Why you want to feel your cravings more, not less
Food cravings are one of the most difficult aspects for people when they struggle with overeating, binge eating or a sugar addiction. Because they make us feel so out of control – and frighten us by their power – our tendency is to fight, resist, and try and control or out will them.
This only compounds their power and pull. Instead of fighting or trying to control them (which doesn’t work anyway!), soften your resistance, and lean into them. Feel and face them fully, riding them like a wave.
It sounds counterintuitive, but feeling your sugar cravings more, not less, is both what softens them and what enables you to say no to the impulse to binge or overdo.
Cravings are an emotional practice
How cravings arise
Cravings are simply a form of energy, an emotion. This energy is meant to be felt, and to move. It’s this movement that brings emotional balance and integration to your life – how you care for your cravings rather than reacting to them. Because the energy of a craving is so uncomfortable, your instinct is to try and clamp down against it. But like water, the craving needs to flow.
How cravings build in the body
Over time, this stored energy builds in the body and in the heart. You feel this build up of emotion as physical and emotional tension. The tension represents how much you’re trying to suppress or control this emotional energy and keep the cravings at bay. When you try to control or overpower your cravings, what you’re really trying to do is control and overpower your embodied experience – your emotions, needs, and vulnerability.
What you think is will power isn’t will power at all
Rather, you’re measuring your ability to try and control your experience by controlling your feelings – to suppress or tamp them down. When you run out of “will power,” you’ve more accurately run out of the energy/will/ability to suppress the energy of your actual, lived experience. You release this built up emotion – and the tension from fighting your emotions – by eating the food.
The relief that comes from feeling your cravings
When you befriend your cravings, you soften your defenses against them and feel them. It’s this softening of tension that allows the cravings to move. You release the stored emotional energy, and in doing so, release the feeling of craving, the longing for food.
Allowing cravings is about allowing life to flow
Beyond the emotional and physical relief that comes with softening, feeling your cravings – and all your emotions – creates healing and wholeness. It’s a profound form of acceptance: to allow yourself to simply feel whatever you’re feeling. This invitation – to accept and embrace all of yourself, all your feelings, all your needs, the sum total of your human experience – is what your craving heart most deeply needs.
This openheartedness not only softens your cravings. It creates an openness through which your very life can flow.
Are you curious to learn more about what this process of befriending, allowing and accepting cravings might look like? Try these blog posts for a start:
- Healing the shame of craving – the healing opportunity of cravings
- Why longing for sugar isn’t a problem – how to make friends with the neediness and hunger that drives cravings
- Stop sugar cravings with kindness – how to offer cravings empathy, not judgment
- How to rock cravings to sleep – a how to guide to soften cravings
- My sugar binge devil – stop the war between your “sugar devil” and “sugar angel”
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I soften the fight against cravings?
You may need to change your relationship with sugar and how much sugar you eat to experience greater physical, emotional and mental health. The power to say no to sugar is not found through fighting or control, but through opening and releasing.
Why are cravings so strong?
We crave because we’re vulnerable human beings, and it’s our natural, human inclination to want to protect ourselves from pain. Cravings are opportunties for profound connection with this vulnerability and our more vulnerable emotions. Our neediness is our strength.
Where do cravings arise from? Why do they come up so often?
Cravings are prayers in disguise and bids for connection. They arise when we feel scared, uncertain, unsure, alarmed, frustrated, and more. They can be a response to emotional pain, or they can happen so quickly that they’re unconscious, below the surface of your awareness. No matter their source, cravings long for connection. Underneath cravings you’ll find a very tender expression: “Please help me, please hold me, please care for me, please love me.”
Why is it so easy to get stuck in cravings?
Cravings are uncomfortable, and they are doorways to our vulnerability. Our brains try to protect us from this vulnerability by erecting all sorts of defense strategies – including resistance. The fight we exert against our cravings is a measure of how much we’re judging our feelings – and often, our very humanity. Our degree of fight is how much we’re telling ourselves, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” whether it’s feeling irritated, lonely, frustrated, or craving.
What happens when the resistance softens?
If you drop the resistance, if you drop the fight, if you allow yourself to crave – to feel – to need – all you have left is this simple, tender craving; this tender, human need; this tender, human feeling. There’s nothing to fight.
How do you move out of fight or flight?
When you care for your cravings, you’re no longer stuck in fight or flight and the stress that makes it harder to say no. By moving to tend and befriend, you have the space to respond differently to the impulse to binge. Instead of feeling like a boxer in a boxing ring, you’ve become a martial arts master: you’ve simply moved out of the way.
Cravings are angels in disguise
Cravings aren’t proof that you’re doing anything wrong. Cravings are vehicles for emotional healing – they’re the carriers of uncomfortable emotions like grief, anger, frustration, and sadness and the disowned, cut off, outcast, shadowy parts of our being. I call cravings prayers in disguise, for they express our longings, human neediness and emotional, relational, and spiritual hunger. They reunite us with the outcast aspects of our wholeness and serve a beneficent purpose.
How do I practice “tending and befriending” cravings?
The only way to respond differently to a craving is to slow the process down. Before you do anything, take several deep breaths and pause. Pausing creates spaciousness – room for the craving to move.
Move your energy out of your head and low into your belly, like a sumo wrestler. Feel as if you’re rooted to the earth, as if the strength of the entire earth rests in your belly, there for you to draw upon.
Make space for the craving
Be gentle with whatever you’re feeling – emotions arise on their own. Make room for your cravings; allow them to be there. Tell yourself, “I see you craving.” Or, “It’s okay for this to be here right now.”I find it helpful to borrow a phrase from meditation teacher Tara Brach, “Be as big as you need to be.”
Feel your strength
Stand in your strongest, adult self. Remind yourself, “I can handle this.” You’re strong enough to endure the discomfort of a screaming toddler, an argument with your lover, a craving, or an uncomfortable emotion.
Let the impulse go by
When your inner dialogue says things like, “I have to eat the sugar,” name it. Tell yourself, “This is a craving.” Imagine these impulses blowing by like clouds over a sky.
Bring in the part of you that doesn’t want to overeat
While a part of you may crave a food treat to self soothe, there’s another part of you that doesn’t. What you want to do is mix up these two parts – to remember that when you’re craving food or sugar there’s another part of you that is okay without it. Give yourself time and space for the second thought (I don’t want to overeat) to arise and to allow these two feelings to blend.This is just one example of how you can approach cravings. For an alternative, explore this blog post on “rocking your cravings to sleep.”