I think we all know that eating too much sugar is not good for you. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to all sorts of metabolic dysfunction like high blood pressure, excess weight gain, …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster, and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there and welcome to episode 187 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, The Weight Loss Coach for Runners and today, why moderating sugar is so difficult. So I think we all know that eating too much sugar is not good for you.
Excess sugar consumption has been linked to all sorts of metabolic dysfunctions like high blood pressure, excess weight gain, insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, just to name a few. So the solution is pretty simple. Just don’t eat so much sugar, moderate your sugar intake. Easy, right?
Why does it sound so easy, but is it so hard in practice? Why is moderating sugar so difficult? Today I’m going to take a deep dive into why this is, why moderating sugar is so difficult, and offer up some practical tips to help you take control of those sugar cravings.
But first, why is it so hard to lose weight and keep it off? How many times have you tried and failed? Contrary to what you might think and what most people think there isn’t anything wrong with you, you’re not a failure. There are a few reasons why most people fail at losing weight. Number one, probably you’re not willing to get uncomfortable.
Most people don’t want to experience any type of discomfort, especially when we’re talking about food. The truth is, if you want to lose weight, you have to do things differently. This means embracing a little bit of discomfort, okay, change is uncomfortable.
If you don’t accept that the journey will be uncomfortable and you are setting yourself up for failure. Okay, so you have to understand that you got to get uncomfortable.
Number two, you’re kind of blaming everyone and everybody else for your lack of success. If you go off track, you don’t stick to your plan. You blame someone or something, you know, the boss, the school, whatever it is, you’re destined to fail.
People who fail tend to have a lot of excuses. They have reasons, they have stories, they blame other people for why things don’t work for them, okay? The only one responsible for your actions, though, is you, okay? So don’t blame anybody else. Take responsibility for your successes, and failures, and act appropriately.
Number three, number three, you just give up way too easily. Successful people, they just don’t give up. They keep going no matter what. Even if it’s hard, even if it takes a while. Even if it seems like it’s not working. If you want to succeed at losing weight and keeping it often you have to stop giving up right? You just have to keep going.
Okay, so these are the three things that you need to stop doing. If you want to be successful at weight loss, you know, be willing to get uncomfortable, stop blaming other people, take responsibility, and then don’t give up.
Okay, by the way, if you want help with all of this, I’m here for you, you can always join the Running Lean Coaching Project. That is my unique weight loss coaching program for runners. Just go to runningleancoaching.com/join to learn more.
And if you want a little help, just getting started with all this stuff, I created a cool training program that you can watch for free. It’s like an hour-long training program. It’s called Five Simple Steps To Becoming A Leaner Stronger Runner. Just go to runningleancoaching.com and click on Free Training to find that and get started. Cool.
Okay, so today we’re talking about sugar. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I talk a lot about sugar, a lot about the issues around sugar. And one thing that I’ve stressed is that I think for most people, you know, there’s not one diet that’s going to work for everybody, right?
But I think for most people that reducing and moderating your sugar intake is going to go a long way in helping you to become a healthier human being. It’ll help to, you know, help you to get fat adapted, it’ll help you to increase your endurance, it’ll help you to be burning more fat in general, which gives you more energy throughout the day.
It helps with cravings in general like there’s lots of reasons why we want to moderate our sugar intake. And so we all know this, we all know that we shouldn’t be eating as much sugar. But moderating it is so difficult, right? It’s so hard for so many people to eat some sugar or they stop for a while, then they go back to binging out on it again or whatever.
Why is this? Why is it so hard to moderate sugar when moderating other foods is easy? Like it’s not hard to moderate broccoli intake, right? It’s not hard to moderate chicken intake, or steak or eggs or, you know, brussel sprouts? Why is sugar different? What makes it different?
So I want to answer that question today. And I will, but we have to understand that excess sugar leads to all kinds of issues from a metabolic standpoint, higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes leads to fatty liver disease.
