Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Wednesday 04 August |
Saint of the Day: St. John Vianney
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

The surprising emotional benefits of banning sugar

Woman in Park


Calah Alexander - published on 01/16/18

Sugar and bacteria are intricately linked, and both affect your serotonin levels.

At the very beginning of my pregnancy with my last baby, I attempted a Whole 30 for the first time. If you’re unfamiliar with it, a Whole 30 is a 30-day challenge to eat purely Paleo — no grains, no sugar, no dairy, no processed foods whatsoever for a whole month.

It was really hard, but also really surprising. I was expecting weight loss, and I did lose a little weight. But what I wasn’t expecting was the remarkable emotional stability I experienced, much like what Quench writer Linda Niazi experienced when she cut sugar for 30 days.

I was a mess — crying one minute, and laughing the next. When I cut sugar, I was much more stable, however anytime I’d allow myself a treat or “cheat day,” the roller coaster would start up again. On days when I had sugar, I felt more anxious, I was more likely to lose my temper, and I had a difficult time managing my emotions. For the sake of my family and my sanity, I went much longer without “cheats.” Moreover, your gut produces most of your body’s serotonin, a mood stabilizer, so when there is an imbalance in the gut, such as too much bad bacteria, the result is more mood swings and anxiety.

I had wanted to try it mostly just to see if I could, but also to stave off some of the inevitable pregnancy weight gain. I often have a tendency to overdo the sugar during pregnancy just a little, which makes me gain unhealthy amounts of weight.

But I had never considered my erratic mood swings, high anxiety, and post-partum depression to be related to my diet. After all, if mood disorders could be treated by diet, wouldn’t someone have told me about that? Wouldn’t that be a front-line treatment instead of SSRIs?

And yet, it makes sense. When my kids eat too much sugar I know exactly what to expect — manic energy followed by a meltdown. The effects of sugar on kids’ moods are glaringly obvious. Moreover, I know from experience that eating an entire pan of brownies instead of a salad provides momentary pleasure followed by misery (and heartburn). It’s called stress eating because we do it when we’re stressed, but excess sugar consumption tends to create an endless cycle. We eat it when we feel stressed or sad, but the sugar makes us feel even more stressed and sadder, so we eat more of it. It’s like the bacteria that feed on sugar have hacked our emotional response system to get us to feed them even more sugar.

That alone makes me want to do another 30-day sugar cleanse, because I don’t like the idea of bad gut bacteria winning. But remembering the clarity and calm of those 30 sugar-free days is a more powerful motivator. After a lifetime of feeling at the mercy of my own emotions, I know that sugar is not worth paying that price. No matter how delicious.


Read more:
The one kind of sugar that can actually make cancer spread

FoodHealth and Wellness
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Saint Mary of the Angels
Bret Thoman, OFS
All your sins will be forgiven if you go to a Franciscan church o...
Ignacio María Doñoro
Francisco Veneto
The military chaplain who pretended to be a criminal to rescue a ...
Violeta Tejera
Carlo Acutis’ first stained glass window in jeans and sneak...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Philip Kosloski
Most priests can’t absolve these sins
Ary Waldir Ramos Diaz
1st Feast of Our Lady of Silence is August 1
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.