Eating Behaviors: Two Parts That Fight the Food Controller

The Food Controller is an inner critic part that tries to regulate your eating behaviors and other health-related behaviors. It believes that without its efforts, you would be out of control and ruin your life.

It can be hard, cruel, and demeaning—often resulting in depression and low self-esteem. It can lead to…

  • Being obsessed with what you eat or don’t eat
  • Constant worrying about your weight and your body image
  • Feeling bad about your eating habits
  • Going on fad diets
  • Making behavioral resolutions
  • Feeling shame about lapses in meeting your eating goals.

When we have an Inner Critic part operating to make us feel bad about ourselves, it is natural to also develop parts that try to fight off its impact. Generally these parts are not coming from a grounded place of self-care and nurturing (the IFS Self). They are usually more immature–mimicking a child or adolescent’s reactions to a controlling parent. They function as protectors; trying to keep wounded inner child parts (exiles) from being reinjured.

Clients have often found it helpful for me to identify these parts so they can channel their energy in a positive, self-supportive ways to promote healing.

The RebelThe Rebel is the part that behaves in direct opposition to the Food Controller. Naming it always helps people clarify previously mysterious eating behavior. The Rebel bristles at the commands of the critic and refuses to be bullied or bossed around (overtly or covertly). Because of its knee jerk reaction to being controlled, its actions may not be in our best interest. In trying to deflect the impact of the critic, it often behaves in direct opposition to the Controller’s demands. It fights the rigid controls with an attitude of, “Oh yeah, you can’t tell me what to do.” or “Oh, you say I can’t eat that cookie, watch me eat the whole box!”

Inner-DefenderThe Inner Defender reacts to the criticism of the food controller by coming to your defense. It can’t tolerate the injustice of the criticism and tries to plead your case. It enumerates all the good things that you have done and how hard you’re trying. The Defender wants you to get credit for your efforts and be appreciated for what you are trying to do.

Sometimes your Inner Defender tries to argue with the Food Controller. If the Food Controller says that you are worthless, the Defender tries to prove that you are a good person. If the Critic says you are fat and lazy, it will give evidence of how you were able to stay on a diet yesterday. The Defender may the critic to “Leave me alone,” but it often doesn’t feel powerful.

The Food Controller Pattern: Volunteers Needed for Testing Application

by: Bonnie Weiss, LCSW

The Food Controller tries to regulate your eating when it thinks it isn’t good for you or might be dangerous.

It believes that without its efforts, you will be out of control and ruin your life. This can result in being obsessed with food, worrying about your weight and your figure, feeling bad about your eating habits, going on diets, making resolutions, or feeling shame about lapses in meeting your eating goals.

The Food Controller may be rigid and punitive. It may have fixed and precise standards for how you should eat. The biggest problem may be that the Food Controller Inner Critic tries to enforce these standards by attacking and shaming you when you fail to measure up to them. Even if the Food Controller wants what’s best for you, it often goes about this in a harsh, punitive way. It may have learned this strategy from the way your parents tried to control you as a child.

Your Food Controller may be activated even if your eating isn’t out of line. You may feel as though you are fighting a chronic battle with someone who doesn’t see you. This kind of Food Controller has an unrealistic view of who you are or the danger of your impulses. It may attack you for really enjoying your food or for occasionally eating too much. Or even if you are somewhat impulsive with food, your Food Controller may react in a way that is much more harsh, punitive, and rigid than is needed. Your culture may have an unreasonable ideal of thinness, and this can result in feeling that you have to rigidly control your normal impulses. In this case, your Food Controller may work against what is natural and healthy for you.

On the other hand, your Food Controller might be reacting to an out-of-control Indulger Pattern that is having a damaging effect on your life. There may be a real need to moderate your eating, for the sake of your health or your appearance, but with the Food Controller Pattern, this is done in a harsh, shaming way rather than a constructive way. It may make you feel really bad about yourself whenever you binge. Paradoxically, this often stimulates a need for self-soothing, which is often done by more eating. So often the judgmental strategy that the Food Controller uses actually backfires and makes things worse.

For the last three years, we have been developing a web application, Self-Therapy Journey, where people can get help in transforming psychological problems. It is like an interactive self-help book, based on the Pattern System and IFS. It should be ready to launch by Nov.

Right now we are looking for people who have one of two very specific issues to volunteer in trying it out. We are looking for people who either (1) are depressed, or (2) are overly critical of themselves about eating issues. (click here for the depressed pattern). (Later we will be looking for volunteers on other issues.)

You will be able to learn about your Food Controller Pattern, its underlying motivation, and where it comes from in your past. You will get a customized report about all these things based on what you enter in the application, which means that you can also use this application for guided journaling. You will also be able to set up a life practice to activate the healthy capacity to replace your pattern. That would be Pleasure (for the Food Controller). The application will provide you with online support in carrying out the practice.

If you are interested in volunteering, email me at Let me know (1) your phone number, (2) what time zone you are in, and (3) which of the two patterns you want to work on. We want to try out the application on a variety of different people, so please also let me know (4) if you are a therapist and (5) whether you are familiar with IFS.

We may have more volunteers than we can use, so you may not hear from us for a while, but we nonetheless appreciate your volunteering.

For more information about the Pattern System, please visit