Do you ever feel like there’s a circus of voices in your head about food – as if there’s a part of you that makes healthy food choices, takes good care, eats well, and another part of you that wants to binge to oblivion? Do you ever feel as if you’re caught in a see saw between these parts – eating well one day – or for a part of the day – only to binge in the afternoon?
Last week I got an email from a woman who was feeling very frustrated by her lack of progress with food and the battle between these parts of her. On top of that, she’s feeling discouraged and guilty about the amount of time and money she’s put toward healing her weight issues. (You can read the email on the forum and offer your perspective and support.)
Oh, I feel so touched by her vulnerability! I can just feel the ache – feelings I’ve known well. Haven’t we all felt that way at one time or another – the sour ache of disappointment after another failed effort? The hot burn of frustration? The sharp knife of guilt at our lack of follow through?
Dear ones, please, please be kind to your heart. Please be kind to these feelings. You are not alone.
When you find yourself in this situation, what, oh, what do you do?
First, I’d like to take a step back and share my perspective on what I think is going on when we find ourselves see sawing between “I totally want to commit and heal” and “I don’t feel like doing anything.” In addition to these parts of us, I think there are a few other “parts” at play. Let’s flesh these out so that it feels clear what we’re feeling.
Part of what makes these feelings so frustrating and confusing is that they’re contradictory – a real mix of emotions and desires! That’s because the feelings come from different parts. Imagine that inside of you, you have all these different characters, almost like the cast in a play:
1. The inner rebel – this is the part of you that says, “You can’t make me.” It wants to eat whatever it wants and feels justified in eating whatever it wants. (Often a voice of, “I’ve earned it.”) It greatly resists structure (structured meals, limits on food), authority (being told what to do, even if it’s done out of love or care), and any form of pressure. Its objective is to preserve its autonomy, its right to do whatever the heck it wants. Even if that means doing something that causes pain, like bingeing.
2. The inner rebel is often covering for – trying to protect – the wounded inner child. This is the part of us that feels separate, small, ashamed and binges for comfort, nurturing and security. This is the part of us that is attached to food as a mother figure. This is the part of us that feels terrified at the thought of not having food to use as a form of emotional nourishment. It also feels justified in using food because it feels so hurt and powerless.
This part of us may want to heal the food patterns, but feels scared or powerless to do so. It may doubt its own strength. Its objective is to find comfort when it feels overwhelmed, when feelings or situations feel too much to bear. It wants to protect the habit of turning to food, because food is its lifeline.
3. The restrictor – This part is in opposition to the inner rebel and wounded inner child. Its objective is to persuade, coerce or force the inner rebel and inner child to cede to its will, to toe the line and stop the food, already! My guess is that this is the part of you that buys diet books, that buys weight loss food, that goes on diet programs, and maybe even studies nutrition. This is the part of you that will restrict after a binge, that will go on a diet after a weight gain, or that may tell you to “fast for a day” to make up for a “bad” day.
This part may want you to shape up and just get over it already. This part of you may be very, very aggressive about your healing, like, snap out of it! This part of you may really, really like being in control. It may greatly dislike those messy, childish parts that are out of control.
This is how I’ve seen these parts play out in my life – it may be different for you. But can you see how there’s a mix of needs, fears and emotions tied to each part? Can you see how these parts play off each other – how the restrictor see saws from the inner child/inner rebel – causing all sorts of pain? Can you see the suffering when we obey and live out from these parts – when we blindly obey them?
Fortunately, we don’t have to keep these patterns going. We can become more mindful, less hooked, and more free in how we eat.
How to make this personal to you:
1. Get to know your parts. I talk to my parts as I would talk to a friend. I get to know them. I journal about them.
I try and understand their needs. I believe all our parts are innocent at heart – meaning, their intentions are good and kind, even when they come out all wonky and sideways. Even the actions that cause us pain – like controlling or bingeing – stem from self protection, from a desire to protect our vulnerable hearts.
So, please forgive yourself for having these parts. (We all have them.) Forgive your tender parts for being in the first place.
