When people join our VIP email list, one thing I ask them is, “what are you struggling with most right now?” Can you guess what one of the top answers is?
You got it: “sugar cravings.”
If you’re like them, sugar cravings is something you’ve been battling for a very long time. You’ve tried the typical advice, but you’re still not making any consistent progress.
If that’s the case, I want you to seriously consider the following 8 potential reasons you’re still struggling. Based on my experience working with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world, I can guarantee the reason is in this list…
Reason #1: You’re Drastically Underestimating Your Sugar Consumption
The classic examples of sugar that people mention and work to avoid are table sugar, donuts, cakes, soda, and candy. The obvious stuff.
And this is why people who don’t eat a lot of sugar (as defined like that), still struggle with massive cravings for “carbs” or “salty foods” or even “crunchy foods.”
Here’s what happens: you set out with a goal of cutting your sugar intake – “I’m going to get in control of this once and for all!” – and then you proceed to eat a bunch of sugar while wholeheartedly believing that you’re not eating sugar.
I had a woman on my email list who we’ll call Karen. She told me, “Kevin, I don’t get why I’m not winning. I’m dedicated to reading labels so I can cut my sugar intake. I eat Cheerios every morning because there’s only one gram of sugar per serving.”
Man, I feel for her. She’s doing everything she thinks is right and she’s relying on that official FDA food label on the package to make her calculations. The only thing missing is progress.
The reason there’s no progress is because she’s making the #1 mistake. She thinks sugar is white powdery stuff that gets put into different food products as an ingredient.
That’s the understatement of the century.
For Karen to start making any progress, I had to help her adjust her understanding of what sugar is.
Cheerios, while “low in sugar,” are completely starch-based. Do you know what starch does almost immediately after hitting the blood stream? It gets converted to glucose, a fancy word for SUGAR.
To Karen’s hormonal system, Cheerios are nothing more than sugar.
I told Karen, “Look, you can eat a bowl of Cheerios with no added sugar or you can eat a bowl of sugar with no added Cheerios – metabolically, they’re the same thing.”
She had no idea.
I don’t care what the marketing on the front of the box says. I don’t care what the official FDA label on the back of the box says. I only care about what your body thinks. And that’s all you should care about too.
Of course, she was also drinking a small glass of orange juice (because that’s “healthy natural sugar”) and a slice of toast (no “sugar,” but more starch).
Karen’s breakfast was a metabolic dumpster fire. And the worst part is that it setup her continued demise for the rest of the day.
Sure enough, 2 hours after breakfast her energy was crashing. She was “hangry” (hungry and angry at the same time) and on a mission to find something that would give her an immediate boost.
This is when most people hit the vending machine for – you guessed it – more sugar that they don’t think is actually sugar (yay for granola bars!). Or, they run to the coffee shop for caffeine (also usually paired with sugar).
Of course, the stress of all this causes a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. Do you know what cortisol does to blood sugar? It increases it.
More hormonal disruption.
When you realize that sugar isn’t just fluffy white powder that’s sometimes an ingredient in things, but the bulk of the 80,000 processed food products that surround you, it becomes quite clear that a mistake has been made in your strategy to beat this challenge.
It’s not just processed food products though. One of the most common statements people make when they first come to my community is, “I eat healthy but I still can’t manage to get in control of this problem (sugar).”
“Healthy eating” is often what’s undermining you, especially if you’ve been led to believe that fat is the enemy. If fat is the enemy, you’re going to be eating a ton of foods that convert to sugar in the body and make your sugar addiction impossible to overcome.
Or maybe you think “healthy eating” is all about whole grains, juicing, beans, rice, and fruit? If that’s the case, you’re doomed to struggle. It’s just the nature of having the wrong information.
Reason #2: You Think Natural Sugar is Perfectly Fine
In one of the most popular and controversial articles ever published at Rebooted Body, I compared the popular, “healthy,” Naked Juice drinks to Mountain Dew.
