Home All About Your Body 5 Things That Happen To Your Body After You Give Up Refined Sugar

5 Things That Happen To Your Body After You Give Up Refined Sugar

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When I talk about going scale free, I talk about having other measurable goals for determining the successes and struggles involved in a person’s fitness journey.

And, since I think it’d help people even more if we all worked together on a common goal, I’m dedicating Fall 2014 to cutting the sugar!

Don’t “booooooooo” me. I’m serious.

The average person, as of 2012, consumed approximately 38.25 teaspoons of added sugars each day, amounting to over 570 calories a day. Seeing as how it takes an estimated deficit of approximately 3,500 calories to lose a pound, a significant reduction of sugar in your daily diet can result in a weight loss of almost a pound a week, and that’s before you ever set foot in a gym.


Make no mistake about it, sugar is necessary. And, if we removed the presence of processed food from our diets, we’d likely consume a much more sensible amount of it and be in a healthier place overall. This #ScaleFreeFall, let’s do what we can to get to that place.

On the journey towards cutting added sugars for good, you might experience a few added benefits along the way that you weren’t expecting.

And what would those be, Erika?

1) Improved energy levels. Your body cannot and will not run optimally if it’s overflowing with sugar. Ever heard of “the ‘itis?”

The official name for the ‘itis, though lovingly named “ethnic fatigue,” is post-prandial somnolence. It’s the general term for the drowsiness that occurs after eating a meal comprised of a mass of simple carbohydrates (which can, in a nutshell, be boiled down to carbohydrates without fiber) and certain kinds of fats.

It’s like this: eating triggers a reaction from something called the “parasympathetic nervous system,” which tells your body to slow down and focus as much energy as possible toward digesting. The more you eat, the more your body has to slow down.

But the “sleepy” part, that’s different. As your body ingests carbs that result in a large amount of glucose in the system without an adequate amount of fiber to stave off the increase in blood sugars, the body has to release insulin into the blood stream to “mop up” all that glucose. When the body releases insulin, two neurochemicals responsible for lethargy and drowsiness – serotonin and melatonin – are triggered, thereby making the food coma inevitable.

Frequent consumption of excessive quantities of sugar is what brings about the tired-feeling. Consistent over-consumption of sugar contributes to diabetes and higher blood pressure. Speaking of which…

2) Reduced blood pressure. A National Geographic cover story on sugar tells quite a story about the effects that sugar have on the heart:

Sucrose, or table sugar, is composed of equal amounts of glucose and fructose, the latter being the kind of sugar you find naturally in fruit. It’s also what gives table sugar its yummy sweetness. (High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is also a mix of fructose and glucose—about 55 percent and 45 percent in soft drinks. The impact on health of sucrose and HFCS appears to be similar.) Johnson explained to me that although glucose is metabolized by cells all through your body, fructose is processed primarily in the liver. If you eat too much in quickly digested forms like soft drinks and candy, your liver breaks down the fructose and produces fats called triglycerides.

Some of these fats stay in the liver, which over long exposure can turn fatty and dysfunctional. But a lot of the triglycerides are pushed out into the blood too. Over time, blood pressure goes up, and tissues become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by pouring out more insulin, trying to keep things in check. Eventually a condition known as metabolic syndrome kicks in, characterized by obesity, especially around the waist; high blood pressure; and other metabolic changes that, if not checked, can lead to type 2 diabetes, with a heightened danger of heart attack thrown in for good measure.

Think of your arteries and veins like a straw, like the small little straws you get with alcoholic drinks [that you totally shouldn’t be drinking] at the bar. Your arteries pump blood through your body, which is important because this is how oxygen is pumped throughout your body.

Now, fat – also known as “triglycerides” – moving through your arteries is a lot like trying to suck orange juice with extra extra pulp through this straw. It’s a little hard, but you’re a champ. You can get the juice through the straw, even if it requires a little extra effort.

