How Long Does It Take Get Rid of Sugar Cravings After Going Keto?

sugar cravingsOne of the purported benefits of a keto diet is that it will help tame unwanted sugar cravings. On the surface, it makes sense. If you want to get rid of sugar cravings, stop including a bunch of sugar in your diet. Out of sight, out of mind.

Or does it make sense? Maybe following a ketogenic diet where even nutrient-dense carbs are limited turns sweet foods into forbidden fruit (no pun intended). Sugar could theoretically become even more tempting because you can’t have it.

So which is it?

It’s clear that for a lot of people, keto does kick sugar cravings to the curb. There is abundant (anecdotal) evidence from the Keto Reset community and indeed across the keto-sphere that keto works to quash cravings and hunger. Empirical studies back this up. Compared to other diets, people find it easier to stick to their goals on keto. It’s one of the big reasons keto is so popular right now.

Of course, the next question people always ask is: How long does it take?

When Can I Expect My Sugar Cravings to Vanish?

It takes two to three days of very-low-carb eating for the liver to start pumping out ketones, and research shows that cravings are significantly reduced almost immediately as people get into ketosis. The “expert” consensus seems to be that cravings will decrease noticeably within three to ten days.

Don’t expect cravings to vanish into thin air, though. While many folks do feel significant relief from cravings almost right away, not everyone is so lucky. There is a lot of individual variability, and some people do find that their cravings are as strong as everor strongeron keto. Although there’s not much research that speaks to why some people get relief where others do not, my hunch is that it depends on the root cause of your sugar cravings.

One reason you might crave sugar is simply that you’ve trained your body to rely on sugar for energyyou’re carb-dependent. Perhaps it’s not the sugar you crave specifically, so much as the energy it provides. In that case, you should notice your desire for sugar is significantly reduced as soon as your body starts to produce ketones. Moreover, I’d expect it to get easier and easier to avoid sugary treats as you become more keto-adapted.

Sugar cravings can also be conditioned (learned) responses. Decades of experience have taught you that eating sugary treats is comforting and enjoyable. You’ve come to have a strong positive association with sugar. In some ways, you might think of eating sugar as a very entrenched, reinforced habit you need to break. Habits can be broken, but it takes weeks or months, not days.

The complicating factor here is that sugar is not just pleasant or fun to eat, it’s also physiologically rewarding. Sugar activates neurological reward pathways, creating a physiological drive for more sugar.

For some people, sugar is so rewarding that it feels like an addiction. These are the folks who struggle the most. The question of whether sugar is a true addiction, on par with other addictive substances like nicotine, alcohol, and certain drugs, is hotly contested. Academic debates aside, many people experience sugar, and quitting sugar, as an addiction. They struggle mightily even when motivation and intention are high. One “relapse” can send them spiraling. There is no doubt that there are physiological drivers at play that keep the desire for sugar burning so hot in these individuals.

All this is to say: It’s different for everyone.

What If You’ve Been Keto For a While, Yet You’re Still Struggling with Sugar Cravings?

What does “a while” mean? As I mentioned, it takes only a matter of days for your liver to start producing ketones once you drop your carbs low enough. The full process of keto-adaptation can take months, though. A recent review concluded that while fat-oxidation rates and ketone production increase significantly in the first week or two of keto, it can take months for the whole body to become efficient at using ketones for energy.

You don’t want to wait that long, though. There are other things you can do to fight back against sugar cravings. First, make sure you are properly fueled. Caloric restriction increases the reward value of food. That means you’re more drawn to food, especially palatable foods, when you’re eating in a caloric deficit, at least at first. That’s one of the reasons I suggest eating plenty of fat and sufficient calories when transitioning to keto.

If you’re also restricting calories, chances are your cravings will diminish according to this meta-analysis, but it will happen slowly over the course of months. (The analysis also showed that it gets easier and easier over time. Good news if you can stick with it.)

It’s Not Always About the Food

Next, ensure you have your lifestyle ducks in a row. Sleep deprivation and chronic stress have been shown time and time again to cause sugar cravings as the body scrambles for quick energy. Even dehydration and boredom can trigger hunger and cravings. If you want to get rid of sugar cravings, you need to practice good self-care.

