How To Cut Sugar For Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, can cutting added sugar help — or can the sweet stuff still have a place in your diet when you’re trying to shed some pounds? Yes — but it depends on the person. On average, we consume 300 calories worth of added sugars every day so cutting sugar can be an easy way to start “cleaning up” your diet.
However, when it comes to cutting sugar, weight loss isn’t a given. You still have to create a calorie deficit, no matter what you’re putting on your plate.
Let’s look at the bitter truth about sugar, how it impacts your weight, and what happens when you start to tame your sweet tooth.
Is sugar really that bad for you?
In large doses, added sugars can be bad for your health, says Samantha Coogan, MS, RD, the director of the didactic program in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Coogan says that, in line with American Heart Association recommendations, men should aim to consume no more than 150 calories (36 grams) of added sugar daily; women should consume no more than 100 calories (25 grams) a day.
“To put that into perspective, one 12-oz. can of regular (cola) has about 140 calories with 39 grams added sugar,” she adds.
But how bad can added sugars be?
Can cutting out sugar help with weight loss?
Simply cutting added sugar isn’t a weight loss secret if you’re not also regularly creating a calorie deficit, cautions Stephanie Searor, MS, RD, LDN, the owner of Love Yourself Nutrition & Wellness.
“Making better choices, eating more nutritious, minimally processed foods, practicing portion control, and exercising every day are ways that you can start to decrease your calories and lose weight,” she says. If most of your extra calories come from sugary foods and drinks, then you’ll create a calorie deficit by cutting sugar — weight loss is then likely to happen (over time).
What happens to your body when you cut sugar?
While sugar isn’t “addictive” for everyone — and a 2018 review published in Frontiers in Psychiatry reported that food “addiction” is “more like caffeine or nicotine addiction than it is like cocaine or heroin” — trying to cut back can feel like a withdrawal, says Searor.
“Highly caloric foods (usually high in salt, fat, and/or sugar) tend to release more dopamine in the brain, which gives us a happy feeling,” she explains.
But since that feeling is fleeting, Searor adds that “our bodies can become desensitized to sugar intake, which means that we tend to need to eat more of it to feel those same feelings. This can start a vicious cycle of overeating, especially highly caloric but not nutrient-dense foods.”
Coogan says that the withdrawal period varies by individual, lasting a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and when you start cutting sugar, weight loss isn’t the only thing that may happen. You might notice changes beyond the scale, too:
1. Less inflammation
Consuming too much sugar is linked to inflammation, so taking it easy on the sweets can help your body reduce it. “This is the body’s response to stress, so reducing stress inside the body is a really, really good thing, and will likely have you feeling better in a couple of weeks,” says Searor.
2. Steadier energy and a better mood
“Besides just cutting out the useless, empty calories, you may also feel less sluggish, so your workouts will be more meaningful and productive, “ says Coogan. “You may be less irritable and in a better mood, so relationships and work productivity may improve, leading to a happy life!”
3. Lower tolerance for sugar
“Your body won’t miss what it doesn’t regularly have,” says Coogan, adding that you don’t need to go cold turkey to press the reset button on your sweet tooth. “Fruit will start to taste sweet again, or you realize you don’t need to add as many packets of sugar to your coffee,” she says.