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The Wild Child

In a previous blog I used the term “wild child” to refer to the part of us that eats or has the urge to eat in an unruly way. A member of my Food and Feelings message board commented on the term and I’ve been thinking about this “wild child” ever since. If you’re a habitual undereater or overeater (or both), there’s a wild child within you who needs to be understood and cared for.

For the chronic undereater, the wild child is the aspect of self you fear will break out and make you fat. She’s the one you’d like to lock in a cage or beat the daylights out of. You see her as the enemy, the part that must be purged from you (sometimes literally). For the overeater, the wild child is the one who runs your eating show—rebelliously flinging open kitchen cabinets, mindlessly grabbing whatever she likes from the refrigerator, guiltily filling up the supermarket cart with things you know aren’t healthy for you, and generally wreaking havoc on your eating experiences.

Rather than view your wild child as the enemy—which she definitely is not—think of her as the primitive part of you who can only express herself one way: through food. It’s her only language, which she uses to speak to you and send out messages to the world. So when she breaks out and begins pushing you and your better judgment around, stop and wonder what she’s trying to say. She may appear as urges to eat when you’re upset. She may goad you into sneaking food without heed to appetite signals. Or she may steer you away from food because you think you can’t control her around it. Pay attention to the wild child and she’ll teach you much of what you need to know to resolve your eating problems. Try to interpret her messages in a neutral, objective way and be ever curious in translating her primitive efforts to do right by you into more mature messages. Remember that the wild child lacks life skills and needs you, her guide, to help her speak in a more adult manner.

Dealing with the wild child is tricky business—as tricky as parenting a real youngster. You need just the right mix of compassion and firmness to let her know that you understand her desires but that they cannot rule or ruin your life. Just as an unruly child feels relieved about being contained (because she knows someone is in charge even if she’s not), the wild child needs to recognize that there is a part of you that is more powerful than she is, that you are wiser than she is, and that you are willing to risk gently asserting your parent self to help comfort and contain her. Start treating your wild child more appropriately and she’ll grow to respect and listen to the sense you make.