The reason I did this because people tend to dismiss natural sugar as “perfectly fine.” Anyone who says otherwise is “demonizing all sugar” and “missing the importance of whole food nutrition.”
I’m doing no such thing. I don’t demonize ANY sugar and I certainly don’t miss the importance of whole food nutrition. But I am realistic and objective when it comes to the body’s needs and metabolic pathways.
Natural sugar must be put in context. Eating an orange and drinking orange juice are not the same thing. The rate at which the sugar hits your blood stream is radically different, as is the total amount of sugar you’ll ingest (it takes 4 to 6 oranges to produce an 8 ounce glass of orange juice).
Is drinking Naked Juice more productive than drinking Mountain Dew? In terms of nutrition, of course it is. In terms of metabolic healing and overcoming sugar cravings, there’s no difference.
Your body doesn’t magically determine that a sugar is real and then deactivate the metabolic side effects. All your body knows is, “blood sugar is rising, let’s act.” The body must tightly regulate blood sugar levels or face death. There are no exceptions.
If you want to WIN, everything must be put in context and the details have to be parsed. Drinking sugar in any form is not a smart form of sugar consumption for most people.
Eating an orange is exponentially more productive than eating a donut, but that doesn’t mean an orange is harmless to your goals of beating sugar addiction right here and right now.
It’s harmless for some and can cause setbacks for others. That’s another lesson: there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
Take Action: Avoid dogma and black and white thinking. Statements like, “natural sugar is healthy” or “all sugar is bad” are almost always lacking context and important details. And it’s those important details that are going to make or break your success.
For now, limit your overall natural sugar intake. Stay away from all juices and commit to eating whole foods. Prioritize vegetables and keep fruits to a minimum (they’re not as nutritious as you’re led to believe anyway).
Reason #3: You’re Simultaneously Cutting Calories
In a Rebooted lifestyle, there’s no calorie counting, portion control, weighing food (or yourself), macronutrient tracking, detailed food tracking, or any of the other obsessive tactics of mainstream Dieting approaches.
Why? Because it interferes with having a healthy relationship with food, healing your psychology, and focusing on the things that actually matter.
That’s right, I’ve personally guided thousands of people from obese to healthy without ever asking them to count a single calorie. And I’m going to suggest that you adopt the same approach.
Calorie counting is not only destructive to your overall lifestyle, it’s destructive to your battle with sugar and processed food cravings.
Calorie cutting is an added layer of stress on the body. You’re consciously cutting out something the body desperately needs (energy). This triggers stress, cravings, and massive hunger.
If you think you’re going to successfully tackle the massive beast of sugar and processed food cravings while also dealing with the physiological ramifications of withholding energy from an already stressed body, you’re loco, Coco.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
When Rebooting your body or tackling sugar and processed food cravings, there can be no remnants of the Dieting version of you.
Our only concern throughout this process is changing your relationship with food, untangling the psychology that’s blocking you from freedom, and giving you legitimate long-term tools that put you in control and keep you in control.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “but Kevin, how am I going to know how much to eat?” That’s a great question. And the fact that you’re asking it shows that the Dieting programming has really led you astray.
Does a leopard wake up in the Serengetti and say, “I really need to try and limit my kill to 1600 calories today?”
Of course not.
Human beings are the only animal on planet Earth that insist on using a calculator and a spreadsheet to figure out how much to eat. That’s because we’ve spent decades replacing what our body is telling us with the well-meaning messages of misguided personal trainers and computer software.
Your body is programmed to control intake and expenditure…if you listen.Of course, sugar and processed foods have broken our ability to listen to our bodies because they throw our appetite and satiety hormones out of whack, which adds an extra layer to the challenge.
The good news is that people who do legitimate work (you know…the stuff that I teach) regain the ability to intuitively manage intake. No obsession required.
Take Action: Commit to ending calorie counting, weighing food, and tracking. If you want a better overview of how unhelpful it is, read my article, The Truth About Calories.
