Americans eat and drink too much sugar. Many eat about five times more sugar than they should, Natasa Janicic-Kahric, M.D., an endocrinologist and associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, told The Washington Post. Over time, consuming high quantities of sugar can result in sugar addiction.
Like drugs and alcohol, sugar affects dopamine and serotonin release, exciting the brain’s reward pathways, causing a “sugar high.” Pleasurable memories become associated with sweets.
Sugar on the brain
Cravings for sweets can lead to regular excessive sugar consumption. This excessive consumption alters the reward pathways so that more and more sugar is needed to obtain the same effect.
Caught in the cycle
When blood sugar drops, withdrawal symptoms of depression, anxiety, moodiness, brain fog and fatigue can occur. Cravings follow the withdrawal phase, and the cycle continues.
The internet is full of stories about people who gave up sugar and what happened when they did. All of the authors inspired to write about their experiences describe them as surprisingly transformational. None of them regretted it or went back to their old eating habits. Most describe the first week as being particularly difficult, with flu-like symptoms and overwhelming sugar cravings. Many also craved carbohydrate-rich foods like bread and pasta, because the body knows it can easily convert simple carbohydrates into sugar.
After a week or two, they all reported feeling remarkably well, and cravings dissipated after only a few weeks. Over time, many lost their appetite for sugary foods completely.
Switching from a high-sugar to a low-sugar diet helps the body avoid the sugar-insulin rollercoaster and all of its negative effects. In fact, many unexpected positive effects occur for those who can stay with it through that first rough week. Here are 10 benefits of giving up sugar that feel so good:
Consider some common pitfalls when going sugar-free. For example, eating a bag of sugar-free candy will cause blood sugar levels to abruptly peak, because candy contains carbohydrates that the body converts to sugar. Also, social situations will arise in which everybody is going out for ice cream or eating cake at a celebration. The application of a few basic principles can help those who want to cut excess sugar out of their diet avoid such pitfalls and help ensure a successful transition. These principles include:
From a neuroscientific point of view, transitioning from a high-sugar to a low-sugar diet is not very different from becoming clean and/or sober. For those who have successfully transitioned into recovery from drugs and/or alcohol, quitting sugar may seem comparatively easy. In addition, doing so may help promote lasting recovery. Without all the negative effects of drugs, alcohol and sugar, such a healthy lifestyle can make a person unstoppable.
Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego is a leader in the treatment of adolescent mental illness, substance use and dual diagnosis. Our programs integrate state-of-the-art neurocognitive treatments with alternative approaches like experiential therapies, while promoting healthy lifestyle habits and lasting recovery. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. Sovereign Health is a behavioral health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.