Dubai: Quitting our addiction to refined sugar is hard, it is similar to quitting addiction to substance abuse. But it can be done, a doctor said.

The Dubai Heath Authority recently took on the #30DaysWithoutSugar challenge where participating individuals would eliminate refined sugar in their diet for 30 days. Though challenges on social media abound, this particular one is hard since refined sugar has made its way to almost everything we eat now and 30 days is a long time. But it’s not an impossible feat.

So what will happen if you quit refined sugar? Dr Nausheen Khan, general practitioner, iCARE Multispecialty Clinics, gives you the lowdown on what your month is going to look like and what your body and mind will go through.

[Note: These answers are applicable to a non-diabetic person who has a high-refined sugar diet. This is someone who thinks he is on a normal diet but is taking things such as cereals, or granola and sweetened yoghurt for breakfast. The effects may vary.]

Immediate effect: Quitting refined sugar doesn’t have any immediate effects. For example, if today you decide not to take any refined sugar in any form (e.g. bread, rice, pasta) in the first hour, you can compensate with nuts, fruits or grains.

Day 2: People who are on a high refined sugar diet (soft drinks, fast food, etc) would begin to crave it. They would start to feel foggy, get headaches.

Days 2-3: Some people would begin to feel irritable, and maybe depressed. They begin to feel shaky. This would continue until the fifth or sixth day.

For the first 5-6 days, these symptoms would continue. Those who are on a sugar detox would want do anything to get a piece of cookie or some sugary drink.

Day 6: According to research, initial withdrawal symptoms intensify only during the first week. Post that, they begin to wind down. So after a week, fogginess and headaches will disappear. People will start to taste whole foods much better. This is because the taste buds have started to adjust to the newly recognisable natural sugar and the sweetness of fruits.

After 1 week: People start to relish fruits and vegetables.

2 weeks: People start to feel better. Fogginess is gone. They feel more energetic and start sleeping better (high amounts of sugar increase the cortisol levels in the blood affecting sleep patterns). Since they’re having foods with lower glycemic index, the insulin levels don’t spike. And everything starts normalising. Weight loss also kicks in.

3 weeks to 1 month: Generally, some people would experience weight loss, especially if they replace their sugar intake with whole foods. They lose around 8lbs [3.62kg] to 10lbs [4.53kg] on average, but this depends on calorie intake. By now, the individual is sleeping better, experiencing less fatigue and maintaining good energy levels. If a person has acne, it would start clearing up [sugar in processed foods attacks the collagen in the skin in a process called glycation. This causes inflammation and it reduces the effectiveness of collagen and elastin. If you decrease the amount of sugar intake, the inflammation will decrease.]

Obstacles in the detox challenge

A bitter truth: There are refined sugars in almost all convenience food we eat. Another constraint is time. We are relying more on these foods because life has become fast-paced. We are not ready to give them up.

Lack of will power: If you think you can do it, you will. Be with people who motivate you rather than the contrary. Surround yourself with accountability partners.

No bag of tricks: Truth is, you can trick your mind and if you don’t know how to, that could be a problem. Eat healthy sweet treats like fruit and tell yourself that you will reward yourself with a gift, a new pair of shoes, a new bag, a new dress, when you succeed.

Post-detox truth

About 60 to 70 per cent of people who undertake a sugar detox are able to continue with their lives without refined sugar because of how it makes them feel physically and mentally.