May 24, 2012
Discover how a conflict between two parts of our personalities, the part that wants to lose weight and the part that doesn’t, prevent us from achieving weight loss.
A ”Fond Farewell” Article
When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags.
This is the fourth of seven articles on the topic of weight loss that appear on Thursdays. See the Getting Lighter Weight Loss Program, on May 3, to get you started.
THE TALE OF THREE WHO GOT LIGHTER
By Jill Place, MA, RD
Call Me Crazy
I always think that my clients will call me crazy when I tell them that we have at least two parts to our personalities, one that wants to lose weight and one that doesn’t. I always think they’ll call me crazy. But they don’t. Instead they smile and say, “I know EXACTLY what you mean!”
I’ve dieted all my life. But when I decided to quit dieting and Get Lighter instead, I realized that I had a little voice inside of me. A voice that was growing louder by the moment. A voice that was SCREAMING at me to binge on whole cakes and boxes of red licorice. It was then that I realized that there was someone inside of me that was more scared than I was to give up dieting.
I found out that the little voice screaming inside of me was called a sub-personality. I’m not a therapist, but I worked with one at that time that believed that recognizing sub-personalities was an important part of healing your psyche. As a matter of fact, there’s a whole model of psychotherapy called the Psychosynthesis model. Its goal is to heal the relationship between these splintered sub-personalities that compel you to do things you might not want to do and your Healthy Self or Higher Self-the part of you that does everything for your greatest good.
Recognizing that you have different sub-personalities doesn’t mean that you’re hearing voices, have multiple personalities, or that you’re crazy. But it may mean that at some time in your life you had some kind of emotional upset or subtle ongoing stresses from family dynamics. Families also pass on a way of behaving that may have to do with the time they grew up, their temperament And began to use food or other behaviors to soothe that upset. And in time those collection of behaviors may have created within you a whole sub-personality that perceived and reacted to the world very differently than your Healthy Self.
The Overeating Self
I call the overeating sub-personality the Overeating Self. When I had my eating disorder, my Overeating Self and Healthy Self were always at war over what and how much they should eat. And the Overeating Self often won. When I seriously started to Get Lighter, I began to make friends with the Overeating Self-the part that was so scared-the part that was screaming.
My mother had stuffed me with food almost from birth because I was a very sickly child. Then they took out my tonsils and I got better. My mother stopped stuffing me. But I started stuffing myself. My first closet eating began about age four right after my tonsils were removed and I started feeling better. I eventually developed an eating disorder. The Overeating Self sub-personality became stronger and stronger and eventually ruled a large part of my life.
The journey out of my eating disorder was mostly about making friends with my Overeating Self. And understanding why she used food as a coping mechanism. And honoring how she developed that coping mechanism as a way to deal with the world around her. She’s now my closest friend. And she’s also stopped stuffing.
So when I started counseling overeating clients, I made it a point to explain about the Overeating Self. And no one called me crazy. As a matter of fact, I met people who had more than one self-more than one sub-personality-who was controlling their eating. Here’s the compelling stories of just a few of them.
I first had an inkling that some people may have more than one sub-personality that contributed to their overeating when I met Linda. Linda was a patient at the last HMO that I worked at, and tracked me down after I left to start my private practice. Linda had tried this diet, that diet, Overeater’s Anonymous, and hypnosis to stop her ballooning weight. And was more out of control with her eating than ever. She told me that my way of approaching overeating was the only thing that made sense to her after years of trying other things. We worked with her Overeating Self for six months but couldn’t seem to get anywhere with her weight or boosting her sagging self esteem.
Then Linda came in one day with a character analysis of three separate parts of her that might be contributing to her problem neatly typed on a piece of paper. I still have that paper in my files. Doing that process was a huge breakthrough for Linda. And a breakthrough for me in my work with sub-personalities.
The sub-personality that she called Little Linda, who was about four, was very different from my four-year-old closet eater. She was carefree, happy, knew who she was, and didn’t overeat. But something must have happened to Linda about age six or seven, because her demeanor totally changed. Middle Linda was sullen, withdrawn, and often went to the store down the block for a candy binge. But Older Linda, tottering on puberty at age 11, was very much like Little Linda-happy, carefree, enjoying her early puberty, her woman’s body, and her sudden popularly with the boys.
