There’s no way to fudge the truth about quitting sugar—it’s hard, especially in the beginning. The more you have it, the more you want, says research, so quitting cold turkey can have a huge impact on your mood, energy and cravings. On the upside, once you get through the initial withdrawal, you will be more even keeled, have the stamina of a champion and feel an aversion to the over-sweetened.
It may seem outrageously ascetic to cut out sugar, akin to declaring celibacy or renouncing texting. But if you are sugar curious, which much like the trending term sober curious—a teetotaler movement that extolls the virtues of life-lived alcohol free—it’s worth exploring the numerous benefits of quitting a mood-altering addiction.
Sugar creep is real. It’s the insidious invasion of sugar encroachment into foods where it has no place, such as salad dressing and frozen meals. Some health professionals and scientists classify sugar as an addictive substance: Research shows that sugar can be even more addicting than cocaine. Much like the subtitle of the book sober curious, giving up sugar can promise “The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side.”
There are even more benefits that await you when you get to the other side—such as weight loss, clear skin and lasting energy.
Here are five motivating reasons to remove added sugars from your diet.
5 Health Benefits of Quitting Sugar
1. Improved mood
Prep yo’self—you may have an adverse reaction to cutting out sugar while you go through an interim period of abstinence systems (read: crankiness). Sugar is a comfort food, after all, and going off sugar forces you to find other sources of comfort. Blood sugar levels take some time to stabilize and our brains need time to reboot to its new normal.
But once you’ve passed the withdrawal phase, cravings will dissipate and you will feel much better. Studies show people who eat a lot of sugar are more prone to anxiety and irritability. When you cut out added sugar, you will be able to exit the blood sugar roller coaster.
2. Greater focus
You’re likely familiar with the boost we feel after consuming something sugary, but this newfound alertness doesn’t last for long. On average, our glucose levels will drop after around 20 minutes, leaving us feeling unfocused and easily distracted.
A 2013 study indicated that too much sugar can damage synaptic activity in the brain, which may impair communication between brain cells. Unhealthy amounts of sugar can interfere with insulin's ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions. This can disrupt learning and cause memory loss.
3. Weight loss
Sugar can pack on the pounds, and the converse is also true: Give up sugar, and the pounds may melt away. Once you start eating more whole, unprocessed foods, you may be able to shed stubborn weight such as belly fat. Sugar tends to intensify cravings: It triggers the release of ghrelin (the hunger hormone), which stimulates appetite, making you more likely to over-eat and to opt for foods which don’t satiate you for a prolonged period of time.
When sugar’s high-drama impact stops messing with your hormones, cravings will be easier to control too.
4. Better sleep
The drastic highs and lows in blood-sugar levels that sugar triggers can make a good night’s sleep difficult to come by. Sugar causes the body to release cortisol, which can interrupt your natural sleep cycle. Moreover, a high sugar intake delays the release of melatonin in the brain, the hormone that helps regulate sleep.
Lack of sleep, in turn, can increase your need to eat more sugar for energy, continuing the cycle. Many studies link poor sleep to impaired blood glucose balance, felt as a sugar low, which drives the craving for a sugar high.
5. Clearer complexion
Sugar interferes with just about everything: weight, sleep, mood and mind. As a final straw, too much sugar can even aggravate many common skin issues, such as dryness and breakouts. Sugar binds to collagen, limiting its production, and thus sets up a molecular domino effect called glycation. Since collagen is what keeps skin plump and elastic, if less of it is in circulation, there’s an increased the risk of skin disorders and wrinkles. Basically, sugar can age your skin prematurely—another good reason to limit your intake.