One of the areas of life that seems the most problematic in today’s society is the issue of food’s role and purpose in our lives. Is food fuel for the body? Is it an emotional warm blanket when we’re feeling down? Is it an expression of celebration that reinforces and even creates relationships? Is it a treat at the end of a long day?
To most of us, food is all of the above – and more. In past Monday Motivators, we have discussed how our attitudes towards and choices around food can and often do fluctuate frequently – sometimes even in the course of a single day – and how confusing and conflicting such fluctuations can be.
In the scientific principle known as Occum’s Razor, the “simplest explanation tends to be the right one.” In the case of food, this principle would deduce that food is fuel for the body, plain and simple, no more and no less.
But try telling that to the part of us that wants chocolate cake when we’ve just experienced a breakup. Just try to explain that to the part of us that thinks the best way to motivate us to make healthier choices is to yell “good choice as usual, Lardo” when we are enjoying a bag of chips. Or how about when our date suggests sharing a decadent dessert as the perfect end to a romantic evening…how likely are we to explain to him or her, “Well, truffles aren’t an item my body really needs for nutrients so I’ll have to decline, but thanks anyway.”
Not at all likely, right?
In Internal Family Systems (IFS), we might instead begin to assign names to these seemingly disagreeing parts of ourselves, and then to decode what their real message, purpose, and role is in our lives.
For instance, the Inner Controller is always going to tell us what we think we need, rather than want, to hear – declining that truffle, using self-disrespecting language, doing whatever it takes to keep us on the dietary straight and narrow.
The Inner Indulger, on the other hand, will eschew discipline for pleasure every time. The Indulger loves romantic truffles, sees nothing wrong with a delicious bag of chips, and wouldn’t think twice about offering its suffering self some chocolate cake in recompense for a bad day.
The small gap or vast expanse that exists between the Indulger and the Controller is what students of IFS learn to call the “Pleasure Polarity.” Managing the pleasure polarity, and more than that, hearing, affirming, and guiding the Indulger and Controller to learn to (gasp) get along is what a student of IFS will become adept at.
IFS students understand that each voice comes to us with a desire not to harm, not to degrade, but to support and protect us. As we walk the guided path of IFS, we will understand what our parts already understand – that we have needs that food can provide for, and that each part thinks it knows best how to care for us and meet those needs. We will perceive with tremendous clarity and newfound hope how each voice, in its own weird and wonderful way, has our best interests at heart – and is often willing to fight to the death on our behalf against another voice with an opposing opinion.
So how do we help these parts of ourselves stop squabbling and get along as they each seek the same goal – our wellbeing?
We have to first understand that each voice has a point. In between the Indulger and the Controller we find not just the Pleasure Polarity, but the Support Polarity and the Power Polarity. In the Support Polarity, we must balance the Indulger’s neediness and the Controller’s need for denial. In the Power Polarity, we must recognize our tendency to people-please against our desire to rigidly control ourselves and others.
When you become a student of IFS, you begin to walk the path of balance and moderation with wisdom, confidence, and self-compassion. You “get” yourself – in all your various parts – in a new and deeper way. You can make better choices when you understand that all of these parts or facets of you are all you – all valid, all worthy of a voice, all worthy of respect, appreciation, and satisfaction. As this understanding becomes established within, you become better able to evaluate the choices before you and make a fair assessment of each part’s needs, the airtime you will allow each to have, and your need to make sure that one is not over-indulged while one is ostracized.
Or, to once again apply the principle of Occum’s Razor, we could simply say that you will begin to realize that when a part of you hurts, you hurt. And when a part of you heals, you heal.
If you are struggling to balance the competing needs, demands, and desires you feel inside of you when it comes to making healthy food choices, Internal Family Systems can help. At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of experience guiding individuals to meet and exceed their food-related recovery, health, and wellness goals. Whether you are just seeking a tune-up in the New Year or part of your bigger picture for 2010 includes a complete overhaul in your nutritional lifestyle, we look forward to partnering with you to help you say “no” to inner conflict at the table and YES to your own healthy, happy, and whole life! Visit us at www.southlakecounseling.com today!