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Inner Child Healing For Food, Emotional Eating, And The Inner Rebel

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Last updated on October 6, 2020

If you have tried every diet under the sun, worked with every nutritionist, tried Overeaters Anonymous …

But still you have compulsive food cravings, irrational behavior and binge eating… then you need to look under the last stone unturned – your inner child healing.

It’s rare to have a perfect childhood, filled only with attunement and joy. Many people in fact experience various traumas growing up. 

As children who get wounded, we don’t have journaling skills. We don’t know how to cope with our emotions. As a child you were vulnerable, weak and desperately needed your parents’ love and affection. However, whether due to neglect, abuse or bad circumstances, you may have felt tremendous pain. 

And you may have buried this pain deep within you. 

Now this pain may be repeating itself in your adult life. Just like your childhood self, you may be burying this pain deep inside of you with food. 

Thich Nhat Hanh, revered Buddhist monk, in his book Reconciliation teaches that we all have an inner child calling out, but that rather than face the pain, we often forget instead or bury our pain with food. 

But hiding pain doesn’t work. Many times people try to control the pain instead of forgetting the pain. For example, dieting and various weight loss programs are often subconscious attempts to control the pain. 

However, neither forgetting or controlling with food works in the long run. In the long run, controlling our pain with restrictive diets just leads to:

  • Mentally obsessing about food
  • Feeling tremendous shame and the drive for perfection around food
  • Living a restricted life with less friends, more fear and lacking a sense of meaning
  • Negative health outcomes like heart strain from yo yo dieting

Fortunately, you can learn inner child healing. While this topic is complex, in this article I will attempt to provide:

  1. Inner child healing definitions and big-picture mindsets
  2. The general guidelines to start practicing inner child healing
  3. Specific actions to practice inner child healing

The good news is that often inner child healing is the missing key. We can reconnect to a lost part of ourselves and in turn, see miraculous transformations in our current relationships both with food and ourselves.

Let’s first start out with some basic definitions to understand the inner child healing work.

What In The Heck Is My Inner Child Self That Needs Healing?

hungry kid holding up a sign that reads 'i'm hungry'

Let’s define a few quick terms to better understand our inner child. 

Your wounded inner child refers to patterns developed in childhood with respect to trauma or neglect.

  • A profound sense that you are a failure deep down
  • Abandonment paranoia and fears of someone leaving 
  • Self doubt that permeates your general view of the world
  • Extreme difficulty in saying “no”
  • Impulsive, self-seeking approach towards pleasure without regard to consequences

As a child, being neglected or experiencing trauma would be too painful to consciously process. So your unconscious mind developed a protective ‘ego’ which helped cover up your inner wounded child.

Your “ego” over-protects your inner wounded child and can manifest behaviors such as:

  • Using food to protect your inner child from stressful, hurtful relationships, and even just minor life frustrations
  • Procrastination, and pushing love/support away – self-defeating behaviors to keep you “safe” because you are afraid of changing. Impatience and impulsiveness because you can’t handle uncertainty or ambiguity

The goal of reconnecting and healing your inner child is, in Buddhist terms, to find your “dharma”. Or, in modern day psychology terms, the goal of inner child healing is becoming an “integrated” adult.

This is one of the main reasons I love the work of healing eating problems. Through healing,  you figure out who you really are. You uncover your dharma. 

Here are some signs of healing inner child transformation, as you begin integrating, connecting and healing your inner child:

  • You can feel your body and your body’s sensations
  • You can understand and know what you are emotionally experiencing
  • You’re practicing self-love and self-care (and even if you don’t feel 100% worthy, don’t worry because nobody does anyways)
  • You can tolerate conflict, ambiguity, uncertainty
  • You are able to be compassionate to oneself instead of critical, can handle multiple “inner” voices without falling apart

Ok, so I hope this little overview of inner child healing helps you understand the big picture. Basically your inner child is within you, from your childhood. Through healing and reconnecting you can discover more of who you really are.

Now let’s talk about some general guidelines to go about healing your inner wounded child.

How Do I Reconnect With My Inner Child? 

1 – Acknowledge

For starters, everyone has an inner child. Literally every human. Every human once had a childhood, so every human has an inner child.

From a neuroscience perspective, about 80% of the human brain is formed within the first 3 years of life. This foundation is what compromises our ‘inner child’.

Fortunately however, neuroscience also speaks about the concept of ‘neuroplasticity’, which is growing new brain cells and connections. Even as an adult, you do this.  This means you can develop a new way of relating to yourself.

