Learn how to soften the emotions underneath sugar cravings, where they can flow like water.
If you wrestle with sugar, the holidays can be a challenging time of year.
Sugar is seemingly everywhere, ingrained into many of the parties, get togethers and celebrations of the season. If you care for your emotions with sugar, and you have a hard time setting limits around it, you may be feeling overwhelmed or panicked about how to say no.
You may fear the next 10 days and wonder how you’ll cope!
I’ve created a resource page for you here with links to helpful articles, a link to a heart centered support program, and a new blog post on ways of understanding and diffusing the emotions that lie underneath sugar cravings. You can find this all below.
Making room for the emotions underneath cravings and impulses
To begin, I’d like to share a story about my son.
This morning I was stewing, having an internal debate on whether or not to buy my 11 year old son something from Santa. He no longer believes in Santa Claus, and yet I felt propelled to have something for him under the tree from Santa on Christmas morning.
So I found myself online, harried, rushed, alarmed, and anxiously scrambling to find something he’d like. Ah, it felt awful!
When I sat back and paused, I realized that my scrambling to find a gift was not about Santa, or about my son – I was trying to prevent him from feeling sad or disappointed on Christmas. I thought that if I just got one more special gift, I could guarantee a peaceful and happy Christmas.
The vulnerability underneath our emotional drives
This made me pause. For I realized – Oh. There is vulnerability here. There is something really tender underneath this impulse, this drive for the perfect holiday gift.
Underneath my frantic pursuit of a ‘happy Christmas,’ I found heartache, fear, and sorrow. I found the emotional residue of all the heartaches that my son has experienced this year, including the loss of a friendship with a very close friend, the inherent separation of moving out of childhood and into early adolescence, and the loss of three pets.
I saw how a part of me wanted to give him something to ease these losses – both for his sake, and for mine.
I could feel my own sadness and grief over these things, and how much this grief hadn’t been honored in the midst of the busyness of life. I could feel how much it wanted to be honored and felt. It was time.
Creating space for the emotion to move
So I put the computer away, leashed up the dog for a walk, and trekked to a pond a few blocks from my home. I cried and cried in the rain, for the grief and bittersweetness of it all, for my son’s sadness, and for my own.
I came home feeling softened and relieved, more connected to myself. Grief tenderizes us; it cracks our hearts open into this alive, tender, awake space where we feel the poignancy of being human, and fallible.
In the wake of this tender presence, the craving, driving search for the perfect present had fallen away. I came home strengthened by my tears, and more grounded in myself.
Moving into a space of strength
I am awed and amazed at how grief works, the emotional alchemy that it produces. For opening to grief – and to any intense emotion – is an alchemy and emotional journey. On the wake of grief, we often find resilience and a deepened intelligence.
In the case of my son and my quest for the perfect Santa gift, what fell away was my desire to control the outcome of the morning.
It was a relief to realize that my attempt to create a certain emotional experience for my son – even something simple like delighting him on Christmas morning – is truly not in my power, and to let it go. And it was a relief to turn towards what I truly do care about – my relationship with my son.
Instead of trying to make my son’s experience a happy one, I want to make room for whatever his experience is – happy, sad, frustrated, disappointed – on Christmas morning. I want to give my son intimacy and connection. I want to give my son, me. That is my heart’s desire.
This desire is what gives me the strength to walk into Christmas morning knowing that I may be greeted by many different messengers – delight, joy, disappointment, frustration, a tantrum, pouting, whining, you name it! – and the confidence to know that it’s all okay, that they aren’t wrong, and that I can help my son through them.
Making room for your emotional experience
I share this story because I find that many people who wrestle with food expereince these same dynamics internally, with themselves. Many sensitive and deep feelers harbor some residual fear of their strong or challenging emotions – especially if these emotions tend to get expressed in sugar or food.
Like my wanting to make everything work for my son on Christmas morning, this can result in our twisting ourselves into human knots trying to make everything work for ourselves – our attempt to prevent our own difficult emotions or reactions from arising.
In our own way, we are often doing the equivalent of searching for the perfect present, trying to keep ourselves from feeling sad, disappointed, frustrated, or lonely – or from touching that bittersweet grief of being impermanent, and alive. There are 10,000 ways we do this – whether it’s constantly keeping ourselves busy, distracting ourselves through entertainment, overdoing, overgiving, eating, planning, overcontrolling, perfectionism, and more.
It is so very human for us to have these reactions and responses! They’re not personal and not individual – we collectively share them. And underneath all of these things we’ll find our human vulnerability, and often, feelings and emotions that feel challenging to face and feel.
Underneath there is simple human tenderness.
