Imagine it’s 4 o’clock, it’s been a rough day, and there’s a cookie in front of you. It may feel impossible to to resist, or to “stick to” your commitment to not eat sweets. You may wonder – is there a way to soften sugar cravings without relying on willpower?
I did an interview with Abel James of the popular Fat Burning Man podcast where I gave listeners an alternate way of caring for sugar cravings and caring for the impulse of, “I have to eat that!” These tools come from The 30 Day Lift, a gentle, compassion based 30 day sugar detox.
In this episode of the Growing Human(kind)ness podcast, you’ll hear an excerpt of this rich conversation we had about impulse control and caring for cravings.
In this podcast you’ll learn:
- Why rationalizing with yourself when you’re craving sugar doesn’t work
- Why the heart, not the head, is the key to working with cravings
- How to soften emotional cravings for sugar or food
- How to read the unmet need under a craving
- Why compassion creates true “responsibility”
Wanting more hands on help?
- If you liked this post, you may also like this post on how to eat less sugar without “white knuckling it.”
- Try this free video series on sugar, Sugar Addiction 101.
- This page is a resource where you can find lots of resources for healing a sugar addiction.
AJ: So Karly, it’s 4 o’clock, you were late to a meeting, you’ve had a really rough day and there’s a cookie in front of you. What happens now?
Karly: I have something I call ‘Rock Your Cravings to Sleep.’ This is the exact process that I use. First of all, you want to just acknowledge it. Because when most of us have a craving, what we try to do is we push it down and we intellectualize. We go to the intellectual brain, and we go to those places of, “You know how bad that cookie’s going to make you feel, or you know that if you eat that cookie you’re going to want to eat 5 more.” But when you’re feeling that emotional craving: it’s like telling a 3 year old child whose favorite toy just broke “Well, you know, toys break sometimes.” That child doesn’t want to hear that at that moment.
Karly: That child wants to hear, “Oh I’m sorry, you must feel so sad right now, your favorite toy broke.”
Karly: Think of yourself as a 4 year old child in general when you’re feeling that emotional craving is a great way to look at it because those parts of you that are craving and wanting are actually very, very, young. They are those younger parts of you.
Karly: So acknowledge it. Just validate it. Don’t intellectualize. Just recognize it. So whatever it is, it’s in so many words saying “I see you.” So OK, you’re craving that cookie. Then dive right into it. What is that craving saying? This is when it can sound like a small child. “I’m in traffic, and I’m late, and I’ve had a tough day. I’ve tried on my pants this morning and they’re tight and I’m so sick of trying to do this paleo thing.” OK, whatever’s going through your mind, just let it run. Let it go with it, and your job is to just say, “I know, I know, I know, I understand. That makes so much sense.” You’ve validating. You’re mirroring. “Yep, I get it. I get it.”
Karly: And then you might ask your craving, “Ok, what do I need from you?” Because often when you’re craving something, we don’t crave because we have no willpower, we don’t crave because we’re these undisciplined slugs. No, you crave because you’ve got some kind of unmet need.
Karly: Maybe you’re just exhausted at that moment. Maybe you’re just needing some support. Maybe you’re needing that empathy and compassion.
AJ: Mmm Hmm.
Karly: So whatever it is, but sometimes it’s an actual physical thing. A lot of people get cravings at 4 o’clock because they’re physically exhausted. It’s the caffeine and sugar lift at the end of the day. That might be a sign of; well you just need to rest. So you’re validating, you’re letting that craving speak, so it’s like you’re giving it a voice. Give it a voice. Feel the emotion of it. Truly feel it. Offer it compassion and then if you need to actually act to care for it, do so. Then keep that process going.
It’s actually like, imagine that you’ve got a small child in your arms and you’re rocking that child, and that child’s just crying out its tears, whatever sadness it is until that child is soothed. Eventually that little child will get to that place where they kind of are crying, and they’ll kind of go [sigh], they’ll kind of sigh. That’s usually when a child will… It’s when things are integrated for them, and they’ve come to terms, and they’re at peace.
With your craving, you can do the same thing for itself. We think that when we’re in a craving it’s going to last for 30 minutes. We think it’s incredibly intense. I get that it’s painful. It will pass. The more you actually allow it and truly feel it, and rock those cravings to sleep, the more you’re able to be with them instead of be caught in it. Does that make sense?
AJ: Absolutely, and one of the things that I see these days that’s really interesting is that the further away we get from real food, and tasty food, and fresh food. I mean there’s no denying that a fresh baked cookie is delicious, right, in pretty much all circumstances. But what seems to happen, is people go for the stale conference room cookies at 4 o’clock, right? The one’s that weren’t very good to begin with, and now they’ve been sitting around all day and it doesn’t even taste that good. They’re not enjoying the moment of it, and I think that’s a huge issue because you can’t be satisfied when you eat a crappy cookie and then you feel like crap too.
Karly: Yeah, that’s a great point, and what that brought up for me, listening to that is, how much we often use sugar or crappy food as a substitute for true genuine pleasure.
AJ: Mmm Hmm
Karly: I see that over and over in my work, is that are you truly allowing yourself to fully enjoy your life? Because if you are skimping on true satisfying joy and pleasure in your life, then often you use sugar or that crappy food because it’s cheap, it’s readily available; it’s socially acceptable as a substitute. It’s almost like you’re using food as your voice.
Karly: So what you want to do is you want to be more authentic, and truly speaking up for what you’re really wanting. What are you really wanting when you go for those stale cookies?
Karly: Might it be that you’re just pissed off because you’re not allowing yourself to truly allow yourself to open to true pleasure.
Karly: But what I think, what I hear you’re saying is, you’re finding that pause button of really slowing down. Whenever anything painful arises, it’s our natural human reaction to want to make it go away, and so building your ‘tolerance for discomfort’ muscle is definitely part of the process.
That’s one of the areas where I think self-compassion is so helpful. When I teach self-compassion, the question I get most often from everyone is “if I am kinder and more compassionate to myself, I’m going to turn into a 300 pound slug that just eats all day and never gets off the couch.” In my experience, the opposite is actually true. What compassion does is make you responsible, and the terms of it makes you able to respond.
AJ: Mmm Hmm.
Karly: You’re more responsive instead of reactive. When we’re reactive, again, we’re caught in that fight or flight.
Karly: So feel that impulse of stale cookie, I need to eat it right now. When you find that pause and you’re able to step back a little bit and say “ok, this is uncomfortable and I can handle that.”