Why Does Anxiety Increase After Stopping Sugar?
When you eat sugar, your brain’s pleasure centers light up. That’s why folks end up using sugar as a pacifier. Sugar becomes a way to escape from the doldrums. A lousy day can be remediated with a bowl of ice cream in the evening. Bad news can be offset by a slice of cake. When eating junk, your brain gets a dose of happy chemicals and you feel like you’re treating yourself to something special.
Basically, you trick yourself into thinking you’re all smiles.
Some people go their whole lives using sugar as a drug. If you are one of the few who cut out sugar cold turkey then you go from snack to snack to snack—to nothing! That pleasurable just-escaped-into-a-bowl-of-ice-cream feeling is suddenly gone. Removing the sugar leaves a big hole in your life for you to into every time you normally would have eaten sweets.
Lousy day at work? No sweets to turn to at home. Everyone enjoying the birthday cake? But you can’t eat any so you nibble on carrot sticks. Ugh.
When there’s no escape from everyday pressures, you have to face them. When there’s no way to cope with the crap life sends your way, you have to wade in it.
If you relate to this, it’s possible that you’ve gotten into the habit of using sugar as a drug. When you remove the drug, you start to go through withdrawal. Physically you have all kinds of things that can happen—headaches, stomach aches, shakes, sweats, etc. None of the sugar-free withdrawal symptoms are fun.
There’s a mental aspect as well. Many people go sugar-free when they don’t really want it. Some are forced due to critical health reasons (diabetes, etc.) or they do it because they want to lose weight in time for bathing suit season. The result of going sugar-free when you don’t really want to is cognitive dissonance, or what I call feeling deprived. You think there’s something wrong with you. You want to indulge but you’re holding back while everyone else enjoys dessert. You feel like something is missing from your life and you are only enduring avoiding sweets in order to achieve some other goal.
Until you change your self-image you will always fall back to your old habits.
Imagine a vegetarian saying, “I love meat and I miss it terribly,” while trying to eat nothing but vegetables. It’s not gonna last. Vegetarians have to identify as being a vegetarian in order to change their behavior and feel good about it. When the path before you is the one you choose, it’s much easier to traverse.
You must identify as sugar-free. If you have something sweet you don’t feel like you’re throwing care to the wind and really living for a moment. Instead, you feel as if you’re making a huge mistake that goes against who you are. You feel more like you messed rather than indulged.
When you go off sugar, you have to have (or develop) another other method for coping with stress. Wean yourself off sweets so you can examine the influential powers that are at play whenever you make a decision about junk food. Don’t hate yourself up for eating something sweet here and there—it happens. Go easy on yourself. Beating yourself up will not make you more healthy.
The repeated practice of choosing to eat something sugar-free over something sweet will start to shine the light on why you behave the way you do. Developing new coping mechanisms takes time. Along the way you will learn things about yourself. Being sugar-free is the same as any other discipline—it takes practice and dedication.