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Episode 23: How to Kick Your Sugar Cravings for Good with Nagina Abdullah

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Brief summary of show:

In this week’s episode, I sit down with Nagina Abdullah, a health coach for women professionals, physicians, and 7-figure entrepreneurs and founder of the website

She teaches women to lose 20-40+ pounds even while working 60+ hours a week, even if they have tried every other program available. Nagina has a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley and has helped over 700 professional women successfully lose weight and create a lifestyle change.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • The scientific background of what sugar really does to our bodies

  • How sugar was hindering Nagina’s life

  • The specific food substitutions she used to lose over 40 pounds and keep it off

  • How to incorporate reducing sugar consumption into your family environment

As a former management consultant, she lost 40 pounds while working 60+ hour weeks with a family by creating a healthy lifestyle shift instead of dieting. She started her company to help other career-focused women get control of their cravings, never feel deprived while they're doing it, and get the body and energy they dream of for life. Nagina's methods have helped over 750 women claim freedom and control over their cravings, body and energy.

She has been featured in, Business Insider,, Fox News and more, and has spoken at UBS, Nestle, Deloitte Consulting, and NYU Stern business school.

Resources mentioned in the episode

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Podcast Highlights:

[00:03:14] How Nagina started to curb her sugar habit

[00:04:50] Where to start in cutting back on sugar

[00:07:19] Nagina's life-long struggles in losing weight

[00:10:22] The small substitutes Nagina recommends

[00:12:45] Why our bodies crave sugar

[00:16:16] Tips to getting your family onboard

[00:20:53] Using spices to replace sugar cravings and which ones she recommends

[00:24:54] Nagina's best tool for productivity

Full transcript of episode:

Natalie: Hi, everybody. I have a question for you today, and I want you to really think about this. Do you struggle with eating too much sugar? I have to agree. I love sugar in particular. I love chocolate. I like dark chocolate. I like that. I have it every day. So the question is, why is sugar, the enemy? Is it the enemy?

[00:00:48] Do we need to cut it out completely? Can we just modify our sugar intake? That's what we're talking about today. And I think you're going to enjoy this conversation because it's really about your mindset and the real facts about sugar. This health expert is someone that I have really enjoyed getting to know.

[00:01:10] Natalie: Are you looking for more energy? If you're like me, the answer is always yes. Being a working mom. I do everything I can to eat healthy, get enough sleep, be more present for my kids. But you know, I've come to realize that I actually have to do even more. And I have found that taking electrolytes and immune building supplements that has helped me more than anything.

[00:01:28] I put that electrolyte powder in my water every morning. It tastes like lemonade. It's really good. And doing this first thing in the morning, it helps me throughout the day. Now the line of products that I use is from seeking health. I've tested them, I believe in them. And I now recommend them to my listeners and viewers.

[00:01:45] You can find a link in the show notes, or you can go to seeking help. Dot com that's their website and use the promo code, Natalie at checkout, you'll get a discount. I, by the way, we'll get a small cut, but this in no way will cost you any more. And you're supporting this show and my efforts to help people live healthier lives.

[00:02:03] Again, it is seeking Use the promo code, Natalie. I've been so excited to talk about health today and the Geena is joining me. We're talking about kicking the sugar habit, and again, I want to ask you first, why is sugar really all that bad? I mean, isn't a cup of ice cream. Okay. Every once in a while.

[00:02:21] Nagina: Oh, sugar is one of the joys of life. And, you know, I actually

[00:02:25] when I was growing up and when I was starting my adult life I just loved sugar.

[00:02:29] It was my treat. It was, it was the things that, that, you know, after I got did well in something, I would go and get some ice cream. You know, cake was a amazing part of my life and it still is actually. And so the thing is like sugar and it has its place in our life. It's really great. It adds a lot of joy, but the thing is that it can become.

[00:02:48] Something that we depend on because sugar is very addictive. When you have some sugar, we may not even realize this. It causes us to want to have more sugar. and so in that way, it is a drug. And so being able to manage the amount of sugar we have is really key. Now, the, the, the scientific background around what sugar does, let me break this down and I want to share with you how this impacted me losing 40 pounds in 19.

[00:03:14] And and it was very dramatic. What happened when I started replacing sugar? Well, let me, let me let you know. I'm not saying that I took out sugar. I started replacing it with healthier ways of making myself feel good with healthier ways of making my food taste good. I dropped 40 pounds in nine months.

[00:03:33] And the reason is, is because. Oh, what sugar does is that when you eat, when you have sugar, it causes a spike in your insulin. So your insulin, your insulin is released cause your, you have a blood sugar spike. So it takes out the sugar from your blood and it stores it as fat. And so that's what's happening unless you go and run or do cardio or burn off that sugar immediately afterwards, your blood sugar is high.

