Many of us believe that changing a habit is simply a matter of will power. When I was bingeing on sugar out of control in my teens, 20s and early 30s, I thought I just needed to get myself together – to be more organized, determined, and disciplined – and then I could “get control” of my sugar addiction, weight and food problems.
I tried for decades to reach this state of togetherness, all to no avail. This may be where you’re finding yourself – perhaps you’ve spent considerable time, money and energy trying to get yourself “together,” and you’re feeling frustrated that you’re still caught in sugar, food and weight.
In my experience, the journey is not about getting yourself together. More organization or discipline is not the problem and not the cause. What you’re needing is rest. What you need is rest on the most foundational level – the rest that comes from knowing that you’re okay; that you’re lovable and worthy exactly how you are. The deepest rest we need is unconditional self acceptance, unconditional self love.
And we also need rest from our compulsive behaviors – to stop our pursuit of what does not and will not work.
We are so harsh with our bad habits – all those ugly, messy parts of ourselves. But I think bad habits are ironically, undoubtedly beautiful. Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls them reverentially “the not beautiful,” and I think there is something holy – sacred – in the compulsive ways we care for ourselves. I think there is something precious in what we want to will away – in what we judge as ugly, disgusting, as something we want to cut out as quickly as possible. They are precious because they point straight to our tender hearts – our tender hearts that don’t want to be hurt.
What if your sugar habit was not your enemy? What if your bingeing were merely a tender, precious part of you that wants your understanding? Your compassion? Your care?
What if the path to healing is not to will these hurting parts of you away, to discipline them, to get them to toe the line, to cut them out, but rather to love them? To befriend them? To seek to understand them?
What if the soil of change is not discipline and bearing down and toeing the line, but opening? Listening? Understanding? Love?
We can be so, so hard on ourselves. When we don’t toe the line we jump all over our own case. We get impatient. We blame. We call ourselves lazy, fat, slobs, fat cows, pigs. We blame ourselves when we find ourselves caught in the sugar (again.)
What helps you flip the switch – what helps you shift painful habits into something more loving, life affirming, and kind is love, affirmation and kindness. The very thing that you seek is the means to change.
Rather than “cutting out” your sugar habit, I invite you to understand it. To get intimate with it. Instead of judging it, can you befriend it? Can you get curious?
When you reach for the sugar at 4 p.m. or after dinner, what’s really going on? Are you tired? Is your energy lagging? Do you feel lonely? Are you wanting connection? What deep need are you trying to meet? Please, oh please, drop the judgment of how “bad” it is. Simply put, some part of you is hurting, and that hurt is coming out sideways in sugar. What does that hurt part of you need? Can you forgive yourself for hurting, for needing?
Understand first. Understand why you’re eating sugar. Understand what need you’re trying to meet in eating it. With this compassion, with this understanding, then you can gently, kindly find other ways of meeting that need without the sugar.
On a brain level, this gentleness puts our brain to rest. According to one of my mentors, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the brain can only do 1 of 2 things: it can either protect itself or grow. When we criticize, blame and judge ourselves for bingeing on sugar, our brain moves into self protection mode. The pain is too much to bear. We can’t learn, we can’t grow. We feel too ashamed. However, unconditional love – what Dr. Neufeld describes as “the invitation to unconditionally rest in our presence” – helps the brain feel safe. In my experience, this safety is what enables us to grow.
That’s how we change habits – not by cutting them out or by getting so thoroughly disgusted by them that we feel inspired to change but by growing out of them. We grow out of them through rest – by meeting the deep needs that are underneath the sugar itself. We grow out of them through the rest of unconditional self love.
We shift our behavior from painful / compulsive or dysfunctional habits into healthy / working / self loving habits as a result of having what we need. The changes we seek with sugar are the result – and fruit – of love.