When you sit down to eat, you probably never think about your relationship with food having anything to do with your childhood or past at all. Yet, the initial relationships and associations you have with food and pleasure immediately begin in childhood and become ingrained in your brain as a way of life. We don’t always realize it, but many things can be affected by our childhood, in good and bad ways. The following examples are some ways your relationship with food, whether good or bad, can actually stem from certain occurrences or things in your childhood.
I hate to start off with such a serious issue, but abuse is one of the number one things that can affect your relationship with food, though the two might seem completely separate. Physical, sexual, or mental abuse can all have a profound effect on your self esteem, and the way you view food and pleasure. You might either restrict yourself from food due to a lack of feeling like you deserve nourishment, or you might overeat as a way to comfort yourself from the pain of the memories of the abuse.
Many children are rewarded for things during childhood, and one of those rewards is food. If you found yourself being given food as a way to reward you for most anything by your parents, this might be one reason you still do so as an adult. There are other ways to reward yourself without food. Some include taking walks, going out with friends, buying something nice for yourself, getting a pedicure, taking a hot bath, making a cup of tea, reading a book, etc. Try incorporating different things that have no relationship with food as a reward tool to break the cycle.
How many of you grew up eating at a dinner table? I did until I was about 15 and my parents split up. Then, of course, we stopped. This was immediately when my relationship with food changed, and I lost touch with talking to my parents about everyday issues over the dinner table. A family dinner is one way that allows you to feel intimate with others around food, and food becomes secondary to conversation and relationships. Now, of course, if you were fed unhealthy foods at the dinner table, that might also teach you unhealthy food habits, but family dinners are still something to be treasured. They can help you establish a good relationship with others and view food as the second most important thing at hand. Intimacy around others and food can usually be drawn back to this one habit. Did you eat at the dinner table with your family, or was everyone eating on their own or watching television?
Another issue that might have something to do with the way you view health is if your parents dieted. Parents who are always on a diet are sending their children a direct message of what health and food are about. Even if children don’t really pick up on the issue at first, over time, they will start to associate food with dieting, not health. Did your parents always seem to be on a diet, or talking about eating fat-free, low-carb, etc? Eating healthy is one thing, and is something I’d recommend any family incorporate, but a constant diet journey can cause children to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Think about your reasons for dieting. If it has anything to do with your parents dieting, the two could be related.
If you grew up with a lack of money, then you might have learned to view food as a means for survival only, and not pleasure. Sadly, this is one of the largest reasons behind childhood obesity today too. Because individuals with lack of money have to make their money go further, they often choose cheap, unhealthy foods. I grew up in a low income household, but we weren’t at a poverty state. Still, I learned that food should be bought as cheap as possible. This taught me to develop an unhealthy mindset around food and money. In fact, it wasn’t until later that I learned for myself that healthy foods like whole grains, some vegetables, canned tuna, frozen vegetables, and plain peanut butter are all low cost foods that are actually healthy for you too. Plus, no matter how cheap juice drinks might be, water is always free and a better option! If you grew up poor, start to think about food and survival a little differently. Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean pricey, and it can be done just as efficiently as eating cheap processed foods.
If you went through any kind of crisis as a child, it might also have something to do with your relationship to food. Any kind of crisis from death, to illness, to loss of a friend, to an accident, abuse, family divorce, etc. can all have an effect on your relationship with yourself and food. Some people learn to restrict themselves from food as a way to numb the pain from a crisis, or others might eat as a way to deal with bad memories. A crisis creates a sense of panic in the body, which might not end once the trauma is over. Many children learn to live with that panic and use food as a way to cope even into their adulthood because they can’t deal with the memories in a healthy way.
School lunches have improved dramatically from what they were when I was growing up, but we still have a long way to go, in my opinion. I grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with hydrogenated oils and sweeteners, and on refined grain bread. Other regulars were the spaghetti made from unclean meat and cheap, refined grain noodles with white toast on the side slathered in butter. Other options were cheese casserole, beef noodle casserole, lasagna, and huge chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk were a regular for dessert. I grew up thinking it was normal to eat this way because it’s what I was fed everyday. It took me until I was 20 years old to realize these foods aren’t healthy and had created a sugar addiction in my body for years. Now school lunches are much healthier, with whole grains, lean meats, and conscious sources of dairy. Refined sugars and grains have mostly been removed, and fruit and vegetables are now some of the main offerings given. This is a huge improvement in my opinion from how I grew up eating. If you grew up on a lunch room diet similar to mine, this could have an effect on your relationship with food now. Can’t give up these unhealthy foods? It might be a reason why.
Luckily, no matter which one of these issues might apply to you, you have the power and time to change them. Being aware of the reasons you view certain foods as pleasure foods might reveal some areas you can work on to make improvements. Do you think any of these 7 circumstances might have an effect on how you view food? Does your childhood affect your current diet?