Buried within a desire to change—including a desire to follow a healthy diet—is often the feeling that we aren’t okay as we are, as we judge ourselves as bad, wrong or stupid when we don’t comply with socially-approved norms of appearance and behavior.
We feel piercing insecurity and shame, as we reject ourselves until we contort to those norms. We think we can stop our “badness” if we reject, hate and berate ourselves, but such logic generally keeps us from moving forward and causes the very problems we’re trying to avoid.
For example, you think it’s good to be a thin person and bad to be a fat person. And you think you have to hate your body until you get rid of the fat. You think it’s effective to blame, reject and criticize yourself based on your idea of how you ought to look. But judging yourself actually keeps you from losing weight because in your state of self-loathing, all you want to do is eat.
We can’t effectively change anything from a mindset of resistance and rejection. We must accept that which we dislike before we can truly improve it. This is the paradox of change: to change anything, we must first accept it.
Let’s look at why a mindset of nonacceptance gets in our way. And why acceptance, particularly self-acceptance, is the greatest force to make our dreams come true.
Resistance and pushback
As Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” Whatever we push against will push back harder. So if we resist a desire to eat, then the desire will likely grow stronger, creating an internal tug-of-war. If we accept how we feel and shift into a mindset of curiosity and understanding, then cravings often dissolve.
A mentality of resistance can give way to obsession. When we tell ourselves not to think about something, it’s all we can think about. When we tell ourselves not to eat, we can’t stop thinking about food. We get hungrier and more consumed by the thought, which leads to strong compulsions to eat.
When we come from a place of anxiety caused by self-shame, we’re less likely to take calm, effective action. We tend to act more erratically and make counter-productive choices. Or we become frozen with fear and don’t take any action at all.
Distortion of the facts
In a judgmental, fearful frame of mind, we can’t think as clearly and we’re more likely to block out important information. Only when we accept the situation can we settle down and see it for what it is without distorting the facts, which allows us to make better decisions.
Nonacceptance stops us from truly knowing and expressing ourselves. If we can’t accept ourselves wholly, then we can’t know what we truly want or allow ourselves to pursue it. It’s nearly impossible to achieve goals that we don’t genuinely want deep down. We set ourselves up for failure as we constantly pass judgement on ourselves because we reject our true desires in the process.
If we don’t accept ourselves and how we feel, we can feel urged to use food to shut down our feelings and authentic expressions. We stuff ourselves so we can follow the societal mandate that tells us to stop feeling and do as we’re told.
We especially need to validate and appreciate our feelings because they give us valuable guidance. If we invalidate our feelings and try to control them, then we won’t have the inner guidance needed to make good choices, and we’ll have overwhelming urges to eat caused by the need to stop feeling.
Self-shame leads to self-disconnect, as we dissociate from our bodies and get stuck in our heads. We numb out and can’t hear our bodies’ signals that tell what we should eat or when we should stop. Feeling ashamed, we tell ourselves to stop overeating, and yet this self-shame is what allows us to disconnect from our bodies and make poor health choices.
Also, an attitude of resistance makes us physically tense. But when we tense up, we can’t attune to ourselves to accurately sense what’s going on within ourselves. Acceptance allows us to relax, which allows us to settle into our bodies and tap into our inner knowing. We can more accurately feel out what we want and need.
Transform old habits
We think that by accepting where we are, we’ll stay stuck and never change. We think we need judgment and control to keep us in line. We think self-criticism and self-rejection are productive. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Judgment and criticism—unlike love and acceptance—act like glue that keeps us stuck in place and holds us away from what we truly want and what’s truly best for us.
The only way to make a positive and enduring change is to start with loving acceptance of what is, including acceptance of our current situations, habits, feelings and cravings.
Acceptance is about truly being okay with whatever happens, to receive it willingly and with approval. We see everything as valid and valuable. We see difficulty as an opportunity, not a curse.
When we find ourselves in a situation we want to change, we need to accept and appreciate it first. Then we can focus on how we want to improve the situation. But we can’t skip the critical first step of acceptance.
For example, if you don’t want to crave greasy food, first accept how you feel—tell yourself it’s okay to have that craving. In a calm state of acceptance, you can pause and reflect on the craving instead of following it impulsively. You may then recognize that your craving is because your body needs fat, so you look for healthier sources of fat. Or you may recognize that your craving is for comfort, so you can find an alternative source of comfort that doesn’t come with harmful side effects.
Accept what is
Acceptance is a critical part of healthy eating and becoming a Cravings Master. By trying to silence our cravings, we only intensify them and activate that dreaded food monster within. Which is a major reason I talk about cravings in a neutral light, viewing them as direct or indirect instead of right or wrong.
When we shift to a mentality of acceptance, we pull ourselves outside of what’s happening and put ourselves in the position of the observer—of the master. From this calm, observational outlook, we can wrap our heads around what’s happening and feel less overwhelmed about it, which allows us to see more options and solutions. We don’t feel enslaved to what’s going on, but free and in control.
When we accept our cravings, indirect cravings often subside right away. Or there might be an adjustment period. At first, we might eat a lot as we let go of an attitude of rejection and resistance. But soon after, the allure of eating whatever we want fades, and we recognize the effects of our actions but without the self-criticism that never helped anyways. We acknowledge what we genuinely want without judgement. And we begin to act from true desire and self-love.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we enable ourselves to do bad things or give up on what we want. Quite the opposite, acceptance enables us to do better, get more out of life and live fully as ourselves. When judgment is gone, only our truest desires remain. Then we watch our lives change for the better as if by magic.
Above all, we need to love ourselves. We automatically care for whatever we love and value. So if we don’t love and value ourselves, then we won’t have a natural inclination to care for ourselves. We won’t crave healthy food, exercise, hygiene or rest.
Nothing disrupts our cravings mechanisms more than a lack of self-love and self-worth. People with low self-esteem easily fall into patterns of self-harm and self-neglect, feeling compelled to do things that aren’t in their best interest.
But many of us are stuck in the popular belief that says we can only love and value ourselves once we look or perform a certain way. We think self-loving self-improvement is a paradox, two mindsets that can’t coexist. We think that if we accepted ourselves then we’d never want to improve.
Or we’re stuck in the belief that says we need to self-sacrifice and serve others before ourselves. But we can only be of service to others once we’ve been taken care of ourselves.
Our work is to create a basis of unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, where self-love and self-care are top priority, where we understand that we can only truly love, respect and care for others when we love, respect and care for ourselves first.
Build a strong foundation
Through acceptance and self-love, we create a strong footing to take healthy action. In the Cravings Master method, we work a great deal on establishing a foundation of acceptance because behavior change techniques then work much more effectively, it’s easier to follow healthy habits and we develop stronger internal authorities.
It can be one of the most difficult things to do and take tremendous courage to accept that which we hate or fear. Yet it’s one of the most powerful and miraculous ways to regulate our cravings and achieve our goals.
Maybe you need to see it to believe it. So try accepting or appreciating something you dislike and watch how it transforms. Again, you aren’t resigning to a substandard future. You’re simply accepting everything as it is in the present moment. Enjoy how it frees you from struggle and strife.
Then, when you’re ready to take the next step to become a Cravings Master: