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.