Why a Sugar Free Diet is Hard – But Worth the Struggle

If you’ve ever tried to give up sugar and other unhealthy refined carbs, you know that a sugar free diet isn’t easy.

It seems like it should be easy to give up sugar — after all, what’s so hard about giving up the morning muffin at Starbucks, or staying away from the candy machine during your break at work?

And it should definitely be easy to keep your kids away from sugar. Just don’t bring any sugary treats home with you, and they won’t have any choice but to eat a sugar free diet.

Yeah, right.

A sugar free diet should be easy, but it’s not.

Getting the sugar out of your own diet is a sensible, healthy choice; and getting the sugar out of your kid’s diets is the responsible choice. It ain’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the struggle.

Sugar and other highly-refined carbohydrates, like the kind found in white flour and almost all processed foods, have been linked to a number of chronic, debilitating illnesses — including obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, gum disease, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

Even if that list doesn’t scare you, you will be happy to note that you can begin losing weight almost immediately just by going on a sugar free diet, even if you don’t make any other changes to the way you eat. (One of the reasons why gastric bypass patients lose weight so fast is that they have to eat a sugar free diet after their surgery to avoid getting miserably sick).

Sugar doesn’t just pack on the calories – research has shown that binging on high-calorie foods makes your body put on special fat cells that are highly resistant to your weight loss efforts, even years after you ate that bag of chocolate chip cookies all by yourself. And even if you don’t eat enough sugary foods at one time to constitute a “binge,” the insulin resistance caused by sugar almost forces your body to store fat.

OK, so you already know that sugar isn’t good for you (who doesn’t know that?) but you can’t seem to give it up. Why not?

Read moreWhy a Sugar Free Diet is Hard – But Worth the Struggle

Leafy Greens Cut Diabetes Risk

I wanted to make sure you saw the reports that came out yesterday —

Several studies have now shown that leafy green veggies – specifically spinach,  cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale – can cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes. This is important news, because diabetes has become a national epidemic in most industrialized nations, and the consumption of processes sugars and starch appears to be the main culprit. Most of the people who find my blog are concerned about their over-consumption of sugar, so this information may be particularly helpful to our community.

From reading the news report, it looks like the researchers were concerned about publicizing their findings because they’re worried that it might encourage us to eat  just spinach and cabbage for our veggie portions, instead of eating a nice variety of fruits and veggies every day. Somehow, I don’t see that happening.

In fact, I doubt that most people now eat as many vegetable and fruit servings as the USDA recommends – two cups of fruit and 2-1/2 cups of vegetables per day. A bit more of these special leafy greens will only be an improvement for most of us. Anyone who currently eats too many processed foods made with sugar, white flour or high-fructose corn syrup, (and that includes most Americans), might do well to consider eating their cabbage, too. It can’t hurt anything, certainly – and it just might reduce or delay the risk of becoming diabetic. I’ll be watching for results of further studies.

Speaking of cabbage, does anyone have a good no-sugar (and no artificial sweetener) cole slaw recipe?

An Easy Meditation Technique Helps Control Sugar Cravings

This post describes the simple meditation technique that helped me learn to ignore my sugar cravings so I could can eat a healthier diet. It is excerpted from my book that describes how I kicked my own sugar habit.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll define “sugar cravings” as the sudden urge to eat something made from concentrated, processed sugar or starch. If you aren’t in control of these urges, here’s what usually happens:

  1. A thought comes into your mind – such as “Hey, I think there’s a bag of cookies in the cupboard!”  This thought appears suddenly while you’re doing something else, like watching TV or surfing the web.
  2. Then you almost automatically get up from your chair (or drive to the store) to follow through on that thought. A moment later you discover that you’re eating that cookie, or buying that ice cream, even though you firmly intended to eat better or lose weight.

We think, we act, and then we regret it.

To put that process under our conscious control, we need to “stay awake.” That allows us to notice the urge to go find a cookie or cook up a batch of pasta or make ourselves a piece of toast when we’re not really hungry – and then let that thought disappear without action.

After all, it isn’t the cravings that make us fat and unhealthy. It’s what we do when we feel those urges or think those thoughts — it’s our actions that undermine our good intentions.

When you should not use meditation to overcome the desire to eat:

It is particularly important that you not use this technique to ignore true hunger pangs if you’re on a low-calorie fad diet. It has been know for over 90 years that low-calorie diets actually make you fatter, because you will end up binging on food. There is no technique — not meditation, hypnosis, will-power or drugs — that can prevent you from regaining the weight you lose  and then adding extra pounds after a starvation diet.  This important point isn’t discussed nearly often enough, so I’ll be putting up some posts about it in the near future.

Why true awareness can help you stay committed to a healthy diet.

