Quitting Sugar? Here’s How to Handle the Withdrawal

It's everywhere. Really.

Many of us grew up on refined sugar lurking in our sandwich bread, cereals, tomato sauce, salad dressings, and even dried fruit. Surprisingly, most of us have eaten it today without even realizing it because it’s hidden in even more foods and beverages than ever before. Refined sugar is linked to numerous health issues. Symptoms of too much sugar can range from hormonal imbalances to Candida, SIBO, obesity, heart disease, high blood sugar (which leads to many health issues including PCOS in women), diabetes, and more.

Throughout the last decade, I’ve focused on gut health because the majority of our immune system is located in our gut. Therefore, in my opinion, aside from the above health conditions, the worst thing about sugar is that it can contribute to something called Leaky Gut. When we get Leaky Gut, the lining of our gut thins out and food that is meant to stay within the gut lining and inside the intestines goes out into the immune system. What happens next is that your immune system then attacks the food particles like a foreign invader and inflammation starts to become systemic in your body. Not fun.

Inflammation & Symptoms

This is when you start to see symptoms pop up out of nowhere in your body. This is when you feel inflamed; maybe you’re bloated or getting headaches or you have insomnia. This is also when your doctor comes along and puts you on a pill to treat your symptoms because he does not know how to heal your body or how to figure out what’s going on. All he knows is how to cover up your symptoms and take away your pain. When you pop a pill to take away the pain, the root cause of the pain is still there inside your body screaming at you. If you ignore it with a pill, it will eventually manifest in another area of your body. This is not the time to ignore your symptoms, it’s the time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s going on inside of you.

Your body is always giving you feedback all day long. If a symptom pops up, you know that something isn’t right. You must work with your body to get to the root cause of what is going on to heal these symptoms. If you are not aware of the foods you are putting into your body or you’re not aware of the hidden inflammatory ingredients lurking in your so-called “healthy” foods, I highly suggest you start to look at the ingredient labels for sugar. A few ingredients you can be on the lookout for are sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, rice syrup, and maltose. There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels!

The name of the game here is to focus on reducing your sugar intake slowly day by day. Yes, you may go through withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and cravings like you do when you stop drinking coffee but after a few days of removing sugar, you will start to feel like a whole new person because you won’t have the energy highs and lows that you did when sugar was in your lifestyle.

The Impact Processed Foods Have on Your Blood Sugar

Processed foods, which contain some form of sugar, can stimulate the reward system in our brains the same way that drugs do, which is why it’s so hard to stop eating a donut or soda because we become addicted to these ‘fake’ foods. Simple carbohydrates like white bread and cookies are broken down by the body into sugar, which enters the bloodstream and can lead to insulin resistance, which means that your cells don’t respond as they should to the insulin that is produced in your pancreas. Moreover, when your blood sugar level spikes, you’ll feel a high and then a crash followed by your desire to reach for more sugary and high carbohydrate foods. This is a cycle and you’ll feel trapped because you won’t be able to stop eating sugar! Your brain is powerful so when you keep feeding it sugar, it will want more and more.

When we eat, our brains release feel-good hormones such as dopamine, which we interpret as pleasure. When we eat processed foods, they can cause a powerful reward release, which is what makes our bodies crave that feeling. You can train your body to release these cravings and reduce the amount of sugar you eat by retraining your taste buds with a few of these tips.

  1. Every time you feel a craving come on, drink a large glass of water with a fresh squeezed lemon or lime. Add in chopped fresh mint leaves for a boost of more naturally sweet flavor if desired. Oftentimes, we mistake our thirst for hunger so it’s important to check in with ourselves and gauge how thirsty we are before we eat. Before you reach for food, drink a large glass of water and wait ten minutes to see if you are still hungry. You might be surprised to learn that your body was just thirsty!
  2. Add ground cinnamon to your favorite recipes such as chili, soups, and oatmeal to add a touch of sweetness without added sugar. You can also add cinnamon sticks to a cup of your favorite hot tea for a sweet touch without having to add a spoonful of sugar.
  3. Add in more healthy fats to your meals and snacks such as avocado, walnuts, almonds, extra-virgin olive oil and sunflower seeds to help balance your blood sugar and keep you from reaching for the candy jar.
  4. Add naturally sweetened root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, and butternut squash to your meals for a few weeks and see how different you feel. You can roast these options in the oven to bring out their sweetness. Chop any or all of these vegetables and place them on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees F with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
  5. Make sure you’re eating enough high-quality protein at every meal. Your body needs protein and healthy fats to balance your blood sugar. Each meal you eat throughout the day should be made up of fiber/complex carbohydrates (think sweet potatoes and chickpeas), protein, and healthy fats.
  6. Focus on adding in foods that make you feel energized. I know this may not sound so easy but it is worth it in the end because the longer you wait to remove inflammatory foods like sugar from your lifestyle, the more you’ll end up dealing with health issues and doctors bills in the future. Remember, when you eat simple carbohydrates such as white bread and cookies, they turn to sugar in your body and your blood sugar spikes, which creates health issues in your body over time and immediately makes you feel awful, lethargic and fatigued! Start removing sugar slowly and go at your own pace. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to explore naturally sweet foods, new healthy fats, and proteins to keep you satisfied all day long without the vending machine snacks. My 30-Day Reset will walk you through this and I’ll hold your hand along the way!

Amie Valpone is the founder of TheHealthyApple.com and the best-selling author of Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body. She recently healed herself from a decade of chronic health issues such as Lyme disease, C-diff colitis, Hypothyroidism, Leaky Gut, Candida, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), toxic levels of mold and heavy metals, and more through detoxification and an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. 

The views expressed in this article are intended to spark conversation and highlight alternative studies and is for information purposes only. We are not here to diagnose or treat any health or medical conditions, nor should this be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, even if it features the advice of health experts, medical practitioners or physicians. When making any lifestyle or health changes, consult your primary care physician. The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Organic Authority, Inc. 

Read more by Amie Valpone:

6 Signs You’re Stressed Out and Living in Flight or Fight Mode and Need a Reset
27 Signs You May Have an Unhealthy Gut

Amie Valpone, HHC, AADP, is a Functional Medicine Nutrition Expert, the founder of TheHealthyApple.com and best-selling author of Eating... More about Amie Valpone