Whether people actually experience sugar withdrawal is a matter of some debate, as is whether sugar is actually physically addictive. Many argue that certain foods are psychologically addictive but that sugar withdrawal, or fat withdrawal can be relatively easy from a physiological standpoint.
Some claim sugar is a drug, and functions much like many other drugs. Consuming sugar gives one temporary “highs” of energy and mood elevation. However, such highs may decrease with greater consumption of sugar. People who suddenly attempt sugar withdrawal are likely to have a few weeks of poor energy, cravings for sugar loaded foods, and depression. Some also have flu-like symptoms when undergoing sugar withdrawal.
Sugar withdrawal is often challenging because so many prepared foods contain sugar, or sugar based substances. This includes high fructose corn syrup. As well, many simple carbohydrates like wheat flour convert to sugar in the body. Alcohol is a “hidden sugar” too. So if people merely cut out table sugar, but continue to drink alcohol or eat packaged foods they may not experience sugar withdrawal.
Some experts recommend that sugar withdrawal is best attempted when one can cut out all simple carbohydrates, alcohol, corn syrup, honey, and table sugar. Reading labels on packaged foods can help one significantly reduce sugar intake by avoiding such ingredients. However, even cutting out some of these things is likely to result in less dependence on sugar, and possibly less “addiction” to sugar.
From a psychological standpoint, sugar withdrawal is more easily noted. For example, people who have eating disorders, like consistent overeating, are eating sugar for the highs it gives them. Thus decreasing sugar and overall food intake can dramatically affect mood stability. The psychological factor of most addictions is that the addiction in some way rewards the person, and masks deep-seated emotional pain.
Without the addictive substance, whether it is sugar or food in general, the person must confront the emotional pain. This suggests that sugar withdrawal may be most effective when one attempts it in the context of a support group or under the care of an attentive psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
In the psychological sense, sugar withdrawal can be a very real and painful process, replete with cravings, anxiety or depression, and a general sense of loss when the addictive substance is not used. This suggests we take sugar withdrawal as seriously as addictions to other substances like alcohol or drugs. In many senses, what seems innocuous is actually a leading cause of many health conditions like early onset diabetes, obesity, and a variety of diseases of the organs.
Most people find that physical cravings for sugar will end within three to four weeks after complete sugar withdrawal. Emotional symptoms may linger beyond this point. This is especially the case when the initial cause for dependence remains unaddressed.