Reason #4: You Don’t Sleep Well Enough (And It’s Screwing Up Everything)
What if I told you that in as little as 72 hours, you could increase your satiety by 20% and decrease your hunger by 30%?
And no, a magic pill from some long lost rain forest that only Dr. Oz knows about is not required.
If you’re getting poor quality or low quantity sleep (six or less quality hours), then you’re deranging two key hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is your appetite suppressant hormone. Without getting too much into the science, I’ll give you a simple example of its importance: rats with leptin receptors that have been turned off become morbidly obese.
Ghrelin is your appetite stimulating hormone. You can see how increasing that by 30% probably wouldn’t work in your favor.
In your personal battle for freedom from sugar and processed foods, poor sleep is the enemy at the gates while prioritized sleep is a white knight.
There is simply no way to keep cravings at bay when you’re fueling them with poor sleep. Having 20% less satiety and 30% more hunger is a recipe for disaster.
And I want to drive home the fact that sleep quantity isn’t all that matters. Time after time I ask clients about their sleep and get, “It’s great, I get eight hours every night.”
When digging deeper and asking, “How would you rate the quality of your sleep on a scale from one to ten?” they say, “Oh, umm, I guess about a six.”
Most people have to be in bed for nine hours to get eight solid hours of sleep. And that’s assuming that everything else is in order. There are dozens of common issues and mistakes people make with sleep that insure those eight hours are filled with interruptions.
Take Action: Take an objective look at your sleep quantity and quality and grade yourself. This could be one of the biggest areas that begs for improvement and simple adjustments could radically change the outcome of your journey.
By prioritizing sleep and fixing issues that reduce sleep quality, you’re going to create harmony in your hormones that reduces your cravings and allows you to feel full again when you consume real food.
Reason #5: You Believe Willpower is an Effective Tool
If I hear another trainer talk about having “better willpower” or giving advice on “how to improve your willpower” I’m going to barf.
Do you need willpower to be successful in changing health habits?
Well, my willpower sucks, yet I effortlessly maintain a 60 pound weight loss year after year. What’s that tell you?
The concept of willpower is DOA in my book because it clashes with the goal of developing a healthy relationship with food. Let’s take a closer look.
Willpower: Training and control of oneself and one’s conduct, usually for personal improvement.
Control. That’s code for “restriction.”
“No, I can’t have that.”
“My trainer said that gluten is the devil.”
“A carbohydrate? Are you ****ing kidding me! Get that out of my face!”
Sound familiar? Willpower is about restraining yourself. It’s an acknowledgement that you’re out of control and must be held back. It’s an antagonistic strategy.
Now you’re thinking, “So, is Kevin saying I should just eat whatever I want?”
No. Here’s what I’m saying…
When you do the work to heal your relationship with food, there’s no need for restriction or willpower.
Let me give you an example. If you have a healthy relationship with shopping, you can go wander the mall and make it back to your car without five bags in tow.
Did that require willpower? Did you have to hold yourself back from buying everything in your favorite stores?
No. It was pretty effortless.
If you don’t have a healthy relationship with shopping, then you believe you need willpower. You know that if something doesn’t hold you back, your check card card is going to get abused at Macy’s.
Willpower is a short term answer. It’s effective for about 30 days, which is why people make it through “sugar detox challenges” just fine, only to collapse in a heap of failure when the challenge is over.
When willpower is employed as a long-term solution (longer than 30 days), it can actually become an unhealthy eating trigger.
The willpower mindset will eventually cause a binge and a relapse because it triggers your inner-rebel (everyone has one).
Now, here’s the inherent problem: healing your relationship with shopping is much easier than healing your relationship with food. Shopping isn’t necessary for survival. Food is.
Without legitimate long-term tools and strategies, you’ll be forced to try and will your way to success. You’ll hate the process, open yourself up for shame, guilt and self-sabotage, and ultimately fail miserably.
