Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms + How to Reduce Sugar Cravings

December 27, 2017
Sugar withdrawal - Dr. Axe

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Is sugar bad for you? While natural sugars are necessary, it’s no secret that excess sugar is detrimental to health. In fact, a high-sugar diet has been associated with a slew of health conditions, from diabetes to heart disease and beyond. But if you’ve ever tried to cut out sugar cold turkey, you’ve probably been faced with sugar withdrawal and the multitude of side effects that come with it.

Although cutting out sugar can mean temporarily dealing with unpleasant symptoms like sugar withdrawal bloating, migraines and fatigue, you shouldn’t let that stop you from continuing to work toward better health. By making a few modifications to your diet and arming yourself with the knowledge you need, overcoming sugar withdrawal and maintaining a nutritious, low-sugar diet can be easier than ever.

Sugar withdrawal - Dr. Axe

What Is Sugar Withdrawal?

A splitting sugar headache, fatigue, cramps and nausea are just a few of the debilitating symptoms that can occur when you decide to finally nix sugar from your diet. But why does this happen, and what causes it?

Years ago, sugar was just a small part of the diet, found mostly in natural sources like fruits and starches. In recent years, however, sugar intake has skyrocketed, with added sugars accounting for an estimated 14.1 percent of total energy intake according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (1) It’s found just about everywhere, from ultra-processed foods to granola bars, cereals, yogurts and even tomato sauces.

Here are some more alarming statistics on sugar intake in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: (2)

  • Americans should keep added sugar intake to less than 10 percent of calories.
  • From 2005–10, men and women 20 and over consumed 13 percent of calories from added sugar.
  • In 2005–08, average percent of daily calories from added sugar was 16 percent for boys and girls ages 2–19.
  • Socioeconomic status is found to not affect added sugar intake by youths, however among adults, lower-income people consume more added sugar.
  • Younger, less educated, less physically active adults who smoke and drink infrequently or lightly seem to consume the most added sugar among adults.

When you eat foods high in sugar and hidden sugar foods, it triggers the release of a chemical called dopamine in the nucleus accumbens part of the brain. (3) Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure centers in the brain and is the same chemical released in response to sex and drug use.

Eating lots of sugary foods often causes the receptors that trigger the release of dopamine start to down-regulate, meaning you have to eat even more sugar the next time to feel the same sensation of pleasure. This turns into a vicious cycle and may even result in sugar addiction.

Thanks to its effect on dopamine and the reward centers in your brain, many studies have found that sugar works like certain types of drugs, such as cocaine, and giving it up can produce symptoms similar to opioid withdrawal. (4, 5)

Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms

Glucose —also known as sugar — is the primary source of fuel for your body. When you eat carbs, they’re broken down into sugar to supply your body with energy. When you significantly slash your sugar intake, it can cause your blood sugar to drop, which can result in a host of symptoms as your body starts to adapt to finding new sources of energy. Sugar withdrawal nausea, headaches and fatigue are just a few of the typical side effects many report as a result of sugar withdrawal.

Of course, the severity of your symptoms largely depends on the amount of sugar in your diet beforehand. If you were loading up on the candy and sweet treats before, you’re more likely to experience some of these symptoms than if sugar made up only a small part of your diet previously.

Some of the most common symptoms caused by sugar withdrawal include:

  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Chills

Sugar Withdrawal Stages

Although the list of common side effects can be a bit daunting, keep in mind that these symptoms are temporary and generally only last a few days for most people. Here are the stages you can expect to encounter when you decide to drop sugar from your diet:

1. Feeling Motivated

When you make the decision to kick sugar to the curb, you likely feel highly motivated and ready to reap the rewards of a healthier diet and lifestyle. Keep it up, as you’ll need this motivation to propel you through the cravings, headaches and fatigue yet to come.

2. Cravings Start to Kick In

Cravings are one of the earliest signs of sugar withdrawal. Many people, for instance, establish a routine with their diets, and may find themselves glancing over at the vending machine when that mid-morning hunger starts to set in.

During this phase, it’s best to prepare by keeping healthy snacks at hand so it’s even easier to resist the urge to indulge in your favorite sweets.


