Like me, your childhood likely shaped your eating habits. And if you had an abusive parent growing up, it’s likely that your eating habits aren’t as healthy as they should be.
Maybe you turn to food when you’re feeling stressed or emotional, leading to overeating. Maybe you starve yourself because eating makes you feel ashamed. Or maybe you’re triggered by certain foods to the point you can’t consume more than a few things without feeling sick.
Of course, our eating habits can be affected by various factors. Apart from our lifestyle and personal preferences, factors such as product and restaurant prices can also significantly impact our dietary choices.
For instance, in July, consumer prices at grocery stores and restaurants increased by 13.1% and 7.6% respectively. As a result, people are spending more at restaurants as opposed to getting groceries to cook their meals.
Aside from food prices, however, other things can affect our eating habits. Unfortunately, this includes any abuse, neglect, or trauma experienced during childhood.
In this post, I’ll discuss how your upbringing may have shaped your eating habits and how you can move forward.
The Impact of Childhood Abuse and Trauma on Eating Habits
Childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect can have long-term effects throughout adulthood. On top of difficulties trusting and forming connections with other people, childhood trauma can also gravely impact your adult eating habits.
According to a study on the relationship between childhood psychological trauma and eating disorders, childhood emotional abuse contributed to eating disorder symptoms in adult women. There is a substantial link between childhood emotional and physical abuse and eating disorders regardless of gender.
Maybe like me, your parent used food as a tool to manipulate you. Or maybe you were shamed for eating or for your weight or body. Or maybe you were forced to eat despite feeling sick, even to the point you vomited.
As a result, you may have developed an unhealthy relationship with food and eating, whether that’s eating too much, not enough, or unhealthily.
How your eating habits are now likely originates from what happened in your childhood. But food doesn’t have to be a big deal in your childhood for it to affect your eating habits now.
Just the trauma you experienced can affect your daily actions, including your eating habits. For instance, many people turn to food as a coping mechanism for dealing with trauma.
Previously, I wrote about identifying and meeting your needs and how childhood trauma may cause you to minimize or push away your own needs. So this pushing aside of your needs can also translate to your eating habits. Maybe you’re accustomed to putting everyone else’s needs before yours, including your dietary needs or your need to eat healthily, for example.
Additionally, how and what we eat is often largely determined by what we’re used to. Even if food didn’t play a big role in your abuse, never learning from your parents how to eat healthily or never being given healthy foods also affects your future eating habits.
How My Childhood Shaped My Eating Habits
Food plays a huge role in my family and culture. As a child, I loved food. So my mother often used food as a tool to manipulate me.
If I was good, I get to eat, perhaps even a nice treat. If I was bad though, I’m not allowed to eat. You can call it “conditioning” for better behavior. But it becomes abusive when she forbade me to eat anything even when I’m starving.
As I covered in this post, my childhood has significantly affected my relationship with food and my eating habits. I used to intentionally overeat if I don’t think I’ll be able to within the next few hours just so I won’t ever have to feel hungry. Well, I still do that sometimes.
Even as an adult now with my mother out of my life, I still fear the feeling of hunger. Anxiety rises whenever my fridge or pantry isn’t as stocked as I’d like it to be.
Other than the starving, I later learned that my mother also likely intentionally fed me unhealthy foods to fatten me up just so she can shame me for it. Unsurprisingly, it created this feeling of shame around eating.
On top of the mental issues surrounding food, there’s no doubt that it also caused health and weight issues. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, and other health problems caused by my weight.
I am eating much healthier than I used to. But I am still struggling a lot with emotional eating, overeating, and losing weight. It’s incredibly difficult psychologically and physically to reverse all the damage that’s been done ever since I was two years old. But I am working on it and learning ways to move forward.
How to Move Forward
There is a way to move forward from your childhood relationship with food. Similarly, there is also a healthy way for you to move forward in your adulthood and thrive without compromising your eating habits along the way.
Here are some ways to hopefully help you develop healthier eating habits, or at least, unlearn some unhealthier ones.
Eat as an act of self-compassion
Eating is heavily tied to healing, especially since your diet is essential to your health.
Nurturing your body can also nurture your mind and soul in the process. As such, it helps to remind yourself of your motivation for managing your weight and diet. Here, your motivation is your healing journey.
Physically, eating gives your body the necessary nutrients needed to keep you strong and functioning. Similarly, the same applies to your mind. Frequently eating food that is bad for your body can culminate in long-term negative effects for your mind.
