Jennifer Lopez made headlines earlier this month after she and her boyfriend Alex Rodriguez went on a 10 day, no-sugar, no-carbs challenge and invited fans to join in. J. Lo shared details of her journey (including photos of how amazing she looked) on Instagram and hinted that her challenge wasn’t exactly easy to do.
Well, the 49-year-old recently went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and revealed that she suffered from some pretty extreme symptoms while she was withdrawing from sugar. “Not only do you get a headache, but you feel like you’re in an alternate reality or universe,” she said. “Like you don’t feel like yourself. You realise that you’re addicted to sugar.”
Lopez said she was also thinking about sugar “all the time. I’m like, ‘When can I have sugar again?’” The challenge was “really hard in the beginning,” she added. “It was the discipline. I was like, ‘It’s only 10 days, c’mon, you can do this.’ And then it gets a little hard in the middle, and then by the end you’re like, okay.”
When the 10 days were over, Lopez said she was surprised that she didn’t want sugar as much as before—and she felt great. “What happens is, it takes down the inflammation a little bit,” she said. “So all of a sudden you start feeling really small, and less swollen, and it feels good. You get addicted to that feeling too.”
Back up: How does sugar affect your body?
Sugar is naturally found in foods that contain carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy, says New York–based dietitian Jessica Cording, RD, CDN. Your body digests these foods slowly, and the sugar in them helps give you energy.
Problem is, having too much added sugar can lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes. “Added sugar also has an addictive quality,” Cording says. “It lights up some of the reward pathways in the brain. There’s a psychological, biochemical, and behavioural addiction that comes with eating added sugar.”
Lopez’s challenge was pretty extreme—it cut out all forms of sugar, including fruits and carbs—and that can be a shock to your system, says Gina Keatley, a certified dietitian-nutritionist practicing in New York City. And yes, that can definitely lead to sugar withdrawal.
What is sugar withdrawal?
In a nutshell, sugar withdrawal is how your body reacts when you take sugar away. The reward pathways in your brain are affected by this, Cording says, particularly the dopamine reward system which typically makes you feel good.
“If sugar has been a big part of your life and you take that out all of the sudden, you’ll notice differences in your brain chemistry,” Cording says. Basically, you won’t feel so hot at first.
Cutting out sugar suddenly can leave you feel tired, cranky, headachy, and low on energy, Cording says. “Mood swings and intense sugar cravings are also very common,” she adds.
So what’s the best way to cut back on your sugar intake?
There’s really nothing wrong with having naturally occurring sugar in your diet, Keatley says. Again, your body uses it for energy and it’s often found in foods that are good for you. “If you’re looking to go full J. Lo and cut out all carbohydrate sources of energy (including fruits and vegetables), I would suggest that you rethink your plan,” she says. “Sugar and carbs are not the enemy and are necessary for life, but should not be abused.”
But, if you want to cut down on added sugar and you’re nervous about withdrawal symptoms, Keatley recommends “going slow.” This also gives your taste buds a chance to catch up as you step down on your sugar intake.
However, that isn’t the best approach for everyone. “Most people tend to do well by cutting back in a gradual approach because it gives your body and brain time to adjust,” Cording says. But she’s also worked with people who just can’t be moderate with sugar. “For them, going cold turkey is often best,” she says. “Once they get over the initial shock to the system, they find they don’t want to go back.”
If you want to cut down on your sugar intake, it’s best to take a moment to think about what your end goal is and to be honest with yourself about the best way for you to approach this, Cording says. “Ultimately, what’s best for you is what will work.”
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.