An increased risk for heart attack and stroke like these are serious things. This isn’t like, oh, you know, it, you just shouldn’t eat sugar because it’s, you know, might give you cavities or something. No, these are like some serious issues we’re talking about here.
Okay, so we know eating too much sugar is not good for us. We all know that. It’s hard to moderate, it’s hard to give up. It’s hard to control. So why is this, first of all, and then what can we do about it?
So these are the questions I’m going to answer here today. The first thing I want to mention here is kind of go over, you know, I talk to runners, you’re probably a runner, if you’re listening to this podcast, I want to talk about fat adapted running and what that means.
So when you’re a fat adapted runner, this means that you have just improved your body’s natural ability to burn fat, that is our natural state as human beings to store some of the energy that we get from food as fat and then to be able to burn that energy later on. Okay?
So improved fat burning means that you will improve your running endurance, because fat is a great source of fuel for endurance activities for running and cycling, and swimming, and rowing and all kinds of things, it means that you’ll have improved endurance, improved recovery, running will become easier for you.
But in order to get fat adapted, you have to really lower the amount of sugar that you’re eating, right. Sometimes I tell people to take a break for 30 days, or, you know, just really dramatically reduce your daily intake. And this requires a little bit of a change in lifestyle, right?
You can’t go, you know, eating all the sugar every other day, if you want to stay fat adapted, like you have to lower your sugar intake and kind of keep it low for a while. It’s a little bit different for each person.
I can’t tell you exactly how much you need to lower it and how many days you need to stay there. And when you’re going to raise it, what you need to bring it up to, because it’s a little bit different for each person. But just understand, it doesn’t mean you never eat sugar again, it just means you’ve got to eat less than you’re probably used to.
Okay, so maintaining a lifestyle, a lower sugar lifestyle is what we’re talking about here. If you want to improve your running and you want to stay fat adapted, you’ve got to maintain a sort of a lower sugar lifestyle.
So doing this is challenging, because of all the reasons I’m going to talk about here today. But sugar is so powerful, it is a powerful food substance that makes it very difficult to maintain a lifestyle free from sugar or low in sugar. Okay.
So one of the things that I talk about with people and they want out of my coaching is they want to get fat adapted, and they want to stay that way. They love how they feel when they’re fat adapted, they love how it improves their running, they can run faster, they can run longer, they have this all day energy, they’re sleeping better, their mood is better, like there’s so many good things with being fat adapted that they want to maintain that and they find it difficult because sugar is a powerful thing.
Okay, so and then the other part of this is weight loss. So the other part is if you want to reach your weight loss goals, you’ve got to lower your sugar intake because again, we’re talking about burning fat here, right?
You know, as our natural state as humans, we are good fat burners, we want to, we kind of prefer glucose or sugar as a fuel, but it’s like a paper, it burns very hot, but very quickly, we want to tap into that fat which is more like burning logs.
Fat burns for much, much longer. It doesn’t burn quite as hot so to speak, but it burns much longer. Okay. So we want to tap into that stored body fat as a source of fuel for running but also that’s how you lose weight. You’ve got to burn the fat, right? And again, this requires you to moderate your sugar intake.
So if you want to lose weight, you want to become a fat adapted runner, we’ve got to moderate our sugar intake and just about every doctor and dietitian out there will agree that yeah, this is the case. If you want to lose weight, then you need to moderate sugar intake.
So we have an interesting thing happening here. Burning fat will help you to become metabolically healthier to help you to lose weight, you’ll improve your blood work, you’ll have less inflammation, lower blood pressure, all these things, it also helps improve your running performance running becomes easier, you can go longer, push harder, recover faster, all those things. But it just requires one thing, just moderate sugar intake. Okay, simple.
This is so simple right? Now, there are other things that contribute to becoming healthy and to becoming your healthiest self, you know, you want to stay strong, you got to do resistance training, you got to manage stress, you got to make sure you’re getting quality sleep every night, we got to you know, address mental and emotional health.