Now admittedly, it might feel strange acknowledging you have an inner child. And importantly, it might feel strange to admit this inner child within is impacting your current relationship to food and other people. Indeed it may sound weird to admit that this inner child may have a certain mind of its own!

The really helpful step involves seeing how your food habits mimic your early childhood relationships. 

For example, perhaps when you find yourself staring at the fridge late at night, you hear a scolding voice in your head. This scolding voice instinctively makes you want to rebel, and so you eat the ice cream in a fit of anger.

But when you pause to listen and think about this ‘scolding voice’ you realize, perhaps for the first time, that this scolding voice sounds like your mother or father. And that you as a child may not have had any personal space because your mother or father constantly scolded you. 

Upon further reflection, you may also see that as a kid you would get angry and start eating food as a way to escape their scolding. Or, you would eat the ice cream as punishment because your mother was always telling you to be ‘healthy’ and this was your way of rebelling against her.

If you can identify these feelings and thoughts, acknowledge them!

2 – Meditate And/Or Listen To Your Inner Child

man meditating on seated comfortable chair

As you start to acknowledge your inner child, you can bring more awareness to situations where your ‘ego’ tries to protect you. 

You can identify various situations involving eating,  pleasure, drug use, or triggers where you lose control. Oftentimes you can begin to see how your inner child is underneath all these situations, making you fall into the same pattern over and over again.

But as you acknowledge your inner child and see the underlying patterns, you can begin to notice what your wounded inner child is trying to tell you.

Your inner child has a voice, if only you can listen carefully to hear it.

For example, your inner child will communicate what it really is feeling and what it really needs:

  • Anger over missed needs + Needs: recognition
  • Abandonment + Needs: connection
  • Doubt + Needs: assurance
  • Anxiety + Needs: calming down

If you can trace back these negative feelings like doubt and abandonment to childhood events, you can start to see that as a child you may have turned to food when these negative emotions popped up.

Meditate to listen to your inner child

I often will ask clients to ‘meditate’ to listen to what they really need. 

I tell them, ‘forget about clearing your mind.’ You do not need to clear your mind to meditate.  Just see if you can find a quiet space, where you can relax and aren’t distracted, and just listen to see what you really need.

To listen to learn what you really feel. 

For example, let’s say something upset you yesterday. Imagine your partner was really stressed out and was in a bad mood. Nothing too out of the ordinary, so normally you dismiss how you feel.

But now in ‘meditation’ you sit calmly and still and notice how you feel disappointment. 

Normally you might instinctively start eating food because of this disappointment, just like you did as a child. But by sitting in silence and allowing yourself to gently reconnect to these feelings, you start to realize that you don’t need food.

Instead, you realize you could better express yourself to your partner, or even just brush off the whole situation. Either way, you more clearly see these patterns manifesting themselves from childhood, and how you can take actions that better help you live your best life.

This is why ‘meditation’ is so great! Meditation can help you:

  • Increase self-awareness so that you can feel these subtle feelings that trigger your wounded inner child
  • Help calm you down and get grounded enough to pause instead of reacting quickly 
  • Have time and space to think and start seeing patterns

If you need some help meditating, check out my beginner mindfulness 101 article here.

Overall, the key is to bring in negative emotions to the present moment, and to accept them. 

Acceptance of feelings actually leads to feelings passing. 

Buddhist teachings tell us that everything will pass. Feelings, fortunately, actually pass pretty quickly, typically in about 10-15 minutes if we can truly allow ourselves to feel fully.

If we try to escape from or numb our pain, instead of accepting it, then the feeling gets pushed down and we don’t heal. But, if we can listen deeply and feel what we need and stay present, then the feeling can inform us of how to live our best lives.

3 – Talk With Your Inner Child

Thich Nhat Hanh suggest that you breathe mindfully and while you breath, you affirm yourself by saying things like:

  • I return to my inner child (as you breathe in)
  • I release my blockages (as you breathe out)

Oftentimes I will personally just imagine myself as a young child. I might just take a comfortable seat on the couch, and then I can spend a few minutes literally seeing myself as a child feeling these feelings.

I’ll mentally ask my inner child, “what do you need right now?” I might also put a hand on my heart as I ask this question. 

Sometimes my inner child doesn’t respond. Sometimes my imagination sees the inner child answering me. 

Whatever the case, it’s important to simply pause for a few moments or minutes to reconnect to your deepest feelings and consider what you really need. Even if you don’t get the most clear answer right away.

