Why working with our Parts is key to Disordered Eating Recovery


It turns out that we are not of one mind, that we are in fact multiple. By multiple I mean that we have Parts.


These Parts have different thoughts, feelings and beliefs. They have different roles within our system and different ideas about how best to support us.


When our Parts have some awareness of each other and there is collaboration and compromise, we are more likely to be well. When our Parts are isolated, polarised or in conflict with each other, this creates tension and distress in our body and we are more likely to struggle.


So what has this got to do with Disordered Eating?


When I was in the depths of my Disordered Eating I had key Parts that dominated. My Restriction Part feared that if it didn’t stay focused on eating as little as possible, my body would change. It feared I would gain weight and draw attention to myself. Attention that might lead to judgement, humiliation and ultimately shame.


The restriction triggered a Part of me who was sensitive to the deprivation I experienced. But the deprivation wasn’t just from the lack of food. I was a quiet child who felt too fearful to take up space, to have a voice and I kept much of who I was tightly inside. There was disconnection in myself and with others and little sense of belonging.


The deprivation would trigger my Binge Eating Part who would try to soothe the biological and emotional hunger at every opportunity. It would eat as much as was available without being discovered.


My Binge Eating Part would switch between two different strategies. Sometimes it would plan what to eat ahead of time and it would enjoy the taste and texture of the food and the feeling of fullness. This was comforting and provided soothing. Other times, it would zone out and eat in a more disconnected way. This provided a different kind of soothing, more of a numbing effect.


Regardless of the strategy, the Binge Eating would trigger my Purging Part who was also hugely fearful of my body changing. Just like my Restriction Part it was frightened that I would gain weight and draw attention to myself. Attention that might lead to judgement, humiliation and ultimately shame.


Regardless of the strategy, the Binge Eating episodes would trigger increasing fear, guilt and shame. My Purging Part would step in to soothe my distress. It was impulsive and highly activated following a Binge Eating episode and would try to get rid of as much of the food I’d eaten, as quickly as possible.


In the early years it focused on self-induced vomiting. Later, it got hooked into compulsive exercise. My Purging Part would be driven to exercise for hours. Being tired or unwell was not enough to slow the punishing schedule.


The Restriction, Binge Eating and Purging caused my anxiety to rocket (it’s what happens when the body is under significant stress). My Body Checking Part tried hard to calm this anxiety. It would check my weight numerous times a day looking for reassurance. It would look in the mirror or my reflection for any sign, no matter how small, that my body was changing. It would compare parts of my body to how they ‘looked’ an hour before, the day before, the week before. It would also compare parts of my body to others.


These Parts dominated my life for many years. I’d made numerous attempts to resolve my Disordered Eating. I even trained as a therapist. I wanted to learn how to support others like me who struggled with Disordered Eating. I also wanted recovery for myself.


I’d always had a strong Perfectionist Part who worked hard to get things right. It believed that by getting things right I could also avoid humiliation, judgement and ultimately shame. My colleagues would say that I’m addicted to training and I would have to agree. It was my Perfectionist Part driving this addiction.


I undertook eleven years of study and I trained in numerous therapeutic modalities trying to find the answers. Turns out that Disordered Eating is complex and there are biological, psychological and social elements that need addressed. With each training I discovered another piece of the puzzle. I had success supporting many of my clients, but even after working so hard to understand, I was still stuck.


I hated that I was still stuck and wondered if recovery was really even possible for me. That was, until I discovered Parts Work. I learned that I had Parts and that these Parts of me made up my Internal Family. I learned that my Internal Family had been dominated by my Disordered Eating Parts. The needs of the rest of my Internal Family had been largely ignored for decades.


As I learned how to work with my Parts, and listen, not only to my Disordered Eating Parts but others too, my Internal Family began to work together. They began to connect, collaborate and compromise.


I learned how to lead my Parts from a place of compassion and curiosity. I learned that I had no bad Parts. That each of my Parts were working hard to do the best they could to protect me.


I discovered I had Parts with great unmet need and learned how to find ways to meet those needs. This included learning about my relationships and how to bring myself more authentically. How to take up more space without fear, guilt and shame. How to find my voice.


I have reached full recovery and it’s amazing to be here. There are many times throughout my life that I believed it wasn’t possible, not for me anyway.


I’m deeply grateful to my Disordered Eating Parts as they helped me survive in the only way they knew how. I’m also deeply grateful to the Parts who were too stubborn to give up. They stayed the long road, for my clients and for me.


Celia Clark is a Disordered Eating Specialist and Programme Lead for Beyond the Body® an online recovery programme for Disordered Eating based on a Parts Work model.


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