That “extra effort” is your heart pumping overtime – increasing the rate of your blood pressure, thereby raising it – to pump the blood through your arteries.

Except, now, the pulp is also hardening along the insides of the straw. And, the more pulp you pull through the straw, the more pulp gets caught and trapped inside of it. Soon, you have so much pulp caked along the straw, that the actual juice will no longer flow through.

This is what causes high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes. A reduction of sugar in your daily diet reduces the amount of fat caked up on your arteries, and can result in a healthy reduction of blood pressure. For more on that, click here.

3) Clearer, healthier, more youthful-looking skin. Lets keep it real, here:

The link between sugar and premature ageing lies in a process called ‘glycation’. This chemical process happens  when blood sugar levels become excessively high.

Sugar molecules then circulate in the blood and bind to other components to form substances known as protein-sugar complexes – also called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs.

These can be found in virtually all organ systems around the body – from the kidneys, brain and nervous tissue to the skin – and trigger an inflammatory response, causing tissue damage and premature ageing.

Glycation should just be part of the natural aging process that starts when you are in your mid-30s and increases with age. But we now believe the speed at which glycation occurs is directly related to your dietary intake of sugar.

The collagen and elastin molecules in the skin that help your face defy gravity are extremely susceptible to being attacked by sugar. When these molecules are turned into AGEs, their soft and supple fibres become more rigid. This leaves skin saggy, baggy, and wrinkled.

So, the more sugar and refined carbohydrates you consume, the more your collagen and elastin will be attacked – and the older your skin will appear.

A high-sugar diet not only contributes to ageing of the skin, but it can lead to the skin becoming unhealthy, dry, and vulnerable to infection.

It can also exacerbate acne. This is because high blood-sugar levels trigger high levels of the hormone insulin, which can set off a hormonal cascade that stimulates oil production and increases the proliferation of skin cells that can block pores – causing acne. [source]

And, when it comes to swapping out sugar so that you can swap in healthy eating, the influx of antioxidants and vitamins and healthy sources of fat can help the skin rebound from the bad diet. Rebound…like a boss.

4) Your taste buds shift, and the cravings decrease. Your taste buds, your palate, it all finds the kind of sugar you used to consume to be excessive. You slowly find yourself desiring less and less sugar, because….sugar consumption only makes sugar cravings worse. Send the excess sugar packing, and the cravings go right behind it.

[…] psychologists at Princeton University began studying whether lab rats could become addicted to a 10 percent solution of sugar water, about the same percentage of sugar contained in most soft drinks.An occasional drink caused no problems for the lab animals. Yet the researchers found dramatic effects when the rats were allowed to drink sugar-water every day. Over time they drank “more and more and more” while eating less of their usual diet, said Nicole Avena, who began the work as a graduate student at Princeton and is now a neuroscientist at the University of Florida.The animals also showed withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, shakes and tremors, when the effect of the sugar was blocked with a drug. The scientists, moreover, were able to determine changes in the levels of dopamine in the brain, similar to those seen in animals on addictive drugs.“We consistently found that the changes we were observing in the rats binging on sugar were like what we would see if the animals were addicted to drugs,” said Avena, who for years worked closely with the late Princeton psychologist, Bartley Hoebel, who died this year.

While the animals didn’t become obese on sugar water alone, they became overweight when Avena and her colleagues offered them water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.

The consumption of sugar breeds both the desire for more sugar, and the withdrawals you develop when you don’t get enough of it when you “need” it. If anything, the withdrawals serve as a reason for many people to give up and go back to overeating. They want the migraines, the sweating, the irritability to stop.

However, when you give up refined and added sugars, you separate yourself from the cycle of binge-suffer withdrawal-repeat, and you realize that the thing that made you feel like you needed so much sugar is now gone. Since that compulsion is gone, if you even try to overeat sugar to that degree, your body will recognize it for what it is – excessive, too much, inedible.

