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.