One of the questions I hear most often is, “How do I prevent a binge?” Cravings are a topic that brings up a lot of anxiety for people, and understandably so.
From experience, they’ve found that controlling cravings doesn’t work – it creates exhaustion, anxiety, and paranoia. And giving in to cravings – and bingeing or overeating – can feel painful, too.
There are many different approaches you can use when you’re feeling intense cravings for food or sugar. I’ve shared one below, what one teacher calls “rocking your cravings to sleep.” (Side note: I’ve tried to find the person who first coined this phrase, but have been unsuccessful. I’ve used their description but put it in quotes to show that the name isn’t mine.)
The essence of “rocking your cravings to sleep” is to invite your cravings in, rather than overpowering or giving into them. Just as we rock children when they’re fussy and in need of soothing, we can “rock our cravings to sleep,” soothing the hurt part of us that wants to binge. And just as a child who is ignored becomes louder and more insistent, when we ignore our cravings, they become louder and louder until we can’t ignore them.
What quiets them is when we acknowledge, turn towards, and care for these cravings. It’s a process of attuning, befriending, and caring for these disowned parts of ourselves. In genuine care and presence, the need to binge – and the emotions that drive them – can be felt, can move, and dissolve.
Here are the 3 steps of rocking your cravings to sleep. For more information, this tool is explained in depth (with a guided audio visualization) in session 8 of Heal Overeating: Untangled and in Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life.
1. Acknowledge your craving: I hear you. Instead of fearing, controlling, or resisting your cravings, invite them in. Welcome them as visitors coming to tea.
Gently, gently, quiet your judgment your resistance to the craving, your wanting to push the craving away. Forgive yourself for craving, for wanting, for being hooked by desire. It’s simply a part of being human!
As you drop the judgment, you may feel your belly literally soften. Think of your craving as a tiny, small child in need of comfort. Befriend that child. Listen to her; listen to her message. What is this craving asking of you?
I find that when I ignore a small craving it only gets bigger and bigger, screaming at me until I can’t ignore it. By then it’s so powerful that the drive to eat is intense and overwhelming. When I stop, pause, and listen to it the first time, it’s not so painful.
This is why regular times of emptying your emotional cup throughout the day can be so helpful. Many overeat at night because their emotions have been pent up all day long.
2. Find the unmet need: I will support you. Look more deeply into the craving itself to see what’s there. What do you really need, underneath the desire to eat sugar? What are your surface needs?
Unwind the layers. What is the deepest need? What is underneath the pull to eat?
What is your craving saying? What does it want from you?
Can you validate this need and honor it with an embrace of, I hear you?
Sometimes I find it helpful to tell myself, “I agree!” to create a space of open acceptance.
3. Soothe your craving: I care for you. Sit with your craving until it fades. Allow it to pour out. Feel the emotion and let it move through you.
Reassure it with your strength: I know, sweetheart. I know it hurts. It’s all right. Darling, I’m here. You’re safe. Let it moan and scream and rage until it’s spent.
Sit with those feelings. Rock them to sleep like a baby. Comfort them. Soothe your craving with the motherly, compassionate, tender part of you. Love that craving like a momma loves her children.
Now check in. How are you feeling now? Sometimes it takes several rounds of “rocking” to move through a craving. If you tend to suppress, minimize, or ignore your feelings, you may find that there’s a backlog of emotional energy that need to be drained. It may be helpful to have someone at your side as you feel and process the emotional energy of a craving.
Cravings are not a sign that you’re falling off the wagon, that you can’t cope, or that you’ve failed, but a sign that you’re human and that you hurt. They are simply prayers in disguise: please love me, please care for me, please hold me.
And yet we put all this energy defending ourselves against them, because we’re afraid of giving into them. All that energy we expend trying to avoid our cravings only increases their power. It increases our fear, until it is so strong that we feel powerless, where we feel as if we have no choice but to give in.
Turning to your cravings will not make them louder. It’s what quiets them. They’re like toddlers screaming for your attention. When we call to them, “Sweetheart, tell me what you need?” and when they feel seen, heard and understood, they soften.
