Controlling cravings doesn’t work. White knuckling our way with food only makes us exhausted, paranoid, and fearful.
Giving in to cravings – bingeing or overeating – feels terrible, too.
So what to do?
Instead of running from cravings (or barricading ourselves against them), I suggest a radical approach: inviting them in.
Just as we rock children when they’re fussy and in need of soothing, we can “rock our cravings to sleep,” soothing the hurt part of us that wants to binge. And just as a child who is ignored becomes their most obnoxious self, when we ignore our cravings – helpful messengers who are screaming, “Pay attention to me!” – they become louder and louder until we can’t ignore them.
What quiets them is when we acknowledge the message; when we open to these messy parts of ourselves. It’s a process of befriending, of loving these disowned parts of ourselves, of opening to the “unlived life” as Jung called it. In genuine care and presence, the need to binge eventually dissolves.
Here are the 3 steps of rocking your cravings to sleep. For more information, this tool is explained in depth (with a guided audio visualization) in session 8 of Heal Overeating: Untangled.
1. Acknowledge your craving: I hear you. Instead of fearing, controlling, or resisting your cravings, invite them in. Welcome them as visitors coming to tea.
Gently, gently, quiet your judgment – your resistance to the craving; your wanting to push the craving away. Forgive yourself for craving, for wanting, for being hooked by desire. It happens to all of us. It’s not our fault.
As you drop the judgment, you may feel your belly literally soften. Think of your craving as a tiny, small child in need of comfort. Befriend that child. Listen to her; listen to her message. What is this craving asking of you?
I find that when I ignore a small craving it only gets bigger and bigger, screaming at me until I can’t ignore it. By then it’s so powerful that the drive to eat is intense and overwhelming. When I stop, pause, and listen to it the first time, it’s not so painful.
This is why a regular pattern of mindfully checking in with ourselves throughout the day is helpful. Many of us overeat at night because we’ve pent up these emotions all day long.
2. Find the unmet need: I will support you. Look more deeply into the craving itself to see what’s there. What do you really need, underneath the desire to eat sugar? What are your surface needs?
Unwind the layers. What is the deepest need? What is underneath the pull to eat?
What is your craving saying? What does it want from you?
How can you meet these needs without food?
3. Soothe your craving: I care for you. Sit with your craving until it fades. Reassure it with your strength: “I know, sweetheart. I know it hurts. It’s all right. Darling, I’m here. You’re safe.” Let it moan and scream and rage until it’s spent.
Sit with those feelings. Rock them to sleep like a baby. Comfort them. Soothe your craving with the motherly, compassionate, tender part of you. Love that craving like a big Italian momma loves her children. (I’m part Italian. I say this in pure love.) Love it and watch it fade.
Cravings are not a sign that you’re falling off the wagon, that you can’t cope, or that you’ve failed, but a sign that you’re human and that you hurt.
And yet we put all this energy defending ourselves against them, because we’re afraid of giving into them. All that energy we expend trying to avoid our cravings only increases their power. It increases our fear, until it is so strong that we feel powerless, where we feel as if we have no choice but to give in.
Turning to your cravings will not make them louder. It’s what quiets them. They’re like toddlers screaming for our attention. When we call to them, “Sweetheart, tell me what you need?” and when they feel seen, heard and understood, they soften.
Try and see your cravings less as something to fear, something you dislike, or something ought to get you, and more as something very tender, precious, and in need of kindness.