Are you trying to cut refined sugar out of your life? It’s not easy! Here are some tips on navigating sugar withdrawal.
Oh, sugar. So bad for our health but so, so good for making food taste delicious. If you’ve been wanting to cut out refined sugar, you’ve probably discovered that it’s tougher than you thought it would be, and not just because sugar goes by all kinds of deceptive names. When you first cut sugar, you crave it, especially if sweet treats were part of your daily routine.
I cut out all refined sugar and grains during the second half of my pregnancy, and it was not easy. I felt tired, headachy and moody, and I had dreams about cupcakes and toast with jam. Symptoms like these are pretty common when you cut sugar, and with good reason.
Why is ditching sugar so hard?
Sugar is addictive. It actually activates our brain’s pleasure centers when we eat it, just like opiates do. And, like opiates, eating a lot of sugar over a long period of time changes our brain chemistry. We need more sugar to feel good, and we feel bad when we don’t eat enough to satisfy our brains.
When you first cut out sugar, you may experience withdrawal symptoms powerful enough to send you reaching for an Oreo or a pint of ice cream. Over time, those symptoms fade, but getting to that point isn’t always easy. You may feel depressed and headachy or act more impulsively as your brain gets used to living without refined sugars.
Dealing with Sugar Withdrawal
Sugar withdrawal is real. You may experience headaches, fatigue and moodiness along with cravings for sweet treats. Here are some strategies to get through this tough part.
Nicole Mowbray at The Daily Mail gave up sugar and talked a bit about the withdrawal period, including the technique that helped her most. We tend to view sweets as a reward, and shifting this way of thinking helped Mowbray a lot. She focused on weight loss, but you can also try thinking about the long-term health benefits of quitting refined sugar.
Headaches are a common sugar withdrawal symptom, and one that Mowbray experienced. If your headaches are severe, there’s no shame in taking an over the counter pain medication occasionally to get you through this initial tough part. You can also try acupressure or yoga poses to give you some relief.
If quitting sugar is making you moody, your best bet is to just take five. Not the candy bar! If you find yourself getting irritable, step away for a few minutes. A short walk or even a few minutes of breathing exercises can be a big help.
Whether you’re experiencing headaches, fatigue or moodiness, sometimes a small indulgence can do the trick. When I was cutting out refined sugar, reaching for a whole food sweet treat was often helpful.
Dealing with Social Situations
When you’re quitting sugar, you start to realize how big a part it plays in social situations. I experienced this at parties when I was pregnant. Friends thought I was crazy for passing on cupcakes, sometimes pressuring me to have just one.
Mowbray experienced similar awkwardness in social situations and even had friends get angry with her at parties when she was skipping the cocktails and cookies. She spoke with psychologist Amanda Hills about this issue, who said, “Often people do it because there’s something they want to change about themselves, but can’t quite bring themselves to.” Seeing you just say no to sweets feels threatening, because it highlights a behavior they feel a little bit guilty about.
In situations like these, I’ve found that being sensitive to those feelings can help a lot, and that a little self deprecation goes a long way. Explain why you’re quitting sugar, if you’re comfortable doing so. You can also crack a joke about one of your own vices to help put a friend at ease.
Temptation is the other tricky part about social situations, especially when you first quit sugar. It’s a lot harder to stick to your guns when faced with a beautiful dessert spread.
If there is fresh fruit available, you may be able to redirect your sugar craving to something healthier. A cup of coffee or tea can also distract you from the dessert plate. Warm drinks are soothing, which is just what you need when a craving is making your feel anxious. This is also a good time to practice the long-term thinking that Mowbray talked about. You’ve worked so hard! Is that slice of cheesecake really worth it?
Obviously, an orange or a cup of chamomile isn’t the same as a brownie. Cutting sugar is not always easy, but hopefully these tips will take the edge off of the tough moments, so you can succeed.
This article originally appeared on Care2.com.