Sugar withdrawal stages - Dr. Axe


3. Symptoms Peak

Soon after the cravings hit, you may begin to experience some of the previously mentioned sugar withdrawal symptoms. Headaches, hunger, chills and even sugar withdrawal diarrhea can set in and make it harder than ever to stay motivated.

Remember why you decided to start eating healthier, and use that to keep you driven and determined to stay on the path to better health.

4. You Start to Feel Better

Once your symptoms start to clear up, you’ll likely find yourself feeling better than ever. Many people have reported improvements in skin health, reduced brain fog and a boost in energy levels as a result of giving up added sugar. Plus, by following a healthy diet and including more nutrient-dense foods in your day, you’ll enjoy a lower risk of chronic disease and better overall health as well.

How to Reduce Sugar Cravings

  • Increase fiber intake
  • Eat more protein
  • Stay hydrated
  • Pack in probiotics
  • Up intake of healthy fats
  • Satisfy sweet tooth without sugar

1. Increase Your Fiber Intake

Fiber moves through the body undigested, helping keep you feeling full and satisfied to kick sugar cravings to the curb. Not only that, but dietary fiber also helps keep blood sugar levels steady, preventing a drop in sugar levels and side-stepping some potential negative effects of sugar withdrawal.

A few healthy high-fiber foods include vegetables, nuts and seeds and legumes. Remember to drink more water if you’re upping your fiber intake to prevent unpleasant digestive side effects, such as constipation.

2. Eat More Protein

Protein is great for reducing hunger and sugar cravings. Not only does a high-protein diet cut levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, but it also helps maintain normal blood sugar levels to prevent several sugar withdrawal symptoms. (6, 7)

Good sources of protein include grass-fed beef, lentils, wild fish, black beans, organic chicken and eggs. You can also keep a few high-protein snacks on hand for when sugar cravings strike.

3. Stay Hydrated

How many times have you felt your stomach grumbling, only to drink a glass of water and have it disappear? Thirst is often confused with hunger, and sometimes all it takes is drinking a bit of water and staying hydrated to squash cravings.

Next time you catch yourself eyeing a sugary candy bar or dessert, try drinking a glass of water, waiting half an hour and seeing if you’re actually hungry or just feeling thirsty.

4. Pack in Some Probiotics

Eating plenty of probiotic-rich foods helps increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Not only does this have far-reaching effects in terms of digestive health and immunity, but some research has even found that it could regulate blood sugar levels and reduce appetite. (8)

A few examples of nutritious probiotic foods include kombucha, kefir, tempeh, miso, kimchi and natto. Aim for a few servings per week to give your gut health a boost and minimize sugar cravings.

5. Up Your Intake of Heart-Healthy Fats

Fat, much like protein and fiber, can promote satiety while warding off sugar cravings. This is because fat is digested very slowly, so it keeps you feeling fuller for longer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should load up on the greasy burgers and fries in order to reduce your sugar cravings. Instead, opt for healthy fats from foods like avocados, nuts and seeds or coconut oil.

6. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth Without Sugar

Just because you’re giving up extra sugar doesn’t mean you have to give up all things sweet forever. In fact, there are plenty of easy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth without piling on added sugar by the teaspoon. Fruit, for example, contains natural sugars, but it also contains loads of vitamins, minerals and fiber that make it a much healthier choice.

Additionally, stevia is a natural, no-calorie sweetener that can sweeten up foods without the negative health effects of sugar. Look for green leaf stevia, the least processed form of stevia, to make sure you’re getting the real deal.

How to Deal With and Overcome Sugar Withdrawal

When symptoms strike, it can be challenging to persevere and continue on your journey toward better health by cutting out added sugar. Here are a few fast tips to help you take on sugar withdrawal:

  1. Stay motivated: Make a list of the reasons why you decided to cut out sugar and keep it close by to keep you going strong when cravings hit or symptoms worsen.
  2. Plan out your meals and snacks: By starting your week knowing what you’re going to eat, it makes it much easier to stay on track, plus even harder to stray toward the candy drawer.
  3. Clean out your pantry: By getting rid of the junk food you may be holding on to and filling your fridge with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, it will be much easier to ignore those sugar cravings and enjoy a healthy snack instead.

