Underneath the urge for food, what you’re really needing (at the deepest level) is love.
The key to healing a pattern of overeating, sugar bingeing, or emotional eating is radical: it’s to become intimate with it. Rather than turning from our “bad” behavior in shame, trying to hide it, or indulging the urge to eat, we simply allow the urge to be there.
We befriend it in kindness. As a mother lovingly cradles a child, we cradle a craving to see: what’s really going on here?
This taps into a deep vulnerability. Our cravings touch our needing, our wanting – the soft core of tenderness in our hearts.
We may think that if we control our cravings – all those urges for food – then we’ll never crave food or have the urge to binge again. (It’s a tantalizing proposition, isn’t it?) It’s how we guard ourselves against this tender vulnerability.
So we may go through extraordinary measures to try and keep ourselves from craving anything. We attempt to control our cravings so we don’t have to feel this inherent vulnerability: the vulnerability of craving, of needing, of hurting, of dependency.
My attempts to control my cravings
In 2007, when I first stopped eating sugar, I thought that by eliminating my go to binge food I could also eliminate my desire for it. I thought that my cravings would disappear with the sugar.
Now that I was sugar free, I’d be one of those people with iron will. I’d stick to my guns and be above any human messiness. (Ah, do you hear my fear of my cravings here?)
After giving up sugar, the physical cravings certainly lessened. But the emotional cravings? Those were still there. In fact, they were so strong that in 2009, I went back to sugar. Many times. Through this experience – and the next several years of messy, messy healing – I learned that trying to control my cravings was futile, and that a sugar abstinence was not the solution I had imagined it to be.
The shift from control to care
In fact, my cravings were far more powerful than my will power. Obviously, my attempts to control my cravings was not working! Bowing in humility, I tried a different approach: I surrendered to them. In my surrender, I touched upon something new: what if I was trying to do the impossible? What if cravings are not something that are meant to be controlled? What if, instead, they’re meant to be cared for?
What if they’re not something I should take so personally – as if they’re a character defect, or a badge of shame? With this new perspective, space opened up. Slowly – it was a multi year process for me – my relationship to my cravings changed. I was able to open to them rather than white knuckle myself against them.
What does a craving feel like?
When we experience a craving, we may notice the following:
- Our heart may pound
- Our pulse may quicken
- Our body may sweat
- Our body may fill with intense, scattered energy
- Our mouth may salivate in anticipation of the food we’re craving
- We may imagine the smell, taste or texture of a food in our mouths
- We may feel driven towards the fridge or pantry, as if by a motor or an urge we can’t stop
- We may feel like there’s a volcano inside, wanting to explode
Whoa, it’s intense, isn’t it? It’s like a giant food turn on and a need to explode all at once!
Turning into the physical sensations of a craving can – ironically – soften your identification with it. Rather than feeling that you are the craving, it becomes something that is merely moving through you, a part of the ever changing constellation of life.
It opens up a space around our craving.
Creating space around a craving
We can also create space around a craving by not identifying with them as who we are. Sure, they’re a part of what we’re feeling, but they’re not us with a capital U. The less we identify with a craving, the greater our ability to relate to it wisely, kindly and responsibly.
The cravings aren’t me, mine, or you, yours. They just are – something that arises in the body or mind. We don’t have to take them personally – to get sucked into a feeling of bad, craving self (a self we tend to dislike or even hate.) We don’t have to guard against our vulnerability for craving. We don’t have to feel ashamed by our cravings either.
Ah, do you feel the freedom there?
Take a moment and let that sink in. How much are you identifying with your cravings? Do you think of them as you, yours, mine? Do you take them personally, almost as if they were a personal slight against you?
Breathe. Open. Try stepping back five steps and putting some space around your cravings. As you step back, can you see them as just craving, and not your craving? Can you see them, simply, as energy? A powerful energy, but an energy, nonetheless?
When we don’t take our cravings so personally, they become much more workable. We also don’t fear them as much, because they’re no longer signs of our failure or a problematic vulnerability. We can include our cravings in our healing journey rather then viewing them as proof of “not being healed.”
Why cravings aren’t wrong
Beloved, you will never do enough inner work so that you never experience another food craving again. They may soften, sure – thats been my experience. But theyre going to come up again at some time.
Try and go a day without feeling; without needing. Its impossible. So please, please soften the shame you feel about craving, about desire, about wanting to feel pleasure; about wanting to end pain. Doing this inner work isnt about making these feelings – your very humanity; your inherent neediness – go away. Its not about turning into a serene spiritual master who never gets bothered by anything, ever again. All of humanity is in this same, very big boat – of needing, of wanting, of this soft core of tenderness.
So if you’ve been on a path of healing from food, and cravings still appear, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.
The opportunity of a craving
Your cravings are opportunities to touch the hurts and needs in your tender heart. They’re an opportunity to open to – and to be – love. They’re a refining fire, a way to open your heart into deeper and deeper levels of love. It’s a heart stretcher.
Rather than trying to control, minimize, or make cravings go away, grow your ability to care for them. Cravings are one way you stretch and expand to say yes, to love this part of you: the part of you that hurts and needs.
These parts of us are typically very young, and very tender. Theyre infants, toddlers, small children. What they most want and need is a loving, caring parent to come alongside them and to scoop them up, to hold them in their arms and say, Sh, sh its okay. Im here. I will take good care of you.
This self care is a form of spiritual reparenting; of loving these young parts of ourselves – parts that continue to act out in our daily lives today. When you turn towards your cravings and love them, when you nurture these tender, hurting parts of yourself, your cravings soften. Its what you most desperately, deeply need. How can food compete with such love?
I needed to hear this again today, Karly, so thank you for sharing it!! xoxo
I always feel happy to see your comments here! I'm glad that this post spoke to your heart! (My heart needs lots of reminders, too. It's a journey of forgetting/remembering, forgetting and remembering, forgetting and remembering again…)
Hi Karly, I read your emails, your blogs and have listened to many of your podcasts. You are so easy to listen to. I hear you and BELIEVE in what you have to say. It truly resonates with me. My obstacle is not WANTING to stop sugar. It's almost like I am afraid to give up my best friend. I just know you have the answers, but I am afraid to do the work. I just wanted you to know that you are appreciated for just being there! Thank you!
You will never do enough inner work so that you never experience another food craving again. They may soften, sure thats been my experience. But theyre going to come up again at some time. Heres why: emotional cravings, at their root, are signs of hurt. Theyre a symbol of unmet needs. Theyre a sign that youre human and that you need; that you feel.