When we look inside and listen deeply to our relationship with sugar, we often find that our internal conflict with sugar isn’t necessarily about sugar at all. Rather, our desire for sugar is a consequence of how we relate to our innate human needs for belonging, closeness, contact, warmth, joy, connection, and pleasure.
Many people who’ve struggled with sugar tend to minimize or “spiritualize” their humanity. They may use spiritual ideals and teachings to bypass, top, or supress their authentic feelings and their needs for connection, intimacy, and even pleasure.
They may suppress the shadowy aspects of their being or emotions that feel “unholy,” egoic, or “bad.” Or they may minimize their true needs and pursue perfection and high ideals.
One astute woman in a sugar class spoke to this truth when she called sugar “the nice girl’s addiction.”
The split between our humanity and divinity
This suppression of our human needs – and an overvaluing of the spiritual – represents a split between our humanity and spirituality. It often appears as a pursuit of spiritual ideals at the expense or suppression of our human needs.
This split appears in how we relate to our humanity itself – to our emotional, physical, and relational needs. Often, how we relate to these needs is to use a spiritual tool or saying (“it’s all good,” “I’m spirit anyway, this doesn’t matter,” “forgive and forget”) to deny the appearance or importance of these needs at all.
Spirituality isn’t wrong. But it becomes painful when we pursue spirituality in order to uphold a false image or ideal of ourselves – of being someone who doesn’t need or have feelings of neediness.
(To learn more about this split, I invite you to read the work of therapist and teacher John Welwood, who coined the term “spiritual bypass” and speaks to these ideas beautifully here.)
On a food level, this often appears as a split or division in how we approach eating or food – where we ping pong from eating really really “good” or clean for a time, and then eating “really bad” (sugar, carbs, or any other food that’s considered “bad”) the other times.
What does this have to do with sugar?
Chronically denying, suppressing, and minimizing our human needs creates feelings of neediness and emptiness. When these feelings of neediness are aroused, you may feel little, small, ashamed, helpless, and powerless. You may crave pleasure foods.
Suppressing our human needs also creates feelings of tension as we try and stave off their accompanying energy and emotion, the life that is moving through us.
This feeling of neediness is then translated into a sugar craving in a subtle form of transference.
Eating sugar, then, becomes the resolution for this inner conflict between needing and the denial of needing. Sugar becomes the “mother” – the one who sees, attunes to, acknowledges and cares for these small, needy feelings and all the conflicting emotions that they arouse. It’s the answer to both relieve the tension and soothe the pain of the suppressed need.
So sugar is both how you compensate for this neediness and is a symbol of these outcast needs, of this outcasting of our humanity.
It’s easy to mistake this neediness – and the need for sugar – as something shameful or embarrassing. That’s because neediness carries vulnerable feelings and sensations alongside.
We mistake these strong feelings around our needs – shame, disgust or embarrassment – for our reality – that we are shameful or embarrassing or disgusting; or that our needs are shameful, disgusting, or embarrassing.
But if we look at sugar through the eyes of mercy, we see that sugar is the benevolent emissary. Sugar is trying to make these patterns and sensations around our needs conscious, to bring them to light, to integrate them, and to heal this split between our spirituality and our humanity.
Sugar is here to help, not to harm; to foster wholeness, and to grow us up.
It’s the gift, the soul of sugar.
Healing the developmental wound
Being comfortable with needing, expressing needs, and receiving the care and fulfillment of them is an outcome of human development. When this development has gotten stuck, spirituality can be used to cover over this wound.
Sugar brings us into direct relationship with our human neediness, and with all the vulnerability, tenderness, fear, pain and inner conflict that this can evoke. For many of us, this can be incredibly painful, especially if, as children, our neediness was shamed, ignored, punished, or chronically related to with fear, anger, and alarm.
There is a push and pull – a deep yearning, a painful longing to feel safe to need, and to have these needs be met with affirmation and attunement. And there is also a terror, shame, alarm, and panic to let this vulnerability be seen.