Suddenly, you realize that “banana,” “watermelon,” “strawberry,” and “cherry” shouldn’t be as sweet as the kool-aid, the jolly ranchers, and the laffy taffy told us it is.

5) You sleep better. Sugar causes a weird ebb and flow of energy throughout the day, so much so that your sleep is adversely affected by it – you can’t sleep throughout the entirety of the night, because you spent so much time fighting off sleep (and potentially napping) throughout the day.

And this effect is cyclical, as well:

“There is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to pre-diabetic state,” says Mark Mahowald, MD, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Hennepin County.

According to Mahowald, the body’s reaction to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Insulin’s job is to help the body use glucose for energy. In insulin resistance, cells fail to use the hormone efficiently, resulting in high blood sugar.

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not properly use the insulin. When insulin is not doing its job, high blood sugar levels build in the body to the point where they can harm the eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart. [source]

In insulin resistance, sugar still flows through the blood far longer than it should, meaning you have high amounts of sugar coursing through your body come bedtime…thus leaving you still wide awake when it’s bedtime.

Cutting down on sugar means that your blood sugar can return to a healthy state, no longer affecting your nighttime rhythm and no longer leaving you awake longer to curb your sugar withdrawals with late-night snacks.

Oh, and there’s also that weight loss but, more importantly, the prevention of further weight gain. Added sugars already account for over 500 calories daily on average, but remember – for most people, their sugar consumption is always increasing. In order for them to receive the same “comfort” from sugar, they have to keep upping the consumption. Today, it might be two 12oz sodas, next month it might an 18oz bottle and a 12oz can, and next year it might be two 18oz… and before you know it, you can put on an extra 10, 30, 50lbs of fat… all from sugar.

Isn’t it time to let it go? Join the Clean Eating Boot Camp to help you live a healthy, sugar-light life!

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Jasna September 25, 2014 - 10:24 PM

My biggest thing was to learn to have other people pull their share of work. If we are going to be in a relationship (romantic, familial or friends) the other person can’t be the only one benefiting from it and me being the one shouldering all the work on that relationship/chores/organizing. And just because they can’t do it right from the beginning (because I taught them that I will be the one to do it in their place if they are sloppy so they stop trying pretty fast) it doesn’t mean they can’t learn. That’s how I got my time for myself, by learning to stand up for myself and stop viewing self-sacrifice as some sort of virtue.

marie September 26, 2014 - 7:57 AM

Sigh. So many things stand in the way. But basically time is always the issue: I made the calculation. During the week I add time at work, transportation, time to sleep. It leaves me with 3h and generally I cook, take a shower have dinner and that’s about it…
Sometimes I skip running because in my head if I don’t go for at least 45 min then I think it’s not worth it. I still haven’t integrate that less is more and even a LITTLE is better than NOTHING. I always find time to do my yoga practice though. I never do less than 3 times a week. I realized I had to define what are my priorities and Yoga was one of it as well as my dance class.
My mom told made me realize that I had to learn to say NO. No to solicitations of family and friends and dedicate one full weekend a month just for myself: no meeting with friends, no family, no work. Just me. And it works wonderfully!

Kelly September 26, 2014 - 10:31 PM

Thank you for the vivid description of sucking pulpy orange juice through a straw. I need to make a picture of that and put it on the fridge and pantry 🙂
And long before anyone noticed I was losing weight, my family noticed how much clearer my skin was. That was a #scalefree measurement!

And, incidentally, I’ve lost 8 cm on the hip measurement over the summer. 🙂

Ashley September 28, 2014 - 12:48 PM

So what is the first step in giving up sugar? How can I go about this!!!

Erika Nicole Kendall September 28, 2014 - 1:08 PM

I think the very first step in giving up the sugar is taking a very in-depth look at where it’s hiding in your daily food intake.

Are you eating a burger for lunch and coating it in ketchup? How much sugar is in the ketchup?