4-Week Plan to Wean Off of Sugar

Ready to learn how to stop eating sugar once and for all? While some people prefer to cut it out cold turkey, making changes step by step and slowly reducing your intake of sugar can also be effective. Here’s a plan that can help you significantly cut down on your added sugar intake in just one month:

  • Week 1: Start using stevia or other natural sweeteners in your morning cup of coffee along with wherever else you normally use refined sugar.
  • Week 2: Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet, including soda, juice, fruit punch and lemonade.
  • Week 3: Start swapping out sweets, such as candies and desserts, for fruits or other high-protein, high-fiber snacks.
  • Week 4: Begin trading in processed foods like frozen dinners and convenience items for whole foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


Sugar detox - Dr. Axe


Sugar Substitutes

In your quest for information about learning how to detox from sugar, you’ve probably come across quite a few recommendations for sugar substitutes and may be wondering about the best way to add a hint of sweetness to your foods and drinks naturally.

While I don’t recommend the use of artificial sweeteners, there are plenty of natural sweeteners out there that can bring a touch of flavor and are less processed than refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup. While some of these do contain sugar, using them in moderation occasionally as part of a healthy diet is OK.

Here are a few healthier alternatives that you can use in place of refined sugar:

  • Raw honey
  • Stevia
  • Dates
  • Coconut sugar
  • Maple syrup


Not all sugar is created equal. While added sugars from foods like candies, desserts and processed foods have next to no nutritional value and provide nothing but empty calories, sugar is naturally present in many healthy foods as well. Fruit, for example, contains natural sugars as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals, and can be included as part of a healthy diet.

Although low blood sugar may be a temporary side effect of reducing your sugar intake, hypoglycemia symptoms can be dangerous. Remember to eat regularly, don’t skip meals and keep a piece of fruit on hand in case your blood sugar levels drop too low.

Additionally, if you have diabetes, consult with your doctor before making any major dietary changes as your medications may need to be adjusted.

As always, remember to listen to your body. If cutting sugar out all at once is causing persistent or severe symptoms for you, consider making small dietary changes step by step to achieve long-lasting results.

Final Thoughts on Sugar Withdrawal

  • Is sugar bad for you? Sugar has been associated with a multitude of health issues, ranging from heart disease to diabetes.
  • Sugar withdrawal can cause symptoms like a sugar headache, fatigue, muscle aches, cravings and nausea, although severity of symptoms can vary based on your sugar intake.
  • There are several ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, including eating more protein, fiber and healthy fats; drinking plenty of water; satisfying your sweet tooth with stevia or fruit; and incorporating more probiotic-rich foods into your diet.
  • Although many people prefer to cut sugar out all at once, eliminating certain high-sugar food groups from the diet one at a time can also help you effectively achieve better health.

Read Next: Are You Suffering from a Caffeine Overdose?

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  1. Terri Hart on

    I cut out sugar and cut way back on carbs (Keto) about a month ago. The bloating, gas, and constipation I had been dealing with for years are GONE. This may or may not have a connection to gluten, although I have made no effort to avoid it in the foods I am now eating. I feel great and am over the sugar cravings, which were EXTREME.

  2. James Okpanku on

    Thanks a lot Dr Axe.This is quite uplifting if only humanity can subscribe to your health coaching ,we shall all be healthy. Sugar is a matter of concern in health industry.And people are determined in making money.The same people don’t understand that if customers are not healthy ,they can’t come for another purchase.Yeah Dr. Keep doing and be more courageous.My warm regards.James.

  3. Jeanine M Woroniecki on

    I just once again say im so thankful that God has put you in the position of a health doctor,
    It so nice to know that there are Christian men who are doctors that truely care to help people,ive been listening to the you tube videos and doing the health things you talk about,one is the apple cider vinegar, and one the green protein drinks,the raw fruit,veggies,and i watched my numbers for A1c go from as high as 700+to 145…and for the last 3 days stay at 95 to 90…Thank You for giving to the Lord….
    God Bless you

    • Pamela Gill on

      I agree
      Dr Axe you are a blessing with your fanaticism!
      We all need to have gr8 + gr8er health in this generation to prepare for our eternity in God’s healthy afterlife!
      Your referrals r a help too!
      Keep up ur excellent work + vision
      Pamela from Australia ❇️


    Dr. Axe,

    After reading the comments, I too want to just thank you for caring enough to share your unsights and knowledge with others, to see them healthy. May God increase your knowledge, your business and so much more!! God bless you!

