Here on this good Saturday I just finished eating soup I’d made with some vegetables I bought at the Farmer’s Market.
I love making soup – I enjoy the chopping of vegetables, the simmering pot of warmth on the stove, and the emotional cradle that comes from creating something nourishing.
When I’m feeling sad or low, soup making is one of the primary ways I care for myself or others, one way I honor the truth of life’s pain or a difficult time. It’s a tangible way of offering kindness and acceptance: “I see that this is hard for you right now. Here, let me help you.”
I hear from many, many people that December and January can be hard months, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere and this is your season of winter. This extra, added difficulty can make your relationship with food that much harder.
I understand how a hard time makes food feel so much harder!
In today’s blog post, I want to talk about how you can honor difficult times with food with kindness, empathy and allowing – giving your hearts a space to be exactly where they’re at. This includes the most helpful tool I’ve found for food cravings: asking for help.
There are certainly other tools or practices you can use when you feel a craving arising – things like befriending cravings, riding the craving like a wave, or EBT’s Damage Control tool.
But sometimes, instead of trying harder, or trying to use a tool to soften a craving, you need something much, much simpler: to acknowledge your limits and ask for help.
Let me give you an example of how this might work.
It was Christmas day. It was late – past 11 p.m. – and I was hungry, tired and weary, and all of a sudden, the piles of holiday goodies at our holiday gathering place started to call my name.
I had thoroughly enjoyed a few holiday treats earlier that day – a brownie and a chocolate truffle – and knew I didn’t need any more sugar. I knew that if I had more my body would cross the line from feeling pleasured to feeling sick. So I knew my limits.
And I knew that in that moment, I did not have the strength or capacity to honor them. I did not need to try harder. I needed help.
So I shared my dilemma with my husband. I took him aside and said, “Hey, can you help me over the next hour or so until we leave for the hotel? I’m feeling a lot of cravings for sugar and know I’ll feel sick if I eat any more sweets. Can you help me?”
He agreed, and asked what that help would look like. I told him if I started heading for the treats to gently pull me aside. He nodded and we parted.
It was a simple thing, and yet I felt tremendous relief. For my sharing my need with him, and my admitting that I was feeling overwhelmed, immediately did two things – I relaxed, knowing I didn’t have to figure it out or do it on my own. I knew I didn’t have to rely on my own inner strength, which was lacking at the moment.
And I felt safe and protected, knowing I wasn’t going to end up eating too many sweets that would make me feel sick the next day. I now had the support I needed to avoid walking into harm – and it felt good.
This is the subtle but powerful shift that happens when we ask for help. It’s a two step dance of recognizing the limit – “ah, I’m feeling overwhelmed and need some support here!” – and then asking for the support that you need.
Here’s why this approach to cravings is helpful, healing and powerful:
This past week, I was attending a new parent support group. We were talking about the importance of the parent-child connection, and how to help our children feel more comfortable leaning on us and in asking for our help.
I was nodding along, and then the leader of the group made this statement: “Addiction can come from a lack of connection and a discomfort with asking for help.”
I felt the hairs on my arms stand up, because she was speaking directly to what I’m writing about here, and what we talk about in the blog, in the courses and classes.
There are many reasons why we might feel uncomfortable asking for help, including help with craving or bingeing. For starters, it’s vulnerable to admit our fallibility or neediness. We may wonder – will I be judged? Shamed? Blamed? Pitied?
(You can read a letter here that I wrote to my alma mater on this topic, and why it’s important to create cultures that support human vulnerability.) In Western culture, where individualism, idealism, and self reliance are so prized, admitting need or weakness takes tremendous courage!
Sensitivity can also impact our comfort in asking for help. Many people who wrestle with overeating are sensitive, empathic and intuitive. And many times, sensitives and intuitives carry unconscious shame about their sensitive nature. This shame arises from our greater culture and can also arise from our own personal experiences within it, particularly as children.
This shame co-arises with our intense emotions, including food cravings. Anytime we feel ‘too much’ of something, or anytime we feel strongly craving, triggered, reactive, or overwhelmed, we also feel this shame of, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” or “I shouldn’t have such strong reactions.”
These feelings of “should” and “know better” are the voice of shame talking. Because of this shame, we often feel like we should be able to be more present, mindful, integrated, or mature when cravings arise, capable of being with these intense feelings with greater and greater equanimity.
We feel this as an inner drive of, “I should be able to do this on my own.”
