THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF YOUR SUGAR ADDICTION

Can you balance unhealthy compulsions without losing your appetite for pleasure? Emma Whitehair wrestles with the demons of alcohol, love, and sugar addiction, and asks herself: “What are you really hungry for?”

“Could I continue to sink my teeth into life with enthusiasm while learning balance around an unhealthy compulsion?”- Emma Whitehair

Ughhhh … Krispy Kremes. Never something I’d choose to put in my body. So why, when a colleague turned up with a box full of them, did my inner werewolf rear its head? A demon who was frothing at the mouth to demolish the lot, while my sensible side tried to argue the case to “go-halves” on one.

The demon won, leaving me to contend with a toxic dose of self-loathing. 

My sweet tooth kicked in with a vengeance when I quit booze over a decade ago, and I felt that this new appetite was part of my continued search for escapism and relief. Love, too, came under this dopamine-inducing umbrella. My hunger for gratification also showed up in romantic fantasies of that one magic person who’d be capable of making me happy forever after …

However, unlike sobriety, going cold turkey on sugar (and love for that matter) didn’t feel like the right approach. Isn’t fruit sugar? Not to mention nutrient rich blackstrap molasses and antibacterial raw manuka honey? Where to draw the line? I’ll admit that my justifications sounded a bit like the arguments I used to have against quitting booze. “I just want to be able to enjoy a nice glass of Rioja with tapas, or champers at a wedding.” I know where those odd glasses can lead me though—the tail end of a two-day bender.

With an addictive personality, could I become moderate in this one area? And how not to lose my wildly passionate side and my appetite for pleasure in the process? I set out to discover if I could continue to sink my teeth into life with enthusiasm while learning balance around an unhealthy compulsion …

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:: BELLY BACTERIA BALANCING ::
My first step was to go into my gut. An overgrowth of yeast in the digestive tract can manifest as fatigue, a foggy head, anxiety and, most noticeably, sugar cravings. Overdoing it with alcohol, refined carbohydrates and sugary foods commonly causes this problem. Perhaps this was my werewolf’s lair?

I consulted Nutritional Therapist Claudia le Feuvre, who placed me on a course of Dida supplements and probiotics to tackle any pathogenic bacteria and to re-inoculate my gut with antimicrobials.

A few months later, I noticed my urge to bury my head in a bag of Haribo had disappeared. I now had the confidence that the issues were not tied to gut health. It was time to take my journey even deeper.

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:: IT’S ALL A METAPHOR ::
Claudia prescribed a reading list as a key part of my healing, and I consumed each title with gusto.

After living with the patriarchy for thousands of years, we’ve literally been starved of our divine feminine. The result? We’re now going wild with addictions and disorders as we fill our bellies to fill the emptiness in our hearts. Women Who Run with the Wolves and Eating in the Light of the Moon both have this concept at their core, and show how cravings can be metaphors.

The Gift of Our Compulsions inspired me to meet my compulsions with curiosity rather than resistance in order to get at what lived underneath them. By cultivating detachment from my thoughts, feelings, and sensations, I could witness my cravings.

When I declare ‘I’m hungry,’ I am identified with this experience. Whereas ‘this is hunger’ creates space for me to relate to what’s really happening, and ask if the statement is true. And in most cases, it’s not true at all. It’s more like ‘this is boredom/procrastination/loneliness,’ which I can either try to remedy or simply observe without needing to ‘fix.’

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:: A SESSION WITH THE SPIRITUAL NUTRITIONIST ::
The final part of my work with Claudia involved a 1-2-1 session where she called upon her spirit guide to help us “recode inner conflict” and used kinesiology to identify a potent mantra.

During our session, my arm suddenly gained strength from the words: “I am in tune with my body’s nutritional needs, and have no hunger for food beyond them.” This was then used as a mantra in a kind of Psych-k self-hypnosis meditation, where after about 10 minutes Claudia was shown by her guide, with a shiver through her body, that our work was done.

Although, I didn’t feel a bolt of lightning during the session, it’s like a spell has been broken. I feel relaxed around my usual triggers, and noticeably more tuned in to the intuitive whispering of my body.

Now, when I get the urge to eat when I’m not hungry, I often seem to instinctively know what tactic will help me ride it out. A few deep breaths, a drink of water, or a big stretch is usually all it takes.

Art: Sustici

:: THE FAST OF ENLIGHTENMENT ::
My newfound gut feelings also told me that the next step in this journey was to introduce a fasting practice to help me regain a sense of the true nature of my body’s hunger. Fasting is the most natural way to rest the body, giving it the chance to do the “housework” needed to repair cells and cleanse the itself, while improving immunity.  

When I started losing my appetite for a meal in the evening, I took it as a sign that my body wanted the benefits of some regular light fasting. So from around 5pm to late morning, I often stick to water and herbal tea. And although I sometimes go to bed feeling hungry, intuition tells me my digestive system needs this rest. I’m now sleeping more deeply and I wake feeling light and much less hungry than if I have a meal the night before.

I’m also committed to fasting at least a couple of days per month, usually over the New Moon—my version of the “Lunar Diet.” Near the Full Moon I often crave extra calories because of my cycle, whereas during the New Moon I feel more like hibernating. It’s also the ideal time to go inwards and set intentions for the coming astrological season.

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:: WHAT AM I TRULY HUNGRY FOR? ::
Using tactics to pause when I’m tempted to grab a substitute for what I really need has been a total (third) eye opener!