Do you coat your chicken in seasoned salt before you cook it? How much sugar is in your spice blend?

Your cereal, your waffles, your pancakes… sugar, sugar, sugar.

Your breads, your pastas, your salad dressings, your pasta sauces… sugar, sugar, sugar. It’s everywhere, and you have to find out where it’s hiding in YOUR daily diet in order to figure out where you can start cutting it, you know?

Start with a food journal. Just write down everything you eat and how much of it you estimate you ate for a week. Then, at the end, spend a little time going through and looking up the nutrition facts for it. Calculate how much sugar you estimate you consumed each day. This is how you arm yourself in being able to cut the sugar.

Make sense?

Patrice October 1, 2014 - 3:35 AM

How many grams of sugar should I consume daily or weekly? In other words, what’s the max amount in grams to get the benefits of less refined sugar in my diet? Thanks for your reply.

Erika Nicole Kendall October 15, 2014 - 2:45 PM

No more than 5% of your daily caloric consumption should come from sugar. That basically allots for fresh produce, including maybe a couple of pieces of fruit.

Hope that helps!

Jocelyn November 18, 2014 - 10:22 PM

You have no idea how much this response helps me :-). Cutting the sugar is my biggest weight loss hurdle.

Lisa West September 28, 2014 - 7:24 PM

As always, your article was on point!! I have a question regarding supplements that supposed to help you adjust to consuming less sugar. My friend told me to take 500mg of l-glutamine 3-4 times a day(when I’m having sugar cravings) for a month or until the intense withdrawal symptoms pass. Have you heard of this and what do you think of it?

Erika Nicole Kendall September 30, 2014 - 8:19 PM

Not worth it at all. You’d be better off putting yourself on a multiple-meal plan so that you’re eating and filling yourself on a regular basis than taking that.

sarah September 29, 2014 - 1:02 AM

Its so true that your palate changes and you don’t like the high sugar taste as much – but it is a bit of a hard slog before that happens and its pretty gradual! It’s such a mental game as well ! I haven’t had a sugary treat for…around 4 weeks now…and there have been at least 3 times that all I could think about were every single kind of chocolate and pastry under the sun 😛
But it feels worth it at the moment, I don’t feel so ‘controlled’ by an urge to have a chocolate at 3pm, or cookies in the AM…hope I don’t fall back into a sugar cycle!

Denice October 31, 2014 - 8:14 PM

At one point I was drinking a 24 pack of Pepsi in 4 workdays! I’d bring the case in on Monday and by lunchtime Thursday I was gulping down the last can! That didnt include the stash at home or what I was slugging back when I went to fast food joints! I managed to kick that habit only to replace it with a giant mug of coffee with EXCESSIVE amounts of sugar and creamer. Now I am drinking water and occasionally Crystal Light…but I’m cutting that out too and moving to unsweetened tea with maybe some lemon or honey. And water. Lots and lots and lots of water. Work in progress, here! LOL

Kami November 20, 2014 - 1:58 PM

Fruit naturally has sugar in it. So does this account for this? Should I not eat fruit? I usually add blueberries to my yogurt in the morning, and then an apple (with all natural peanut butter) for mid morning snack and then carrots or raisins for mid afternoon snack. Is that too much?

Erika Nicole Kendall November 21, 2014 - 8:58 PM

Refined sugar, and the sugar naturally found in fruit are different situations, sis. This isn’t about fruit. That’s another story.

Deb March 8, 2016 - 5:45 PM

I’m having a problem I can’t find any answer for: since giving up most of the sugar I was eating, even savory foods have begun to taste sweet to me. Eggs are absolutely ruined! They’re horribly nasty sweet to me now. And that’s all I can have for breakfast that isn’t sugary. HELP! I’m eating way too much bacon at breakfast now.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 9, 2016 - 12:52 PM

You can always make oatmeal (steel cut or not) and flavor it with herbs instead of sweet toppings. Maybe give that a shot?

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