Are you addicted to sugar? This is a question I've asked myself more than once. As a kid, you're warned about alcohol and drugs, but no one ever cautions against the addictive dangers and health detriments of a high-sugar diet. And the word "addiction" really is no exaggeration. According to a 2013 study, sugar can "induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs." As registered dietitian Lauren O'Connor puts it, "Because the taste buds desire sweetness, we tend to want more sugary foods, thus leading to potential sugar binges." Lean in to these seemingly innocuous cookie cravings every day, and you're in for a myriad of negative short and long-term effects.
Most of us are familiar with the immediate repercussions of excess sugar (though we might not always make the connection). "Our appetites increase, and [we see] a greater desire for more sweets, which can lead to cravings, mood swings, and the all too familiar 'crash and burn," explains O'Connor. The damage a sugary diet can cause over time is even bleaker. Effects can include "weight gain, excess fat around the middle, potential for diabetic conditions, and risk for heart disease," O'Connor says.
This all looks pretty grim. But the good news is that you can prevent and even reverse much of the harm immediately, simply by cutting sugar out. The long-term effects of replacing a sugar-laden diet with nutrient-dense, heart-healthy foods are even more impressive. With O'Connor's help, we broke it down all down in a timeline. Keep reading to discover the incredible things that happen to your body in the minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years after giving up sugar!
20 MinutesAfter You Quit
Not dissimilar to alcohol, consuming sugary foods just makes you want to eat more sugar. But 20 minutes after your first sugar-free meal, "You'll be more satisfied and less likely to reach for second helpings or dessert," says O'Connor. See? Just 20 minutes into your sugar-free life, your already on your way.
One HourAfter You Quit
An hour into your post-sugar existence, you should still find yourself on an upswing. "You should feel energized and be more productive," says O'Connor. "You will be less likely to have the urge to reach for a cookie or a handful of processed snacks."
One DayAfter You Quit
According to O'Connor, "Filling up on sugars limits our desire/potential to fuel up on nutrient-dense foods, including healthy fats, proteins, and plenty of fiber, which keeps us healthy, active, and productive." Now that you've gone the whole day without sugar, you've probably worked plenty of those healthier alternatives into your diet.
Now that you've fueled up on vegetables and lean protein, your blood sugar will stabilize, your mood swings will temper, and you'll find yourself with fewer cravings.
Three DaysAfter You Quit
Here's where things start to take an unpleasant turn. Sugar is an addiction, after all. And you can't kick most addictions without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. A few days in, you could experience sugar cravings, anxiety, and even depression in some cases. These effects often taper off after the first week, (but depending on your level of sugar addiction, they could last an extra week or two).
One WeekAfter You Quit
A week after you quit, one of two things can happen to your body. If your previous lifestyle was dominated by processed foods, juice, soda, and desserts, you'll probably still be in detox mode. But if your sugar intake was on the moderate side (and if you're sticking to a diet of protein, fibers, and healthy fats), you should start to feel pretty darn good. "You will be less sluggish, have more stable energy throughout the day, and have an improved mood," says O'Connor.
One MonthAfter You Quit
The one-month mark is when you'll find yourself completely out of the woods. Your desire for dessert will have disappeared, and you'll find yourself strangely craving protein and leafy greens, instead.
One YearAfter You Quit
Once you've stuck to a sugar-free life for a full year, your health will have drastically improved. Your body is now used to functioning on essential nutrients, and because your body no longer has sugar to store as fat, you'll have probably lost weight.
It's also worth noting that at this point, you can afford yourself a sugary splurge every once in a while, if the occasion inspires it. Naturopathic physician Suneil Jain, MD, of Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics recommends following the 80/20 rule. "Aim to eat healthy 80 percent of the time," she says. If once or twice a week, you make a sugary exception, it probably won't derail you. By now, you're so blissed out on a no-sugar lifestyle, you can't imagine going back.