugars don’t offer any nutritional value. They don’t provide any fat, protein, vitamins, or minerals to make the sugar worthwhile. Really, refined sugars are just empty calories.
Natural sugar is found in all sorts of nutrient-rich foods. For example, fruit and milk are both full of different types of natural sugars (fructose and lactose).
Your body breaks down natural sugar the same way it breaks down refined sugar. But foods that have natural sugar also typically have vitamins, minerals, and fiber that still provide some nutritional benefit.
Fiber, in particular, is important, because it helps slow down the introduction of sugar into your bloodstream. This means that your blood sugar is less likely to spike.
In general, eating natural sugar is better than eating refined sugar. But that doesn’t mean natural sugars are always great for you. Sometimes, food with natural sugar can be processed in a way the removes the fiber and other nutrients. Juicing is a good example of this.
Honey and maple syrup are also natural sugars that contain more nutritional value than refined sugar. However, they should still be eaten in moderation.
What Happens When We Eat Too Much Sugar?
When you eat sugar, your blood sugar spikes. This gives you an initial boost of energy. Unfortunately, this energy won’t last long. Pretty soon, you’ll crash and feel more tired than you did before.
Your body uses sugar as a form of energy. It converts sugar and carbohydrates into glucose. This is a normal, healthy way to keep you energised. But, if you consume more sugar or carbs than needed, your body will convert the extra glucose into fat.
How Much Sugar Should You Consume
The American Heart Association suggests that women should not eat more than 100 calories of added sugar per day. That’s about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar every day.
Remember, though, there isn’t any nutritional benefit to eating refined sugar. So 100 calories of sugar per day is the maximum amount of sugar that you should be consuming. This is not a goal to reach. :)
What Happens When You Stop Eating Sugar
When you stop eating sugar, you will notice some short-term and long-term side effects in your body. Most of the side effects are positive, but you will have some negative side effects at first too.
Positive Side Effects
If you quit or significantly reduce your sugar content, you should notice:
1. Clearer Skin
Lots of sugar can cause your insulin to spike, which causes inflammation throughout your body. The inflammation causes your skin to break out.
Limiting your sugar intake will help you reduce inflammation. If you struggle with acne, you should notice your skin clears up with less sugar.
Less sugar can also strengthen elastin and collagen in your skin, which can help with fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
2. A Steady Supply of Energy
As I mentioned earlier, sugar causes a spike in energy that quickly leads to a massive energy drop.
Reducing your sugar intake will help you get rid of these ups and downs. Over time, you’ll notice that your energy levels are much more steady, especially if you replace that extra sugar with fat and protein.
3. Reducing Abdominal Fat
Reducing your sugar intake will help you lose fat all over, including in your abdominal region. This is important because too much abdominal fat or visceral fat can cause health problems.
Visceral fat cells produce hormones and inflammatory substances such as adipokines and adipose hormones.
These hormones travel to organs and blood vessels, where they can cause inflammation and contribute to various health issues such as heart disease and cancer.
4. Weight Loss
Refined sugar is just extra empty calories. They won’t help you feel satisfied in any meaningful way. Getting rid of these calories will help you lose weight. One study shows that people who quit sugar for 30 days noticed 5-20 pounds of weight loss.
Reducing your sugar intake will help you limit your cravings and speed up your metabolism. Both of these things will help you lose weight.
5. Reducing Your Risk of Diabetes
Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce your chance of diabetes. But that’s not the only way reducing sugar can help reduce the risk.
When you eat a lot of sugar or simple carbohydrates, your pancreas produces more and more insulin. This can overwork insulin-producing cells, making them break down, which eventually leads to diabetes.
6. Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease
Too much sugar is linked to high blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) levels, both of which hurt your heart over time. People who get 17 to 21 percent of their calories from sugar are much more likely to die from heart disease.
Negative Side Effects
Reducing your sugar intake (or completely eliminating sugar) has wonderful health benefits. Unfortunately, it can also cause some negative side effects, especially at first.
1. Psychological Withdrawal symptoms
Quitting sugar can have negative effects on your mental health such as:
One of the most common mental side effects of reducing your sugar intake is anxiety. You might notice that you are more nervous, restless, and on edge than normal. You might also feel like you have less patience than you typically do.
Some people who reduce their sugar intake will notice that they struggle to stay asleep or fall asleep. You might also notice that you are more tired throughout the day.
