We know that too much sugar is bad for us. But it's challenging to navigate a food culture abundant in this highly-rewarding substance without overusing it. For decades the diet industry and health experts have told us to reduce our sugar intake by willpower. It's insulting we're told to control ourselves while the food industry is free to keep making more sugar and promoting its consumption - but that's a topic for another time. Most of us try to follow this advice with varying degrees of success. But, managing sugar cravings can be a tricky proposition for anyone, especially people who struggle with disordered eating. Many of my clients have found that the more rigidly they seek to control their intake of it, the more readily sugar and other highly-stimulating foods take control of them.
Most of us have gone at least a few rounds with our sugar cravings. And many clients who come to our office are stuck in a miserable tug-of-war with them. We were taught that to be healthier or lose weight; we should put our desire for sugar in a box and close the lid. We should sit willpower on top of that box to keep the unwanted desires safe inside. It's an example of the diet mentality so prevalent in our culture. Sometimes the wish for better health or weight loss fills us with a fresh supply of willpower that makes it easier to keep the lid on that box for a while. We might walk around in Candyland feeling empowered and thinking to ourselves, "I'm done with that old sugar-foe."
But as time goes on, the boxed-up desire becomes like a kitten aptly nicknamed Houdini. It finds a way to break out. Suddenly, we're eating a little dessert because it's the weekend. Or candy, because we've been so "good." We are experiencing the truism that when we can't have it, we only want it more. Soon Houdini becomes a full-on escape artist, and that little kitten grows into a big cat. We keep wagging our fingers at our desire and trying to shove it back into the box. But it keeps escaping as we consume more sweetness.
When clients are exhausted and unwell from trying to box their eating urges, they come to us. We help them see that the restrictive diet mentality and willpower are woefully inadequate tools for navigating our abundant and highly-rewarding food environment. To recover a healthy relationship with food, people need a resilient mind and strong eating regulation skills -- a shift from willpower and the diet mentality into creating the internal conditions necessary for healthy eating in Candyland.
Neurofeedback brainwave training is one of the therapies we offer to support this shift. It is a tool that promotes healing of an over-active nervous system in order to improve eating regulation abilities. Overactivation is common in people who have been taught to hustle for perfection in appearance, their diets, and otherwise. The stressful dieting lifestyle paradoxically contributes to inflated hunger and dependence on highly-stimulating foods for soothing. In other words, stressing about healthy eating creates a hungry drive in the deep brain that can increase unwanted eating urges and dependence on sugar and highly-stimulating food substances! To take back our power over tricky foods, neurofeedback helps to calm that hungry drive in the deep brain.
Along with neurofeedback, we offer support groups and health-focused psychotherapy. These therapies support a shift from reliance on willpower to body-attuned eating and stronger emotion and eating regulation skills. As clients reclaim trust in their ability to regulate their eating, they can navigate Candyland with a new kind of agency over food -- one that involves self-awareness, self-trust, and self-care.
If you're stuck at war with unwanted eating urges, give us a call. Start the journey that ends internal eating battles as you reclaim trust in your natural appetite and eating regulation skills. You'll find that you can be empowered over food, even when navigating our tricky food culture.
-Alison Ross, LMFT
Hi. I’m Alison Ross, founder of Non-Dieting Health in Agoura Hills, California. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and neurofeedback practitioner specializing in eating and body image. My favorite things are my family, my dogs, yoga and working with my clients.
Join our email list to be notified of new blog posts and to receive inspiration on the non-dieting path.