You crave sugar due to the hormonal response to those stressors, but don’t underestimate the comfort factor here, too. It doesn’t feel good to be sleep deprived, stressed, and bored. There’s a good chance you’ve used sugar in the past to lift your spirits. If you’re using sugar to self-soothe, you also need to develop better coping mechanisms.

Dig deep and look at what really underlies these sugar cravings. I suggest you start journaling about your cravings. Each time a sugar craving hits, make a note of the following:

  • How you’re feeling (bored, anxious, nervous, angry, etc.)
  • Time of day
  • Hunger: what time you last ate, and what you ate
  • Where you are
  • Who’s around
  • Any other clues to possible triggers.

After a week or two, you might be able to spot some patterns. If it’s obvious that there are specific trigger(s) like time of day, workplace stress, or fatigue that precede your cravings, work at developing other coping methods that aren’t food-related. Solve the root problem. Meditate, exercise, drink a glass of water, eat an actual meal or snack with some protein and healthy fat.

Finally, try a period of cold turkey if you haven’t yet. Eliminate all sweeteners, even keto-friendly ones like stevia. Look at your fruit and beverage habits. See if you’re still using “sweet” even if you’ve eliminated the major sources of refined sugar from your diet. On the flip side, if you’ve been cold turkey, consider allowing yourself some low-glycemic fruit, for example. Maybe being too restrictive doesn’t work for you. Try to find your personal sweet spot.

Check out this Mark’s Daily Apple post for more concrete ideas for managing cravings.

If you have tried the strategies I suggested, you’ve given yourself enough time to be fully keto-adapted, and you truly feel addicted, it might be time to seek out a doctor, nutritionist, or therapist that specializes in sugar dependency. For you, there might be physiological factors at play that mean you need additional support.

Remember, though, that occasionally wanting or even craving sugar doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Don’t beat yourself up. You might need to adjust your strategy, or it might just be a blip on the radar. Once you’re metabolically flexible, you can decide on a case by case basis how to respond.

Related Posts from Mark’s Daily Apple:

 

References:

Anton SD, Moehl K, Donahoo WT, et al. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). 2018 Feb;26(2):254-268.

Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20–39.

Berridge KC, Robinson TE, Aldridge JW. Dissecting components of reward: ‘liking’, ‘wanting’, and learning. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2009;9(1):65–73.

DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:910-913.

Phinney SD, Horton ES, Sims EA, Hanson JS, Danforth E Jr, LaGrange BM. Capacity for moderate exercise in obese subjects after adaptation to a hypocaloric, ketogenic diet. J Clin Invest 1980;66(5):1152–61.

Volek JS, Freidenreich DJ, Saenz C, Kunces LJ, Creighton BC, Bartley JM, Davitt PM, Munoz CX, Anderson JM, Maresh CM, et al. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism 2016;65(3):100–10.

Wiss DA, Avena N, Rada P. Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:545.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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19 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take Get Rid of Sugar Cravings After Going Keto?”

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  1. I don’t do keto, but as a former sugar junkie, I agree with Mark on this. In my experience, the only way to get rid of cravings is to completely eliminate all sweets. That means also means sticking with unsweetened beverages and eliminating dark chocolate. For a sugar junkie, chocolate is really just flavored sugar with a pleasantly creamy texture. Try gnawing on unsweetened baker’s chocolate if you doubt my words.

    Fresh whole fruit doesn’t have the same addictive effect on me as manmade sweets, but everyone is different. If need be, you can skip it for a while. Concentrate on a wide variety of veggies instead. I’ve also found that eating a little fatty protein (such as a fried hamburger patty) can often quell sugar cravings.

  2. I generally try to limit all sugar, and many carbs. I used to do keto, but have since loosened up a bit since then.

    Now, my rule of thumb is the more a food has had to be processed to be in its current state, the less I need to eat of it.

    Eating a vegetable? It just had to be harvested. Pretty decent choice.

    Eating some pasta? Had to be harvested, ground, packed together, dehydrated, packaged. Not very healthy, maybe once a week.

    Eating some chocolate? Multiple ingredients needed to be ground, mixed together, preservatives added, processed etc. Really big no no. A small amount once a week, at most.