Because of this shame and this drive, we tend to try harder – trying to prove our strength in the face of this emotional wave – trying to not give into the craving on our own – rather than admittting the truth: “This feels too much for me right now, and I need help.”
So honoring our limits is uncomfortable and is an act of courage – for it means facing and feeling this shame, and facing and feeling our limits. It means asking for help.
And it also brings rest and ease – for our willingness to ask for help is what heals the shame of “I should be different or know better.” Asking for help brings the feelings of safety and connection that we’re needing.
When we pause and ask for help, we’re moving in to protect our vulnerability rather than shame or criticize it. We’re saying, in so many words: “I don’t have to prove how strong I am, or put myself into situations that are overwhelmingly alarming or frightening. I can ask for help and it’s ok.”
We’re saying, “I will not make war against my own humanity, against my own vulnerability.” We come alongside in support rather than in shaming shoulds.
For there are other kinds of strength than the strength of pushing through overwhelm. There’s the strength to look honestly at ourselves, the strength to know, understand and honor our limits, and the strength to care for our human vulnerability with compassion, wisdom, and respect.
Hi Karly, this is indeed a good strategy, however, what if you are alone with nobody to call on when these cravings arise? I lost my husband last year so can no longer call on his support in a he way you describe. I work abroad with no family or close friends nearby. What strategy would you use or recommend in this circumstance?
What a great question – thank you for writing and for sharing your experience. You speak to something that many people experience and share with me, and it’s such an important point!
First, I want to simply offer empathy – I can imagine how losing your husband brings so many feelings, experiences and sorrow for you. I’m very sorry and can imagine the pain of your last year. And living abroad without close friends or family nearby can add more challenge onto what I imagine is already a year that has asked so much of you.
What a full plate to carry, Sophie.
I wish I had magic answers, which I don’t. What others use in these kinds of circumstances is a couple of different options – first, reaching out to someone in a sponsor kind of way, as you might do in a 12 step program. This doesn’t have to be a close friend, but a support person that you find in a support group and that offers support in those difficult moments.
One example of this is a listening partner, a practice and tool that comes from Hand in Hand Parenting. This tool is not just for parents – I’ve had a listening partner for the past few years and have found it hands, down, to be one of the best tools for caring for myself emotionally through a difficult time in my life. My listening partner is in another country, so we use skype to share listening time.
You can learn more about listening partners on the Hand in Hand website –
Other people use technology to bring loved ones close – reaching out to friends or family virtually with Facetime, Skype, text, or phone when they’re needing this kind of support.
You can see if either of those options are a help. If you feel moved to do so, please check back in and let us know how it went for you – or if you found other ideas that are a help in those moments. I know many other people are in a similar boat, so if you find somehting that helps you, it can help others who also wonder about this same dilemma.
Hi Carly and Sophie,
I have similar issues to Sophie and wondered if we could not support each other Sophie and I.
Many thanks 🙂
A great idea Diane! Thank you for writing, sharing and connecting here.
Karly, thank you for sharing this. I always enjoy reading your posts, as you speak so insightfully about our inner suffering. I have absolutely found this strategy so helpful. In asking my husband for help, I let him in on my struggle and remove the secrecy and shame. For me, struggling in secret is what leads to major bingeing. Before I know it, I’m routinely sneaking off for ‘just one more’ sweet, and I quickly spiral into a very dark place. But just being honest and saying, ‘I’m having a really hard time right now. Will you help me?’ actually brings us closer together and makes me feel so relieved. Sometimes I don’t even say specifically what’s going on, I just say, ‘I’m struggling right now, could I have a hug?’ That connection can be so powerful.
What a beautiful story of vulnerability and courage – thank you for writing and sharing this with me and the other readers. I was really moved to hear about how you let your husband in to your pain, and how this creates connection, intimacy and beauty between you. What a beautiful example of being fully human and alive.
Just exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you for writing this, for your work and sharing your story. I’ve followed your work for some time now, being through over a decade of ED, with lots of relapses. I am beginning to be able to see my vulnerability as strength, the down times as opportunities to find ways of self care rather than push to be strong, and to share the load when I really need help. May that be a bad day, exhaustion, or whatever. I can see that those days it’s too much to expect myself to think I can be strong in that and it’s okay to ask for help!
I’m glad this was just what you needed! Thank you for writing and sharing your story and experience. Your words are moving and beautiful – what a reverent and gorgeous way to approach yourself, your vulnerability, and your needs, to recognize that you need help and offer it to yourself. Beautiful!