It sounds counterintuitive, but making room for difficult feelings like disappointment, loneliness, sadness, grief, and frustration is how to soften these emotions so that they don’t end up in a sugar binge. Here are a few concrete ways of working with these emotions and dynamics:
- Welcome your true feelings. Many of us have learned to edit or minimize our feelings – especially if appearing ‘needless’ or ‘less emotional’ was a way of receiving approval, having belonging, or feeling connected to others. But if our feelings are constantly being dismissed or minimized, the emotional build up tends to come out in food. Can you be honest with yourself about how you’re truly feeling? I find that honoring the truth of how we feel is what gives space for this emotional energy to be expressed and to move, so it isn’t building and building only to come out in a binge. Honoring the truth of how we feel is not equated with acting on it, following whatever whim or fancy it dictates – merely, that admitting what we’re truly feeling is the first step of emotional self care.
- Invite in the difficult. Big emotions tend to come up around the holidays, for we all can carry expectations and longings about how we want the holidays to unfold, as well as memories and felt experiences of holidays past. When these emotions arise, we tend to feel ashamed, guilty, or somehow at fault – as if we should’ve done something to prevent these painful emotions from coming up. Rather than seeing these emotions as proof that something’s wrong, or that something’s wrong with you, normalize and make room for them. It’s simply our human vulnerability appearing, and something that yearns for connection. This is moving from a mindset of ‘these feelings are my enemy’ to ‘these feelings are pointing to a vulnerability that is asking for love and support.’ This approach makes space for a ‘tend and befriend’ rather than a ‘fight or flight’ response to our human neediness.
- Reach out for emotional support. Emotional support – empathy, connection, listening, being heard, feeling seen, and being witnessed – creates a container where emotions can move, ebb and flow. It softens feelings of fear or shame that can arise around our human emotions and neediness, and builds feelings of strength and resilience. Where are places where you can receive emotional support – whether it’s from a friend, partner, family member, counselor, or support group? Sharing our vulnerability with a trusted other is a bridge to intimacy and connection, and softens the modern tendency to ‘tough it out on our own.’
- Create a connection plan. Create a plan for daily touches of connection – both internally, with yourself – and externally, with others. When our connection needs run dry, several emotions arise – including frustration, anxiety, and what my mentor calls intensified pursuit. All of these emotions can drive you towards food. Proactively meeting your attachment and connection needs can soften these drives and help you feel less driven towards sugar or food. Connecting with Nature and the earth is a helpful antidote to any kind of overdoing, including overeating.
- Play. Give yourself emotional outlets for emotions to move. While tears and crying are one way of moving emotion, laughter, play, movement, and artistic expression are other ways of doing so that are equally helpful and powerful. Going for a walk, doing something silly, playing with your kids or nieces and nephews (roughhousing is a great way to move energy), dancing, singing to holiday music, making art, playing a game of catch, or playing in the snow if you live in a cold climate – all these things can soften the load on the limbic system.
- Give yourself scaffolding and support. If the holidays are a hard time of year for you, give yourself extra support. This kind of support will look different for each person, but whether it’s structured meal times, having an exercise partner, or scheduling time at a yoga class, find ways to honor your daily needs in a rhythmic way during a time that tends to be busier and full of activity. Make a plan for those times when bingeing tends to happen, a ‘riverbank’ to hold the flow of the river.
More reading you may enjoy on this topic:
If you’re eager to learn or read more about understanding the emotions and drives that feed sugar cravings, as well as how to build impulse control and soften the drive for it, then these posts may be a help to you –
- How to find healing in a sugar binge – learn how you can bring in compassion and self care after a sugar binge, and shift your thinking about, “I screwed up!”
- How to eat less sugar without white knuckling it – this post explains how to build impulse control – where you make room for both feelings and your deeper desire, where you can feel the impulse to sugar binge and honor your deeper values of saying no
- How to strengthen the inner voice to say no to sugar – to eat less sugar, replace the false refuge that you find in sugar with an internal refuge – a nest of safety that brings the safety, security and soothing you desire.
- Why longing for sugar isn’t a problem – find a new way of relating to sugar cravings, and to see them for what they truly are – a longing for love
- How sugar heals our relationship to our needs – How sugar heals our relationship with our human neediness and vulnerability
Wanting more hands on help?
If you’re needing hands on help with food, here are ways I’m offering support:
The Heart of Food: this is a new course to soften anxiety, shame and self judgment with food. If you’ve been interested in my work, but were unsure where to start, this course may be a great fit for you. It will help you in 3 key areas: softening shame, self judgment and blame around your food struggles; gaining understanding and practice in caring for the key emotions and needs that drive you to food, and growing resilience, where you feel more capable and less victimized by food.
What’s new about this course is that it comes with monthly, group Q&A calls for 5 months. These regular calls give you a chance to ask questions, connect with others, and get support. This is often the ‘missing piece’ that do at home courses don’t offer, and I’m glad to make regular connection a part of your journey. You can learn more and see exactly what’s included here.
The next Q&A is Wednesday, September 19th.