Dietician explains sugar causes drug-like addiction

Dietician explains sugar causes drug-like addiction


How cutting out sugar affects your body: Dietitian explains sweet foods cause drug-like addiction and quitting could give you healthier skin and boost your performance in the gym and at work

  • Dr Samantha Coogan said giving up sugar causes withdrawal symptoms  
  • But once the body adjusts, it will feel more energised and productive
  • Dr Coogan said this effect was similar to that of quitting alcohol or drugs 

A dietitian has revealed how cutting out sugar, which can cause a drug-like addiction, could boost your health and performance in the gym and at work. 

Dr Samantha Coogan, president of the Nevada Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a researcher at the University of Nevada, explains the effects of quitting the sweet stuff.

Withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, stomach aches or bowel changes, can last for days or even weeks.

But once the body has adjusted, you can expect to see a boost in brain function at work and you’ll need fewer sick days at work, Dr Coogan said.

The body will feel less lethargic, making exercise easier and muscles will be replenished quicker with adequate nutrition. 

Dr Coogan said the hair, skin, and nails improve, while sleep is more restful and weight loss is ‘inevitable’ from cutting out the high-calorie snacks.

Your body will also be better protected against disease – too much sugar is known to raise the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

A dietitian has revealed how cutting sugar, which causes a drug-like addiction, can boost performance in the gym and at work (stock image)

Dr Coogan, writing for the University of Nevada, said: ‘It may be a harsh comparison, but think about how drug addicts live on a day-to-day basis. 

‘Work is either low quality or non-existent; workouts are either minimal intensity, or again non-existent; and their sleep patterns are constantly disturbed without ever feeling fully rested. 

‘Sugar is an addictive substance for some people, so it really is necessary to approach it in a similar manner to drug or alcohol detoxification.’

The higher a person’s sugar tolerance is, the longer it may take for them to get used to a diet that doesn’t involve reaching for sugary snacks. 

But once the withdrawal phase is over, Dr Coogan said the benefits can be numerous.

People may find their hair, skin and nails look healthier, their belly fat decreases, productivity at work and performance in the gym improve, and they sleep better, Dr Coogan said.  

Boost productivity at work

The brain needs sugar as an energy source to function but, like in any part of the body, excess amounts of it can be harmful.

Neurologists have found that thinking, learning and concentration are all affected by how efficiently the brain can use the sugar in the body.

Diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar – such as cakes, chocolate, fizzy drinks and biscuits – have also been linked to cognitive decline in later life, such as memory problems and dementia.  

A study by Korean researchers of 317 healthy children found that those who consumed more processed foods, rather than a healthy diet, had reduced cognitive capacity, including poorer short-term and working memory, both needed to concentrate. It was published in the Journal of Lifestyle and Medicine in 2017. 

Hyperglycemia is a common complication of diabetes caused by high glucose levels in the blood.

And a study published in Diabetes Care found that people with type 2 diabetes reported increased feelings of sadness and anxiety during acute hyperglycemia.

In study of 23,245 people, the University College London, found adverse effect of sugar intake from sugary foods and drinks on long-term psychological health, including depression. It was published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2017. 

The brain needs sugar as an energy source to function, but excess amounts can be harmful, with studies showing impairment to memory and concentration (stock image)

Improve gym workouts

Dr Coogan said: ‘Sugar often makes us feel lethargic, fatigued and begging for more, which also takes a toll on the body. 

‘Some people may feel the positive effects of a sugar-free diet right away, while others may take a little longer.’

Cutting out sugar could make your body feel better because it has to be replaced with other – hopefully more nutritious – foods. 

Exercising uses a lot of energy taken from glycogen stores, and it’s important to eat nutritious food to both fuel the workout and recover from it. 


The amount of sugar a person should eat in a day depends on how old they are.

Children aged four to six years old should be limited to a maximum of 19g per day.

Seven to 10-year-olds should have no more than 24g, and children aged 11 and over should have 30g or less.  

Popular snacks contain a surprising amount of sugar and even a single can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) or one Mars bar (33g) contains more than the maximum amount of sugar a child should have over a whole day.  

A bowl of Frosties contains 24g of sugar, meaning a 10-year-old who has Frosties for breakfast has probably reached their limit for the day before they even leave the house.  

Children who eat too much sugar risk damaging their teeth, putting on fat and becoming overweight, and getting type 2 diabetes which increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Source: NHS 

A post-workout meal high in carbohydrates, as well as protein, is required to refill muscle energy stores enough to promote a substantial insulin release which will carry the nutrients back into the muscle, accelerating muscle repair.

Inadequate food choices can result in fatigue, reduced performance the next training session and muscle soreness.

Poor nutrition, such as high sugar foods and drinks, also may impact the ‘end goal’ of a person’s gym routine because it contributes to fat storing.

When sugars are broken down during digestion to be used for fuel, some is stored in the muscles and liver to be used later. 

But if there is excess sugar, which is not used for energy in activity, it needs to be stored somewhere – and for this the body uses fat cells.

Dr Coogan said: ‘Replacing sugar with things like fiber and protein will increase your satiety values, allowing you to feel fuller for longer while reducing your overall caloric intake.’ 

Not all sugar is bad, however. A 2018 study by Appalachian State University compared the effects of eating a banana – made of carbohydrate which is broken down into sugar – versus drinking sugar water after intense exercise. 

Both helped restore energy levels, but those who ate a banana had better overall recovery and less inflammation due the natural nutrients and it’s benefits for the muscles. 

Inadequate food choices after exercise, such as sugar foods, and result in fatigue, reduced performance the next training session and muscle soreness (stock image) 

Skin and hair improves

Dr Coogan added that people may notice their hair, skin and nails start to improve when they’ve cut out sugar. 

Past research has shown that diets high in sugar can damage collagen, the protein that makes the skin youthful.

When sugar enters the body, it triggers a process called glycation, creating a substance which can accelerate the effects of aging, such as wrinkles and sagging skin by degrading collagen and elastin – which both keep the skin firm.

The body’s way of dealing with a surge of sugar is to produce insulin. When insulin spikes, so does inflammation, which is linked to inflammatory skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema. 

It can also exacerbate acne, as insulin can lead to the production of hormones which boost sebum cell growth – resulting in spots.  

A study of 2,300 people by Turkish Researchers in 2012 found that people who frequently consumed added sugars had a 30 times greater risk of developing acne.  

Dr Coogan said some people may start to see changes in their body within just a few days, while others might have to wait longer. 

‘Fruit may start to taste sweet again — almost like candy — because your taste receptors have been given a chance to relax and stop searching for that sugar,’ she added.

‘Your sweetness tolerance starts to reduce in only a few days as well.

‘The higher your sugar tolerance was, the longer it may take for naturally sweetened foods to taste as sweet as before. 

‘You may even find that certain foods are almost too sweet for your new preference.

Again, every person and body is different. Many factors — such as genetics, presence of or risk factors for certain chronic diseases and conditions, physical activity level, carb/sugar sensitivity, age, gender — may play a role in how, and how long, your body reacts to the removal of sugar.

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