As you walk your journey with sugar, it’s common to find moments of healing and awareness – where you feel ease, peace and consciousness about the sugar that you’re eating – only to find yourself caught in a sugar binge or painful cravings.
Ouch, this can be so frustrating!
This often happens due to stress or due to new (or more challenging) circumstances. For example, a difficult week at work, a relationship conflict, or a heart wrenching parenting stretch has you scurrying in the kitchen cupboards for treats. Or you’re fine in the warmer months, but struggle in the dark, cold of winter.
We often try to shy away from these moments of getting caught in sugar – or we grasp after control strategies to ensure that these kinds of situations never happen again. We may feel guilty, as if we should’ve prevented them.
Of course – these experiences can be so uncomfortable and painful! It makes sense that we’d want to make them go away.
I’m going to offer an alternative perspective – one that views “binge mistakes” through the eyes of mercy – and welcomes them. It sounds counterintuitive, but sugar binges offer you prime opportunities for nourishment and healing. Below, I’ll share more about how this perspective can bring ease to your relationship with sugar.
Plan for binges, sugar cravings, and “out of nowhere” longings
Binges and cravings aren’t proof that you’re doing anything wrong.
I think the most painful part of sugar is how we judge ourselves when we have sugar cravings. But sugar cravings are not a sign that you’re doing anything wrong, that you weren’t dedicated enough, or didn’t “control” your cravings. In fact, they’re meant to arise!
Sugar cravings are vehicles for emotional healing – they’re the carriers of uncomfortable emotions like grief, anger, frustration, sadness, and more. I call cravings prayers in disguise, for they express our longings, human neediness and emotional, relational, and spiritual hunger.
When we try to control our cravings, what we’re really trying to do is control (and eradicate) our natural, human neediness. It’s impossible, and leads to so much pain and heartache.
Your human hunger will never go away, in the same way that your physical hunger never goes away. You may sate your physical hunger with a meal, but then your body will get hungry again. Hopefully, you attune to that need and respond with nourishing food.
The same is true for our relational hunger (what my mentor in developmental psychology, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, calls “attachment hunger.”) We fill up for a bit, but then long for closeness again. We wouldn’t expect one hug to keep us sated for a lifetime! No, we long for that closeness with others in regular intervals.
And the same is true for spiritual hunger – we fill up, we feel empty, we fill up again. In fact, many spiritual practices, are, at heart, relational practices of connection.
In all cases – physical, emotional, relational, spiritual – our hungers are relationships, ways of relating, not tasks to manage. We yearn, we feel our neediness, and we are filled.
There is tremendous relief in opening to our hungers and caring for them, rather than trying to control them or outwit them. It is an invitation to be human, to have a heart, to feel, to need and to yearn.
Your relationship with sugar is a practice
In many ways, your relationship with sugar is an emotional and spiritual practice. It’s an emotional practice because, through sugar, you’re learning to embrace, make room for, and accept a wide range of emotions.
It’s a spiritual practice because it’s viewing this emotional practice – where difficult emotions, reactions and experiences are arising – as something purposeful, healing and helpful.
If you expect and make room for the emotions and emotional reactions that will arise in you around sugar, it makes these reactions a lot less shameful, personal, and discouraging. They’re simply part of the journey!
How about this for a thought – when you’re craving sugar, you’re doing something right! I hope that eases judgment about, “I should’ve known or done better.”
Feel the emotions under a sugar binge
With this understanding, you don’t have to fear cravings, binges, or those mad desires for food. They are simply healing opportunities. (Here’s a hint: sugar’s role is to reveal how you relate to your human neediness, your feelings, and your healthy dependence.)
Underneath all binges are emotions, and often uncomfortable or “negative” ones like sadness, loss, grief or anger. These emotions need to be felt and faced.
I invite you to sink into the emotions and to allow them to move through you. I know this is much easier said than done! Because these deep emotions are vulnerable, we need the safety of connection – spiritual connection, connection with our experience, and connection with a loving witness to hold space for us while we feel those tender emotions.