Thoughts come into and go out of our minds endlessly. Some of those thoughts are creative, and can lead to new ideas and inventions. However, most of our thoughts are just the mundane rehashing of the day’s events, or daydreams, minor worries, and plans for how we’ll get the next task done.

And — usually at regular intervals throughout the day — we have thoughts that suggest that we need to go buy a fancy coffee and a muffin at the local Starbucks; or stick a coin in the candy machine; or cook up some comfort food heavy in starch and fat.

Being “awake” allows us to notice when a thought is particularly exciting and useful; when thoughts have become repetitive and even damaging; and when thoughts are manufactured by our unconscious mind in order to feed an addiction. Sugar cravings fall into that last category.

Once you become aware of the fact that you have complete control over how much attention you give to any thought, you can also control whether or not you act on your cravings. Your decisions will now be under your conscious control.

This meditation technique isn’t just for controlling sugar cravings — you’ll soon discover it’s much more powerful than that. However, it is an excellent way to stay in charge when you’re changing to a new, healthier way to eat, because you’ll soon be able to experience urges, cravings and thoughts about food without automatically acting on them.

First, learn to really notice what you think about.

You can do this exercise while walking around the block. (If you don’t have time to walk right now, you can do this exercise on your commute to work. It will actually make you a better driver).

Noticing the world around you as you walk or drive is more difficult than you might realize, because so often our minds are inwardly focused. We may be looking at something in the outside world, but we’re seeing an image or thought that’s inside our heads.

Once you start paying attention, you notice that your mind is almost never empty – and there isn’t any reason why it should be. You aren’t trying to empty out your brain – you just want to practice noticing what you think about.

This can be a rather enjoyable exercise if you lighten up and use a bit of humor.  Remember – you aren’t trying to change what you think, you’re not trying to stop thinking, and you are not judging what you think. Just notice, as though you were sitting back and simply watching what happens on a stage.

Perhaps you notice yourself thinking that the neighbor’s window trim need painting. Remember – notice the thought, and then let it go, and wait for the next one.

Your next thought may be about the treats you forgot to buy for a birthday party at the office. You notice, and let it go.

Next you think that this is a silly exercise. You notice, you let it go.

You may find that the same thought keeps coming back, over and over. Perhaps you got in a fight with someone at home, and you replay the argument, adding those perfect come-backs that you didn’t think of at the time.

That’s ok – but remember to let go of it just as soon as you notice yourself thinking about it. And also notice how long it takes you to notice when you are thinking about a highly charged subject, or when you are focused on something that you have often worried about in the past.

And then let it go — and wait for the next thought to pop up. It won’t take long.

You’ve just learned that you have complete control over how much attention you give to any particular thought.

Pretty easy so far, right?

Now, begin to take some interest in the environment that you’re walking through. Just after noticing a thought and letting it go, turn your focus to the trees and houses or buildings you see, and feel the sidewalk beneath your feet.

Feel the breeze that is gently playing with your hair, and hear the birds singing in the trees. Then notice that another thought comes into your mind, and that you are no longer focused on the things around you. Gently let the thought go, and once again turn your attention to the world you can actually see.

Keep on the noticing, letting go, being aware, and then thinking your thoughts, for as long as you are out on your walk.

One trip around the block, of course, is not enough. Set aside some time every day to practice this technique. The time you normally spend commuting to work often works well for this. Or commit yourself to taking an hour a day to walk and practice this simple meditation technique — the exercise will be good for your body, too.

After you’ve done this simple exercise, you should be aware of two things:

  • You can only concentrate fully on one thing at a time, and
  • You can change what you are thinking about and concentrate on something else. (Your control over this will increase as you practice).

Using your new skill to take control of your eating decisions:

Now that you have become more aware of your thoughts and daydreams, you should practice replacing any thought that doesn’t bring you closer to the goals of your day. This can actually be any goal, not just about weight loss or staying away from sugary foods.

For instance, if you find you are worrying about a conversation you had with your mother on the phone last night, but you really need to be putting together a plan for a presentation at work instead, now is the time to practice taking control of your conscious mind. Gently say to yourself “No, I would rather think about something else.” And then put the new thought into your mind, just as you did when you were out walking.

Since you can only concentrate on one thing at a time, it makes sense to concentrate on the ideas and thoughts that do you the most good, and let the others evaporate. (You’ll be amazed at how much more you can get done when you no longer waste time on old, repetitive ideas and useless worries that you can do nothing about.)

If you practice this skill with thoughts and daydreams that have nothing to do with food, you will build up the mental strength you need the next time you’re confronted with the snack aisles at the supermarket, or a fattening lunch menu, or a well-meaning relative who insists that just one piece of pie won’t hurt you.

