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Get to Know the Parts of You Driving your Compulsive or Controlled Eating Patterns

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In a world where food is abundant and designed to be as appealing to us as possible, the struggle with compulsive and controlled eating is more prevalent than ever. Here we’ll be exploring the Parts who are involved in maintaining these eating patterns so you can begin to make sense of what goes on inside of you. For any readers who are new to Parts Work you can check out this blog post.


Although our Parts are unique to each of us in how they present, we are going to look at the most common Parts that tend to show up around food and the body (you may recognise some or all of these Parts in your system).

These are Parts who feel compelled to engage in:

  • Restricting or limiting food

  • Compulsive eating (which can include binge eating, emotional eating, mindless eating)

  • Purging (which can include over exercising, self induced vomiting, taking laxatives)

  • Body checking (which can include body checking, body comparing, body pinching and frequent weighing)

Let’s dive in and look at these in more detail:

The Part who engages in Restricting or Limiting Food

This Part drives restricting behaviour for a range of reasons for example; attempting to self soothe or to compensate for any percieved binge or over eating. It's often fearful of certain foods and can be come distressed when feeling full. In contrast, it usually likes the feeling of being empty. This Part can help us to disconnect from feeling anything at all, even hunger. A period of food restriction can also bring on a natural high in the body which can bring temporary relief from any distress.

This Part believes we must go without in order to have and often creates rigid rules around food that are heavily influenced by diet culture. It is often unhappy no matter what weight is reached on the scales and it fears that if it doesn’t stay focused on shrinking or controlling our bodies, then our body will somehow reveal our negative qualities to others and we will be judged and feel ashamed. It also often believes the best way to protect from shame is to use all its time energy and resources on limiting what is eaten.

It will do this by focusing on limiting portion sizes, delaying eating, cutting out certain foods or entire food groups. It often focuses on creating strict rules around food too, for example:

  • I can’t eat after 7 pm

  • I can only eat this kind of food at the weekend

  • I must eat less than everyone else at the table.

It tends to be very fixed in its thinking and when left to its own devices, it tends to create rules that become increasingly ridged and strict.

This Part has often formed a bond with hunger in order to meet need and it can be very fearful of giving up the connection, comfort and security it believes that going without offers.


The Part who engages in Compulsive Eating

This Part drives compulsive eating behaviours like binge eating, emotional eating or mindless eating and it does this for a range of reasons for example; attempting to self soothe or to compensate for or protect us from deprivation. If we have been restricting food or are experiencing other kinds of deprivation like a lack of love, connection or sense of belonging this Part steps into to protect us from going without.

There can also be a natural high after compulsive eating or in contrast this Part can help us to disconnect from feeling anything.

This Part has often formed a bond with food in order to meet need and can be very fearful of giving up the connection, comfort and security it believes food offers. It has learned that the best way to protect from deprivation is to meet our needs through food.  


The Part who engages in Purging


This Part drives purging behaviours which can include over exercising, self induced vomiting and taking laxatives. Essentially this Part is attempting to soothe intense feelings of guilt and shame around food and our body. It really believes that the best way to protect us from the guilt and shame that often surfaces, is to try get rid of the food, the energy from the food or to work hard to ‘earn’ the food.

It fears that if it doesn’t focus on engaging in these compensatory behaviours, the guilt and shame we can so often feel in relation to food and our body will overwhelm us. It is common to find this Part is relentless and impulsive in its pursuit to compensate. For example the Part might drive us to engage in punishing exercise regimes, or push us to exercise when we are unwell or it might be driven to engage in self induced vomiting or taking laxatives to dangerous levels bringing significant risk.


The Part who Body Checks

This Part engages in body checking, body comparing, body pinching and frequent weighing behaviour in an attempt to self soothe by seeking reassurance. This Part has internalised the link between self-worth and appearance. It genuinely believes that by engaging in these behaviours that it can somehow help us to control the body and soothe our fears and anxiety around worth.

This Part body checks using mirrors, reflections and clothing. It also compares body shape and weight with others and for some of us, it also engages in body pinching and frequent weighing. It’s really attempting protect by staying hyper focused on the body and believes that if it doesn’t stay hyper focused in this way, that our body will somehow change and we will become overwhelmed with fear and shame.


An Additional Key Part

This final Part is one that most of us will be familiar with. It's the Part of us who feels compelled to criticise, blame and shame. This Part is often overlooked when exploring our relationship with food but it plays a key role in maintaining our challenges with compulsive and controlled eating.  

It often comes as a surprise to many of my clients that this Part, although often harsh, actually has good intentions. It’s very common for this Part to believe that by taking this harsh approach it can make us work harder, toughen up, somehow improve who we are or in contrast to inhibit us, by keeping us small or silencing us in an attempt to avoid engaging with the world and being judged or hurt.

This Part tends to be intentional, compulsive and repetitive and very often learns to be harsh from those around us. It tends to mimic at least one or more of the people in our lives and if we have grown up without safe and supportive adult role models, this Part steps into fill this gap. It is often highly motivated, active and resourceful and these qualities do actually have some value.

However, and that’s the big piece here, is the intensity to which this Part criticises, blames and shames, has a huge impact on our other Parts. They often respond by intensifying their behaviour.  

Take this example of a cycle that many of us will recognise; a Part of us attempts to limit what we eat through the day, our compulsive eating Part then intensifies in response to the deprivation, our inner critic steps in blaming and shaming the behaviour. The Part focused on restriction then intensifies again with plans to eat even less tomorrow and the cycle continues. 

With a little patience and perseverance and a genuine interest in getting to know these Parts of us, trust and safety can develop inside. It’s helpful to know we can’t be curious and judgemental at the same time. If we are to bring our curiosity that’s a great starting point in supporting ourselves. For my clients the trusting bond that can develop out of this curiosity from their Adult Self to their Parts is what is so transformative. As their Parts learn to bond with them, they no longer need to use food to meet need.



If you want to get started on healing your relationship with food and your body for good you can access my FREE 20 page guide on Working with Hunger and Fullness through a Parts Lens here.

If you are a professional interested in my 6 week training course you can find out more here.

Celia Clark is a Food and Body Image Specialist, Therapist and Course Creator who uses a Parts Work approach to help smart, sensitive women find true nourishment from within. She loves to share what she knows, so that women around the world no longer have to battle with food, their bodies and themselves.

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Me and my lovely team look forward to supporting you!


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