I talk a lot about how your brain, nervous system and body need safety in order to heal painful patterns with sugar. If you’re new to this idea, you may wonder – what exactly does that mean?
In a nutshell, all growth comes from rest. I’m not talking about sleep here, although that can be a part of it – I’m talking about the rest that comes from deep peace and possibility that comes from putting your nervous system to rest.
Sugar bingeing, overeating – any compulsive behavior – and the cravings that drive them are impulses that arise from the emotional brain. If sugar cravings had a voice, they would say things like, “I feel scared, I feel alone, I feel overwhelmed.”
What drives the impulse itself is pain, fear and separation. Overeating sugar is not a character flaw – rather, it’s driven by unmet needs. These include emotional needs for connection, contact, and closeness; psychological needs to be known, for autonomy, validation, appreciation; and physical needs for safety, food, rest, comfort, water etc. You couple unmet needs with a reactive nervous system and the bingeing makes perfect sense.
A binge happens for two reasons:
- You feel the pain of an unmet need and
- you feel alone, frightened, or unsafe
For whatever reason, the brain feels overwhelmed when the pain arises; eating sugar is the result.
This is where rest comes in. When you put your nervous system to rest – when you move your brain out of fight or flight/the sympathetic nervous system and into the parasympathetic nervous system/the higher regions of the brain – you’re able to care for the impulse to eat sugar rather than obey it. This is especially important if you’re highly sensitive.
With your nervous system at rest, you’re able to care for the hurt and unmet need wisely, honestly, and deeply, rather than superficially with a box of cookies.
I appreciate this is easier said than done. Last night I lost my temper with my boys, and was unkind – ouch, I feel the regret this morning and hope to do better today. No, we are not perfect and we do not have to be – and we can support ourselves so that we’re able to spend more of our time accessing the higher regions of our brain. Our values, our deepest longings – these all arise out of our higher brain. It’s who we most want to be in the world.
So this work is not just about trying to binge less – it’s about supporting your own unfolding; supporting yourself so that you can live out your deepest values – so you can embody love, kindness, compassion, mercy, grace, patience….
You bring yourself to rest on a physical level by:
- nourishing yourself with regular, rhythmic self care, what I call grounding. This includes regular meals, regular rest periods, and a rhythm to your day. When you feel cared for, it’s much, much easier to grow.
- getting enough sleep (it’s very hard to access the higher regions of the brain when we’re tired)
- regular rhythms of moving into the parasympathetic system (I do this with yoga, meditation, and taking lots and lots of breaks) but you can also do this with deep breathing or any task that moves you from doing/taskmaster mode into being.)
- Connecting with others. Let yourself be nourished by contact and closeness with friends, community and loved ones.
You bring yourself to rest on an emotional level by:
- softening self judgment, blame, perfectionism, and criticism – can you allow yourself to be a fully wonderful, imperfect human being who makes mistakes?
- allowing and accepting feelings (befriending your inner life – your feelings, emotions, whatever is coming up for you on the inside)
- softening resistance, which is a subtle form of judgment. Resistance usually shows up as tension in the body, a feeling of, “I don’t like this” or “It shouldn’t be that way.” Can you open to “what is,” to life as it’s unfolding today?
It’s simple, but not easy. I’ve spent years learning these new skills, and anticipate practicing them for the rest of my life.
Putting yourself to rest is a form of reparenting, where you retrain your ways of relating to yourself. This takes time, in the same way it takes time to learn how to play the piano or learn a foreign language.
It’s a release, an undoing of old wiring and belief and ways of being.
It’s an opening, a learning of new ways of being and doing.
It’s a maturation, a growth process.
And as you grow, as you feed these new ways of being, you become all that you are. It’s a gift to yourself, to life itself, to us all….
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