  5. Liz on

    I have given up sugar since Jan 1st a month on and I’ve ended up putting on weight! Is this normal. I didn’t use to eat nuts, avocado, bread and oils.
    I’ve also gone vegan so protein snacks aren’t easy…
    any advise? Found your tips very helpful thanks

    • Katie on

      Hi, what should make protein snacks easier is make a trail mix of a variety of nuts, especially almonds. I noticed you left out vegetables, maybe by accident. But if you are taking on a vegan diet, from another vegan, please oh please pack in those veggies! They are high in healthy fats and proteins and fiber. And honestly from the foods listed ,bread, oil, avocado, those are all High calories foods. While avocado is healthy sometimes , it should be avoided as a main food along with oil because they are both high in fat. So if they are served together frequently the eater may be lacking other nutrients. Also nuts can be high in fat. Let me correct myself fast. Fat is not bad for you. Fat is just bad when served together frequently and often because the lack of other nutrients. I know I enjoy a loaded veggie rice, or veggie roll up or a vegetable stew. In the mornings try 1/2 of oatmeal with lots of fruit. And at lunch try to do a salad with no bread. Hope this helps and was not confusing, sorry it was so late!

  6. Suzanne Hébert on

    Hi Dr Axe,
    I have pre diabètes and last year, after reading your articles, I started to cut on carbs et sugar and now my results are normal. I found new recipes nutritious and very tasty .
    Thank you for your interesting articles.

  7. Mina on

    Great advice really and truly… But Its unfortunate its a revolving circle for the poverty and thats just how it was ment to be. Its a control tactic to keep the misfortune in a rut so that they only decline in drug use. We work 5 to 7 days a week 8 to 10 hours on average only to have a lease on a car and a house that worth less than it cost to build you pritty car. Sugar is in fact a gateway drug and you see trump on tv with a can of pop acting like he eats McDonald’s only to instill it in us that its ok, even the rich eat garbage. Lets lay down the facts here…. For the poor and uneducated walking in to walmart with a two hundred dollar food stamp card and seeing the hundred thousand items of crap for a fraction of the price of a package of strawberrys your going to end up eating animal crackers the economy bag that will last all month.. Its no secret we have multi million dollar lottery deals when children are struggling to eat let alone healthy. Negativity is most defiantly not a way to go at such a hopeful article but, this article isn’t ment for the people who have a addiction to sugar, because lets face it, there lost in drugs. This article is for the ones who have never had to bear the choice of something to eat verse something healthy to eat. The lost have such little hope in this life 😢

    • Miss MJ on

      Hope prevails dear. keep your head up and stay positive. EVery drop of good you do adds to the flow. Be a stellar example. Each one, teach one. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Julia A Rohrmoser on

    Thank you Dr. Axe for all of the great content. I am so happy to learn that for the past five years my husband and I have been on the right road to a healthy lifestyle…I am also glad that when I tell others how great I feel, from abstaining from sugar, eating fruits, vegetables, and it sounds too good to be true, I can share your information with them.

  9. Helen on

    Thank you Dr Axe. All my family is using Stevia we loved. I don’t remember when lest time we used real sugar. We are stared now our diet 500 to 1200 calories a day. My husband asking which oil is the best coconut oil or avocado oil. Thank you for all tips that you give to us.

  10. Josh on

    I cut back and now have basically quit ADDED sugar from my diet. It completely cured my migraines that I had suffered through for 25 years (I’m only 35). I really didn’t think I ate much sugar until I started looking.

    Added sugar is the key, I can eat as much natural sugar from fruits etc. as I want and have not have so much as a headache in over a year now.

    Quitting sugar opened my eyes greatly to how much the food we eat effects our body. I’ve overhauled my whole diet and have never felt better in my life. I was never over weight and was active, I thought I was healthy but I was far from it, now I feel amazing!

  11. Alyssa on

    I’ve been limiting my sugar for a while now. Is it possible I’m experiencing a sugar detox every time I indulge in a few sugary treats?

  12. simplywellthy on

    Love all your posts! I used to be so addicted to sugar. I started using just honey to sweeten things and it eased my addiction alot.


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