Guest Post: A Lesson from “Inside Out”

I am an adjunct professor at Plymouth State University’s Eating Disorder Institute. I love this job. I train clinicians and graduate students how treat people with eating disorders. One of the assignments I give my students is to write a blog post that would be fitting for my blog audience. I have selected one blog post to share with you and I think you’ll enjoy it. In this post, my student shares with you what she has learned from the movie “Inside Out” and how it informs her thoughts on her own eating disorder recovery. Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, this post will help you think differently about your inner emotions in a very practical yet useful way. Enjoy!

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On the plane ride home after Thanksgiving, a glitch in the TV monitors allowed me to watch “Inside Out” … for free! If you haven’t yet seen this Pixar animation of emotional theory, you’re missing out. The movie, starring the emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Joy, takes place mainly inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley as she transitions through a move to a new town and a new school with her family. Riley’s emotions battle with one another, and the stress of the move puts Fear, Disgust, and Anger in charge while Joy and Sadness are misplaced from “Headquarters,” trying to find their way back.

So, what’s going inside my head? Surely, there are not miniature people in my brain that are controlling how I feel and what I do as a result. But this movie made me think about the biochemistry of my brain and how suppressing emotions can backfire. See, when Riley moved away, she needed Sadness to be accepted, loved, and expressed. When Sadness is restricted and repressed, she starts to feel out of control and doesn’t understand why she can’t help herself from making Riley sad at all the wrong times. At the end, Riley finally expresses her Sadness and experiences the love and support of her parents. Although her core memories turn blue with Sadness, she no longer feels the urge to run away and is able to begin her new life.

For the entire movie, Joy was fighting the very thing that was best for Riley; Riley needed to feel Sadness. By allowing Sadness to do her job, Riley was able to move forward. I have recently been introduced to the concept of Internal Family Systems, and I am beginning to explore the parts of me that I have pushed away for so long. I am starting to understand that my Sadness is doing its best to slow me down and help me “do less.” And, I must say, I am certainly slowing down and doing less. Maybe my Sadness isn’t going about things in the best way possible, but she has good intentions. I must have needed that “slow down” message to get through something. I’m ready to signal to my Sadness that I’m ready for a change; I don’t need to slow down so much. In order to do that, we need to work together; she needs to feel honored, heard, and respected.

Another part of me that I’ve been starting to embrace and accept for the first time is my Eating Disorder. Is it possible that resisting and hating my Eating Disorder could be harmful? The disordered thoughts and behaviors come out either way. Maybe my disordered thoughts started out with good intentions – to get me through some rough times. When I had nowhere else to turn, I learned that restriction calms stress and quiets anxiety. I found that the distraction of controlling food intake allowed me to ignore other problems or obstacles in my life. I’m now starting to accept that these behaviors may have been helpful at a time – maybe even necessary. But now, I’m ready for an upgrade. Just like Riley had to accept her Sadness before she could move on, I know that the only way that I will allow my eating disorder to change roles within my body will be to acknowledge it for all that it has done, hold its hand, and walk in the direction of positive change.


Bacon, L. (2008). Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

Humphrey, L., Clifford, D., Morris, M. (2015, July). Health at every size college course reduces dieting behaviors and improves intuitive eating, body esteem, and anti-fat attitudes. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 47, 4. 354-360

Schwartz, R. (1995). Internal family systems therapy. New York: Guilford Press.