[00:03:59] And the only way that your body chemistry can be maintained is by it being just zapped out of your blood and then it's stored as fat. the way that you're realizing that this is happening is that a lot of times when we eat sugar, we feel this high, the sugar high, but then 30 minutes to 45 minutes later, we feel a sugar crash.

[00:04:15] And that's because the sugar is being drawn out of our blood. And so if you can avoid this cycle from happening, you're not going to store as much fat. And it's as simple as that.

[00:04:25] Natalie: I want to talk about sugar in everything, because I feel like you go to the grocery store and if you're buying anything packaged, you have to watch for it. Anything in a package from candy, of course, to creamer in your coffee to yogurt, you buy Greek yogurt is going to have sugar.

[00:04:43] D do you think that we have to be really careful about what we buy and knowing that we're cutting? Did you count your sugars? Like where do you

[00:04:50] Nagina: start? Well, so what's so important here is that instead of actually looking at the calories so many times, we feel like we need to look at the calories when we're purchasing things.

[00:05:01] Yep. That step and start with looking at the sugar. If you do that one thing, you are going to get healthier, get more energy, drop that 15, 20, 40 pounds that you want to drop. It's going to start happening because sugar is what's causing you to gain fat. And so when you direct your vision to the sugar, you start going for lower sugar foods.

[00:05:21] And the thing is we need calories anyway. We need to have calories. So it doesn't really tell you if it's good or not. I mean, some, some foods are fine if they're, if they're higher calorie, it depends on what's in the calories quality, isn't it quality. So when you can look for foods that are lower sugar, what happens is that you're going to store less fat, but even more than that, your body is not going to be wanting and craving and crying out for more sugar because sugar will make you want more.

[00:05:49] And so, you know, Natalie, what happened for me is that I used to always have sugar cravings. In fact, I used to label myself as somebody who was born with sugar cravings who love sugar, who can't control myself. I actually called myself that and I was always known to be the person that would go straight for dessert first, you know, head straight to the appetizers and the dessert table.

[00:06:09] And, and I was, I was, I labeled myself as that and I was known as that. So I actually thought that I couldn't get over that, but once I started adding in more foods that were keeping me full and satisfied, and it was so easy with sometimes just adding a sprinkle of a few things that we're going to talk about.

[00:06:24] My sugar cravings disappeared. I mean, this is quite amazing. And that's when my sugar cravings disappeared. And I was adding in foods that were keeping me full and satisfied. That's when my weight just dropped, I lost the 40 pounds in nine months. Never felt hungry. I never felt cranky or tired, which sometimes we feel like we might feel if we're off of sugar, but I was replacing it with so many other alternatives that I dropped that weight and it hasn't come back on for 10 years.

[00:06:54] I have a very busy life working 40 to 60 hours a week with two children. And this just, it just never went backwards because once you get off sugar, you don't want it back, but now you can choose sugar. Like I chewed my chocolate.

[00:07:07] Natalie: so this was after your two children, right? Were you, did you just have a, like kind of one of those moments where like I have to drop this weight or I always find it interesting how people make the decision I'm going to change my.

[00:07:19] Nagina: That's exactly what happened is that I had struggled so much in my life to lose weight. I had struggled to control my cravings and everything I tried in the past at, which was everything like weight Watchers. I tried Nutrisystem, I tried eating less and exercising more. None of them really worked.

[00:07:37] I would lose 10 pounds and the minute I would drop the 10 pounds, I would gain it right back. Less more. And after I had two children, I was working in a very demanding career. And so with two children, pretty close together, I was at the maximum weight of my life and it was at a point where first of all, I felt really low about myself.

[00:07:55] Like I would think about what to wear when I was going to go back to work after maternity leave, I would think about what was I going to wear to dinner with my husband. And I didn't even want to go. Like I, my life started becoming smaller because I didn't feel good about myself. And what happened was there was a moment where I was sitting on my couch when my two kids were running around at very young ages.

[00:08:17] And my back actually had physical pain at this point because I had extra weight on my body. I later went on to find out it was because of the extra weight. And I thought about the fact that I had no energy to take my children outside and that I was depressed thinking about going back to work. Cause I didn't know what I was going to do.

[00:08:34] And it was at that moment that I looked at my life in the future and I said, do I want to keep leading a life that where I feel tired and exhausted. And I can't give my kids the opportunities that I want to give them and do I want to keep being small in my career because I don't know. In front of people or do I want to be myself?

[00:08:51] Do I want to be social, but I want to get out there. Do I want to be people oriented? Like I know that I am, and that was the moment I made the decision. I have to get this weight off, but the caveat to me was that I could no longer go on doing restrictive diets. I had to make it fun. That was, that was the first thing I said, if I can make this fun, I can keep doing it.

[00:09:11] And now it's been 10 years and I've gotten more toned and more.

[00:09:14] Natalie: Well, let let's talk specifics, what I really love and what attracted me to what you do and your story is that you added instead of subtracted. And I find it very difficult as soon as I know something's taken away. I want it. Like don't take that away from me.

[00:09:32] Or then I'm just, I'm just going to crave it even more. So give me specifics. I want to know what you added specifically into your diet. You said that you, you added some of the healthy things while eliminating things, but what are those things that make you feel full that help you reduce those sugars?

[00:09:48] Nagina: So the first thing I did was something that everyone can do literally today. and it was really one of the most important things that I did. And that was I started adjusting my morning coffee. Now, if you know, you may be like this, Natalie. I know for me, I don't know, mess with my morning

[00:10:03] Natalie: coffee and not mess with my coffee.

[00:10:05] I have tried so many times. So tell me what you put in the coffee.

[00:10:10] Nagina: So you're just like me. I mean, I can not get my morning started without my coffee. And I used to that used to be my indulgence when I was working, when I had children that were small, it was like my moment to two for myself in the morning.

[00:10:22] So I would put French vanilla creamer. I would put two Splendas. It's a bit with love, you know, it was everything to me. So I started reading and learning after I had that moment where I thought I have to change, I have to make this fun. And I started reading about the power of using spices in your diet.

[00:10:40] And when you start to use spices, they actually say, she, you just like sugar. Does they say, they say she ate the same receptors in your brain. Now we may think that spices are spicy. That's not true. There's only a few spices that are spicy. Most of them are mild, but there's also some sweet spices. And one of the sweet spices is something we, all of us have in our cabinet, pretty much in our kitchen cabinet, it's cinnamon.

[00:11:04] And so cinnamon is actually a sugar replacement that not only helps you not store fat, but it helps you bring down. The amount of fat that you're storing. So it lowers your blood sugar levels. It actually counteracts sugar and it gives you the taste and the sensation of having sugar. Like it satisfies your sweet cravings.

[00:11:23] So what I started doing was instead of having all of the things that I was adding before, I started adding cinnamon to my coffee. I also would add some almond milk because dairy will also block your weight loss. And so having, I had some almond milk and I've transitioned now to having black coffee with cinnamon and I savor it and love it every day.

[00:11:42] Still it's like my taste buds changed. And so, you know what happened there is that my, by replacing my sugar was sitting up. It caused me to have less sugar cravings in the morning through lunch and it lightened up my coffee. Sometimes we think, oh, it's just a little bit in my coffee. But when you actually look at the serving sizes and everything, it could be more.

[00:12:02] But the main thing is that your, your body is going to crave more sugar because when you start off giving that in the beginning of the day, first thing in the morning,

[00:12:10] Natalie: that might hard one. But in your honor, I am going to try it. I do use French fries. Creamer and I love it so much. So I'm going to try cinnamon.

[00:12:20] I don't know if I'll be able to go without cream, but I'll try. I do have like oat milk or an almond milk, something like that. So we'll try that, but I understand exactly what you're saying. If that's the way you're starting your day, you're setting yourself up for those cravings. When the hunger strikes, which will be a couple of hours later.

[00:12:39] So give me a couple of other things. I like the coffee. What about lunch and snacks and other ways for dinner? Give me some other

[00:12:45] Nagina: specifics. Absolutely. Well, one of the reasons that our body is crying out for sugar, one of the reasons that, that we may feel that we have sugar cravings is actually something that will probably surprise you.

[00:12:57] And it's that the reason that your body's crying out for sugar is because you're not giving it enough protein. It's completely different, but when you satisfy your body using more protein, you're full and you're satisfied and your body doesn't have the space to want more because you have enough.

[00:13:13] So there was moments where, you know, I like when I was working in an office that I would go to the office and there would be donuts or pastries, the break room, and it was impossible to just break up. A piece and then it becomes half. And that becomes the whole over the course of the day.

[00:13:28] But after you start giving yourself what I call protein more, and I'll give you some examples of how to do this you can literally have people bring in your favorite cookies, bring in your favorite pastries and you just don't even want it. It's, it's a very big mindset shift when your body is satisfied.