  3. This is me. At 48 years of age I have finally worked out the problem. It is a lack of oxytocin. My parents were good people but terrible parents. They did everything for me but nothing with me. They would also remind me everyday how hard it was to be a parent. Do you know how hard we work to provide for you? Do you know how much we have had to give up? They were stressed and didn’t realise they were passing it onto me. I was raised to believe I was a burden. There was no hugging, singing, dancing, playing games, helping with the housework etc. No oxytocin. When children don’t get oxytocin they turn to other things to make themselves feel good or to receive attention. Some deliberately misbehave, some go into their shell, some go awol. I turned to food. Then my parents would criticise my weight gain causing me to eat more as that was my only source of feeling good. Outside of the house family and friends constantly spoke of how hard my parents worked and how much they did for me only increasing my isolation and my eating. “It must be my fault”. I started seeking treatment for suicidal thoughts in my early twenties. This made me feel like more of a burden and increased my eating. This process of seeking help is still finger pointing by family, friends, doctors, therapists etc. “You” have depression and “you” must do something about it. I would get all the side effects of the medication but would still over eat and not want to live. I’ve tried in the last decade having these conversations with my parents but they can’t let go of how hard they worked. One of my Dad’s favourite sayings is that you just have to work hard and everything will be ok. I haven’t been back to my home city for 12 years and haven’t spoken to my parents for 6 years and haven’t had any suicidal thoughts or taken any medication for 5 years. Those dark clouds have gone but I still don’t have any oxytocin and still have low self worth. I’ve been following Mark’s Daily Apple for 10 years and love the community but every time I try and eat well I feel so emotionally empty because I was raised and comforted by sugar and starch. And we are so hard wired by our first 4 to 6 years of life. I also happen to have a job where I am often on my own and surrounded by junk food. I’ve been trying to get out of this environment but jobs are not that easy to get when you are middle aged and overweight. I’ve seen a lot of professional seminars where therapists state borderline personality disorder rarely gets better. But I’ll keep searching.
    Sorry for the long post but hopefully it might help others identify that they are in a similar position. It’s so easy to get stuck in a place that is familiar regardless of how unhealthy it is.

    1. Wow, you just gave me insight to my childhood.
      My parents were also good people, but us kids lacked any oxytocin too. My father in particular, worked very hard to give us food, clothes and shelter and in my adult life I appreciate that. That said, he gave no hugs, no love and wondered why us kids didn’t visit or keep in contact as much as he would have liked, same went for my mum.
      Now my dad has dementia, and I am the only one who visits him in care and makes sure he is safe, and sadly, I much prefer “dementia dad” to “childhood dad”. At least now we can have hugs.
      Thank you for sharing 🙂

    2. Dear Freowho,
      I send you hugs. You should have gotten them all through your childhood. Find happy, generous people to be around, and try to make them your friends. You need to ignore the negatively expressed food advice – the “Don’t eat this, don’t eat that…” Instead, look for food that will be good for you. Look for advice that says things like, “Eat more lovely fresh greens! They will nourish your blood.” “Eat this beautiful fresh meat.” Add more nutrient-dense food into your life. Gradually, the food that is good for you may push some of those foods that merely taste good out of center-screen. Take care of your body and yourself. Become your own loving parent. Good luck.

    3. To Freowho and Sparrow: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dr. William Davis. He is the bestselling author of “Wheat Belly” and advocates a whole foods with no grains/no sugar way of eating that’s similar to “primal.” Anyway, he has taught many how to make a special yogurt that is specifically designed to cause the brain to release oxytocin. This yogurt cannot be bought in any store. It is called L reuteri yogurt, and is made from very specific strains of lacto baccilus. The first batch of yogurt is made with Bio Gastrus tablets (available on Amazon) and the yogurt has to be fermented for 36 hours. No commercially available yogurt is made in this way. The long fermentation period creates billions of probiotics that stimulate the release of oxytocin. There are YouTube videos and blog posts on how to make this L reuteri yogurt, searchable via Google. I use an instant pot to make my yogurt, but others have used sous vide circulators, regular ovens, or microwaves, as well as dedicated yogurt makers. Check it out. Maybe making this yogurt can help.

      1. Thanks KD. I’ll look into it.
        And I’m so glad I was able to connect with others.

    4. Thanks to all of you. Freowho – you summed up my childhood as well. KD – thanks for the tip on the yogurt – my batch yogurt maker can go for that long, so I’ll follow up on that angle.

