Eat, Grow, Repeat: How Childhood Shapes How We Eat

If you were well behaved, did you get sweets?
Was one of your parents always on a diet?
The foundations of our relationship with food and our body’s are often laid down during our childhood. Our early experiences not only craft our behaviours and habits, but also shape how we see ourselves as adults. This childhood influence extends deeply into how we eat and how we feel about our bodies. Recognising these patterns can be the first step in helping us to have a healthier relationship with food, and with ourselves.

Family mealtimes often highlight broader family dynamics, reflecting deeply embedded attitudes and behaviours towards food and body image.

Was one of your parents continually on a diet? This can send messages about body standards, encourage anxieties around weight and food choices. Children often mirror their parents’ behaviour. If parents have disordered eating habits, obsess over diets, or express dissatisfaction with their bodies, children may internalise these views, leading to a skewed self-image and unhealthy eating habits later in life.

Were mealtimes a pleasant place to be? If mealtimes were moments where children were ignored, became a war zone, or became sessions of academic scrutiny, for example, eating can lead to high levels of stress or inadequacy with food and really knock self esteem

Were you able to express how you felt at mealtimes? Suppressing emotions and not expressing them shapes our emotional relationship with eating as adults. Children who lack other coping mechanisms, who don’t know how to express their feelings, or face frequent emotional upheavals might turn to food for comfort, leading to emotional eating habits that persist into adulthood.

Were treats locked away and just for special occasions?
Being overly restrictive with a child’s diet can lead to feelings of deprivation. This could result in binge eating or an unhealthy obsession with “forbidden” foods in adolescence or adulthood.

Did you get teased or picked on about your weight or the kinds of food that you ate? That can stick around, causing insecurities and wonky eating habits way into adulthood. These moments in childhood can leave such lasting marks and heavily dictate our adult relationship with food and how we see ourselves.

Were you influenced by models in magazines? When I was a child, I don’t remember being influenced by television or magazines. But in today’s digital age, children are bombarded with images of ‘ideal’ bodies and diets, on Instagram, snapchat, tiktok and advertising. Such exposure can set unrealistic standards, pushing children to make poor dietary choices or develop a negative body image.

In summary, our relationship with food is a complex tapestry woven from childhood memories, family dynamics, and societal influences. In a world saturated with ‘perfect’ body images from Instagram to TikTok, understanding our food and body narratives is more critical than ever. Whether it’s old scars from teasing, the influence of a diet-obsessed parent, or restrictive eating habits formed early on, we all carry a bit of our past into our daily meals and self-perception. It’s time we unpack these stories and set a new table for ourselves, one where we dine with self-love and understanding.

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