The pain of negative habits isn’t solely from the habits themselves. When I was addicted to sugar, I had extreme bouts of anger and irritability, vacillating blood sugar, yo-yoing weight, and chronic depression. But even more harmful then the physical effects were the spiritual effects: the pain sugar bingeing caused my spirit. No one wants to be addicted. No one wants to feel out of control. No one wants to feel powerless.
What hurt the most weren’t the consequences of my sugar addiction: neither weight gain nor the upset stomach nor the depression. What hurt the most was the cause of my sugar addiction: my inability to care for myself with love, tenderness and respect.
That lack of self love appeared every time I dove into the granola instead of choosing a more nurturing path.
When you act in ways that go against your beliefs, it hurts. If you think that you are a worthy, divine creature, it will hurt when you treat yourself in ways that belie that. Shame and sadness accompany any choice that goes against our values. And shame short circuits self love every time.
That is why it’s necessary to tackle destructive behaviors. Yes, we need to accept ourselves as we are, and that means accepting all of our behaviors, good and bad. But while we start at acceptance, we don’t stop there. It’s very difficult to love and accept ourselves when we’re wallowing in the shame and guilt from treating ourselves unkindly. We need to move to a space where we practice self love and self care, so we feel good from the inside, out.
Great. But how? Transforming these pesky habits can feel like a Catch-22: bad habits feed our low self esteem and feelings of unworthiness; yet, until we change these habits, it’s very difficult to raise our self esteem or feel good about ourselves.
1. Acceptance. For me, I had to accept that I couldn’t eat sugar normally. I had to accept that when I eat sugar, I binge on it. This means that I don’t eat birthday cake, Christmas cookies, or ice cream. Accepting this fact about myself was the first step in creating change: for me, abstaining from sugar isn’t deprivation, but evidence of self care and nurturing.
2. Forgiveness. Since the most destructive part of a bad habit is the guilt and shame that usually accompanies it, it’s important to separate the habit from the shame. This is brilliantly discussed in Overcoming Overeating, a guide to freeing yourself from food abuse. If you’re going to overeat, the first step to healing is to bring compassionate awareness to your habit. Accept that you are caring for yourself in a harmful way, and refuse to beat yourself up about it. This is also helpful as you work at healing your habit: you will probably have times when you slip up and fall. That’s okay: drop the guilt.
3. Compassion. Loving yourself means accepting all of who you are – including your bad habits. When you can look at your habits and see how they were an attempt to nurture yourself, you can forgive yourself. As you know better, you do better. Marshall Rosenberg’s work with nonviolent communication is an excellent tool for approaching yourself and others with compassion.
4. Self care. When I have cravings for sugar, I stop to ask myself, “What is really going on here?” Sugar cravings are cravings for comfort, care, rest, and relaxation. They are signals that I’m feeling deprived. The key is to find ways to soothe that deprivation without turning to food. Usually, what I’m really wanting is one of two things: 1. Connection: with God, my spirit, friends, or loved ones, or 2. Comfort: sleep, a recharge (I’m known to push myself too hard), time to myself, or time outside. We call this filling the tank in our home. A walk, a nap, a break from my children, or a crafty activity usually does the trick.
5. Find help. It’s hard to admit that you don’t have it all together. But admitting your need for help softens your heart, so that others can reach in, and offer their support. Counselors, friends, support groups, books, prayer: I’ve used it all.
Ultimately, I am not my habits. You are not your habits, either. Our frailties and stumbling blocks were given to us, on purpose, to feed our growth and development. There are no mistakes; that includes your greatest painful habit. Embrace it as an opportunity to befriend, love and care for the precious creature that is you.
For more support to heal your sugar addiction, you can order the new edition of Overcoming Sugar Addiction as well as the follow up workbook, Growing Human(kind)ness: How to Befriend not Punish Your Way to Sugar Sobriety.
Want more help? Join my October Kick Your Sugar Habit small group class.