You will have cravings and urges and rationalizing thoughts that try to convince you to eat foods that aren’t good for you — but you don’t need to act on them. Thoughts just pop into your mind all the time – but you don’t have to keep them there.

You can choose what you think about, even though food urges and cravings tend to be very difficult thoughts to ignore. That’s why you want to practice throughout the day, on all types of thoughts — it’s like running a few miles every day in order to get ready for the marathon.

Keep practicing – and soon you’ll discover you have far more control over your sugar cravings than you thought you did. I used this same enjoyable technique myself, and it really does work as long as you practice it regularly, and as long as you use it in conjunction with a healthy, nutritious diet filled with filling, unprocessed food.

How Sugar Cravings Make Our Eating Choices For Us

If you give in to those sugar cravings during the morning coffee break or in the evening while watching TV, you probably assume that you’ve made a conscious choice about what you eat. However, it’s entirely possible that your instincts made the decision, and not your rational mind.

We humans like to believe that we are always rational, and that we always consciously make the best decisions possible with the information we have available. But it isn’t even close to being true — neuroscientists have proven it. Our instincts are alive and healthy, even though we rarely know that our instincts are making our decisions for us. That’s because our brains are built in such a way that our conscious, thinking minds always think they’re in control — even when they’re not.

This is actually a good thing, because in many situations, unconscious decision-making is better than thinking things through. The unconscious, deeper portions of the brain can make decisions much faster than conscious thought, and during the millions of years when humans were living in the natural world, that speed kept us alive. When the tiger suddenly attacks, we need to move fast.

Scientists have shown that in some situations, we actually start moving before our conscious mind has even noticed the danger. Then, when the danger is past, we regale our friends with tales about our speedy response and explain exactly why we decided to act the way we did — even though our conscious mind had absolutely nothing to do with the decision.

Since we now live in an artificial world, the more ancient portions of our brains sometimes make their decisions based on an environment that no longer exists. This is certainly true when it comes to our diet. Sugar cravings, which are often the cause of overeating, are a tool the unconscious mind uses to drive us to hunt for the sweet fruit that was so rare in the natural environment in which humans evolved. In today’s world, the “hunt” involves walking to the refrigerator to retrieve the quart of ice cream in the freezer department.

When I finally realized that I wasn’t always making rational decisions when it came to food, things started to make more sense. I had never been able to understand why I could make intelligent decisions about so many things in my life, but still make such stupid choices about food.

I once baked several pans of cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting with the full intention of taking both pans to work for a pot-luck party the next day. And then I ate one entire pan of rolls that night, all by myself. That isn’t rational. It definitely wasn’t in my best interest. And it wasn’t what I intended to do, but I wasn’t able to stop. “Something else” took control.

But there wasn’t anyone “else” around, so it was obviously me eating all those rolls. I was literally “of two minds” — and I’m not the only one. 60% of Americans are dangerously overweight (and we don’t need a scientific study to prove it – just look around at the folks in a crowd), and that means there are a lot of people in our society who eat more than they should, and probably even more than they want. Diet books wouldn’t be perennial best-sellers if all those overweight Americans liked to eat too much, and enjoyed being overweight.

If eating decisions were always rational, and if our conscious minds were always in control, we’d simply ignore the candy machine in the break room, and walk on past the chips, donuts and baking supplies at the supermarket. But often, we don’t.

When we are most likely to make unconscious eating decisions?

• When we’re doing something that the body naturally associates with survival, (like eating).
• When we’re in a high-stress situations.

That means we’re often in situations when we’re likely to overeat, since many of us are surrounded by food almost all day long, and our jobs and family situations are chronically stressful. During those times, the instincts feel they’re obligated to make our decisions for us.

The old survival-oriented portion of the brain has to have a way to turn off the conscious mind, without our knowing it. If this wasn’t possible, our “thinking” brain would get in the way. But in today’s world, this “invisibility” works against us when un-conscious decisions are made about matters of diet and health.

When it comes to making eating choices in a world filled with manufactured food, our instinctive mind just can’t be expected to make healthy, reasonable choices. Most of the snacks and fast food that are available today were specifically designed to make the most of (should we say “to prey upon”?) our instinctual desire for sugar, fat and salt.

Our conscious minds knows that we need more fruits and vegetables, a balanced diet, and more exercise. But when we have an opportunity to make the choice between a healthy meal and a convenient, fattening snack, we often let our instinctive mind make the choice for us – especially when we’re under stress.

Now that we know that this phenomenon happens, (not just to you but to everyone), we have the opportunity to learn the simple tricks that have been used for centuries to take conscious control.