But one big lever that we can pull is going to be moderating your sugar intake. Okay, if you want to get your body moving in the right direction, then moderating sugar intake is going to be the biggest, the biggest lever that you can pull to get that started. Okay, simple, right? Simple, but not easy.
So almost every person that I work with tells me that they have a hard time moderating sugar or they have in the past. They’re on point with a lot of other areas of their health and fitness, you know, they’re running is on point they’re doing resistance training, or, and they’re sticking with their training program for their, you know, maybe they’re training for a marathon.
They do the cross training they’re supposed to, and they never miss their workouts like they’re on point with all these areas. But when it comes to sugar, they’re like, oh, yeah, that’s my weakness. That is my weakness. And if this sounds like you just know that it’s super common, you’re not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you.
In fact, it means you’re pretty normal, but if you want to become metabolically healthier, if you want to lose weight, if you want to improve your running, then we’re gonna have to get this whole sugar thing figured out. Okay?
So why is it so hard to moderate sugar? First, you have to understand that there are many factors involved with why we want sugar, why we crave it. There are a lot of different drivers. And I’m going to talk about those drivers here in just a moment.
There are some that are physiological drivers that work on our biology, there are some mental and emotional drivers. And then there’s external drivers. Those are factors that are outside of ourselves that make moderating our sugar intake very difficult.
So I want you to think about each of these drivers as like a gas pedal, like pretend like you are a car and each one of these is like an accelerator. And each one of these increases your craving for sugar. Alright, so here’s what I’m talking about.
The first one is this, the first driver is taste. And the taste of sugar is a powerful driver. We have receptors in our mouth, around our mouth, on our lips, or tongue or soft palate that all scents the sweet taste of sugar.
When we taste something sweet, it sends signals to our brain that we are about to get something sweet. And it increases dopamine, dopamine, and it feels good. And immediately, our craving for sugar is increased.
So this first driver, this first accelerator happens right away. As soon as we taste something that is sweet, our sugar cravings get increased. And we want more sugar right now. And that causes us to want to eat more sugar.
It also causes us to want to eat more food in general. So every time we have this receptor that sends dopamine to our brain about sugar, and it’s saying like, oh, this is a good thing. We want more of this. It also increases our wanting and craving for more food in general. All right. So the first driver is going to be the taste of sugary foods in our mouth.
The second gas pedal that gets pushed here is an increase in our blood sugar and this happens in our gut. So when you eat sugary food this causes your blood sugar to spike and it causes an increase in your blood sugar, which is normal. This increase in blood sugar also sends signals to your brain to release dopamine. And again, your sugar cravings go up and your food cravings go up.
And they’ve done these studies where they’ve fed rats sugary foods. But they’ve removed their taste receptors, so they can’t taste the sweetness of the foods. So they don’t have that sweet taste of the food in their mouth. Just the sugar is just being ingested.
And these rats will eat more sugar because of that, because they’re eating sugar, they’re eating, they want more sugar, and they eat more food in general. All right. This is also the main reason why food companies try to sneak sugar into everything. Even if you can’t taste it. They’re still sneaking sugar into foods.
Because if what you eat causes a higher spike in your blood sugar, you’re going to crave more of that food. And you’re going to want to eat more of that food in particular and more food in general.
And the food companies know this because if you’re eating more of their food, they’re making more money. They don’t care about your health. They care about the bottom line. Okay. So some of the crazy places where they hide food and you wouldn’t really know this. Some of them may taste a little bit sweet like low fat yogurt.
We all know that if you look at yogurt, it’ll say like, oh, low fat yogurt is healthy and good for you. Look at the label, it’s like all sugar. Okay, so be careful of that one, but other ones are a little more sneaky, like pasta sauce. Almost all pasta sauce has added sugar. Look at the label. Other sauces. Almost all condiments have sugar in them. So just be careful.