Try and see your cravings less as something to fear, something you dislike, or something ought to get you, and more as something very tender, precious, and in need of kindness.
This caring ritual has helped me so much, not just with cravings, but with any uncomfortable feelings I might have. It amazes me how just taking a few quiet moments to tell myself "I care" really does soothe my soul. Thank you so much, Karly, for all the hard work you have done and continue to do to help others! I appreciate you! 🙂
I'm so glad that this ritual is helpful to you. Thank you for taking the time to write and share your gratitude. I felt appreciated and encouraged this morning!
I agree – telling ourselves we care is so powerful. How much we all want empathy and understanding!
In love, Karly
I, too, love this message. In fact, I like hearing it so much that I need to read it over and over and over again. Then I need to talk about it, pray about it, and feel its goodness. How easy it is to get into the mindset that we are going to “do something” or “figure out something” or “declare something” or “commit to something” that will finally protect us from the cravings and overeating. How many times my mind says that if I can just decide something and stick to it… then it will all be fine. I begin building up the barricade and dressing in my armor to meet my future–RIGHT NOW! haha It’s funny really.
Instead, to come from love in each moment… to know that cravings will ebb and flow with the waters of life… to open your heart to then instead of running… to acknowledge the love and opportunity that they provide… to have faith that we have everything we need to meet those cravings in the moment… What A Truly Beautiful Thing.
You so articulately and humorously describe how the mind tries to protect us from pain, vulnerability, uncomfortable emotions, and from not being in control by…trying to plan and be in control! The mind is such an incredible problem solver, isn’t it? 🙂
Yes, Kelley – this is a truly beautiful thing: Instead, to come from love in each moment… to know that cravings will ebb and flow with the waters of life… to open your heart to then instead of running… to acknowledge the love and opportunity that they provide… to have faith that we have everything we need to meet those cravings in the moment…
Thank you for describing it so beautifully, and for living it…
I’m glad this is nourishing to you, Sally!
I am shocked to read this! I have never thought of coddle long my feelings. I've been putting myself down and been ashamed of being being so weak. Thank you! It will take courage and time:))
I’m glad this spoke to you!
Our humanity, our tender emotions, and hurts can bring up so much vulnerability – it’s no wonder that we respond to our inherent neediness with shame, criticism or control. I certainly have done so, too.
I’m glad that this article offers another way of caring for your humanity. Let us know how it goes for you!
Crying as I read this. Felt so physically ill today after a sugar binge last night that I called off sick to work , which of course also made me feel guilty!
What a beautiful analogy comparing my ” little devil” to a small child who in truth has been so very neglected, made to feel she was flawed, unheard, unworthy, unloved. That she needed to go away. I would never treat an actual child that way, why would I do that to such an important piece of my heart? What a relief to know I am not bad, crazy, spiritually weak or lacking enough willpower. What a release to understand that all of the behavior modification strategies, that work temporarily, were ignoring my heart and the core issues and always led me back to my unhealed parts crying out to be heard and to be soothed through the pain. I will practice this approach immediately. Thank you-
I’m glad that this post was nourishing to you and resonated with you! I have so much empathy for you – those “sugar hangovers” can be so painful to the heart, and uncomfortable in the body.
No, you are not crazy, spiritually weak or bad. I’m guessing there’s a very good reason you’re bingeing on sugar, some need or vulnerability underneath….. And you’re absolutely right – behavior modification strategies only temporarily avert a binge. They do not care for the heart or for the hurt that drives the binge in the first place.
You can also use this approach to care for and drain the feelings after a binge – which typically include guilt, shame, frustration, aggression/self attack, anger, blame, and more. Underneath all those there is usually sorrow: a sorrow for bingeing, and the sorrow that drives the binge itself. Feeling and caring for all these layers can help unwind the drive to binge as well as the guilt for bingeing.