In the next post I’ll show you some simple techniques I borrowed from the ancient Masters. They call it “living in the present” or “staying awake.” Don’t worry – you don’t need to become a Zen master to learn these techniques. I’m going to show you some mental exercises I discovered that are easy to understand and simple to apply — so that you can begin using them immediately. So, as they say on TV – stay tuned.

Hunger Cravings Can Sabotage a Diet Before You Even Start

Hunger cravings while dieting are painful, and the memory of those painful cravings you experienced during past diets (and the agonizing defeat when you finally gave into them) need to be acknowledged so the next diet has a chance to be successful. Also, many exercise programs are not designed for overweight people, and can actually cause damage to the knees and other joints. If you’ve experienced painful exercise in the past, it’s perfectly natural to want to avoid that pain in the future.

For that reason, it isn’t enough to just imagine how wonderful life would be if you weren’t overweight – you also need to acknowledge why you don’t want to go on a diet or start an exercise program – and use that knowledge to create a plan of action that avoids the hunger cravings and painful exercise you experienced before. And yes, it is actually possible – I’ve included links at the bottom of this article to send you in the right direction.

Visualization can help build motivation.

As I said before, it’s important to discover the reasons why you want to lose weight and acknowledge the reasons why you don’t want to go on a diet or start an exercise program. Let’s start with the first part – finding the positive reasons for making a change.  Here’s one way to visualize the good things that may happen if you follow through on a reasonable plan:

First, find a nice quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Take a notebook with you, and a pen. Then take some good, quality time to write down the answers to the following questions. Don’t hurry this step – take your time to build strong positive images before you write them down:

I want to start a diet and exercise program because: ________________________________________________________

And this will allow me to: ________________________________________________________

Which is good because: ________________________________________________________

And then I’ll be able to: ________________________________________________________

Which will mean that I can also: ________________________________________________________

Which will lead to: ________________________________________________________

As you can see, the form is written to help you create a detailed, highly visual image of life after you’ve accomplished your goals. You can continue to add more detailed reasons, or write several pages with different positive reasons and all the detailed images you create for each one.

How to complete the form:

If you’ve been wanting to lose weight for years, you’re probably saying that you already know the reasons why, so filling out the form seems pointless. However, most people want to lose weight or start an exercise program for the wrong reasons – because the reasons are negative. “I want to lose weight because I’m too fat” is a negative reason. “I want to lose weight because it will make me feel younger and more energetic” is a positive reason.

Think about this for a second – you’re looking at a helping of food that isn’t on your diet. You want to stay on your diet, so you bring up a negative thought in your mind, pummeling yourself with mental self-abuse that says, essentially, “you can’t eat that because you’re fat”. You naturally connect the negative feelings to the diet. Then you give in to your hunger cravings and eat the candy bar or extra helping, and you suddenly feel better. You’ve just rewarded yourself for giving in, when you previously punished yourself for staying in control. Finding all the positive reasons why you want to eat a healthier diet or start a low-impact exercise program can help prevent those moments of self-abuse.

Keeping that in mind, go back to the list up above and find positive ways to complete each statement. Make the statements future-oriented. For instance, if your doctor told you that your knees won’t hurt as much if you lose the extra pounds, fill in the first statement like this: “I hope to lose weight because I’ll be able to walk more easily.”

Then continue along these positive lines, building a strong positive image in your mind as you write:

  • And this will allow me to: Go on walks with my grandson.
  • Which is good because: I’ll get to know him better, because I can do more things with him.

If you don’t like to write, get a small tape recorder and speak your statements into it – and then remember to read your list or listen to the tape as often as you need to – it will provide a gentle reminder when things get tough.

Writing down your statements or speaking into a tape recorder makes the process feel more important than just daydreaming about the life you wish you had.

Now that you have motivation, is it enough to stop your hunger cravings?

No. You also have strong reasons for not making any changes, and those reasons are just as valid. To honor yourself fully, you need to acknowledge those reasons, too. Write them down, so you can compare the two lists side by side.

For instance, if you’ve been on restrictive diets in the past that caused you to be miserable, it’s natural for you to want to avoid experiencing that pain again. Hunger cravings are often triggered by poorly-designed low-calorie diets, which can actually cause health problems and they are known to lead to eventual weight gain instead of loss. Your body knows that and fights a badly-designed diet. Respect your body’s intelligence and acknowledge it.

Now that you have two lists – the reasons why you do want to make a change in your diet, and the list of reasons why you don’t – you’ll have the information you  need to plan a course of action that respects your needs and experience.

Making a plan that works:

Let’s look at two imaginary lists: The first one gives a detailed image of how wonderful it will be to take your grandchild to the county fair next year, an activity that you can’t currently do because your knees won’t let you. The second list points out that you’ll be spending hours painfully obsessing over the items you can’t eat and trying to do exercises that make your knees hurt even more than they already do.

