A few weeks ago, I held a group coaching call for those who are participating in Emerge: Create a New Habit. On the call, a woman asked a question that I hear from everyone who’s trying to eat less sugar:
How do you stop yourself from giving into sugar cravings after several days of saying no? I can say no for a while. But then stuff happens and I start craving sugar. Eventually I give in and feel badly about myself. How can I stay the course?
It’s a great question, and gets to the root of why changing your relationship with sugar can feel so hard – stress.
In this particular case, this woman was visiting family for the holidays. She was traveling, out of her home and her normal routines, and was eating other people’s food. There were all the (normal) and nuanced feelings that family visits can arouse. All of these factors would build and build, and start to add up. She’d start longing for ice cream. She could fight it for a while, but by the end of the visit, she’d give in, eat the ice cream, and feel badly about her lack of “will power.”
I’ve seen this pattern in my own life and in the lives of my readers. It can feel greatly frustrating, especially because stress happens. We travel, the holidays arrive, we juggle work and family commitments, and more. While finding ways to reduce our stress load is important and certainly beneficial, at the same time, life is just life, and this includes some pain and challenge.
So what do you do? How do you care for the stress and the sugar cravings so they don’t take over?
I’d love to share the answer I gave on the call. It sounds radical and counterintuitive, so bear with me.
The answer is this: Stop fighting. Instead, soften.
Stop fighting against your cravings. Stop fighting with your feelings. Stop fighting against the longing you feel – the longing you feel for comfort, for something – anything – to soften the feelings of stress, overwhelm, or overarousal you feel in your body.
Lean into your sugar cravings. In fact, as I told this dear woman, put yourself right inside them, right inside the lion’s mouth. Enter them fully. Feel them more, not less.
As wacky as this sounds, here’s why this works – and why I invite you to try it: because it’s what our aching, wanting, craving, tender, tender hearts most desperately want, what they most deeply need – to be allowed to fully feel whatever we’re feeling.
Fully feeling our feelings is what puts the cravings to rest.
The challenge is that most of us don’t feel our feelings. In fact, most of us were taught not to feel them, but to control them. So we edit, minimize, dismiss, and shame our feelings. We judge them. We feel guilty for having them! We fear them.
The fight we exert against our sugar cravings is a measure of how much we’re judging our feelings. It’s a symbol of our resistance. Our degree of fight is how much we’re telling ourselves, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” whether it’s feeling angry, irritated, sad, lonely, overwhelmed, hysterical, helpless, emotional, anxious, despairing or craving.
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; this tender, human desire to feel better; to not hurt…
There’s nothing to fight. Rather than being stuck in fight – flight (or fight – flight – feed) you move to tend and befriend. You soften. The stress softens. The craving softens.
You move from control/minimize/manage to care/tend/befriend. All those tender human feelings that fuel and feed your cravings – all they want is care. They just want empathy – I know. I know this feels hard, sweetheart. I understand. Sh, sh, I’m here.
They want to be felt, to be heard, to be understood, to be validated. Think of a good friend who truly listens to you – and how much better you feel after you unburden your heart. Think of how much your feelings have moved and lifted and lightened after you speak to them.
When you turn towards and care for your cravings, you’re like the good friend to your own heart; the good friend whose presence lightens and lifts and soothes the hurt. You find courage in this kind of listening. When your hurt, needing, craving parts feel cared for, their giant roar for sugar softens. It’s where you find true will power – in the heart.
What we tend to think of when we think about will power – like the “will power” to say no to a sugar craving – isn’t really will power at all. Rather, we’re measuring our ability to control our feelings – to suppress them, tramp them down, manage them, and more. When you run out of “will power,” you’ve actually run out of the energy/will to fight against your feelings.
It’s our resistance to feeling our feelings that wears out when we’ve lost our “will power.”
So this isn’t a bad thing. You’re not meant to fight against your feelings. Your feelings, like the weather, aren’t something that’s meant to be controlled. They aren’t a judgment against you. They’re meant to move.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel, to need what you need. Please, dear one, stop shoulding all over yourself, telling yourself how you should feel.
The next time you’re having a craving, drop your fight. Soften into it. Turn towards it. As my mentor Tara Brach says, try telling your craving, “Be as big as you need to be.” Feel it fully. Let the craving get as large as you, as the room, as the earth itself.
Understand your craving. Care for it.
And let it soften in this loving, kind, understanding, inviting space.