Who Am I Without Anorexia?: Finding Purpose, Meaning, and a True Self in Recovery – Part 8

China woman thinking about her inner child and eating disorder treatment

Education & The Inner Child in Eating Disorder Treatment

I’ve worked with several people that we would say have a “subclinical eating disorder.” They don’t necessarily meet the full criteria for an eating disorder, but there are some traits and things that are going on.

When that happens, this is an excellent opportunity for practitioners to provide education for that person and help them understand that they’re “flirting” with an eating disorder, and if they continue in the manner that they’re living, they could be risking their lives.

Don’t be afraid to have these conversations. It could be with somebody who is struggling as a workaholic, and they never eat breakfast because they’re just hurrying up getting to work, and then they skip lunch because they are too busy. As a result, maybe they are only eating dinner. All of this adds up to restricting behavior.

Even if they don’t necessarily have the cognitive or thinking patterns around weight loss, their inner child, and self-worth with weight, this is still flirting around with a dangerous area, so we want to be really careful and make sure that we’re giving people education as needed. This is when having a dietitian involved can be really helpful.

Archetypal Action is one of my favorite areas to do work in because it’s fun. People enjoy it because they get to integrate stories and heroes and all sorts of exciting things. Dream analysis is also an entertaining way of exploring who you are and who you want to be.

Frequently in psychotherapy, we are talking a lot about problems because people are coming to us with a problem that they would like solved. However, we want to make sure that we don’t take the fun and zest out of life and knowing oneself.

These tactics can be an excellent way of rounding out treatment a bit.

Carl Jung talks about “psychic birth,” when children start to differentiate themselves from their parents and begin to understand themselves as a separate entity. Oftentimes, with somebody struggling with anorexia, that differentiation has not happened.

I ask many of the folks I’ve worked with, men and women alike, “do you feel like an adult? or “have you ever truly felt like an adult?” Many times, the answer is “no.” Frequently, they feel under 16 years old or even younger than that depending on what’s going on in their lives.

So, part of what needs to happen throughout the treatment process is that we need to facilitate this psychic birth. When they’re differentiating themselves, family work becomes crucial because the family system, their inner child, or dynamic may have been part of the problem.

The person may have felt there was not enough space for them to become who they truly are. This may have been done out of love or caring for the parent wanting to make sure their child isn’t endangered or never wants for anything but this can also stifle a child’s growth.

Young Girl holding a flowerPart of our job is to help the parents understand how to safely give a person enough space to become who they truly are.

In doing so, we can engage in inner child work, which can be helpful in fostering growth and maturity in someone and help them understand themselves better.

Some things that I often look at is the type of attire that people are wearing and the tone of voice that they take when they are speaking. These aspects can show the age that they feel as if they are.

I have worked with individuals that still wear children’s clothes, sometimes because of the sizes with their weight loss but also because they don’t feel like an adult, and it feels awkward to them to buy adult clothes.

Recognizing when a person is still feeling like a child can guide the treatment process and help them grow and become a more mature self. They can help their inner child mature.

Some ways to promote change in this area is to have people repeat back things that they had just said in a different tone of voice that matches their age better or encourages them to try to dress differently one day. I may ask, “for one of our sessions, do you think that you could try to dress as the age that you are rather than the age that you feel and just see how it goes?”

This could create a number of different problems, as they may simply not have the clothing that they need and shopping is something that we also want to be very careful about because they will need a lot of support during the first shopping trip of somebody who has grown out of the clothes that they wore in the throes of anorexia.

Often, I advise they have a therapy session either that same day or shortly thereafter to process what that was like for them.


Please See

Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 1
Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 2
Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 3
Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 4
Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 5
Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 6
Who Am I Without Anorexia? Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Your True Self in Recovery – Part 7


Virtual Presentation by Nicole Karst in the May 17, 2018, Eating Disorder Hope Online Conference II: Anorexia Hope & Healing in 2018.

Please view the press release Here.

Author: Nicole Karst, MA LVNNicole Karst – Lead Therapist at Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Treatment Programs

Nicole Karst has 17 years of combined experience in the health and mental health fields. After completing her service in the military as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman, she started a career in nursing. It was through her nursing experience that she began working with those diagnosed with eating disorders, substance use disorders, psychotic disorders, and mood disorders. This experience inspired Nicole to return to school, and she is graduating this spring with a doctoral degree in Clinical Forensic Psychology.

Nicole’s experience includes individual and group therapy, psychodiagnostic assessments, mindfulness meditation, and medical assessing/monitoring of complications related to eating disorders. She joined the leadership team at Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Treatment Program from Casa Palmera.

Nicole combines a psychodynamic case conceptualization with cognitive behavioral interventions, guided imagery, logotherapy and somatic awareness in her treatment approach. She works with those she serves to cultivate their ability to eat intuitively, exercise mindfully, engage life with purpose and meaning, and discover who they are in the absence of maladaptive behavior.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Transcript Editor: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 30, 2018.
Reviewed & Approved on July 30, 2018, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com