Is sugar withdrawal real and do I have it?
June 8, 2011 1:47 AM   Subscribe

Is sugar withdrawal a real thing, and is it the reason for my odd symptoms?

Since changing jobs I've been eating far fewer sweet snacks (biscuits, cake, etc).
I have noticed that on days when I completely avoid sugary food, I often feel grumpy and irritable the next day. Twice I've had what I can only suppose are symptoms of low blood sugar - lightheadedness, sweating, slight shaking - that lasted about five minutes. I do consume enough calories for a woman of my age, weight and height.
Has anyone experienced similar problems and fluctuations? Does it go away as I adjust? Should I see a dOctor?
posted by NoiselessPenguin to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hypoglycemia is a real thing, but it's totally manageable. Try substituting some other carb-heavy snack instead of an actual sweet, e.g. crackers, a piece of bread, etc. and see if you can get your symptoms to go away.

It's still probably worth getting an appointment with your doctor, because lightheadedness and shaking are never good symptoms and can be indicative of something more serious.
posted by valkyryn at 2:17 AM on June 8, 2011

Make sure are eating enough carbs (slow release of energy vs the fast release of sugar) at breakfast and lunch. In fact, make sure you are eating enough at breakfast and lunch - it's easy to eat less during the day and have a big dinner, but this is the opposite of what the body needs: fuel at the beginning of and during the day, less so at the end.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:52 AM on June 8, 2011

Yes, this is a real thing. I've had it/have it. Yes, managing it with slow release foods (especially carbs) and avoiding sugars is the correct way to handle it. Yes, you should visit a physician. The test you're looking for is called a "blood sugar stress test." They measure your fasting blood sugar, pump you full of sugar, wait for a bit, then test your blood sugar again to see how your body handled it. Very informative.
posted by yeolcoatl at 4:51 AM on June 8, 2011

There's another blood test, called A1C, which gives an average of your blood sugar for the past three months. It's useful for eliminating the possibility that you're diabetic,or establishing that you are. If you are, you want to know about it, believe me. If you aren't, it's one less thing to worry about.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:55 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth pointing out that sugar is a "carb", since two comments above seem to imply that sugar and "carbs" are two different things. All carbohydrates affect blood sugar, with sugars tending to cause more of a peak and valley effect than things like whole grains.

Fiber is also a carbohydrate, but it is not processed by the body.
posted by owtytrof at 7:12 AM on June 8, 2011

Anecdotally, yes. A few years ago, my husband and I "Somercized" and that's exactly what we both experienced as we broke our addiction to sugar and its sweet sweet habit, and it went away as we adjusted to eating better. But if it's scary, see your doctor.
posted by peagood at 7:27 AM on June 8, 2011

I get this. I also CRAVE sugar for about 5 days, after which I don't care anymore.

I make up for it by eating fruit, which, in my mind, doesn't count. I start out with the sugary fruit like oranges and end up with things like bananas.

It's the refined stuff- white sugar, corn syrup- I don't think I should be eating.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:29 AM on June 8, 2011

If you are actually wanting to "avoid sugary food", you do have to sort-of 'detox' from them. After about a week, you won't crave them as much.

As for the hypoglycemia, make sure you are eating enough complex carbohydrates. I would definitely see your doctor, just to make sure everything is ok. Hypoglycemia is completely manageable through your diet. Just stay away from refined sugars.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 10:56 AM on June 8, 2011

As owtytrof said, sugars are carbs and carbs (once you get done with them) are sugars. You absolutely need a certain amount of carbs a day (glucose is the obligatory substrate for your brain) but it's not like there are many people who are in any danger there.

What's happening right now is that your body has been operating in a certain mode where sugars are plentiful and it hasn't really had to be very efficient with them. Not it's suddenly having to cope with a limited supply. Eventually you're body will catch onto this new status quo and it shouldn't be such a problem.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:07 PM on June 8, 2011

I don't know about sugar withdrawal, but I do know about hypoglycemia.

If you're eating enough, try spreading it throughout the day better by adding snacks and eating a little less during your main meals. Complex carbs, fiber, and some protein will all help to keep your sugar levels more even.

A better diet over a period of time will probably give you more leeway between meals if you're not into snacking.
posted by moira at 12:18 PM on June 8, 2011

Sugar withdrawal is definitely real, but unless you are eating only whole foods on these days when you are avoiding sugary treats it is unlikely that this is what you are experiencing. Processed foods are full of hidden sugar. I recommend seeing a doctor to rule out nutrition deficiencies, thyroid issues or a multitude of other issues that could be causing the same symptoms.

That being said, many recent studies are showing that sugar may be the real bad guy in our diets that are causing many diseases, so this may be a good reason to actually go through those terrible withdrawal symptoms and kick the habit for good.
posted by trishthedish at 6:14 PM on June 9, 2011

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