One of my favorite ways of doing this is with a listening partner, a term coined by Hand in Hand Parenting. (Learn more about listening partners here.) I meet with my listening partner over the phone every two weeks. We take turns listening to each other and feeling what’s arising for us – which often involves facing, feeling, and releasing a lot of emotions! It’s a powerful self care practice that nourishes all my relationships – including my relationship with sugar.
I also use spiritual practices to create a container to enter into my heart and to feel what’s there. My favorite is the Sufi practice of Remembrance. One of my favorite teachers of Remembrance is Mark Silver at Heart of Business.
If you want to learn more about the how of feeling the emotions underneath binges and cravings, I’ve got lots of help! Try this post on feeling cravings more, not less, to soften them, this post on healing the shame of craving, and this post on using empathy to prevent a binge.)
With this perspective of inviting cravings, opening to your hungers, and embracing emotions, you may also need day to day support – loving structures that help you when the impulse to binge strikes.
Sometimes the cause of a binge is pretty simple – you’re overtired, overhungry, or overwhelmed. I find that many folks who struggle with binge eating also struggle with giving themselves regular self care. (If this describes you, the work of Melissa McCreery is a helpful resource for go getters who struggle with overeating. Renee Trudeau is also a gentle, nourishing teacher on self care.)
Here’s the tricky part with giving ourselves support – our need for support can be a shame trigger. In the same way that it’s vulnerable to allow ourselves to feel our hungers, it’s also vulnerable to allow ourselves to feel our dependence.
One of the ways this vulnerability can appear is dismissing our need for support – as if, as grown adults, we should somehow know better or be “beyond” this. We may feel guilty or have a loud inner voice that drives us hard, expecting us to be solely self sufficient.
Because of these feelings, we may try and do it all on our own. We may avoid creating supportive structures or reaching out for help when we’re struggling. Then we feel disheartened when we find ourselves stuck in a binge.
Ugh, it’s such a painful cycle!
It’s a vulnerable step, but opening to your need for support is one of the foundational practices of healing your relationship with sugar. It takes courage, but it brings much ease to your journey.
There are 3 ways to give yourself support:
- Ground yourself – offer yourself regular, rhythmic self care that nourishes you, what I call grounding. This includes things like: eating regular meals, keeping your house stocked with whole foods, and getting restful sleep.
- Scaffold. Scaffolding is a gentle practice of acknowledging and accepting those moments when you feel overwhelmed by sugar and stepping in with loving support. (Versus trying to manage those moments by will power or self control.) It’s an act of humility, honesty and self kindness. So if a certain time of day or time of the year is hard for you, count on it, and plan for it! Put into place structures and support to help you. For example, if you find the evenings lonely and prime binge times, ask your partner or a friend for emotional support. If you find it difficult to grocery shop without eating lots of sugar along the way, ask someone to go with you. Each person will scaffold in their own way, and I invite you to discover the ways that nourish you best.
- Get help. If you’re getting stuck regularly – you’re bingeing on a regular basis, suffering from a full fledged eating disorder, or you feel overwhelmed by painful emotions, panic, or alarm – please get help. You may have trauma, PTSD, past abuse, or other factors that are needing the care and healing support of a therapist. The perspective I share in this article is not to meant to replace those kinds of help, but to support your healing process. A good therapist can make your journey much, much easier and bring relief. You don’t have to suffer alone!
So, in a nutshell:
- Expect cravings and the impulse to binge to arise, and view them as healing opportunities.
- Feel the feelings and emotional reactions that arise with a craving or the impulse to binge.
- Your relationship with sugar is meant to trigger how you relate to your human neediness, hungers, and emotions. This is an opportunity for healing.
- And give yourself loving care and support to foster healing.
Pairing this healing perspective with loving support can shift binges from scary, feared, avoided things into opportunities for growth and healing – both in your relationship with sugar, and in your relationship with yourself.
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