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Why is Challenging “ED” so Difficult?

Parts Theory and ED (Eating Disorders)

Written by Ally Goult MA, RCC

Edited by Amber Whittemore RD, MHSc

A modality that I really love working with when holding space for my clients, is something called parts theory. This is essentially the idea that we are all made up of various different “parts,” and that the more we can work to integrate them back into our greater “self,” the more at peace and at ease we feel. For example, I will often work with the 'anxious part' of my clients, the one that experiences deep fear about the safety of the world, whether we can trust others, what’s going to happen in the future, and so on. This part usually holds people back from being present in their daily life and is very good at convincing us that we have good reason to be fearful and not to have a sense of trust that everything is going to work out alright. The good news is that most people can become quite skilled at challenging this anxious part, often by presenting it with “evidence” that what it is fearful of, is not likely to actually come true. Luckily, when working with these parts of ourselves we often have ample evidence to "disprove" them, because (most often) anxious and depressive thoughts are not being backed up by evidence in the media, our communities, families, etc...

The problem with the 'ED part', in comparison with other parts (like the anxious one), is that the collective culture and society we're surrounded by are overflowing with evidence to support what the 'ED part' is fearful of. For example, the 'ED part' usually tells us something like “no one will think you’re attractive until you become thinner", which is then reinforced time and time again by our society. How many times have we heard, seen, or been made to subtly feel like “thinner is better?” The answer is easy: hundreds upon hundreds of times, from the time we are too little to even talk yet. This is where self-compassion should come in, and why it’s so important that we be gentle with ourselves in understanding why most of us really struggle to effectively challenge our 'ED part'.

Of course, like with anything else, with practice, commitment, and support, we can learn how to challenge our ED part. I would say the difference between challenging this part versus others, is being especially mindful of why we believe the 'ED part' so strongly in the first place. Learning to distance ourselves from what the 'ED part' is scared of, by acknowledging that its entire entity is one toxic message, is very important. This shift in thinking is intended to replace the idea that “I feel this way about myself” with “collective society has taught a part of me to think this way about myself.” Remembering this can help a lot when we are struggling to separate ourselves from our 'ED part', and can also help us have compassion for ourselves when that feels overwhelming!

If you have questions about Parts Theory, or how it could play into your ED recovery, don't hesitate to reach out anytime to our clinic at!


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