It’s given me the sense that my appetite is primal. We’re first comforted as babies through sweet breast milk and so sweetness will always be associated with mother love. An absence of that kind of nurturing can show up in dysfunctional relationships with comforting substances like sugar, alcohol, or the dopamine hit you get with the first flush of ‘love’.

So what to do in the present about a void from the past? Some sweet ass self-loving of course! We all have the chance, right now, to be the parent we needed growing up. Allowing feelings that have been buried in the past to move through us is how we evolve …

My epiphany about my constant low-level hunger? There’s fulfillment to be found by relishing my appetite, rather than chasing gratification. It’s summed up in this quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, Take This Waltz: “Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic.” I simply need to accept, and even celebrate, the fact that there will always be this hunger within me.

So when Krispy Kreme (a.k.a. my Soul Challenge on this journey) announced their new flavor (Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème, in case you were wondering) by sending a truckload to my office, I met my inner wolf with curiosity. I saw that she wasn’t a “demon” at all, and just a part of me wanting to be comforted. “Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance,” says Epicurus. So I enjoyed half a donut. Leaving enough room to still be able to taste the sweetness of life.

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Emma Whitehair is the founder of London based boutique lifestyle PR agency, WHITEHAIR.CO, which specialises in fashion, beauty, and wellbeing communications. 

COMFORTABLY NUMB: EAT THE PAIN AWAY

Is our obsession with healthy food just another way to eat the pain away, asks Kate Atkinson? Images: Instagram.com/dishpigs

“Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard! “

Lionel Bart, Oliver – Food, Glorious Food Lyrics, 1968.

Cut to the twenty first century: “I’ll have the burger please. Only I won’t have the bun. Or do you have gluten free bread? Wheat gives me hives. Does it have seeds in it too? Where was the meat farmed? Were the cows happy, like REALLY happy? I mean, ecstatic. Oh and can you make sure there isn’t any cheese on there? I’m allergic to dairy. My whole face turns bright yellow when I eat it. Actually I’ll just have some lettuce, thanks.”

To quote the Miranda July film title, this has begun to sound just a little like me and you and everyone we know. And apologies in advance to all my vegan, gluten-free friends out there, but can we just take a step back from obsessing over every morsel that goes in our mouth for a moment?

I’ll preface this by admitting I ate gluten-free bread the other morning (and full disclosure, it was really not as good as sourdough). Why? Because I’d travelled from the NY winter (read: seven layers of clothes + one extra layer of fat) to my home town of sunny Sydney, and found I was suddenly hyper aware of what I ate. But how many of us actually have a serious intolerance to gluten i.e. celiac? Why not just say we feel fat, and are convinced for some reason that “gluten-free” also means less calories?

Here’s some food for thought: are we depriving ourselves of the snacks we know and have always loved, inventing all sorts of conditions, because we’re ashamed to admit that actually we just really want to be perfect? Ashamed of looking stupid and being so susceptible to the unattainable ideals we’re pushed, since we all know perfection is impossible.

As ballet coach Thomas Leroy says to an emaciated Natalie Portman in Black Swan: “Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence! Very few have it in them.” And when it comes food, I think we should do likewise.

Back in high school, the pursuit of body-perfection meant doing star jumps in the toilet cubicles and puking when we thought no one is looking. Not me personally, but many girls I knew.

Now we’re all grown up, its our addiction to false nutrition bullshit that’s feeding the same appetite for fear. See the modern malaise of Orthorexia nervosa – literally translating as “proper appetite”, and a pathological fixation with eating only “healthy food,” that has aptly been described as “a disease disguised as a virtue”.

A condition in its infancy, Orthorexia is not yet recognized as a psychiatric disorder – but I see focussing so thoroughly on virtuous eating as just another way of distracting ourselves from our reality, and numbing what’s really going on.

I believe perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order – and deprivation just another means of exercising control in a world of imperfect unknowns. On a parallel with OCD, it’s a way of ignoring our pain and conforming to perceived societal norms…but what for exactly? To maintain the body of a 12-year-old who’s never even menstruated, or, come to think of it, slept with a man who told them they had a great ass?

A friend of mine, Georgia Ashdown, has recently started a blog in Australia called Dish-Pig as a way of exploring women’s relationship with food. Her crowd are foodies, but they aren’t obsessive, and while they’re all about sustainability and conscious eating, they also champion the enjoyment of food in a progressive way. Think hot babes (US Vogue are fans) eating ACTUAL food, not cotton wool!

I think it’s time for a new language around food. Most women (myself included) have a long way to go in learning to truly love  our own bodies. With so much social conditioning about we should look under our clothes, how can we not feel terrible when we see ourselves in the mirror naked?

By realizing none of this shit actually matters, because it really, really doesn’t. By remembering we are not the women being forced to marry suicide bombers in ISIS. By taking the time to tell each other how great our asses look. By realizing that it is totally normal and acceptable to pig out sometimes and not rush to justify it to others and ourselves. By no more comparing ourselves to celebrities or impossibly thin friends. By reading up properly on food, not just jumping on the latest fad diet when it comes along. By realizing that the people you want to look good for really DON’t care – they just want you to be happy in your own skin.

There are so many things in the world we can’t control. A talking head that no one can quite believe has been given an international stage. Gun laws that mean your four-year-old is able to shoot you. Climate change. Terrorism. Police brutality.

Can’t we just enjoy and be grateful for the simple pleasures we have?

To quote political activist and author Anne Lamott:

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is you will die anyway, and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

We are all enough. More than enough. So isn’t it time we ate enough, too, and stopped picking toppings off our pizza? It’s getting really, really boring.