How Inner Child Work Can Help You Stop Binge Eating
I struggled with binge eating for a good decade and for so long I thought I just needed more willpower. I got caught in a cycle of dieting and over exercising to try to control the binge eating behaviour. What I’ve come to understand is that binge eating is just a symptom of something deeper. It’s not the problem, but a solution that’s working for you on some level. We live in a culture that teaches us behaviour change at the behaviour level, which relies on willpower. Willpower is finite so we end up sabotaging ourselves and feeling like failures. Controlling the behaviour is an external fix, for what actually requires an internal solution. To truly shift on a deeper level, we need to understand what need the behaviour is meeting and learn to meet that need in more aligned ways. To do this, we need to look underneath the food.
Enter inner child work. The inner child is often the part of us that developed these coping mechanisms, like binge eating, to stay safe, as she didn’t have the understanding or ability to deal with painful, uncomfortable emotions. This is the part of us that internalized experiences and made them mean something about ourselves. “I’m not worthy.” “I’m a failure.” “I’m not good enough.” “I need to be this way or others won’t like me.” Until we bring this part of us into our awareness, it stays in the shadow and acts out in different ways that often make us feel like we’ve regressed and it’s because it’s this part of us just trying to be heard and seen.
Our inner child has needs and when this part of us still only exists in our subconscious, she will find external ways to meet those needs. This often looks like self-sabotaging behaviour. Binge eating can be a big part of this. She can be using food to meet her need for variety or certainty, which gives her a sense of safety. I’ll take a guess and say that there are probably more behaviours that aren’t aligned with your authentic self, than just binge eating. So often this part of ourselves will try to meet her need for love and connection through relationships, that aren’t healthy or fully aligned.
The other thing with the inner child is this is often the part of us that gets triggered. Triggers are old wounds being activated and this part of us then reacts from a wounded place and when we aren’t aware of this, we just gain more evidence to beat ourselves up with. So often with triggers the inner child part of you is what turns to food to self-soothe. These triggers can be so subconscious as well and all we see are the behaviours. Again, we just think we’re lacking willpower, which actually has nothing to do with it.
When you reconnect with your inner child and start to build a deeper awareness you can start to understand what she needs when triggered. Instead of turning to a behaviour like binge eating, which is only keeping this part of you safe, you can learn to self-soothe internally. The more we connect with our inner child’s needs and meet these ourselves, instead of running on autopilot with her sabotaging us, the less these behaviours show up. Self-soothing internally is about learning to self-regulate, when the nervous system is activated. It’s deep work and it’s not a quick fix.
For the purpose of this blog post, I want to share how you can begin to build a relationship with the inner child part of you. Here are 4 of my favourite ways to connect with my inner child:
Writing your inner child a letter. Let her know that you are sorry for abandoning her and that you love her unconditionally. Turn this into a ritual by creating space for yourself to give this your full attention. Find somewhere quiet, light some candles and play soft music. Be very intentional and write this letter from the heart. Bonus points if you have a picture of yourself as a child you can also look at while writing the letter. Let whatever needs to be said flow out onto paper.
Feel into your heart and say “I see you.” So often all our inner child wants is to be acknowledged. By acknowledging her daily, you’re creating that connection and building trust with her. This important piece here is that you are feeling that compassion, acceptance and love for her.
Dance to favourite goofy song for the sheet joy of it. The more playful the better! So many of us have lost the expression of play, as we’ve gotten older and in the process suppressed our inner child’s desire for play and fun. Food can become the only source of that if we don’t acknowledge her desire for play.
When experiencing a trigger learn to self-soothe your inner child. Do this by sitting and allowing yourself to feel the emotional pain. So often we feel that visceral response in our body to something someone says or does and then we push it down and or react. Even if this still happens, come back to yourself and remember this part of you. Wrap your arms around yourself in a hug or rub your heart, as you let your inner child know that you love her. Triggers are often arrows pointing us in the direction of where our inner child needs more healing.