Slim and athletic as a child, Arlene gradually put on weight in her teens and it steadily increased as she had children and then became a single mom. When she was eating, she couldn’t really tell when she was full. She kept feeling like she was actually hungry for more, but then after she ate more, she felt stuffed. In addition, she frequently binged on certain comfort foods, and she had a hard time stopping when she was eating. This is her Indulger Part.
Anything she tried–diets, programs, starvation, cleanses–were only stopgap measures. Anything lost was gained back and then some. She felt horrible about herself!
She always heard a nagging voice inside, her Food Controller Inner Critic. It said, “You are so fat and lazy, and oh so terribly inadequate. No one will ever love you, and that’s because you don’t deserve to be loved.”
When she began a counseling program, her fellow students and supervisors were always pointing out to her that she tried so hard to be “the good girl.” But this was to no avail. She could never feel good enough. “I never just felt like it was alright to be me.”
Arlene was always hearing the voice of her Food Controller berating her for being fat, for failing to lose weight. Whenever she went on a binge it was especially cruel and shaming. And its judgments went beyond her eating habits. It told her that she was worthless and unlovable.
Arlene was a premature baby. She had to stay in a hospital for many weeks where her parents could not visit her because of the distance and other children at home. “My mom was mean and particularly harsh with me. I think that we just never bonded. I remember feeling very left out of the affection that she could sometimes show to the others. I was so hungry for her love.”
On the other hand her father had shown her some positive attention. “He was very open with his praise about my slim athletic build. When he did this it made me feel special and loved.”
Unfortunately there was another side to her relationship with her father. “I had difficulty with math. I can see myself now sitting at the kitchen table with him for hours trying to help me with my homework. He would get more and more frustrated and angry. I was trying my best, but I just couldn’t get it. Sometimes he would storm off and not talk to me for days. It would kill me. I couldn’t stand the disconnection. I felt so helpless, there was nothing I could do. I can hear his voice now screaming at me.”
As part of her counseling program it was suggested that Arlene have some personal therapy. Intuitively she knew she needed another set of eyes and ears to work with this problem. It was a great idea.
The first thing that she noticed when she began thinking about her eating patterns was that “whenever I finish speaking to my mother on the phone, I find myself in the kitchen eating. It is usually something soft and sweet.” She began to see that there was a young part of her that never got the love that it needed from her mother, that was always looking to be soothed by eating soft, sweet foods. This is her Indulger Part.
In her IFS Therapy she was gradually able to get to know the little girl inside of her who was looking for love from a mommy. She felt deep compassion for this little girl and was able to show it to her. This little girl was able to drink in the love that Arlene gave her and feel more satisfied.
That girl told Arlene that there was another littler girl inside, an infant, one who had been left and abandoned, Each time her father would get frustrated with her and withdraw his love, she felt like a baby left alone in the hospital.
As she continued her IFS work, it became clear to Arlene that the negative Food Controller voice she had been hearing all her life was based on her father’s disappointment in her. It was as if there were two relationships with her father. One where she was a good little girl worthy of praise and one where she was bad and deficient and frustrating. She says, “It’s like I can’t have both of those at once. Either I am one or the other—good or bad. And now that I am living in this huge body, I am bad all the time.”
Arlene was able to get to know her Food Controller Critic. She saw that it really wanted her to be loved and to feel connected. It was trying to get help for the two little girls inside of her. It figured that if it could get her to lose weight and be slim, her father would love her. However, as she reasoned with it, this Controller Critic began to see that berating Arlene was not helping.
When the Food Controller saw Arlene being kind to the two little girls inside of her, it softened. This eased her anxiety and allowed her to slowly make more reasonable food choices. First the Critic was willing to sit back and watch what was going on. Then as she developed better eating habits, it gradually began to trust her to take better care of herself from a loving place.
Now when she lost weight, it wasn’t from this Critic bossing her, depriving her, and telling her she was unacceptable. It came from a loving place inside of her. She was truly taking care of herself by choosing healthier eating habits. She purposely bought foods that were good for her and then found or developed recipes using these foods so she could make delicious meals for herself and her family.
She paid attention to how much food she actually needed and what it felt like when she was full. She also ate slowly enough that she could actually feel the sense of satiation.
She also nurtured herself in other way. She took walks in nature; she enjoyed languid bubble baths. She went to dance classes and enjoyed moving her body in sensual ways. She was able to give herself pleasure in ways that she could truly take in.
As a result, she began to lose weight, and now it was sustainable. She no longer had an Indulger Part that desperately needed to stuff herself for self-soothing, so she could eat primarily when she was truly hungry and stop when she felt satisfied. The more weight she lost, the more she enjoyed dancing and hiking, and the more pleasure she got from these and other activities, the less she needed to get it from food. A virtuous cycle was now operating.
For help with eating issues:
Self-Therapy Journey is an interactive online tool for psychological healing and personal growth that has a module on eating issues.
Bonnie offers a telephone course on eating issues, called Beyond Eating.