Practice mindfully observing your parts rather than obeying them. As you befriend your “parts” with love – with infinite compassion, kindness and mercy – you don’t feel so caught in them. (You don’t take them so personally either! It’s just part of the human condition.)
This befriending is also how we become more whole. It’s an integration – of accepting this hurt parts we disowned because it was the only coping strategy we had at the time.
2. Connect with your true self. We all think our defenses, conditioning and hurt parts are us. But they are just that – parts. The real you is so much deeper. The real you is your soul, your spirit.
This is the core healthy self – the part of you that isn’t touched by the slings and arrows of life. This is the part of you that is wise, that can hold all these different, conflicting parts in its lap and find the most loving way to care for them. This is the part of you that you want to put in charge of all these tender, young parts. (Think of this part of you as your loving parent, loving these young parts into wholeness.)
I connect with this part of me in prayer, yoga and meditation. I’ve learned that I have to connect daily with this part of myself – and with the Divine. When I skip these practices, I feel inside out and overwhelmed by my parts. Likewise, consistent spiritual practice is what feeds a sense of capability, what makes the voice of my true self louder and clearer than the voices of all my precious, frightened parts.
I gently encourage you to spend 20 minutes every day connecting with your true self and the Divine in whatever form of prayer, silence or meditation nourishes you. There are so many forms of meditation to choose from – from Christian, to Hindu, to Buddhist, to Jewish. I imagine there is one that would be a good fit for you and your faith.
3. Change your patterns by caring for your hurt parts. You can move from befriending – understanding, opening to and loving your hurt parts – to caring for them. Put your core self – the adult, strong part of you – in charge of these parts that feel young, helpless and like they have to do what they’ve always done.
For example, my inner child’s standard view of the world is that she’s a victim – she feels helpless, powerless, and preyed upon. What my inner child needs is a voice – a giant no. This no can take the form of boundaries, clearer expectations, limits, expressing her opinions, desires, and needs, and claiming her space. When I speak up for my inner child in this way, I feel so, so good – because I’m honoring my needs in a healthy way rather than acting out the belief of helplessness.
Here’s how this translates to my patterns with food: when I give this part of me a voice, she doesn’t feel powerless anymore. She no longer needs food to comfort her from the terror and pain of helplessness.
We always have a choice. Our habits and ways of being are not set in stone. We can change these patterns and find different ways of meeting our needs. (I unpack how to do this in The 30 Day Lift, a structured, daily program on compassionate habit change.)
4. Use the voice of your true self as your guide to how/what you eat.
D. H. Lawrence wrote, “Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes. And there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving.” Dear one, I invite you to dive to uncover what your deepest self wants to eat; how it wants to eat.
When my wounded child or inner rebel is in charge my meals look like this: lots of comfort food, distraction and food as entertainment. Gimme, gimme, gimme. When my core healthy self is in charge, my meals look more like fuel, loving nourishment, wholeness for my body.
What would your meals or self care look like if your healthy core self were in charge?
It takes pausing, slowing down, and quiet to uncover what our deepest self wants to eat. In short, it takes a relationship – a relationship with ourselves. Sometimes this means saying a loving no to our inner rebel or inner child. Sometimes it means putting aside our surface wishes and finding something deeper. And yet this kind of eating is much more satisfying – because we’re honoring our deepest intentions.
Jung said “we all walk around in shoes that are too small.” Our job is to grow bigger – to grow these young parts into wholeness. To care for the deep needs underneath – to hear their tender, precious cries for help and to care for them – not with food, not by giving them anything they want, not by pacifying them with sugar, junk, or whatever “gimme” will shut them up – but to care for them with wisdom, kindness, compassion and strength.
Wanting more hands on help?
If you liked this article, you might also like these posts:
- Healing the voice of hopelessness
- Using food as your voice
- Do you have your heart? (Using the power of relationship to soften resistance.)
Which program is right for me?
- If you’d like to learn more about befriending and caring for your hurt parts, I explore this further in The 30 Day Lift, an audio program for compassionate habit change.
I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Imagine putting your core healthy self in charge. Would you eat and care for yourself differently?