Food Addiction: Typical Cluster of Parts

by: Bonnie Weiss, LCSW

We have studied the issue of food addiction and found that there are a number of regularly identifiable parts that make up the Eating Cluster. These parts also apply to other addictive issues. An important dynamic in any addiction is the relationship between the part that engages in the addiction and the Inner Critic part that tries to control the addiction. We call the addictive part the Indulger and the Inner Critic part the Inner Controller. These two parts are polarized, which is an IFS term that means they are in constant conflict with each other. In this case the conflict is about how much to indulge in the addiction.

The Inner Controller is concerned about the real-world consequences of your behavior (for example, becoming overweight, not being able to find a love relationship, health risks, etc.). It may also be afraid of other people’s judgments or rejection because of your behavior.

The Inner Controller tends to be rigid and punitive. It usually has fixed and precise standards for how you should live. It may have an opinion about exactly how much you should eat, what you should eat, when and with who you should eat etc. (This goes for any addiction: e.g. drinking, how you express your sexuality, spend money, etc..) It tries to control your behavior in these areas by telling you what to do and criticizing you whenever you overstep or ignore its rules. Following its dictates can generally keep it at bay, but if you get out of line, then it attacks furiously .

There are two problems with the Inner Controller. One is that its standards are often too extreme and rigid. The second is that it tries to enforce these standards by attacking and shaming you when you fail to measure up to them.

The Inner Controller is in conflict with the Indulger, which habitually overindulges, in this case with food. Both parts can be considered Protectors in IFS terms. This means that each is trying to protect and younger part, or exile, from coming to consciousness and flooding the system with its pain. The Controller is often protecting a part that feels rejected and wants to fit in and be accepted. The Controller may be trying to enforce societal standards of physical acceptability by controlling weight.

The Indulger may be protecting a younger or more primitive exile, one that needs to be soothed or nourished. It uses food or other substances to numb and quiet that exile so its pain won’t be felt.
The Rebel is also often polarized with the Food Controller. Here is another protector that is trying to assert itself and bring some autonomy or personal value into the system. It fights the rigid controls of the Controller with an attitude of, “You can’t tall me what to do.” Of “Oh you say I can’t eat that cookie, watch me eat the whole box!”

When dealing with people with addictions we also often notice a Foggy Part that makes it difficult to stay conscious to any aspect of the relationship with food, or efforts to bring focused attention to the issue. The Foggy Part causes you to zone out when you are eating so that you don’t keep track of how much you consume, or when you eat. We have all heard stories from people about waking up to candy wrappers or evidence of unconscious nighttime eating. It can make you unconscious at the grocery store when you are making purchases, or when ordering at a restaurant.

The Foggy part also makes tracking your inner work difficult by not letting you track yourself adequately. Have you ever not been able to remember why you thought you were interested in exploring yourself anyway?

The Inner Defender is another part that usually appears in the cluster of parts around eating issues. It is a protector part tries to fight with the Critic to prove you are worthwhile. Though its motivations are noble, it is often imagined as an adolescent, or even young child who is ultimately powerless in the face of authority.

Using the IFS model, we know that each of the above parts are protectors. This means that they are each acting in a protective way to keep an exiled part that holds more privative pain from surfacing and flooding the system. In order to heal the cluster of parts evoked by this issue and establish healthy behavior it is necessary to get to know and appreciate each of these protectors, gain access to the exiled parts, get to know them and bring some healing to them which will help them relax. IFS is a wonderful therapeutic technology for addressing this issue.

IFS brings to us the concept of Self, that core aspect of our nature that is our spiritual center. The Self is relaxed, open, curious and accepting of ourselves and others. In the IFS therapy model, the Self is the healer in the system.

We have introduced the concept of The Inner Champion as an aspect of the Self that supports us and helps us to feel good about who we are. The Champion is based on the energy of the Inner Defender. As we have work with the Defender we can bring it out of the past and into the present and we can heal the exile that it protects. As we do this there is a natural arising of Inner Champion.

This Champion is the perfect magic bullet for the Inner Controller Inner Critic – Indulger polarization that is at the core of eating, and other addictive issues. It encourages us to be who we truly are rather than fitting into the box our Inner Critic creates for us. It helps us as we deal with the negative impacts of our Inner Critic. One way to think about your Inner Champion is that it is the ideal supportive parent that you always wished you had. It can help us stand up to the Controller in a mature way and if necessary get it to back off. It nurtures our Criticized Child and the exiles we discover are being protected by the Controller and the Indulger; it provides inspiration and guidance is gaining perspective about who we are and where we are on our personal life journey; and it supports us in making realistic plans in terms of taking action to care for ourselves in healthy ways.