What to Expect When You Quit Sugar

Interview with: Charmaine Platon

20 August 2022

Charmaine is a Weight Loss Coach and Creator of the youtube Channel “Sugar-Free Self-Care TV.” She helps women entrepreneurs permanently lose 20+ pounds, feel in control around sugar, and look and feel their best.

What can someone expect from quitting sugar for the first time?
After coaching clients on how to curb their sugar cravings for the past 3 years, I can tell you that many people often revert to eating sugar in the first week because they’re not adequately prepared on what to expect.
The first thing that you want to expect when you switch from eating a high-carb diet to a low-carb (or sugar-free) diet is that your body is doing a lot of internal work to change how it metabolizes food for energy.
Most people will get energy from eating carbs or sugar (“sugar-burners”). However, when you stop eating sugar, your body has to get energy from SOMEWHERE! So it will start breaking down your fat stores to get fuel (this is called being a “fat-burner” or “fat-adapted”).

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For your body to accomplish this, it will take a transition period of 2-6 weeks total, and it will vary from person to person. In the first 1-2 weeks is when the most changes will occur physically and mentally. (Refer to symptoms below!)

However, the longer you commit to eating sugar-free, the more your body will be able to fully transition to going into “fat-burning” mode, and then you will start burning your own fat stores for fuel. This process (called gluconeogenesis) can lead to fat loss, weight loss, and also more steady streams of energy throughout the day.

What happens to your body when you stop eating sugar? 

Your body will transition from burning sugar for fuel (“sugar-burner” mode) to burning your body’s fat stores for fuel (“fat-burner” mode). That means, your body no longer needs to depend on eating sugar for energy, and that you will utilize the fat in your body for fuel.

It also leads to a multitude of other benefits, such as increased mental clarity, steady streams of energy, feeling full and satiated throughout the day, and weight loss.

What are the symptoms of quitting sugar? 

Carbohydrates retain a lot of water (which is why they're called "carbohydrates")! When you eat less sugar, flour, or carbohydrates, you may begin urinating more than usual. This can lead to low sodium levels in your body.
When you have less sodium in your body, this can create "Sugar Withdrawal" symptoms, such as:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • flu-like symptoms
  • fatigue
  • urges to overeat or binge eat
  • shakiness
  • intense hunger
  • weakness
  • irritability

How long does it take to feel better after quitting sugar? 

These symptoms are normal and expected when transitioning from being a "sugar-burner" to a "fat-burner," and often get worse in the first 1-5 days. However, they can last for up to 2 weeks or more, and vary from person-to-person.

To alleviate these symptoms, it's important to remember that this is NOT an emergency, and that you want to have a sugar withdrawal self-care plan in place!

I often recommend my clients to drink warm water with at least ½ teaspoon of salt or bone broth daily, add Pink Himalayan salt to their meals (take about 1-3 teaspoons of salt per day total); get adequate sleep or take power naps, or eat a planned sugar-free snack (like cheese, almonds, or Simple Bars!) if their hunger or cravings are overwhelming.

What are the benefits of a no sugar diet? 

You don’t necessarily need to eliminate ALL sugar from your diet to be healthy, especially natural sugars that occur in low-sugar fruits, avocados, or almonds. However, what I would significantly limit is your intake of refined carbohydrates (e.g. flour, pasta, bread, oats, cereal), added sugars (e.g. honey, maple syrup, sweeteners, table sugar, etc.), and processed sugars (e.g. juices, smoothies, acai bowls).

Eating foods that are processed or refined in any way (in other words, foods that have been blended, pulverized, or stripped of their natural fibers/proteins/fats so they can have a longer shelf life and higher concentration of flour and sugar) will not only spike your blood sugar levels drastically, which can send your body into energy spikes and dips throughout the day.

But they can also hijack your brain's reward system due to how highly concentrated they are in sugar and flour, thus making you crave these foods frequently WITHOUT making you full or satiated. As a result, eating any kind of processed sugar and carbs, like bread, smoothies, cereal, chips, pastries, pasta, etc. can leave your brain wanting more without filling you up, and can be very easy to mindlessly overeat.

When you eliminate your intake of processed sugar and carbs, not only will you significantly mitigate your sugar cravings, but you will have more balanced and stable blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels will keep your energy and hunger levels stable, so you don’t constantly keep feeling hungry and tired. When you feel full throughout the day, you will be much less likely to overeat (which makes it much easier to lose weight)!

You will also have more mental clarity when your blood sugar levels are stable, leading to more productivity in your day and finishing more things on your to-do list!

What advice would you give someone trying for the first time?

In the beginning, it’s going to feel TERRIBLE! However, don’t panic! Take it easy during the week that you are going sugar-free. Create a sugar withdrawal self-care plan (as mentioned above), make sure you are taking in adequate amounts of salt and staying hydrated, and that you rest as needed.

These symptoms are temporary and are a sign that your body is transitioning from sugar-burning mode to fat-burning mode. The more you stay with it, the easier it will be to get off sugar long-term since your body will not be craving sugar for energy as much as before.

Don’t give up, and seek support if you’re feeling discouraged!

If you’re interested in quitting sugar, but are seeking support, nutrition guidance, and mindset coaching from a Certified Weight Loss Coach, feel free to contact Charmaine at charmaine@sugarfreeselfcare.com for a complimentary consultation.
Find Charmaine on sugarfreeselfcaer.com or on social media: YouTube, Insta, and Facebook.