At first, you will also notice that you have trouble concentrating, making difficult decisions, or even retaining information. Eventually, though, quitting sugar will give you more energy and improve your mental clarity!
2. Change in Mood
Enjoying sugar doesn’t just have to do with enjoying the taste. When you eat sugar, your body releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. These hormones activate your body’s reward system. The more sugar you eat, the better you’ll feel emotionally, at least temporarily.
Quitting sugar means that your body doesn’t have its usual source of dopamine and serotonin, which can make you feel irritable or moody. Some people might even feel depressed or fatigued. Your body should adjust in about a week.
Cravings are a natural and common side effect of quitting sugar. You’ll start wanting ice cream, chocolate, or even simple carbohydrates like chips all the time.
Typically, cravings last longer than other negative side effects. Most people will continue to have cravings for about 2-3 weeks.
Eating foods that are high in protein, fat, or fiber can help you feel full and eliminate some of the sugar cravings.
4. Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
Studies show that consuming a lot of sugar long-term can mimic other substance dependencies, like nicotine addiction. Cutting back on sugar can produce similar physical withdrawal symptoms too, including:
- Muscle aches
- Stomach cramps
Tips on Cutting Back Sugar
Some people choose to eliminate sugar completely out of their diet while some choose to cut back slowly. It all depends on what you prefer.
For me, cutting back on sugar slowly is better. You can start by cutting out sugar from one meal only.
So, if you eat cereal for breakfast, try changing that up by having a healthy smoothie. The rest of your meals should stay the same, you just need to slowly add these changes one by one.
Women who go “cold turkey” might eliminate sugar for a month or so and then slowly introduce the occasional treat back into their diet, but others try to avoid sugar for good.
People who do this will often eliminate all forms of simple carbohydrates (like white rice), refined sugar, and artificial sugars (because they can increase your cravings and slow your metabolism).
Even though I prefer quitting sugar slowly, you should do what works best for you!
Improve Your Overall Diet
Cutting back on sugar can cause negative side effects, but these are all temporary. And eating a healthy diet full of vegetables, healthy fats, protein, and fiber will help you feel better. Your cravings will be less intense, and you’ll notice your energy levels will stabilise faster.
Drinking enough water is important no matter what, but it will make a big difference if you are reducing your sugar intake.
If you are used to consuming a ton of sugar from beverages (like your favourite Starbucks order, soda, sugary smoothies, etc.), it is important to replace that hydration with water.
Water will also help you reduce some of your withdrawal symptoms, like headaches.
Get Enough Sleep
As you know, your energy levels can be all over the place while you detox from sugar. Not getting enough sleep can even make some of the negative side effects worse.
It can also increase your cravings for sugars and other unhealthy foods.
Make sure you are able to get enough sleep. This will help you have a healthier diet, lower your stress levels and boost your energy levels.
Having more energy also means not having to reach for a piece of candy to help you stay energised throughout the day. :)
Manage Your Stress
Stress increases your cortisol levels, which can lead to cravings and feelings of hunger. Research has also shown that sugar can have a calming affect on the stress hormone, cortisol.
This explains why we crave sugar especially when feeling stressed.
Try taking deep breaths, meditating, doing yoga, or other activities that lower your stress levels.
Exercise is an awesome way to feel better while you’re cutting back sugar. Exercise releases some of the same feel-good hormones that sugar does, and it will help you feel more energised and alert.
Studies show that short exercise routines, like 15-minute walks, can help you feel better and reduce your sugar cravings.
How Long It Takes to Detox From Sugar
Detoxing from sugar happens in stages, and it will vary from person to person. Here’s a general timeline:
One week: After a week, your body will be experiencing less inflammation. Your skin should appear brighter and less puffy, and most of the negative side effects should be almost over.
One month: At this point, you’ll really see the benefits of reducing your sugar intake. Fruit should taste amazing, and your cravings should be over by now. You will have more mental clarity, and you might have lost weight.
Six months: Products full of refined sugar will not be appealing to you. You will have significantly reduced your chance of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early aging.
One year: Your skin will be brighter, and your weight will most likely seem more manageable. You will be less likely to have a stroke or heart attack, and you will improve your quality and length of life.
In moderation, sugar can be an enjoyable part of life, but most people eat way more sugar than they need. Consider reducing your sugar intake to feel and look healthier. :)
Love Rachael xx