But this one is weird, like gravy. Why does gravy have sugar in it? Again as to make you crave more of that food. canned soup has a lot of sugar in it. Salad dressings, nut butters, which should be what they should be just nuts. Like you’d grind up some almonds and you make almond butter. But no, they add sugar to that to make it more delicious.
Crackers have a ton of sugar and bread gets added sugar, beef jerky. I love beef jerky, and I go out of my way to find one. I think the brand is Tillamook. And they have a no sugar beef jerky. So, and it tastes delicious, by the way, but you’ve got to be careful of this.
So there’s this other accelerator that’s forcing us to crave more sugar. And it’s happening in our gut and we don’t even necessarily taste the sugar, but it is happening in our gut. And so just understand that those food companies are out there. They’re pushing that accelerator.
Okay, so now we have a car with two accelerators. It’s hard to put the brakes on when you got two accelerators going. Okay, what if you have a third accelerator? All right, well, the third accelerator, the third like gas pedal that’s being pressed here happens in your brain.
And understand that glucose is one of your brain’s preferred fuel sources. The other one is ketones, which are a byproduct of fat burning. Okay, so ketones and glucose, your brain needs about half and half of these in order to function properly.
And so, you know, if you’re somebody that doesn’t eat sugar at all, you’re going to get all the glucose you need because your brain gets the glucose it needs from your liver, your liver will produce glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. And it provides your brain with all the sugar that it needs to function properly.
Ketones get provided when you’re in a fasting state. So anytime you haven’t been eating for about eight hours, you’re burning some fat and you’re producing some ketones and you’re getting all the ketones that you need, we’re all producing ketones to some degree, as long as you’re burning some fat, right.
And this is a natural state for humans to be in, in this sort of fasted state where you’re producing some ketones, right so your brain needs both of these fuels. And so that is another driver that is causing your brain to crave more sugar because when you eat sugar, your brain sees this as oh, this is one of my preferred fuel sources.
And will increase your craving for more sugar and your brain doesn’t really know that too much sugar is bad for you. It just says, oh sugar, we want more of this. And so it turns on this process of craving. So just understand that sugar is one of the preferred fuels for your brain and just having that as a fact is it is a little bit of an accelerator of the craving for sugar.
Okay, so now we have three accelerators right, we have taste, we have an increase in blood sugar, and then we have this preferred fuel source. All three of these things drive our sugar cravings up, they all cause us to eat more sugar and eat more food. In general, people who eat more sugar will naturally want to eat more sugar, and they are prone to eat more food as well.
So if you’re trying to lose weight, and you’re eating sugar, then an increased appetite. And an increased appetite for sugar is going to make losing weight very challenging. So just understand this, right? So we have this car or human person here with three accelerators all going at the same time.
Really increasing our sugar cravings, making us want more and more sugar more and more food in general. So putting on the brakes, and slowing this car down is challenging, right. So these are the three physiological drivers. Okay, there’s a couple other ones I want to mention here, that make it pretty difficult to moderate sugar intake.
So the fourth accelerator, I’m going to call this, I’m going to lump the mental and emotional factors into this fourth accelerator here. So the first thing about the addictive qualities of sugar, this is like the mental cravings that we have for sugar.
So sugar increases dopamine, which makes us feel good. It also causes us to want to eat more sugar, which increases our dopamine even further, eventually, our dopamine baseline gets increased, meaning that you need more and more dopamine just to feel normal again.
So what’s going to get you to feel normal again? Well, eating more sugar, of course, and then this vicious cycle just continues, and it keeps pushing your dopamine levels up. So all the while you’re gaining weight, you’re feeling terrible, because you’re not getting the same effect from the sugar because you’ve increased your baseline, right.
