We are the ones we have been waiting for.” – Hopi Elder
Many people find it surprising – and a bit of playful irony – that when they explore their relationship with sugar, they find that their real “issue” wasn’t really sugar at all – but how they related to their emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational needs.
It was the gaps and troughs and valleys of these unmet, denied, and minimized needs that translated into a strong neediness and drive for sugar.
From this perspective, the healing process with sugar is then two fold:
To connect – to relate honestly, tenderly, and compassionately to the unmet needs that lie underneath the sugar – and to grieve.
As you care for what’s underneath, the drive for sugar softens. In this way, you’re not trying to cope with or manage cravings, you’re facing, softening and unwinding what feeds those cravings in the first place, replacing the false refuge of “sugar” with a true refuge, within your being.
As for grieving, when you change how you eat and use sugar, you’re being asked to grow – and in growing, we die a little. In dying, we grieve. We grieve for the sorrow that lies underneath the sugar and that is arising for attention.
And we grieve for the loss of sugar itself.
For in our healing journey, our typical patterns with sugar – how we binge on or seek out sugar for comfort when we’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, scared or frustrated – must die.
They have to.
The thought of this can feel overwhelming.
But what is dead must remain dead. Obsessively eating sugar has no life in it. It will never bring the life or love or ease that we hope it will bring. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien, “The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead. And the Dead keep it.”
This dying process may sound frightening, or even harsh, but there is a deep belly of compassion at its core. When we let go of what doesn’t work – and no matter how much sugar we eat, it doesn’t work: it doesn’t bring the lasting relief, ease, and joy that we imagine it to – there is space for new life to birth what longs to arise on the other side.
On the other side of this sugar “death” there is satiation, rest, connection, belonging, and ease – what the heart thirsts for. There is rest from the pursuit of what doesn’t work, and what will never work. There is rest from grasping after fruitless pleasure. There is rest from striving – all the exhausting, painful trying to “fix the self.”
This rest is out of our grasp as long as we continue to obsessively pursue and fixate on sugar.
And so, we rise, and we walk – we walk through the dying, the letting go of sugar, and into the land of the living.
The deeper story: the third thing to transform your relationship with sugar
And…that’s not all there is.
There’s a third thing that you’re being asked to do to foster a transformation in your relationship with sugar.
This is not something that you do but, rather, something that you open to.
For there is something else that is coming through your willingness to walk with sugar, your willingness to shine a light on what lurks underneath, and your willingness to journey through this valley of healing, death and letting go.
It, too, is a profound and deep mercy, and I’ll try to paint this third thing, this “something else” in words. It speaks to the very soul of sugar, and how it is trying to speak to you.
Here’s a go: what if your sugar journey is not there to punish, but to help? What if your wrestling match with sugar is not an aberration, but something consequential, something meaningful, and even, dare I say, intentional?
What if there is something that sugar is asking of you – that you are powerfully needed and being purposefully called, through sugar – and that your response to this need and this call is what you’re facing, right now? The choice that is in front of you?
And what if you’ve wrestled with sugar long enough to get to this very point, where you’re able to look sugar squarely in the eye, and see this need, this calling, how it longs to speak to you and use you – and that being able to witness this is, itself, a gift, and a blessing upon your head and heart?
What if something has lain dormant in you for a long time now – a spark, a seed, a hidden potential. This hidden potential longs to sprout, and rise, and bear fruit. So it is restless, and roaming. It seeks a worthy and sacred labor, something that would allow you to rise up, to bring the most deeply human and holy aspects of your being up to the surface of your life, and to bring them into form, into being, into this terra firma.
What if this “something” – this seed – is sprouting, is being nourished, and is being sown in you through this thing called sugar? What if sugar is what is calling this hidden potential forth?
What if your wrestling match with sugar is a holy and sacred labor, and you, by submitting to this labor, become a midwife – a midwife of qualities – things like strength, mercy, love, compassion, commitment, gratitude, forgiveness – that would not be born had you not agreed to this wrestling, to this sacred laboring?
What if your soul is longing to grow down, into its most beautiful and holy aspects, through sugar?
And what if that is where you find yourself today, and what is being asked of you?
What if you are being asked, first and foremost, to love?
And what if you’re being asked to do this through sugar?
What if, indeed, “you are the one you’ve been waiting for?” That as Rumi said, “what you’ve been seeking is also seeking you?”
And how, my friend, will you answer?
This “third thing,” this call to love, to serve, and to allow yourself to be birthed through sugar, is, I believe, the angel that walks with you through the dying and letting go process with sugar. It’s what makes the dying process doable and feasible and even, dare I say, welcome.
This call to love transforms how we look at our necessary death with sugar, to see and know and taste the profound mercy at its core, and to walk towards the new life that awaits, fecund and arising.
I am inspired by your articles. I have had gastric bypass- and I would do it in a heartbeat if anybody questioned me about it- but I have been sidetracked and find that I am eating more unhealthy choices- how do I get back on track? I don’t feel the dumping as I used to.
What a great question! I know others have struggled with this very issue.
What comes to mind when I read your comment is this – how we live from our deeper heart in the midst of the fullness of life – which can bring up all sorts of obstacles, unexpected events, stress, and feelings – things that can make honoring those intentions a worthy and sacred challenge!
This article is about sugar, but it describes the process of being with the impulse to eat and all the feelings you’re experiencing – and also honoring your deeper intentions about how you want to nourish your body – which is what I’m guessing you’re wanting when you speak about getting back on track.
