Updated: Oct 11
Medically reviewed by Serena Benali, Registered Dietitian. Published April 11, 2023
Have you ever found yourself consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time, feeling a lack of control over your eating? This behaviour is commonly known as binge eating, which can be a symptom of disordered eating patterns. It can be challenging to overcome, but Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy offers a helpful approach to addressing binge eating and other disordered eating patterns.
In this blog we’ll share what binge eating and internal family systems are, how IFS can help remove shame from, and end the cycle of binge eating.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating is characterized by consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time while experiencing a lack of control over eating. It can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment, causing individuals to isolate themselves and hide their eating habits from others.
If you’re here post binge, be sure to check out our blog on: what to do after a binge to break the cycle.
What is Internal Family Systems?
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on the internal parts of ourselves that influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
According to IFS, everyone has a "Self," which is the core of our being and contains our innate qualities, such as compassion and curiosity. Along with the Self, we have various "parts" that can hold different emotions, beliefs, and motivations. These parts can range from protective to vulnerable, and they may have different roles and functions within us. IFS helps individuals explore and understand these parts, as well as the relationships between them, to promote healing and personal growth.
IFS helps individuals identify and understand the different parts of themselves involved in binge eating, such as the part that engages in the behaviour (firefighters), the part that tries to control the behaviour (managers), and the part that feels vulnerable and triggers the behaviour (exiles).
By recognizing these parts, individuals can develop compassion and curiosity toward their behaviour and begin to work toward healing.
Through IFS, individuals can also identify and address the underlying emotions and triggers that lead to binge eating. By developing a deeper understanding of these emotions, individuals can learn to regulate them in a healthier way and ultimately reduce their dependence on binge eating as a coping mechanism.
How parts often show up with binge eating
The first part is the part that feels compelled to binge eat. This part is often referred to as the "binge eater" or the "firefighter" part. The binge eater is responsible for dealing with emotional crises by engaging in behaviours that distract us, such as binge-eating. This part may feel overwhelmed, stressed, or emotional, and uses food as a coping mechanism.
The second part is the part that tries to control the binge eating behaviour. This part is often referred to as the "manager" part. The manager is responsible for maintaining control and making sure we function well in society. This part may set strict rules around eating and may judge the binge eating behaviour harshly.
Finally, there may be an "exile" part involved in binge eating. This part may feel vulnerable or emotionally wounded, and may be seeking comfort through food.
IFS removes shame and blame from binge eating
One of the key concepts in Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is externalizing the problem, which involves separating the individual from the problematic behaviour or thought pattern. This can be especially helpful for individuals struggling with binge eating, as it allows them to view their behaviour as a part of them, rather than defining them as a person.
Through externalizing the problem, IFS therapy removes blame and shame from binge eating and the individual. Instead IFS recognizes that the behaviour is a result of a protective mechanism. This can help individuals approach their behaviour with a sense of curiosity and compassion, rather than judgment and self-criticism.
In the context of binge eating, externalizing the problem can help individuals recognize that the behaviour is not a personal failing, but rather a response to an underlying emotional trigger or need. With IFS, individuals can learn to identify and communicate with the parts of themselves that are driving the behaviour, allowing for deeper healing and lasting change.
Externalizing the problem through IFS therapy can be a powerful tool for individuals struggling with binge eating, providing a compassionate and non-judgmental approach to understanding and overcoming the behaviour.
How IFS can help with binge eating:
Binge eating is a complex and challenging issue that can have a significant impact on an individual's physical and emotional well-being. While traditional approaches to treating binge eating often focus on external factors such as diet and exercise, Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy offers a unique and effective approach that addresses the underlying emotional triggers that contribute to unhealthy eating habits and an unhealthy relationship with food.
IFS therapy helps individuals to recognize and work with their internal "parts," which can provide a deeper understanding of emotional triggers and lead to a healthier relationship with food. Below, we will explore how IFS therapy can aid in the treatment of binge eating.
1. Identifying Triggers:
IFS can help individuals with binge eating identify the triggers that lead to their binge eating episodes. With the help of a therapist or on their own, individuals can use IFS techniques to understand the underlying emotions and beliefs that trigger their binge eating.
2. Healing Emotional Wounds:
Binge eating is often linked to emotional wounds from the past that have not been properly addressed. IFS can help individuals identify and heal these wounds through working with their internal parts.
3. Developing Self-Compassion:
Many individuals with binge eating struggle with self-criticism and negative self-talk. IFS can help individuals develop self-compassion and learn to treat themselves with kindness and understanding.
4. Overcoming Shame:
Shame is a common emotion associated with binge eating. IFS can help individuals recognize and overcome feelings of shame through working with their internal parts.
5. Learning to Listen to Your Body:
Binge eating often involves ignoring the body's natural hunger and fullness cues. IFS can help individuals learn to listen to their body and develop a healthier relationship with food.
6. Improving Self-Awareness:
IFS can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours related to binge eating. This increased self-awareness can help individuals make healthier choices and prevent future binge eating episodes.
7. Developing Coping Skills:
IFS can help individuals develop coping skills that they can use instead of binge eating when faced with difficult emotions or situations.
IFS offers a unique and effective approach to addressing the underlying emotional triggers that contribute to binge eating. By working with our internal "parts" and cultivating self-compassion, individuals can develop a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. With the help of IFS therapy, individuals can find lasting healing and freedom from the cycle of binge eating.
If you want to explore IFS You can find our top three self-help books for exploring IFS for disordered eating recovery.
Key takeaways: How IFS can help you overcome binge eating
By working with these different parts and understanding their needs, individuals can begin to make more conscious choices about their behaviours around food.
For example, by working with the binge eater part, individuals can learn to identify and address the underlying emotional triggers that may be driving the behaviour. By working with the manager part, individuals can learn to set more realistic goals around eating and reduce the pressure to adhere to strict rules. By working with the exile part, individuals can learn to find healthier ways to soothe and comfort themselves that do not involve food.
Incorporating IFS into binge eating treatment can help individuals develop a more compassionate and balanced relationship with food. By understanding and addressing the needs of each part, individuals can begin to find more effective ways to cope with their emotions and reduce the need for disordered eating patterns.
Serena Benali is a registered dietitian who offers a unique and effective approach to nutrition counselling through IFS therapy. With a deep understanding of the complexity of disordered eating and the impact it can have on one's overall health and well-being, Serena provides a safe and supportive environment for her clients to explore their relationships with food and their bodies.
Through IFS, clients can identify and understand the different parts of themselves that are at play in their disordered eating patterns. This allows clients to develop a deeper sense of self-awareness, self-compassion, and ultimately, the ability to cultivate a healthy and sustainable relationship with food.
If you are struggling with binge eating and looking for a compassionate and effective approach to nutrition counselling, Serena Benali's IFS approach may be the solution you've been searching for. Contact us today to book a session and begin your journey towards healing and growth.