Wow…thank you so much for writing this! It is a perspective I have never heard before. I always try to push my cravings away and exert my willpower to say no, but you are right…they come back with a roar! Sometimes the cravings last for days and I can’t stop thinking about a certain food I want and it starts to drive me crazy until I finally give in and eat it. Yummy food brings me a lot of pleasure and I literally feel a certain high after eating junk food (especially salty food.). I have 2 young children and can certainly relate to temper tantrums and how much easier it is when you give them the attention they need. Also, like children, I think food temper tantrums can be prevented when we give our bodies the attention they need before they feel empty. My son and I usually have a much better day when I give him the attention he needs when he first asks me instead of saying for 20 minutes, “Just a sec… hold on. Mommy’s busy, I’m almost done…” I am going to start combining other methods I have read, like eating more healthy fats, more veggies, getting more sleep (hopefully!), eliminating processed foods… with your advice in this article and start to pay attention to my cravings more instead of pushing them away. Thank you so much…I feel lighter…like I have found the key I needed!
I’m glad that this idea resonated with you and was helpful. When I was knee deep in my eating disorders and sugar addiction, I was also parenting young children. Learning about parenting was an a ha moment for me, as I realized the similar parallels between my own relationship with sugar and my relationship with my children. I remember thinking – the same ideas that help children will probably help me!
Let us know how this practice plays out for you. I hope it brings some ease and relief.
Thank you so much for your wonderful work! I can feel you’re writing with love. This has helped me to understand myself more and to know how I can show mercy to myself and let go off the feeling that I need to control my eating with just will power.
I’m so glad this was helpful to you, and that you felt the love in it – for it was written with love. How beautiful to show yourself mercy and compassion, and to soften the inner controller. Thank you for writing and sharing!
This was emotional and uncomfortable to read. I’ve been on a low carb, high fat, high protein diet and it’s made my sugar cravings into monstrous tantrums. It makes sense to me that there is a comfort to the feelings eating sugar brings. I’ve been way worse in the past and have struggled with bulemia and binge eating. I had a bad relationship with both of my parents and words like “soothe” make me squirm. This is definitely something I need to work to overcome. Also, I used a similar technique when quitting smoking. I would acknowledge my cravings and just tell myself it was ok to want a cigarette but I just wasn’t going to have one. Thank you for writing this and all your hard work.
It makes a lot of sense why this post would feel uncomfortable and bring up a lot of emotions – and why the word soothe can bring up so many mixed feelings. Thank you for writing and sharing both your experience with the post and your experiences with food.
It also sounds like you already have a lot of practice in caring for your cravings to quit smoking – to hold that balance of offering compassion and empathy for the desire to smoke while also not acting on it. That takes a lot of inner strength! I hope this practice is also supportive for you in your relationship with sugar.
I’m not going to lie, I was a little skeptical going into this article of yours. As I read it and tried going through the processes that you suggested, I found myself getting really invested in what you had to say. By step three, when you write ” I know, sweetheart. I know it hurts. It’s all right. Darling, I’m here. You’re safe.”, I suddenly found myself breaking out into tears. I curled up in my bed and cried and cried and then cried some more. ( a lot of ugly crying)
These were the words I needed to hear. Actually, no, they were the words that I needed to tell myself.
You have such a lovely way with writing, and helped me a lot. I’m definitely taking this advice to heart.
I can understand why you felt some skepticism – I think that’s a perfectly understandable reaction to what I imagine was a new idea. It sounds like you were able to move through those feelings and give it a try – and that it ended up being a big help to you.
Thank you for sharing your experience – it’s moving and beautiful and courageous, all of it.
I’m glad this tool was a help to you, and I’m thinking of how thankful I am for the person from whom I first heard this idea – to rock our pain to sleep as we would rock a distraught small child.
I really needed to read this beautiful piece today, thank you Karly ❤️ Just taking a moment with my craving just now has revealed something important about my lifestyle and routine, something I can’t necessarily change but perhaps that isn’t the point, the point was the pausing and holding and listening to the craving, rather than immediately trying to work out how to fix or cure it. I can’t learn this too many times!
From my heart to yours, thank you x
So beautiful, Beth – thank you for writing and for sharing your experience in sitting with and listening to a craving. Isn’t it something what they can reveal to us? It’s beautiful to witness your open heart.