I am not my brain. This changes everything.

I read Melissa’s words about the Sugar Dragon for years before really coming to understand them. The thing is, I have All The Dragons: Sugar Dragon, Chip Dragon, Scale Dragon, you name it. And they all work for the boss, Binge Dragon. I have a kind of pitying affection for my dragons; they’re the part of my brain that just wants me to feel good. They think only short term, only live for the moment. They want their fixes, and they’re willing to sacrifice my health and well-being to get them.  

I used to try to Whole30 week after week, and when I got an enormous craving on Day 5 I’d grab a handful of raisins. Then I’d have an almost out of body experience as the raisins led to chips then to cookies then to All The Things. When my stomach could not physically hold any more food I would “wake up” and wonder what the heck had happened. How could I be so desperate to change my health, habits, and relationship with food and still sabotage my efforts in the exact same way every single week? I thought I was crazy. What I didn’t realize was that my brain, my dragons, were taking over. And my brain and I wanted very different things.

This might sound like a cop out. Like I’m trying to remove the blame from myself. My brain makes me do it. But actually the opposite is true. Now that I know what is happening in my brain, I know that I have the power to choose. When I’m down in the binge hole, where I still spend way more time that I care to admit, I know that I didn’t fall in against my will. I did what was easy in the short term and jumped in with my eyes wide open because I wasn’t willing to do the work required to build the bridge across. So then I climb out yet again, determinedly brush off the shame that tries to cling to me, and take the lesson of that jump to my next experience. I have so much love and grace for myself, though there is a line between the healthy I’m worthy no matter what and the unhealthy It doesn’t matter what I do since I’ll still love myself afterward. But that’s a discussion for another day.

So, what do I do when it’s time to do the work? I have a process that involves talking to my dragons. If it’s crazy but it works, it’s not crazy.

1) Stay present. Get curious.

Cravings can be so uncomfortable. They feel like lack, like I’ll be missing out on everything that is good in the world if I don’t eat that thing RIGHT NOW. This is the moment of truth, the moment of growth. The work starts by, instead of frantically stuffing the craving away, leaning into it and bringing it into the light. What is this that I’m feeling? Is it true? Just staying in the moment and being open to feeling uncomfortable is enough here. It opens the door.

2) Recognize my dragons’ voices.

Now that I’ve paused long enough to be curious about this craving, I can see it for what it is: my dragons’ desire, not mine. But sometimes the dragons are screaming so loudly that I have no recollection of what I actually want. My list that I put on the fridge as I prepared for my Whole30 or Food Freedom saves the day now…

I want to follow the Whole30 rules 100%. OR I want to follow my Food Freedom plan 100%.

I want to eat only what I deliberately put on my plate for meals. No snacking, not even compliant food.

If I am actually hungry, I want to eat a hard boiled egg, peppers, and olives.

I do not want to weigh myself (Whole30 only).

If the craving that I’m feeling is opposed to those statements, I know that my dragons are roaring. And now I must act quickly.

3) Acknowledge their desires.

I speak straight to my dragons. I know that you want me to eat the chips, and I know why. Those chips and all the other food that they would lead to would make me feel really good for a little while. I think acknowledging what the dragons want and why is an important step. They’re not just being A-holes for no reason; doing what they want would actually make me feel better in the short term, hence the pitying affection I have for them. But I have a long term plan, and I’m sticking to it.

4) Refuse to engage.

And so they are told firmly, But the answer is NO. And then the conversation must be over. My dragons are sneaky and crafty and have all the excuses and rationalizations. If I start debating with them there’s a very good chance that they will get their way. So I say NO, turn the conversation off, and walk away. This is a great time to use the other list on the fridge…

Drink a LaCroix.

Make hot tea.

Smell an essential oil.

Go for a walk.

Do the dishes.

Take a nap.

5) Repeat, repeat, repeat.

And then I repeat as many times as it takes for my dragons to give up. Sometimes it’s once a day, sometimes it’s 100 times a day. But give up they eventually will, and those of you who have gotten to that point in your Whole30 or Food Freedom know the peace and hope and freedom that comes with it. It’s WORK, but oh it’s so worth it.

I wrote at the beginning that knowing I’m not my brain changes everything. And it does, but not in an immediate, never-struggle-again way. It changes what I know is possible. It means that even when I choose to surrender a battle, I still know that I’ll eventually win the war, at the very least just because I’ll never give up. Melissa has written that finding Food Freedom requires dedication, attentiveness, brutal self-awareness, and a radical commitment to self love. I cannot think of more perfect words to describe the process. When I’m low on dedication, I up the self-awareness. When I’m short on attentiveness, I recommit to self-love. And when I’ve finally done the work to bring them all together, I resolve to remember the feeling. I’ll get there again, and hopefully one day I’ll stay for always, but for now I’ll focus on the journey. The journey is really all there is.