[00:13:44] And so, you know, 90% of sugar cravings are taken care of by the right nutrition. There's those little things. Still left if you have emotional cravings, but that can also be worked through. Most of it is because you're not feeding yourself. And so protein more is especially important in the morning as well.

[00:14:01] And having protein in your breakfast. So so having protein can come in the form of eating. If you eat eggs and eating enough eggs, like two eggs is fine, but if you have some egg whites, like a fourth to a half cup of egg whites with it, then you're bumping up the protein without bumping up all the fat and cholesterol that eggs have in it.

[00:14:21] Two eggs are fine, but more than that becomes a little bit too much for your body for the day. Other ways to get protein in the morning are a protein shake like using protein powder, a vegan or a whey protein powder. Or using Greek yogurt, which is a much healthier form of dairy. That's been pasteurized with less sugar and much more protein.

[00:14:39] So having these things will help to stabilize your blood sugar, satisfy you and protein digest much more slowly in your body. so you actually stay full for longer with the same serving size versus if you had like a bagel Or something along those lines, you're going to eat that food and it's going to go right through your body.

[00:14:59] It's going to spike your blood sugar. You're gonna have more fat storage and you're going to be hungry again. So you're going to want to eat more. So this is the cycle and why. So incredibly powerful to replace the foods that you're eating with more protein so that everything else doesn't digest so quickly and you're not eating extra you're, you're staying full for longer.

[00:15:18] So protein Moore's another, another one staying

[00:15:21] Natalie: focused on protein and knowing more protein instead stuff. I'm hearing the carbs and sugars focus on the protein. And, I like the idea of, I know that if I eat this sugar, I'm going to crave sugar later. So I just don't want it. It's a mindset shift that we really have to focus on.

[00:15:39] Yes,

[00:15:40] Nagina: absolutely. It's a, it's exactly, it's a mindset shift. and that's the thing is like thinking if I take this one step, it's not just this one step it's going to keep going in that direction.

[00:15:49] Natalie: Right. It's not just that bag of M and M's, it's not just that it's setting me up for the success that I want.

[00:15:56] Okay. Let's talk about family. You have two kids. I've got three kids. I've got a husband. They, they like sugar. who doesn't right. I know every family out there and every person listening is like, how am I going to do this? If my family's not on board. And I want them to benefit from it as much as I do.

[00:16:12] How do you incorporate this into a family member?

[00:16:16] Nagina: Okay. Absolutely. And I do have two kids. I'm one 10 and one 12 year-old. And they, they have sugar. So I'll start off by saying that they have sugar and it's healthy for them to have sugar. And the reason is because if we deprive our children of sugar, which is in our world and all around us, I know exactly what will happen.

[00:16:33] The moment they go to college and they're all around all the sugars. They're going to just go crazy. Absolutely. Be wondering what they missed out on for so many years. So it's, so it's so much better to balance and allow people to have sugar, even including yourself. But then you also have so many other alternatives where it's not your only go-to.

[00:16:51] And so, you know, one of the key things for sugar is that sugar is not only in. We, we think it's only, but it's not. And when you're eating other foods that break down quickly, like I mentioned, a bagel, a banana, they break down quickly to sugar. That's still causing your body to want more sugar. So really what you want to start doing is adding more foods to your child and your family's diet that are keeping them full for longer.

[00:17:14] So. Raving the sugar, but then allowing them to have sugar. So having more protein at, at dinner having, you know, grains that are, that are not going to digest as quickly and turn into turn into sugar. So grains are things like, instead of having rice, trying to have something like couscous or there's a type of food called millet, which is a much lighter form of a rice, but it looks just like, it, it tastes really great.

[00:17:37] Having more. Cooked vegetables, even though our kids may not like vegetables, at least you having it and then seeing you have it. So it doesn't have to come only in the form of like, not allowing sugar. It's more about adding more vegetables, adding more protein. And then also adding foods like lentils or beans because lentils or beans are actually.

[00:17:58] That break down very slowly, much more slowly than like bread or rice or anything like that. So really getting educated about healthy carbs, those carbs, that break down slowly so that you're not craving sugar afterwards. And then adding some more of those things to your, child's diet, into your family's diet.

[00:18:15] Tacos taco bowls you know like foods like that, that include those as, as healthier carbs and your, your kids won't have the need for as much sugar, but they'll enjoy it when they

[00:18:26] Natalie: sure, but they're not craving it as much because it's not their primary or their first thing is adding these other things.

[00:18:34] What are your feelings on other sweeteners you know, fake sweetener. Even more natural things I hear about like Stevia or what are your feelings on sweetening things in a different.

[00:18:45] Nagina: Yes, absolutely. So, o