The Eating Disorder Self versus The Healthy Self is one of the most valuable tools I use as a Soul-Centred Psychotherapist and Carolyn Costin Eating Disorder Coach. Carolyn and Jeanette discuss this concept in the below video (not available at the moment!).
The Eating Disorder Self versus The Healthy Self
Deep down inside the soul, we each have a core self which is healthy, whole and unbroken, that for whatever reason, had to go into hiding. You can read more about how we are whole in my Recovery Warriors guest post: Move Beyond the Brokenness and Connect With the Place That Has Never Been Broken
We also develop parts which typically grow to take care of us and help us get our neglected basic, safety, belonging, esteem and love needs met. The Healthy Self and the Eating Disorder Self are akin to psychosynthesis subpersonalities, Jungian subselves, transactional analysis ego states and more recently internal family systems. As an overall theory, this is known as ‘parts’ work.
The different parts of us are made up of their own set of (internalised) thoughts, voices, feelings, sensations, roles, behaviours, and even postures. When we become overidentified with one of our parts, our psyche has been hijacked. The more we listen, the more it grows and the stronger our identity with that part becomes. In time, the Eating Disorder Self feels like that is all of who we are.
This video talks about the Eating Disorder Self but it could even be other disordered eating parts that we become overidentified with such as Debbie Dieter or The Clean Eater or The Keto Queen. Carolyn also mentions in the video that it could be known as ‘The Monster Inside of Me’. You may recognise this part in you by statements such as:
“No wonder you are such a fat pig”
“Tomorrow, we start our diet but for now, let’s eat the whole lot”
“You must stick to these food rules, otherwise you will get fat”
“You don’t deserve to eat anything”
“Carbs are evil, we don’t do carbs”
Our inner world of characters has developed over time via what we call in psychology – the false or adaptive self. The original purpose was for these parts to protect us and to help us cope with the lack of attunement from caregivers, early childhood emotional neglect or trauma. They also help us to be seen and heard, with emotional regulation and getting our needs met if they weren’t primary in our family of origin.
However…what starts out as a protective mechanism, eventually becomes a self-imposed prison.
The crazy thing is, when we begin to dive deep into the different parts, we realise that we would NEVER speak to our own children, or another human being the way the Eating Disorder Self speaks to us. By recognising this polarity, is how we start to get in touch with, and build the Healthy Self. The Healthy Self is also known as the True Self, the Authentic Self and at a deeper level, the Soul Self.
I remember the first time in my own therapy, which was over 20 years ago, my therapist took me through a body, feelings, mind and soul meditation which helped me to get in touch with my Soul Self – the part of me that is whole and unbroken, the essence of myself, a place to come home to that is safe and secure. I couldn’t believe that I was NOT my eating disorder. Just like Carolyn talks about in this video, this is probably the most important concept in addiction, trauma or disordered eating recovery.
So, what does this all mean?
It means we need to focus on building the Healthy Self.
We don’t get rid of the Eating Disorder Self because she has served us well (and it feels scary to even think about getting rid of her!). Besides, imagine if we said to the Eating Disorder Self,
“Go away, I don’t want you anymore, you cause me too much trouble’.
How do you think she might feel?
What do you think she will do next?
I know what mine would have said and done…
“Fuck you, even you don’t want me, I am going to eat and eat and eat because food is the only friend I have.”
“Now I feel fat and disgusting so I am going to start another diet tomorrow.“
Or she might say,
“I’m so unworthy even you don’t want me anymore, I don’t deserve to eat at all, I would be better off dead.”
So, we welcome this part in with open arms and we take care of her like we would a child who needs our acceptance, care, compassion, love and support. We don’t get rid of her because she carries value, meaning and purpose. Depth exploration in therapy around the of the value, meaning and purpose of the Eating Disorder Self will ultimately lead us to depth exploration of our early relationships, our feelings and our needs.
Recovery won’t mean that we will always hear this voice and having to spend the rest of our lives trying to ward it off – that notion comes from 12 steps where we are always one day at a time. Once we have welcomed the Eating Disorder Self in, she becomes fully integrated and we don’t have the need for those behaviours anymore. Carolyn Costin says. “We do however, still have our sensitivities, our alarm systems, our traits, but we learn to use those for the good.” She mentions in the video how her perfectionist is great at keeping COVID safe! Mine too.
Ultimately, recovery – whether it is from chronic dieting, cleaning eating or an eating disorder – requires us to get to know and build a relationship with the different parts of who we are. In order to strengthen the Healthy Self, we can ‘reach out’ to others (even though that might feel super scary) or we can journal before we do whatever it is we are doing with our food i.e. right before the actual binge. We call this ‘reaching in’. Other ways of reaching in might be to soothe ourselves with a weighted blanket or to express our feelings through movement.
We also need to feed the Soul Self – bring in more and more of that which connects us to self, others and the earth – dancing, connection with the land, gardening, a sad or joyous movie, yoga – whatever makes your heart sing.
If you are looking for support with your eating disorder, check out my 10-week Carolyn Costin Eating Disorder Coaching Program