You now have the information you need to plan a course of action that allows you to achieve the first, positive goal, without experiencing the pain on your second list. That plan should include a diet that keeps you satisfied with real, honest, feel-good food, and an exercise program that doesn’t hurt your knees. By using the information that you discovered while writing your two lists, you can now create a plan that you can honestly look forward to.

Sugar Addiction Basics

Sugar addiction is physically very similar to an addiction to heroin, alcohol, nicotine or cocaine. However, most Americans get hooked on sugar at a much earlier age, and most people who are addicted to sugar don’t realize where their sugar cravings are coming from. In that way, sugar addiction is a hidden illness. Most people either don’t believe you can become truly addicted to sugar, or they think people with a “sweet tooth” don’t have enough will-power to eat right.

Almost all addictions have these components:

  1. You eat, drink or use something that feels good, or tastes good – or both.
  2. You continue eating, drinking or using that substance because it feels good when you do it, and it feels bad when you don’t.
  3. You continue to do it even when after the dangers to your health, lifestyle or relationships have become obvious, because the cravings are making your decisions for you.

(I discussed the physical reasons why this happens outside our conscious control in my first post on sugar cravings.)

This can happen even with over-the-counter medications, if you experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the pills. For instance, over-the-counter headache medication can cause painful withdrawal symptoms when you give them up. When people who chronically use these medications begin to feel their withdrawal headache, (which can be tortuously severe), they reach for the medicine bottle because those little pills make the headache go away, without realizing that the pills themselves are causing their headache.

For exactly the same reason, most people don’t know they’re addicted to sugar and refined carbohydrates. These “foods” are so common in our society that they appear at almost every meal, and they show up at every pot-luck, celebration, and wake. The snack machine is full of it; the prepared foods at the supermarket are full of it. Even the “healthy” bran muffins at Starbucks are full of it. Most of us began our addiction to sugar when we were small children, so we no longer remember what life was like without sugar in our diets, but we do recognize that a “hit” of sugar will give us a mid-morning boost to relieve the sagging energy we feel a few hours after that morning Starbucks muffin.

What many of us don’t know is that the mid-morning doldrums are, in fact, a withdrawal symptom caused by a few hours without sugar. Eating sugar to make those symptoms go away is the same as a person taking pain medication for a headache that was caused by the pain medication – it becomes a never-ending cycle until the true cause of the discomfort is understood.

If you’re physically addicted to sugar or refined flour, you will go into uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if you go without these chemicals for even a few hours, although, for most people, the discomfort is mild.

Sugar withdrawal symptoms are nowhere near as harsh as the pain that nicotine addicts go through when they stop smoking. And they aren’t as dangerous as the withdrawal symptoms that alcoholics experience. But sugar withdrawal symptoms, if you give up all refined carbohydrates, can be uncomfortable for a while.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give up your habit. In fact, compared to many addictions, giving up sugar and other refined carbs like white flour is easy. It’s staying “clean” afterwards is the hard part, because we’re surrounded by sugar.

How Strong Are Your Sugar Cravings?

Here’s how to tell if your sugar cravings are causing addictive eating behavior that makes you overeat or to eat unhealthy foods:

  1. Do you eat foods containing sugar, white flour, or white rice every single day? If you were to list 5 of your “comfort foods” would all of them include refined carbohydrates or butter, olive oil, or some other fat?
  2. Do you eat for emotional reasons or when you’re feeling stressed? Does the food you eat to calm down or feel “loved” contain sugar, white flour and fat?
  3. Do you find yourself “needing” to grab a hamburger or pizza at a fast food joint at least once a week?
  4. Do you regularly buy French-fries, potato or corn chips, or other deep-fried snack foods? Do you feel that “something is missing” if you watch TV without something to snack on?
  5. If someone suggests that you shouldn’t eat any sugar, white flour or fat-drenched fast food, do you instantly reject the idea as absurd? Are you feeling slightly uncomfortable just reading this? Do you feel a little angry when someone tells you that your diet is unhealthy?
  6. Are you totally convinced that you can continue to eat sugar, white flour and junk food (but perhaps “cut down a bit”), and still lose your extra weight or improve your health? In spite of the fact that it’s never worked in the past?
  7. When you go without sugar, noodles, bread or other refined carbohydrates, do you feel “strange,” slightly woozy, or get a headache or other uncomfortable symptoms?
  8. When you refrain from eating any candy, bread or other refined carbs, do you begin to obsess about the foods you gave up, or feel “picked on” and grouchy?
  9. Have you gained more than 10 pounds since you were 20 years old? Do you try to avoid having your picture taken? Do you avoid looking in mirrors? Did you stay away from your high school reunion because you think you’re too fat? When you try to lose weight, do you become obsessed with sugary foods that sabotage your diet?
  10. Do you often feel bloated or get indigestion after eating certain foods, but still eat them anyway?
  11. Do you manage to stay thin (even though you eat sugar and other fattening foods) by spending hours in the gym or because you work at a strenuous job all day? When you take a vacation from the gym or work, do you tend to gain weight?
  12. Do you have any difficulty sleeping, or wake up around 3 am? Do you often feel lethargic, moody or depressed?
  13. Have you memorized the push-button code for your favorite candy bar or snack on the vending machine at work?
  14. Has your doctor warned you about your blood pressure or told you that you are at risk of getting diabetes if you don’t lose weight? Has she told you that your yeast infections may be caused by the processed carbohydrates in your diet, or that your sleep apnea might go away if you lose weight? Do you fully intend to follow her advice, but just haven’t quite gotten around to it?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of those questions, I can easily predict that you have tried at least one diet in the past – and possibly many diets – but always regained the weight. Diet books always tell you that diets don’t work. Now you know exactly why they don’t work. You’re hooked, and your sugar cravings are making too many of your eating decisions for you.

