WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY WHEN YOU CUT OUT SUGAR
Whether it’s your post-workout smoothie, late-afternoon granola bar at your desk or even just a common condiment like ketchup, sugar tends to (almost deceptively) sneak into many foods we tend to think of as traditionally healthy. Even worse, it’s an addictive substance, too—a New York Times article once reported that sugar was as addictive as cocaine.
And while the dangers associated with consuming too much refined sugar are pretty widespread and well known (think weight gain, elevated blood sugar, spiking cholesterol levels), what’s less apparent is how a complete depletion of the ingredient from the diet affects our bodies. Or to be even more specific, what happens the first few hours, days and weeks when you cut out sugar.
Here, nutritionists and food experts share the good and bad (but mostly good) stuff that goes down in your body the first week you cut out sugar.
For the first few days, you’ll probably feel pretty gross
Like any addictive substance, the first few days of detoxing will feel, well, like a detox—pretty miserable. But according to Dr. Jaime Schehr, a physician and dietitian based in NYC, the extent to how bad your withdrawal will be depends on how much sugar you were consuming in the first place.
“Your body’s response to a sugar detox will depend on just how much sugar you consume on a daily basis,” she explains. “Someone consuming copious amounts of sugars in drinks and sweets is more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, headaches, mood swings, irritability and extreme hunger cravings. Someone with low levels of sugar in their diet may just experience cravings and low energy.”
And as Dr. Schehr goes on to explain, there’s light at the end of the tunnel: any withdrawal symptoms should subside after a few days.
…but by mid-week, you’ll be sleeping like a baby
If you’ve made it through the first two days of cutting out sugar, give yourself a pat on the back. Or more appropriately, a couple of good pillow fluffs and an extra hour to snooze.
“High amounts of sugar can cause rises and drops in blood glucose, which can directly affect how soundly you sleep,” Dr. Schehr explains. “Cutting sugar out of your diet helps the body to control its blood glucose levels more easily, leading to longer and more sound sleep.”
You’ll recover from that intense lifting session much faster
If you tend to feel sore for several days after an intense lifting session, you might feel some relief once your diet is sugar-free.
“Sugar is a very inflammatory food and can prolong healing and recovery to the body,” Dr. Schehr says. “Reducing sugar intake, especially from added sugars, can help the body recover from exercise more quickly and restore energy levels more quickly.”
You’ll be more ‘on it’ at work and in class
“A diet high in added sugar reduces the production of a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF),” says Dr. Schehr. “Without BDNF, we have difficult time remembering things and forming new memories.”
Bottom line: The more BDNF (or less sugar), the more productive and energized you’re likely to be in work and class.
The less sugar you consume, the less you’ll crave
Of course, if you wipe sugar out entirely from your diet, will you break out into a cold sweat the next time you pass a Krispy Kreme and the “hot” light is on?
When it comes to sugar, absence definitely doesn’t make the taste buds grow fonder, says Dr. Schehr. “When people have high amounts of added sugars in their diet, they are more likely to craves these foods leading to extreme consumption,” she explains. As a result, consuming less sugar will mean you crave it less overall.
Your insulin levels will stabilize (and you might even drop a pound or two)
According to Jaimi Jansen, president of Santa Cruz Fitness + Rehab, cutting out sugar could even have an instantaneous effect on your weight––and for reasons you probably wouldn’t expect.
“When we stop consuming sugar, insulin levels stop spiking immediately,” she says. “Therefore, the body is less likely to store fat.”
You’ll be less inclined to binge
Another benefit associated with being sugar-free? Saying goodbye to those late-night Ben & Jerry’s (or any other type of food) binges.
“High-sugar foods also cause similar reactions in the brain as heroin,” explains NY Health and Wellness Medical Director Elizabeth Cramer-Ernst. “Dopamine is affected. Binge eating affects opioid receptors and dopamine in the brain.”