All this time we were talking to the wrong Linda! We found that, if we talked directly to Middle Linda, we were able to find out some of the reasons why Linda overate and hated herself so much for it. And, the more we found out, the more Linda could eat moderately and stop a binge before it started.
But we were also able to tap into the wonderful energies of Little Linda and Older Linda and work on the poor self-esteem that was also feeding Linda’s eating. Linda, once a performer, was then a full-time housewife. Although she loved her husband, children, and home, she had no creative outlet. I encouraged her to get involved in little theatre groups or express herself in other ways.
Today, Linda is still overweight. But she says she’s accepted herself the way she is. In other words, she’s made peace with Middle Linda. She’s lost about twenty-five pounds overall, kept it off, and doesn’t obsess much about food. She’s also the star of her little theatre group and recently got an agent and is pursuing an acting career. She also discovered she has a talent for art and is pursuing that too. Linda now has it all, self-acceptance, self-esteem, and the love of her family and community.
Steve is one of my best friends. He’s ebullient, eminently creative, and larger than life. As a matter of fact, he weighed over 400 pounds at one time. Obviously, Steve has struggled with his weight since he was a small child. Through our work on the Overeating Self, Steve discovered that he had two distinct overeating personalities which he calls Big Steve and Little Steve.
It was important to identify these two personalities because both constantly prodded Steve to overeat in different ways. We found that Little Steve liked sweets, while Big Steve liked starches. So, like Linda, Steve had to negotiate with the right sub-personality to get his overeating under control. He constantly talked with both of them and was able to talk them out of overeating more and more.
At my urging, and with the permission of his “Two Steves”, Steve also went on a low-carbohydrate diet. Because he was so overweight, Steve most likely had what is called insulin resistance, or Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome makes it more difficult for very overweight people to lose weight. Because he is so creative and loves to cook, Steve was able to find and prepare low-carbohydrate alternatives to the “Two Steves'” favorite foods.
As a result of his diet change and asking permission from the “Two Steves” to change his eating behaviors, Steve lost 100 pounds. He’s still on the journey, but has been able to get a handle on his weight and overeating for the first time in almost fifty years.
Paul has two overeating sub-personalities that define the overeating process for me. He calls one of them “The Animal.” According to Paul, The Animal is that mindless force inside us that he has to feed at all costs. To me, The Animal is the archetypal nurturing of the body, mind, and spirit. This archetype can be fed in many ways. But Paul feeds his Animal primarily with food.
The other sub-personality Paul calls “The Evil Genius.” It’s the job of the Evil Genius to plot and plan and get the Animal whatever he needs to eat. I think all of us that overeat have an Evil Genius inside that’s plotting our next meal. The Animal must be fed and the Evil Genius will move heaven and earth to feed him.
Paul’s still on the path with coming to terms with the Animal and the Evil Genius. And I applaud him for identifying and talking to these intense primal parts of himself. I think they terrify him sometimes. He still feels that he has to feed the Animal at all costs. But now he’s aware of them. And with awareness comes a possible strategy for dealing with these overeating personalities in a positive way.
Paul’s exercising almost every day, which he never did before. He cooks and eats low-fat meals. And he’s beginning to want to make better food choices when he eats out, which he thinks is a problem area for him. He’s on the path to coming to terms with these sub-personalities in his life.
How to Get a Handle on Your Overeating Self
You can see by my stories that you may be able to get a handle on your overeating by meeting the parts of you that compel you to overeat. There are actually many ways to do this, such as:
- Meeting with a qualified professional, such as a Nutrition Therapist, who can role-play and/or use guided imagery to help you connect with your Overeating Selves
- Becoming aware of what the Overeating Self is saying to you by meditating or just listening
- Drawing a picture of your Overeating Self and coloring it in with markers, watercolors, or any other type of art media. The more specific the image becomes, the better you will be able to address it.
- Writing or journaling a dialogue of the Overeating Self talking to the Healthy Self
- Using guided imagery. Guided imagery is a terrific tool for connecting with your Overeating Self. For more information about guided imagery, please read Getting Lighter with Guided Imagery in this section. There are also many guided imagery scripts in this section and on this website that may start you on the journey.
© Copyright 2002 Jill Place, MA, RD