How I Found the Cure for My Cravings for Sugar

It’s possible to stop sugar cravings. Here’s my story:

A number of years ago I finally made the connection between my chronic depression and the almost hypnotically repetitive negative thoughts and memories that constantly filled my mind. I’m now convinced that this particular form of depression is not the universal way that depression presents in all patients. That may be the reason why it took me so long to realize that the negative thoughts were the cause of my depression, not the other way around as I’d always assumed. In fact, it was a form of addiction, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Ironically, everyone I know thinks I’m always in a good mood, simply because I go out of my way to be polite and “nice,” no matter what. But inside my mind I was replaying every defeat, reliving every past upset, agonizing over every possible insult. This would become so pervasive during times of extreme stress that I could barely function.

The good news is that as soon as I understood (finally!) that my negative thoughts were the cause, and not the result, of my depression, I could begin the process of learning how to control those thoughts.

I read through dozens of books by self-help masters, spiritual healers, and modern-day scientific experts who study the workings of the brain. Very little of the information I read was helpful to my particular situation, but I did finally learn that a simple, easy to follow meditation technique could be used to change my mind, and free myself from the debilitating negative memories.

Here’s the semi-scientific explanation of why I had become addicted to unhappy memories:

There’s an ancient part of the brain, called the amygdala, that performs a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions. This part of the mind is very powerful, but it operates below the level of consciousness.

Unfortunately, the unconscious, ancient portion of our brain has a simple rule: “if it feels good, do it again.” That’s why it’s so easy for people to become addicted to feel-good drugs. And adrenaline is a drug that feels good. In fact, many illegal addictive drugs, such as methamphetamine, are described as having” stimulant properties similar to adrenaline.” Your body is flooded with adrenaline every time you visualize a previously frightening event, or when you remember an event that made you feel angry or deeply unhappy. That means that you can be an adrenaline junkie, without knowing it, like I was. And, as every meth user knows, what goes up must come down. The frequent low-level energy spikes one gets from unrelenting, constantly occurring unhappy or fearful memories can lead to depression.

You could almost say that the ancient part of my brain was “lying” to my conscious mind, causing me to replay negative memories over and over in order to feel the tiny rush of adrenaline. Alcoholics and drug addicts call this type of thought “stinking thinking,”  or “addictive thinking.”

In my case, I had definitely become addicted to the slight bump in energy that I received when I remembered highly emotional events, and it was most damaging during times of extreme stress when the unconscious mind is most in control.

How I overcame my adrenaline addiction:

Fortunately, I finally learned some simple meditation techniques that reduced the stress and put me back in control of my own thoughts. Because of the meditation, the constantly replaying negative memories stopped. Then, once my mind was free of these repetitive thoughts, I could concentrate on things that really mattered – like my job, or relationships, or my hobbies — and I wasn’t depressed any more. It felt like a miracle, but it was really just something that a few people have known how to do for thousands of years. It was new to me, but it certainly wasn’t “new.”

Could this technique put a stop to sugar cravings?

Did I immediately start to use that same meditation technique to rid myself of my sugar cravings? That would have been “reasonable,” since I’d been overweight for as long as I could remember. My cravings for sugar and fat always sabotaged any diet I tried, which means that from somewhere deep inside my brain these thoughts (cravings) were being sent to my conscious mind. When the thoughts occurred to me I immediately acted on them by reaching for a cookie or taking the second or third helping, even though I really didn’t want to. The cravings were in control of my eating choices.