So this is the same cycle that people go through with alcohol and drug addiction. And studies continue to show that sugar is just as addictive as some drugs like cocaine. So you have to understand that this is a powerful mental driver. There is a physiological process going on underneath the covers here, but understand that this is a very powerful mental driver that causes us to want to feel better.
Okay, and it’s the addictive quality of sugar. So just understand, we got to fight against this, these are all things that are kind of working against us here, okay. And don’t worry, I’m going to talk about some things we can do. And just know that there are some solutions here. Okay.
The other one is the emotional side of this. So this is where you use sugar as an emotional management tool or like a coping mechanism, right. And most people do this, most people have used food in some form or another as emotional, an emotional management tool.
Basically, you’ve just trained yourself for decades, that whenever you feel unwanted emotions, that you eat something like you have some chocolate and you’ll feel better. So just unlearning this is a big challenge in itself, just unlearning how to not do this, like not use sugar to manage your emotions can be challenging in itself.
But you really have to learn how to just deal with your emotions. So you know, the process looks like this, you have a difficult emotion, you eat sugar, and you feel a little better immediately. The problem with this though, is it doesn’t last.
There’s a rebound effect, where you actually feel worse, after that Sugar Rush wears off. And you haven’t addressed the emotional stuff that’s actually causing you to feel bad. So you eat more sugar to try to feel good again. And then again, we’re in this vicious cycle of like, not really dealing with our emotions, and we’re, you know, messing up our dopamine baseline and all these things.
So the answer is you’ve got to stop using sugar to manage your emotions. So when you do this, when people stop using sugar as an emotional management tool, then they’ve got to like deal with the emotions, they gotta like, feel bad. That means you’ve got to allow the emotion to be there without doing anything to dull it, or make it go away.
And this process is not comfortable. And it is not fun. But it is very, very powerful. And one of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself. So I want to encourage you to stop managing your emotions with sugar and start dealing with those feelings. Just feel the feelings, right, feel the feelings, let it be uncomfortable. Eventually they go away.
You know, nobody has felt a strong emotion forever. So it will go away. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour, 24 hours, sometimes it takes a few days. But, you know, typically, there’s no emotion that’s going to last forever.
Think about the worst emotions you felt in your life. You know, years and years ago, that, you know, you’ve gotten over. And you haven’t even thought about that for a long time. Okay, so got to stop using sugar as an emotional management tool. So that’s the fourth accelerator that we have causing us to want more sugar and craving more sugar.
And the fifth one, I’m going to call these external forces. So what are these external forces, these are things that are outside of ourselves. One of them is the marketing that food companies do. And I kind of mentioned a little bit of this earlier when they sneak sugar into food, right.
So their whole goal, the food company’s goal is to sell more food. So they just want you to eat more food, so they can sell more food and make more money. That’s it. They know exactly what they’re doing. They know how all these processes work that I just talked about here.
They know all the physiological, mental and emotional drivers causing us to crave food. And they take advantage of all of them. They exploit all of these factors, so that you will eat as much of their junk food as possible.
So your job is to recognize this, know that it is happening, it’s not going to stop on its own. But you have to take control, you have to make better choices. Pretty much just stay away from packaged food, stay away from food with a marketing message behind it, pretty much I mean, read labels, you got to get really good at reading labels, right.
But if most of the food that you eat doesn’t have a label on it, you’re just eating a whole food, like real food that still looks like food, it’s not ground up, it’s not emulsified, it’s not ultra processed, it’s just like a strawberry, a egg, a piece of meat.
Like if you’re just eating eggs, and meat and fish and dairy and fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and all this real food, then you don’t have to worry about any of this. And eating this way doesn’t really ever get boring in my opinion. It’s always fun and delicious, and will improve your health immediately.
So you don’t need all the marketing, you know, they’re gonna tell you that this food is gonna be, it’s gonna change your life, it’s so amazing. But just stay away from all that stuff. Stay away from all that. And you will grow to love eating simple and quote unquote boring foods. It’ll become your new normal.