Transformation, grief and growth
What sugar invites us to do is to dive in: to be with this push and pull, this excruciating tension of opposites, and to face this developmental wound rather than cover over it – even covering over it with something as sublime as spirituality.
Sugar asks you: “Can you be with your neediness? Can you be with your vulnerability?”
The challenge – and the promise – for all of us is that the only way out is through: for this is the birthing, growing and transforming process.
The healing process with sugar is primarily a grieving process – where these gaps and holes are faced and felt. It is a birth canal of integration – where our human needs are brought into the fold and are no longer outcast – where our spirituality and humanity coexist side by side.
How healing this developmental wound creates behavioral change with sugar
Each time you crave or long for sugar, you are drawn and invited into this developmental process. You’re being given a powerful opportunity to relate and to connect to your human neediness, your authentic feelings and experiences, and to these gaps and losses.
It simply comes dressed up as something potentially pesky and frustrating – as an obsession for sugar. But fear not. It is a benevolent messenger.
From this perspective, each time you crave sugar, and each time you face and feel this human neediness and all the grief and painful feelings that arise along with it, you’re fostering and nurturing this development.
And it’s this development that fosters behavioral change in what and how you eat, and even in how you crave sugar. Over time, step by step, you’ll begin to relate differently to your human neediness, and to the call for sugar.
Here’s how this might appear in your daily life:
- You reach out for help and support when you feel scared and lonely rather than relying on sugar
- Or you express and feel your anger rather than letting sugar express it for you
- Or you cry and grieve rather than feeling your grief in sugar
All of these changes with sugar are the fruit, the outcome of development. (This is why my courses teach this developmental process rather than coping skills to cope with, manage or stop cravings – because the developmental process is what leads to transformation.)
The mercy and the relief
How does this perspective feel in your heart? I’m guessing it feels much more empowering and merciful to view sugar as the carrier of your development than something shameful or disgusting that you should’ve been “over with” by now.
In truth, being human entails being needy; we are all dependent on something greater than ourselves for our very being, starting with our breath that breathes us and the earth that tends and feeds us each day. We are all such tender needy creatures. We are unified in this neediness, for we all share this humanity.
How fascinating that sugar invites us into this space, into a deepening, authentic relationship with our humanity, with each other, and with ourselves.
Thank you so much Karly, you have given me hope, just when I hit rock bottom. It is like you have offered me a lifeline.
I’m glad that this post was helpful and encouraging to you!
I have recently been on a sugar binge, I thought I am eating so much, it’s my friend, parent, brother, sister, lover. Sad, I have felt so isolated lately, really no one to truly turn to, I pray, seeking counseling, I know it will work out, but it’s the first time I realized my need was so deep for connection. God will and is helping me to face this need.
Yes, sugar can very much be a source of comfort, connection, and love. And yes, we are all so needy for love and connection!
This post may speak to you: https://growinghumankindness.com/healing-shame-craving/
I have thought for years that I am weak with no self control. My spiritual awakening 4 years ago made my already bad sugar addiction 10 times worse. I have tried to explain to Dr. That I don’t feel like i have any control to stop the sugar. I’m still not sure how to proceed but I’m happy to know there is a corallation to my neediness , spiritual awakening and sugar. Thank you so much for this article
I’m glad this was helpful to you, Angelina. I can imagine how vulnerable and disorienting it felt to have both a beautiful spiritual awakening while also struggling with an addiction. When we know that both things can coexist – powerful spiritual insights and vulnerability that leads to self soothing with sugar – we often feel less alarmed, more grounded, and more at ease in honoring both our spiritual and human selves and needs.
I had to stop reading after almost every paragraph to blow my nose and cry.. it took me an hour to read this . . I’m still crying and the worst part is there’s no one here to hold me and that’s all I really want 😥😥
I’m so glad you gave yourself lots of time to take in the article, Samantha. I’ve had that experience, too – where something hits so close to home that I can only digest a bit at a time. When we touch places of pain, such grief, anger, shame, or alarm can arise. I hope that by sharing your experience, you feel some holding coming back to you. I wish for lots of care – being held by a therapist, a beloved pet or tree, or a friend or loved one – to support you as you tend your grief.