Thank you so much for your insight. I see what you are saying. It resonates deeply within me and I appreciate the new perspective you offer. The grieving process as you explain it doesn’t look near as daunting as I previously felt. I am reminded of when I quit smoking. I grieved, yes, but it was with such a powerful understanding that cigarettes were bad, that it made sense. With sugar, my grieving involves the images of faces looking at me in a pitiful way because I would turn down a piece of cake or home baked goods. I was taught this was very disrespectful. I feel pressed to have a real good reason, a defense against this perceived abomination. (My Mom instilled this clearly.) Then there is the concept that life without caramel macchiatos is just plain flat. With that, I shudder, change my thoughts and grab for more sugary coffee. Clearly, I have switched my addiction, in all it’s dimension, from cigs to sweet coffee, and from there my whole day is set up to crave. This sugar thing feels so all-encompassing. Thank you for your blog! I will hang with you and absorb your words and perceptions! You are an angel 🙂
It sounds like you are very aware of your inner experience, and all that is alive in you – beautiful!
I’m glad that these ideas resonate with and embolden you! Ah, what you describe makes so much sense – moving from one addiction to another. I think most of us do this, to one degree or another, as we are such vulnerable and longing and human beings, and life can be filled with so many things that challenge and frighten us.
I am finding this website so helpful! I have not always had “food issues” however I found during the past year I have been stress eating food, especially sweets. It was a challenging year assisting aging parents, three teens at home and working full time. I gained 20 pounds that as a middle aged women are very hard to lose. I believe your advice on the importance of nurturing, caring and forgiving yourself is right on target! I am beginning to take time for myself and my family and practice “hearing” what needs my cravings are communicating to me. I wish you continued success and hope for the same myself! Thank you.
I have teens at home, and that is a full enough plate in itself – I have so much empathy for you in caring for teens, ageing parents, and a full time job. Whew! That is a lot to carry.
I’m glad that the materials are helpful for you in listening to your cravings and needs, and honoring yourself alongside others. You might also like the work of my mentor, Abby Seixas, who writes beautifully about slowing down and self care for women in her book, Finding the Deep River Within. Her work was life changing for me, and she was my first teacher on how to practice self compassion, slowing down and softening my expectations for myself – http://deepriverwithin.com/
I think you are amazing–your words resonate with me so deeply. My inner voice (one of them) is saying, “yes, that’s it exactly”. You name what I have longed to name–and thus I begin to understand. I think I have been afraid that what is on the other side of this grief and/or letting go will not be someone I love–I don’t really know her and so I am afraid. Fear and the unknown have immobilized me. When I read your words and work the courses, I do feel something softening inside-and I do feel a little stronger and a little braver. Thank you.
I’m glad that these words resonate with you, and that you are feeling the touch and depth of your strength and courage, and the vulnerability underneath – so, so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, and for walking your path with such heart.
Your words reach me at a time of such awareness and strife. I sit and weep as I consider all the ways sugar and food have provided for me. I can see so clearly how it has served me over the years…and years. So much that it scares me silly to consider saying goodbye to it, letting it die and mourning its loss. I can logically and symbolically see and think this, even feel it! Yet that void that shows up as loneliness for me is incredibaly powerful.
I know exactly how food has served me far beyond nourishment and therein lies the love and logic battle. I even recognize how food has been my partner and as long as its filled that role, a man can never be fully let in to do so….and a man/partner to share my life with is the thing I truly crave and desire most in my life. Food is keeping me from my desires and providing for me at the same time!!
I feel hopeful and scared all in one! Thank you for your words and sharing
What a heartfelt and poignant response – I feel such empathy for you. Everything you describe makes so much sense.
I’m thinking so many can relate to your words and your longings, as we’ve all been there – myself included.
That space of hopeful/scared, of longing to change/scared to change, of facing the sorrowful emptiness of our compulsions can feel so painful – ouch. It takes courage, doesn’t it?
It’s uncomfortable, for there are so many contradictory feelings and impulses, and vulnerable, for the heart is laid bare in its longing and yearning.
And it’s a sacred, liminal time – in my experience, it’s through this very doorway – the yearning, the longing, the tension of opposites, the fear and hope – that new life emerges, and bursts forth.
This all to say: have courage, lean in, and listen closely. Your heart is moving you, step by step, right where you need to go. This space is full of verdant life!
Thank you for your wisdom. I am a recovery coach currently preparing an eating disorder program for one of my clients (a rehab) that I will facilitate in group. I will be using this article. I also have an ED, I have struggled with it since 10yrs old. I am 41 now and your article touched my Soul. I am different about it and more food conscious now. Please let me know if you have any other tools/ techniques that I may use with them, its a low budget project.
Warmly, Lisa (Onatah) (South Africa)
I’m glad that this article touched you! And what an oportunity to share your gifts and experience with others – I imagine that it’s a joy to be in service in this way.
Yes please – you are welcome to use my articles or any of the free materials on growinghumankindness.com with your group. I only ask that you share the source (my name and website) so folks can learn more if they’re interested.
You can see an archive of all the blog posts here: https://growinghumankindness.com/blog/
Blessings on you and your group, and all your hearts!
What a very interesting way to look at my relationship with sugar. It almost feels less threatening of a process, like I’m not “bad” with the sugar habit, I can learn with the sugar habit. After finishing the 30 day life, I feel that my eating habits have changed a lot (for the better) but that call for a small treat is still there. I will try to look it in the eye and try to move through the relationship with this new lens. Thanks Karly! Always such amazing insight.
Thank you for writing and sharing your experience!
I’m glad that this was helpful to you. I think you’re on to something when you say that this way of thinking about sugar feels less threatening – I’m guessing that’s because there’s less judgment with this perspective, and more mystery.
I’d love to hear more about how this unfolds for you with sugar.