Sugar can give us comfort, security, a sense of order, routine and familiarity. It gives pleasure, joy, a way of connecting with others. Sugar can feed our self-esteem and creativity, such as when we make a fabulous dessert for our family and bask in their applause.
Sugar can assuage loneliness. It can allow us to give to others, when we offer friends and neighbors baked goodies. Sugar meets our need for fun – candy at the movies; ice cream on the beach; cake at a birthday party.
We relax with sugar, coming down after a long or hard day. We soothe our anger with sugar. We honor our victories with sugar.
Wow! Look at all the needs that sugar is trying to fill: intimacy, connection, community, creativity, pleasure, joy, fun, self-esteem, comfort, security, routine, familiarity, relaxation, stress relief, and celebration. (For other ideas, look at this needs list from Marshall Rosenberg, the pioneer behind non-violent communication.)
It’s no wonder, then, that a sugar free lifestyle feels terrifying. Life without sugar feels like a giant, scary black hole.
It’s not your fault that you to turn to sugar (or food in general) to meet your needs. Most likely, you learned this habit at a very young age. Perhaps it was modeled to you. Perhaps it was the only way your needs were nurtured. It’s simply a learned behavior, not a character flaw.
One way we can make this black hole feel less scary is by giving ourselves a variety of ways to meet our needs without turning to sugar. We call this nurturing, one of the 6 practices of growing human(kind)ness.
We offer ourselves true nurturing when we meet the deep, deep needs underneath the sugar. At the deepest layer of the onion, these are often needs for compassion, understanding, empathy, acceptance, and belonging. In effect, we’re reparenting ourselves: meeting the core needs that went unmet.
Over time, we consciously separate the love from the sugar: keeping the love while omitting the sugar.
We often go back and forth for a while as we experiment with new ways of meeting our needs. It’s perfectly normal and was true for me. It took me years to find healing and stop my pattern of bingeing. I offer this to encourage you – to remind you that learning any new behavior takes time, effort, consistency, and most importantly – the grace of kindness.
For more on this process, consider the new edition of Overcoming Sugar Addiction as well as the follow up workbook, Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life. In the workbook, I explain more about nurturing and the other practices of growing human(kind)ness, a therapy to heal the roots of compulsive habits with food, like sugar addiction.