Take Action: The solution to not needing willpower is to change your relationship with food. That’s a concept beyond the scope of this article. It’s work that I do with clients in our Academy.
I can say, however, that shame and guilt are at the root of the self-destruction that’s often triggered by using willpower.
So, one thing you can do in the short-term is extend yourself grace and free yourself from the oppression of perfectionism. In other words: stop beating yourself up.
Reason #6: Your Strategy is “Everything in Moderation.”
The fairy tale goes like this: eat whatever you want, just less of it. And the way to do that consistently is with or old “friend” willpower.
So willpower, and this idea of “moderation,” are intimate with each other. But if willpower only works short-term, and acts as an unhealthy eating trigger when used long-term, what do you think is going to happen to your moderation strategy?
That’s right, it’s going to implode.
Moderation is the strategy that Weight Watchers was built on. They assigned a points system to foods to help you moderate intake (and cut calories). There’s no talk about food quality, nutrition, hormone regulation, or anything else.
That would be all fine and dandy if weight loss, health, and freedom from sugar was based on the calories-in, calories-out theory, but it’s not. All calories aren’t equal.
Let’s also look at it from the addiction and dependency model. If you’re an alcoholic and you go to a clinic for treatment, do you think they’re going to design a strategy of moderation for you? “Look Susan, you can drink whatever you want, just drink less.”
Moderation is not a strategy or tool. It’s an ability.
A hammer is a tool. Building a house is an ability. You don’t pick up a hammer and have a house unless you know how to build.
Moderation is something you’re able to do after you’ve done the work to change your relationship with food, after you’ve healed your cravings, after you’ve acquired long-term tools, and after you’ve untangled the psychological mess that’s sabotaging you.
If moderation was a tool, EVERYONE would have access to it the same way everyone can buy a hammer. The fact that some people have it and some don’t proves that it’s an ability and a mindset that comes with having a healthy relationship with food..
That’s good news by the way.
See, I absolutely want you to gain the ability to moderate because an authentically healthy lifestyle isn’t one of deprivation and personal abuse.
When I help people shut down their sugar cravings, it’s not by telling them that sugar is evil and that they can never be in the same room as sugar ever again. Moderation is critical.
But if you try and use moderation as a tactic and strategy to achieve freedom, you will feel deprived and abused. You will feel shame and guilt. You will trigger your inner-rebel. You will fail.
Please don’t go that route.
Reason #7: You Give Sugar Power By Moralizing It.
How often do you hear the phrase, “sugar is bad?”
I make sure that every single one of my clients learns the mentality that there is no such thing as a good or bad food. Or a good or bad macronutrient (like carbs or fat).
“How could there be?” I ask. “I eat ice cream from time to time.”
It just has to be put in context. If I eat ice cream by choice with my family on a warm Summer night in the context of an otherwise very healthy diet and lifestyle, that’s a healthy behavior and represents a healthy relationship with food.
If I’m compelled to eat ice cream, indulge often, and use ice cream as a coping mechanism for sadness or anger, then it’s a destructive behavior and represents an unhealthy relationship with food.
See, there’s no good or bad. There’s helpful and unhelpful. There’s nutritionally rich and nutritionally poor. But good and bad don’t exist when talking about food.
You have to end this war-with-food mentality!
The next time you go to a social gathering an eat all the chips and a big sugary margarita and think, “Oh, I was so bad!” shut that thinking down immediately.
I always tell my clients: “Look, you’re deciding what to eat, not planning a homicide.” Or, “You ate some crackers, you didn’t kill anyone.”
If a food is “bad” then it’s always bad to you. It’s a mindset you’re programming. So if ice cream is bad, are you preparing for a life completely devoid of ice cream?
The same goes for your behavior around food.
Saying that you made a “bad decision” opens the door for shame a guilt (some trainers love putting you in that situation, by the way). And again, it labels that behavior in your head permanently, which means that behavior is crossed off your list forever.
That’s not where happiness lives and it’s certainly not where freedom resides.
