Let’s Start with Our Belief Systems About Food
Our belief systems, our ideas and subconscious thoughts, about food and our body image begins in utero. That’s right. Even down to what your mother eats and feels while pregnant can impact a person’s eating habits and desires. From there, we visually pick up on what we think is true about food, bodies, and exercise (from table manners to “broccoli is disgusting!”). As we become adults, if we don’t purposefully challenge these ideas, we often reinforce our family’s beliefs throughout our lives – the healthy beliefs AND the not so healthy. The good news? You CAN change your eating & body habits even if your family doesn’t (i.e. you can stop overeating, obsessing over calories, or talking bad about people’s bodies).
What Science Says About our Relationship with Food
- Poor eating habits are often learned in childhood from our parents or family structures. Parents influence a child’s eating and exercising behaviors.
- Eating and exercise habits developed when young influence life time eating behaviors.
- There’s also a definitive genetic link between having an eating disorder and having family members with eating disorders.
- Pregnant moms who are overweight, diabetic, or intake high amounts of sugar, unhealthy fats, and calories produce babies that are fatter and are more prone to obesity later on in life. Restriction diets or high stress during pregnancy are also linked to unhealthy eating patterns (see the Healthy Pregnancy Section for ways to counteract this).
- It may be less surprising that “high stress” family environments are also linked to unhealthy eating behaviors.
What our Soul Can Tell Us About Our Relationship with Food
- When it comes to changing our belief systems, it’s often helpful to trace where it came from. Did your grandma also eat a lot? Did your brother develop an obsession with calories when he began wrestling? If possible, ask your parents what their beliefs around food are. What did you observe in how your family members ate, exercised (or didn’t), and talked about food and their bodies?
- Understanding the roots and the reasons behind them can help us have empathy for our family history and let it go. No resentments. Remember, they were doing the best they could with the ideas their family members taught them too.
Applying What We Know About our Relationship with Food
Write out a list of the different messages you received as a child. On another sheet, write out where these messages may have come from (note: this can be as accurate or imaginative as you’d like). Sometimes we don’t know where they came from. That’s okay, that’s where your imagination comes into play or you can genuinely state “I don’t know… but is this ambiguous belief helping or hurting me?”.
Write down healthier eating habit beliefs next to the others and write out 2 reasons why this belief is more true than the other. Try to be as specific as possible.
Write a list of healthy eating habits you’d like to instill in your families (future or existing) and keep it in a safe place for reference. Make sure to include why these habits are important to you. For ideas, you can reference this book.
Practice the CBT approach (see Cognitive Behavioral Therapy section) to challenge thoughts you identify as unhealthy family thoughts. The more you practice healthy thoughts, the more innate it will become.
See a therapist or coach to help you delve into some deeper rooted belief systems from your family systems. Sometimes it takes a professional, empathetic eye for us to really dig deep and find our inner truths – if you struggle to maintain healthy eating habits for yourself after doing this type of work, I would highly recommend this.
Questions? I’d be happy to answer them via email here or give me a call at (316) 201-6047.