Internal Family Systems, or IFS. Everyone’s talking about it! Glennon Doyle, Tim Ferriss, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Martha Beck … the list goes on.
And they’re talking about it with passion—because it’s transformed their lives in unexpected and unprecedented ways.
What exactly is Internal Family Systems (IFS) and what’s it got to do with food?
If you’ve ever felt any kind of inner conflict, you’ll be familiar with the idea of having different perspectives within your personal experience.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
- Part of me knows I’ll feel great and do myself a lot of good by going for a run. But another part of me wants to lie on the sofa and eat cake.
- Part of me is driving hard to power through my to-do list. But another part of me thinks, “F*** it, what’s the point? Let’s live a little!”
- Part of me believes it’ll be good to go to the party, meet new people and be sociable. But another part of me gets so anxious and needs a couple of drinks before I can put myself out there.
If those phrases resonate at all, you already have an intuitive understanding of the idea of parts.
We all have many parts inside us. The differing inner-voices and opinions are completely normal and aren’t a sign of a split-personality or any psychological disorder.
How does recognising internal parts make a difference to bingeing and overeating?
Sometimes, overeating or bingeing can feel automatic—as if it happens without conscious choice or control.
But something is always driving the eating—a belief, a feeling, a longing or an attempt to avoid pain.
In other words, a part of us wants or needs to eat because it can’t see another way to cope in the moment.
It almost always turns out those parts that drive you to eat—the parts you probably don’t like very much at all!—are actually trying to help you.
Connecting with different inner parts offers the opportunity to understand what’s behind an eating pattern that you’re likely desperate to change.
How to get to know your parts
Getting to know a part is a type of internal dialogue—similar to the thoughts that race around our minds all the time, but with more structure and intention.
It involves moving closer to an emotion or reaction and beginning to understand it better.
Have you ever basked in how good it feels to be able to share your genuine experience without the fear of judgement or someone talking over you? It feels wonderful to be acknowledged and listened to, right?
Parts feel exactly the same. They love to be listened to, understood and validated. And, just like people, if they’re given space to feel heard, they begin to relax a little and share more.
Eventually, with understanding and support, a part will be able to pull back from a harmful or hurtful behaviour.
That’s when a reliance on food—for reasons other than to fuel the body—can ease and the bingeing or overeating stops.
The science behind Internal Family Systems (IFS)
If all this sounds a bit too out-there, you might be interested to know the IFS approach was developed by the renowned clinician and family therapist, Dr. Richard Schwartz.
IFS is backed up by clinical trials and peer-reviewed academic papers. It’s been found to help with a broad range of issues from addiction, anorexia and arthritis, to trauma, troubled relationships and rock-bottom self-worth.
If you’d like to hear more AND listen to IFS in action, check our this brilliant conversation between Dr. Rangan Chatterjee and Dr. Richard Schwartz in the Feel Better, Live More podcast, episode #244, This Therapy Change My Life And It Could Do the Same For You: Internal Family Systems with Dr Richard Schwartz.
The healing and transformative power of IFS is the very reason it’s being talked about so much.
And IFS is especially relevant to binge eating and overeating.
Schwartz formulated much of his approach through working with young people who were bingeing as part of a cycle of bulimia. He found they had parts that were bingeing and purging in an effort to protect them and that, if those parts were listened to and understood with genuine compassion, they could soften back and the bingeing stopped.
The parts of you that are causing you to do things you don’t want to be doing, are almost always trying to protect you in some way.
They’re likely to be compensating for a vulnerability or hurt, perhaps caused much earlier in your life.
IFS offers a groundbreaking way to release that hurt and to heal. Rather than change an event that happened in the past—which is, of course, impossible—IFS helps reframe the memory so it becomes much less threatening.
In turn, neural pathways in the brain are reprogrammed so you don’t feel nearly as triggered.
The Internal Family Systems approach helps release you from past cycles of painful behaviour so you’re empowered to move toward your authentic desires.
Discover if the IFS approach feels right for you. Click here for a guided worksheet to help you connect with a part of you.