Rebooting your body and mind or shutting down your sugar cravings is not about going to war with food or your body.
It’s not about right and wrong.
It’s not about perfection.
It’s about a healthy process, a practical outlook, and legitimate tools. Got it?
Reason #8: You’re Focused on the Tip of the Iceberg
Most people start out by focusing on the wrong things: calories, macronutrient ratios, and exercise. Then, they come across better information that says something like, “success is 70% what you put in your mouth (not how much) and 30% everything else.”
That’s a pretty good step in the right direction. Your diet quality does determine the majority of your success.
But that’s still very myopic. As you advance further, you gain the ability to zoom out even more. When you do, you realize that 80% of your success is determined by your psychology, and 20% is the rest.
Welcome to the bottom of the iceberg.
The idea that you can just collect information and put it to use in your life is one big fairy tale. If facts were all you needed, you would have been successful a long time ago.
Believing that more research or more science or more knowledge about eating and exercising will change your life isn’t giving yourself enough credit.
It’s saying that you haven’t been smart enough yet, and I don’t believe that’s the case.
You’re a smart person. That’s not the issue.
90% of people who have the right information still fail because the problem is not an information and logic problem. It’s about you as an individual person. Your mindset. Your history. Your recovery. Your wants and desires. Your unmet needs.
Up to this point, you’ve been hammering this nail (sugar cravings) with a water balloon and wondering why you keep getting wet.
Looking at the underlying issue — what’s causing the addiction, what’s causing the emotional eating, what’s causing my triggers — is the hammer you should be swinging.
And when you drive that nail for real, you’re driving it into its final resting place.
Here are a few of the psychology-based behaviors that are required for changing your relationship with food:
- Overcoming Extinction Bursts: A psychological phenomenon where the brain makes last ditch attempts to return to old behaviors, habits, or addictions. They are highly persuasive and powerful and are a leading cause of failure in the first 90-120 days of behavior modification.
- Identifying the relationship between stressors and cravings: Most cravings are not random, but are direct responses to external or internal stressors. Mapping the relationship between the stressors and cravings is critical to overcoming them long-term.
- Healing Toxic Beliefs and Negative Self-Talk: These two things are the captain sitting in the driver’s seat of fear, shame, and guilt: three powerful emotions that manipulate your behavior and widen the intention-behavior gap.
- Identifying the roots of fear, shame and guilt: Overcoming toxic beliefs and negative self-talk requires getting to the root causes of the fear, shame, and guilt that you feel and are triggered by.
- Identifying and replacing “symbolic substitutes”: When core human needs go unmet, the human brain latches on to replacements for what those needs provide. Processed, hyper-palatable foods and sugar are a wonderful replacement for certain unmet needs.
- Identifying and healing common unhealthy eating triggers: Through my work with thousands of clients around the world, I’ve identified the top 10 physical and psychological triggers for unhealthy eating and sugar addiction. Success depends on identifying and overcoming these triggers.
- Preventing regression triggers and self-sabotage: Some people have a habit of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” In other words, everything is going right and they still manage to find a way to get off track. This is a symptom of being influenced by regression triggers and self-sabotage. The frustrating cycle of failure can’t be overcome until these two things are corrected.
- Preventing addiction transfer: Have you ever known someone to conquer one addiction, only to adopt a new one? For example, it’s common for smokers to gain excessive weight when they successfully quit smoking, because they turn to food for comfort. The same thing can happen when healing sugar addiction, so you must take steps to prevent it.
These are just a few examples. And it’s not to say that they ALL apply to you. As I said earlier, everyone is different, so it’s critical to sort out your needs from the needs of others.
But doing this AUTHENTIC work means freedom forever.
Not freedom until bikini season is over, freedom until the company Christmas party, freedom until you lose motivation, or any other band-aid version of health and fitness “success.”
Do you understand the magnitude of what I’m saying?
You can do this work! I do it every day with people all over the globe who are just like you. All you have to do is decide.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.