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Eat Less Sugar Using the 20 Second Rule

'It's a note from my school bus driver. He wants all kids to stop eating sugar coated cereal for breakfast. He says he can't handle thirty sugar highs.'

Sugar – it’s delicious, addictive, and has virtually no health benefits. Whether you’re addicted to the Red Robin dessert menu or love eating sweets at Olive Garden, it doesn’t really matter.  The amount of sugar the average American consumes has increased from 6 tablespoons a year to more than 150 pounds per year in the past 100 years. Food companies know the addictive properties of sugar and put it in everything.

Unfortunately, not only is it full of empty calories, it’s responsible for a whole host of other problems:

  • It triggers your body to start storing fat by provoking a strong insulin response. Insulin is released by your liver when there is too much sugar in your blood. It’s the hormone responsible for triggering your body to start storing the excess energy in the form of fat.
  • Eating too much sugar can cause insulin desensitivity. This is a precursor to diabetes.
  • It’s terrible for your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth basically eat sugar and poop acid. Sugar is responsible for tooth decay, cavities, and a deterioration of the enamel on your teeth.
  • Sugar consists of empty calories. There are virtually no benefits to you that come from consuming sugar. The less you eat, the healthier you’ll be.

While sugar is extremely addictive, there are a few tricks you can use to stop eating it or reduce your sugar intake drastically. I like to use the 20 second rule to reduce my sugar intake.



The 20 second rule means that when trying to eliminate a bad habit, make it 20 seconds harder to do it. This also works for good habits – make starting them 20 seconds easier to start.

For example, instead of leaving a box of sugary cereal in a bottom drawer in your kitchen, place it way in the back of a closet on the highest shelf you have – if you have to stand on a chair to reach it and it’s completely out of sight then you’re doing it right.

Next, you’ll need to replace the sugar craving with something healthy by making something 20 seconds easier. I like to make sure I have some red grapes (although they also contain sugar, it’s much less than my cereal and includes healthy fiber and resveratrol), washed, in a bowl, on the top drawer of my refrigerator.

The key is they need to be washed and in sight. If you’d prefer something with less sugar, try cutting up carrots or a cucumber in the morning to eat later, or having easy access to a banana or apple (already washed and ready to eat).

What you’re doing is:

  • Replacing a bad habit with a good one. It’s very difficult to kill a bad habit, much easier to substitute another (good) habit in its place.
  • Making the bad habit harder to do and the good one a little easier.
  • Keeping the triggers for the bad habit out of sight.

You’d be surprised at how effective this technique is. It can also be used to start other, positive habits.  Here are a few ways to use the 20 second rule to help create and strengthen good habits and eliminate bad ones:

  • Sleep in your gym clothes (or have them near your bed) and your gym bag packed and ready to go in order to start a morning exercise habit.
  • Make sure your guitar is easily accessible, in sight, and ready to play. Keep the chair you usually play on free from clutter, sheet music ready and set up.
  • Erase the Facebook app from your phone. You can still log in through your browser, but will need to enter your username and password every time. You’d be surprised at how much less often you’ll check Facebook if you do this.
  • Keep a journal and pen in sight, on your nightstand, in order to start a daily journaling habit.

Once you’ve done this for a few days and you have some success with it, it becomes easier to keep doing. Perhaps next time you go shopping, you don’t even buy the sugary cereal or snacks, so now if you want some you actually have to drive or walk to the store to buy it.

I find that this also helps reset my taste buds, so that after a few weeks, the things that do have a lot of sugar, that I’d ordinarily love, are sickly sweet and a little disgusting to me. (Tip: this is one of the reasons you shouldn’t drink diet colas and instead opt for water – so you stop the constant bombardment of sweetness on your taste buds).

Resetting your taste buds for sugar (this also helps with salt) really gives you a glimpse into how addicted our society is to sugar. Just one or two weeks of staying completely away from sugar and sugar substitutes makes you realize that we spend most of our lives addicted, and that we really don’t need to ingest so much of it for something to taste good.


The 20 second rule is a great strategy for reducing the amount of sugar and unhealthy foods you eat every day.  A simple tactic like keeping unhealthy food out of sight (or not bringing it into your home and forcing yourself to go to the store to buy it when you have a craving) is an incredibly powerful way to easily reinforce a good habit and eliminate your sugar addiction.

I’d love to hear some other good or bad habits that you think the 20 second rule would be effective in solving – please shoot me an email with your suggestions.

Join me on my journey to end the confusion, cut through the nonsense, and discover simple nutrition that works.

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