  4. I don’t think there is any single answer to this question! We are all different both physiologically and psychologically! I spent years baking for a living. After I stopped baking for a living, I continued to bake for years for family, for events, and for my own eating pleasure. I have many favorite baked goods and recipes that I developed or modified. For me, it took a long, gradual effort to move my diet away from all the flour and sugar… Even after I was largely eating a ketogenic diet, I wouldstruggle with fits of longing for old favorites. My homemade brownies! My Christmas shortbreads! My fruit pies! Fried dough! Chocolate cake! Ice cream! For years, I periodically fell off the wagon, and wallowed under its wheels in sweet treats! But slowly the cravings have quieted. Birthdays and Christmas can still be rough, but not as bad as they used to be. It’s a work in progress.

  5. My first Whole30 was a real game changer for me, totally ‘slayed the sugar dragon’. Also helped me realize how similar to any other addiction the craving for sweets can be – just a little and I am back in full blown carb mania. Repeating this cycle a couple of times has been empowering, I have a better understanding of how I respond to carbs and how liberating it is to not crave them.
    I also have found Mark’s Daily Apple to be a very important part of this process. When I have slipped back into unhealthy food choices, I work on surrounding myself with positive message and influences to keep my focus where I want it to be.
    Thanks Mark and crew!

  6. Mark-as a life long sugar addict and long time MDA fan, this is the article from you that I’ve been waiting for.

    Thank you for writing a great article and providing a great resource on the topic of sugar addiction. It hit the nail on the head for me!!

  7. I have mitochondrial dysfunction, so as long as I’m in ketosis, I feel ok and don’t crave sugar. As soon as I step over the line, out of keto, I become like a raging addict, craving sugar and prowling for simple carbs. My theory is that because my mito don’t process glucose appropriately into ATP, they send the call out for “more, more, more” to make up for the energy deficit. Just an uneducated guess based on my experience. ?

  8. Great post! I have been primal and now keto for many years and have found my cravings for sugar have drastically been reduced. When I was a vegetarian and even vegan I was always looking for “healthy” treat recipes that were heavy on the dates, agave, etc.
    Eating enough quality protein and fat typically keeps me satiated, but there are definitely times that I still want something sweet.
    I feel sometimes having even keto friendly sweeteners and desserts can make me just want more. So sometimes it;s best to avoid those entirely.
    I’m better off having some super dark (90%) chocolate. I think it’s the feeling of indulgence that I am craving just as much as the sweet taste.
    Also, when I am sleep deprived I want to eat all the sweets and junk in general. Yet another reason to focus on getting enough sleep!

  9. I have to avoid cooking shows, cookbooks with yummy looking deserts and images of chocolate Primal products. I’ve been keto for 6 months now and walking past Hershey bars at the market takes a ton of self determination. My downfall was chocolate covered almonds and homemade chocolate cherry scones (from Make it Paleo). My strategy now is only make these things for company and send the leftovers home with my friends who aren’t trying to shed excess fat.

  10. I’m somewhat surprised this article doesn’t mention people with candida overgrowth.

  11. I’ve not craved sugar in years. However, I am always hungry & I’ve struggled with hunger for as long as I remember. I attempted to go Keto & I might have started burning ketones after 4 days but dang I was hungry.

    I eat too much food. Too much food to go keto unless maybe I only ate extremely low carb food. Being 80% primal & working out daily controls my weight (mostly). Maybe I should go total carnivore for a couple months! My wife would love that.

  12. Great post and I am glad you have acknowledged this. I am a sugar addict. I get strong cravings to eat sugar regardless of what diet I follow. I have noticed that if I don’t eat enough protein then my cravings are much worse. Keto style deserts also trigger me because I will overeat them too! I do agree that there is a root cause. I had a lovely upbringing with lots of affection, but always craved more and have remained needy as an adult and constantly seeking approval. If I have any anxiety I also run to the kitchen! So frustrating. Being primal/keto has helped me cope and I don’t have a weight problem, which I credit my low carb diet with. If I had a magic wand I would change this part of me. It is always there and always a battle to some degree.

  13. Hey……Wow, such a nice article…I have gone through this article…It really helps people. Thank you for sharing such a nice article.