Of course, you don’t have to ask any questions, although I do suggest you try. Something you can do instead, if it feels right, is to say something like:

  • I love you
  • I hear you
  • You are cared for
  • I take care of you
  • I want you to enjoy this food in front of you right now and to take your time
  • Please know I want you to know that there is an abundance of food and that you don’t have to be afraid that you will run out of food

4 – Realize This Is A Journey

Finally, the last step is simply realize that not everything will be clear right away, but that your inner child voice will grow clearer and more wise as you do more child work. This is a lifetime journey you are beginning. 

This child work is long, but it is a journey that is good in the beginning, the middle, and the end.

It requires patience to reconnect and build this relationship to your inner self. However, it’s worth it. Without this reconnection to your unconscious brain, mind, soul, inner child … nothing else in life will ever seem to truly work out.

That’s been my experience, and as I have gradually and genuinely reconnected to my inner child, I feel that I have found my dharma, my life purpose, and everything is falling into place as it should.

As you experience more and greater harmony in your life by inner child healing, you’ll be even more motivated to continue listening, honoring and trying to meet your emotional needs.

This is what the ‘heal the inner child’ journey is all about.

You Probably Will Want To Talk To A Therapist 

There is something about the unconscious human mind that truly needs another person to help reach the next level in life. 

For example, I can read a book about loving kindness meditation and I can try to practice myself. I can even listen to audio recordings to see the tone and words in which to speak loving phrases to myself.

However, there is something about being connected to another person, who can hear your story, and offer specific words of wisdom to you specifically. There is something to the relationship aspect of healing, that is just so incredibly important. Especially with this inner child work.

If you are serious about healing childhood wounds with food, then please do seek out a competent therapist or counselor. 

Here is a list of Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors you may want to chat with.

Now that we have covered the overall big picture of inner child healing and gone over some general guidelines, let’s get into some additional actions we can take to heal our inner wounded child within.

Other Ways You Can Connect To Inner Child 

Here are some examples of various inner child healing practices you can do on a regular basis. Please don’t try all of these at once. Just see if you can keep these in your back pocket, and one day when you are feeling contemplative, return to this list and try one of them out:

  • Scan your body, just feel your breath and physical sensations. If something is uncomfortable, see if you can try to relax instead of tightening up or running away
  • If your feelings do become too intense, go on a slow walk in nature. 
  • Draw a picture, paint, sketch, doodle, free associate
  • Take a luxurious bath with bath salts and let your muscles relax
  • Try to practice saying “no” to others, and claiming more time for yourself to be with yourself.
  • Practice saying affirming words to yourself, gently, and whispering them
  • Use your journal to reflect upon instances where you lost control. Write out all the harsh words you say to yourself on paper to help get them out of your head. See if you can see how silly you are for thinking these things!
  • Smile at yourself in the mirror, even if it feels fake at first
  • Place your hand on your heart, imagine the air breathing into your heart
  • Eat food calmly and slowly, really trying to enjoy the experience

If you are up for more inner child healing work, especially for trauma, you may want to consider more intensive journaling. Overall, it’s important to integrate writing into your inner child work because journaling along with therapy can help access our inner child’s deeper memories.

How Do I Heal My Traumatized Inner Child? Inner Child Healing Journaling Prompt

Here is an inner child work journaling exercise you can try on your own:

First, just imagine that you are being hard on yourself. You are criticizing, judging, hating, shaming yourself over something. Perhaps you ate too much.

Fill in the blank: When I made the decision to overeat (or whatever you regret), I was reacting from a place of _________ (fill in how you were feeling – for example, anxious, angry, stressed, sad).

Fill in the blank: I can see that I was simply trying to feel better, using the tools that I had, and I know that my inner child really needed _________ (fill in the blank with what your inner child needed in that moment – for example, safety, approval, connection, assurance, nourishment).

Brainstorm: As an adult, I can think creatively and take responsibility to help heal myself. Write out 5 things you can do to help meet your emotional needs:

  • Go to bed at an earlier time
  • Have a hot cup of tea with honey and journal to music
  • Text a friend and check in on them
  • Do 5 minutes of meditation
  • Cook a healthy meal
  • Say no

Just notice how you feel after the exercise. 

Now, admittedly, this whole ‘healing of the inner child’ stuff is complicated. If you have any questions about how to go about inner child work or need some ideas on how to take care of your inner child’s emotional needs, please leave a comment down below or email me directly.

Please try this short 8 question quiz to see if you have Binge Eating Disorder.

You’ll be asked about the 8 main clinical criteria used to medically diagnose. 


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