But, unfortunately, I didn’t make the connection between the way I thought and the way I ate. Just as it took many years to make the connection between my negative, repetitive thoughts and my depression. In some ways, you could say I’m a very slow learner. In my defense, however, I can also say that I needed to learn these things entirely on my own, because the connections were never explained to me. I was never taught how to stop my sugar cravings — I just always thought I had some sort of character defect that made it impossible for me to exercise self-control.

How I learned more about addictive thoughts:

A few years after I learned walking meditation to control my depression, I took an opportunity to go back to college. I chose to take the courses that are required to get an addictions counselor’s license. I completed the course, which was fascinating, but then chose not to pursue a career in the field.

I loved going back to school — doing all the homework, reading all the textbooks, talking with other students (all of them much younger than me). But there seemed to be a lot of actual science missing from the regular course of study, so I also dived into the medical and psychological journals to learn more.

Although it was never taught in the classroom, I learned through my outside reading that almost all alcoholics and drug addicts kick their habits all by themselves, without going to AA or addiction counselors. Yes, most people who become addicted to drugs and alcohol find a way to give them up without going to self-help groups or treatment centers. Naturally, I wanted to find out how they did it.

I discovered that “naturally” recovering addicts use the same meditation technique that I used to free myself from chronic depression, although they didn’t call it “walking meditation,” and they didn’t learn the process through books, like I did.

Somehow, most drug and alcohol addicts just naturally discover how to do it on their own, because they can see when a thought or craving comes from their addiction and not their conscious mind. Once they are able to see the addictive thoughts as something that comes from “outside” their conscious mind, they learn how to prevent those addictive thoughts from controlling their decisions. (Unfortunately, I read the study that gives the statistics about the self-recovery of addicts before I had access to the Internet, and I can no longer find it. I believe the study was done in Canada, and it was done before 1997).

Unfortunately, sugar cravings seem so “normal,” and so universal, that we don’t see them as clearly as the source of our problems, and we don’t see the thoughts created by the cravings as “coming from outside” our conscious mind. That’s why we act on our cravings almost automatically.

But even after taking the course in addictions counseling, I still didn’t realize that I could use the meditation technique I used for my depression to free myself from sugar cravings. Like I said – I am sometimes a slow learner…

In my defense, I can say there were some very big things going on during those years, so I did have other things to think about. For instance, there was the diagnosis of breast cancer. I knew by then that negative thinking can affect your immune system, so that was my number-one priority. I safeguarded my thoughts the way others would protect their bodies – and I’m convinced it is one of the reasons that I’m still here, 13 years later. The walking meditation technique I used helped me control my negative thoughts, and prevented me from sinking into depression after my diagnosis and treatment.

Why I finally “got it.”

It was the five-year mark after my cancer diagnosis that actually moved me to do something about my weight. I needed a way to celebrate that important milestone, and I wanted to give myself a gift that no-one else could give me: A thin new body.

Of course, I’d already dieted in the past, like everyone else. And I lost weight on most of those diets. Then, like everyone else, I gained it all back, and more. I wanted this time to be different.

I honestly don’t know what it was that finally made me realize that there was a connection between addictive behavior and my weight problem. Since the only drug I’ve ever been addicted to is caffeine, maybe that’s why it took so long to put two and two together.

Fortunately, that “duh” finally filtered into my brain, and then I suddenly knew that I had all that I needed in order to lose the extra weight, get healthier, and keep the pounds off for good. Finally, I knew I was physically addicted to sugar and other processed carbohydrates, and this addiction was controlling all my decisions about food.

Sugar addiction causes sugar cravings:

Once I understood the connection between sugar cravings and sugar addiction, I knew how to change my body — because I already knew how to change my mind.

As simple as it sounds, after all those years I finally woke up to the fact that I was in possession of a secret that millions of people struggle to find – the means of staying committed to a weight loss plan. And of course I didn’t really invent the technique myself – meditation has been used for mind control for thousands of years. But few people in the Western world are taught how to use it to stay healthy and overcome addictive thoughts.

Once I discovered that I could stop my sugar cravings, I lost 37 pounds in four months by replacing the sugar and refined carbohydrates in my diet with real food. I didn’t go hungry. I just started to give my body what it really needed – nutritious food.

Like all recovering addicts, I still have days and even months when I have to struggle to stay on track. I sometimes backslide, and have to start all over. I’ve noticed that it isn’t easy to remember that I’m a sugar addict, especially during times when life is particularly stressful, or, ironically, during times when I’m happily engaged in creative activities that focus all my attention on an art project or a new garden design. At those times, I sometimes give in to my desire for sugar and other processed foods, which means I then start to gain weight again. Fortunately, I don’t have to stay trapped in that cycle, because I know how to do walking meditation. When I realize that I’ve slipped back into old patterns, I use walking meditation to refocus my mind. Unfortunately, we’re constantly surrounded by unhealthy food, which makes the struggle more difficult. But it’s not impossible.