And then the last part of this, like external forces, would be social pressure. This is like friends and family who, you know, they mean well, but they’ll say things like, oh, well, you know, I just want you to have a good time or, you know, you deserve to live a little, come on. It’s just, it’s okay. It’s just one donut, don’t worry about it.
You know, you deserve it, you’ve been good all week. You know, they want to make you a part of their crappy eating party. You know, they want to make you feel guilty for not eating the dessert that they made.
You know, they tell tell you stuff like you know what sugar is not the problem. You just have to cut your calories. All foods are okay, in moderation. Well, we know that’s not true. Everything I’ve talked about today tells us that, you know, eat not eating sugar in excess is very difficult. Right?
So there’s this social pressure, this peer pressure that will always be there, always gonna be a thing. It’s out of your control, like, you know what people think or say or do around you like you have no control over that. It’s up to you, though, how you respond to it. Okay.
The only thing you could control is your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You can’t control what other people think do or say. So you can’t control them. But you do have control over what you make all that mean about you or not, and how you respond to that.
So I always just smile at people and say like, you know what? You might be right. And when they tell me something like it’s okay, you should have a little or you know, sugar’s okay, you should just live it up.
Just say like, you know what? You might be right. And it just kind of shuts the conversation down right there. You know, it’s not aggressive. I’m telling the truth. I’m like, hey, you know what, you might be right. But at the same time, I’m kind of saying like, also you might be wrong. Okay. Little subtlety there.
But I like this phrase because it immediately diffuses the sugar pushers. Okay. So now we have five accelerators all going at the same time. Right we have taste we have an increase in blood sugar. We have our brain’s preferred fuel source, we’ve got an addictive quality of sugar, we’ve got using sugar as an emotional management tool. We have marketing messages, we have social pressure.
All this can make moderating sugar extremely difficult, right? Do you understand now why putting the brakes on sugar is so hard, you’ve got five accelerators all going at the same time. Okay? But just understanding all of this should help you.
Understanding all of this should help you to start making better choices around food for yourself. And I’m not saying that sugar is bad, or that you should stop eating sugar altogether. You know, listen, life is for living, you should enjoy some foods every now and then. I enjoy a little dark chocolate here and there.
What did I eat recently, I had a piece of cake recently. Which was not really all that good. I’m not a big fan of cake, to be honest with you. Cheesecake on the other hand, love, love, love me some cheesecake. But you have to understand that the cards are stacked against us when it comes to moderating sugar intake.
Sugar is powerful. It’s a powerful substance. Is it a drug man, that’s just let’s just say it’s like a drug. Right? It has the same effect on our bodies and our brains, right? So be armed with this information so you can make better choices around food in your life and around sugar, especially a few suggestions.
Try to avoid the hyper palatable foods. So these are the foods that are overly amazing, right stick to eating whole foods. Stay away from packaged foods. If you’re going to eat food with a package, read the label carefully. Watch out for hidden sugars. Sugar comes in many, many names. I think there’s like 96 different names that they use for sugar in packaging. And they do this to confuse us. They do it so they can hide the sugar.
So understand those 96 names for sugar, and be on the lookout for them. Start learning how to deal with your emotions. Without using sugar to numb yourself to your emotions. Just feel your feelings, right. Learn how to say no to the social pressures around sugar, the peer pressure that you get from others.
And maybe one thing that you can do that tends to help people just kind of reset their brain and their body which is to just take a break from eating sugar, maybe 30 days. 30 days away from sugar can reset your dopamine levels. It can help you to get rid of the cravings that you have for sugar. It can do wonders for you physically, get you burning fat again, and helps with mental clarity. It’ll help with your emotions because now you’ve learned how to start dealing with your emotions.
So maybe a break is an order of always if you want help with any of this stuff, reach out I got you okay. That’s all I got for you today here. I hope you got something out of this episode. Love you all, keep on Running Lean and I will talk to you soon.