In future posts on this site I’ll show you the meditation technique I used to stop sugar cravings.

Fight Food Cravings With Three Basic Steps

How can you learn to “think thin” and fight food cravings?

If you’re like most people, the foods you crave contain a sweetener like sugar or corn syrup, or they’re made from wheat flour or process oils. These unnatural foods are highly addictive, so you’re not alone. Millions of people in the United States and elsewhere struggle to give up unhealthy, fattening foods, but find their cravings overpower their best intentions.

Many people have discovered that it is possible to fight food cravings by following these three steps (which I’ll explain in much more detail in future posts).

1. Learn the True Cause of Food Cravings

Why do you instinctively crave sugar and fat so much, and how are your instincts short-circuiting your eating decisions? Once you understand this process is perfectly natural, you’ll then be able to stop being angry with yourself for being unable to turn down that cookie or that bag of chips. Knowledge will turn your self-anger into understanding and self-compassion – this is the first step towards letting go of the struggle and taking control of your eating choices.

Once you see how your instinctual mind interacts with your conscious mind, you’ll realize that this is the normal way for a brain to work – there’s really nothing wrong with the way you think now. It just doesn’t work so well in the 21st century, because we’re surrounded by processed foods that are manufactured specifically to tap into our instinctual cravings for high-calorie food.

Our bodies were designed, whether by evolution or by the Word of God, to live in a world that did not contain white flour, white sugar, refined oils and fats, or grain-fed cattle. Our appetites, which are part of our survival system, are focused on getting enough of the rare fruits and wild game that existed a million years ago. Back then, things that tasted sweet were good for us, because ripe fruit is sweet – and full of the nutrients our bodies need. Sugar tastes good because it’s super–sweet “super-fruit”. Our instinctive mind thinks sugar is good for us, but it isn’t.

Instead, sugar brings us obesity, diabetes, immune system problems, and other health issues. And it’s physically addictive. This is something our instinctive mind cannot understand (but food processors and manufacturers understand it very well).

2. Meditation Can Help You Fight Food Cravings

To get more in tune with your real dietary needs, you’ll need to do some fine-tuning so that you will make fully conscious eating choices. That means learning to listen to what your body really wants, and then choose to eat the food that makes you healthy instead of fat. But how do you really listen to your true needs when your cravings are so powerful?

In this blog I’ll teach you a very simple mental exercise called “walking meditation” that can be used during your commute to work – or whenever you have a few minutes to yourself. This easy and enjoyable skill will help you feel more focused and aware of the times when your instinctual mind tries to make eating decisions for you. Once you’re aware of the thoughts that your instinctual mind creates to convince you to maintain your unhealthy food addictions, you’ll be able to look at those thoughts and let them go – without a struggle or internal argument – and make the right choice, the conscious choice, instead.

You’ll be amazed at how easy this is to do, once you’ve practiced walking meditation for a very short time.

Then you’ll have the chance to look at things in your life that make it more difficult to maintain this state of awareness – and the biggest obstacle for most people is stress. Ask anyone who is trying to kick an addiction, and they’ll tell you that stress is one of the biggest reasons for failure.

3. Reduce Your Stress so You Can Stay on Track:

To keep stress from sabotaging your weight loss plan, I’ll show you how you can use the simple meditation skills  to reduce that stress level.

Once you start using the meditation techniques to become aware of food choices and reduce your stress, you’ll be able to see food in a whole new way. Once you’re really able to pay attention to your body instead of your cravings, you’ll be amazed at how good a healthy diet can make you feel.

Because of your new awareness, you will understand how important it is to create a supportive environment at home and find people and activities that give you the extra support you need.

But remember — you need to use this meditation technique along with a diet made up of traditional foods, to replace the unhealthy processed foods that make so many of us so sick and fat. Instead of just eliminating the sugar, white flour and processed oils from your diet (which feels like punishment), you must replace these things with good-tasting, comforting real food. You won’t be tempted to overeat if you keep your home stocked only with the types of foods that your body really needs.

In a nutshell – the way to fight food cravings is to:

  1. Learn why our bodies naturally crave the wrong foods;
  2. Learn how to use a simple meditation technique to become aware of the times when our instincts are making bad food choices – and then use that awareness to make better choices for our health; and
  3. Learn how to use the same meditation techniques to reduce the level of stress hormones, which do so much to sabotage any healthy eating plan.
  4. And then fill your fridge and cupboards with healthy, life-sustaining real food.