This doesn’t mean that you should stick to rigid healthy diet regimens. Instead, focus on nurturing and treating your body well by providing it with food that has the right nutrients to keep you healthy.
So as you embark on your healing journey, don’t just think of it as a mental or emotional one. It is also a physical one. See eating healthier as a form of self-care.
Avoid strict or unhealthy diet regimens
I’ve tried various types of diets including calorie counting, cutting carbs, and intermittent fasting. And while they work, they only work temporarily. I eventually gain back all the weight I lost. So in the end, it doesn’t work because it isn’t sustainable, at least for me.
The problem with sticking to a particular diet is how restrictive it is. The more you tell yourself you can’t eat something, the more appealing it will be, and the harder it is to stick to the diet.
On top of that, there’s also this soul-crushing guilt and shame that comes whenever you break your diet. And oftentimes, it creates a feeling of self-loathe as well as makes you want to give up completely.
Also, research suggests that nutrients are what trigger “satiety” or fullness, not calories. So eating that 200-calorie candy bar isn’t going to fill you up like a 200-calorie snack rich in fiber and protein would. So while you are still getting 200 calories, there’s a big difference in how it makes you feel.
Of course, if diet regimens work for you, that’s great! Unfortunately, it’s not like that for a lot of people. So rather than go on a “diet”, perhaps you can make some lifestyle changes instead.
You don’t have to completely exclude all the foods you used to love from your diet. You can still enjoy them in moderation or smaller amounts. Set a time for when and how so you have something to look forward to and a way to enjoy it without guilt.
And if you enjoy any particular healthy food, eat them more frequently or use them to replace your not-so-healthy foods.
Mindfulness is essential for your healing journey and overall well-being.
Mindful eating is paying attention to the experience as you’re eating. Eat slowly and savor each bite. Notice how the food tastes, how it makes you feel, and whether you’re getting full. Think about what you’re eating and how much of it.
Studies show that mindful eating helped people successfully change their eating habits and lose weight.
If you tend to eat mindlessly (I know I do), slow down and ask yourself what’s causing it. Do you need to make more time for meals? Do you need to plan ahead? Were you distracted by something?
Mindfulness also comes into play before eating. For instance, when you feel a craving or the need to eat, pause and ask yourself if you’re actually hungry.
That two seconds you pause to think twice before indulging in whatever it is may help you realize that maybe you’re not actually hungry. And if you’re not actually hungry, find ways to distract yourself till the craving fades and actual hunger settles in.
Come up with other coping methods
For me, eating is a source of comfort. But the problem with eating for comfort is that it becomes an unhealthy addiction. Also, oftentimes, when we turn to food for comfort, we’re not eating salads. We’re likely going for things high in fat, sugar, and/or salt.
So if you frequently turn to eating or snacking during stressful or emotional times, try to find a healthy replacement. It’s also important to get to the root of what’s causing the stress or uncomfortable emotion so you can resolve it.
You can also keep a journal to track your thoughts, feelings, and meals to better understand how your mind may affect your cravings and food consumption.
Eat as a way to bond with loved ones
Sometimes, healing can be a smoother or more pleasant journey when you’re surrounded by loved ones, in other words, your support system. In the same way, eating as a social ritual can be healthy for you.
A study on the social influences on eating found that when eating with strangers, people tend to eat less. On the other hand, eating with family and friends facilitates you to eat more.
Surrounding yourself with people who love and care for you can help you heal from your past trauma and hurt. The same applies to your eating habits.
Eating alone isn’t a bad thing. But it can affect your habits and preferences. When you eat with loved ones who may already have healthier eating habits, you can benefit from being socially influenced by their eating habits.
Take it slow and be patient
Ultimately, nutrition plays a huge role in loving yourself and your body. Being kind to your body is an extension of being kind to your mind, and overall, yourself.
It will be difficult to change a habit. They are habits for a reason. It’s what you’re used to. So please take all the time you need and take it one step at a time. Try not to overwhelm yourself.
Make one small feasible change first. For instance, remove or replace one unhealthy thing from your usual menu, try to take slower bites, or reduce the size of your plate.
Once that one thing becomes a habit, make another change.
Remember, developing new habits takes time just like healing. There’s no need to rush it. Rather than focus on how fast you’re moving forward, focus on the fact that you ARE moving forward.
Hi there, I’m Estee.
Having been raised by an abusive mother, I developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on me. My experiences inspired me to create Hopeful Panda.
In my free time, you’ll find me cooking, organizing, playing video games, writing, or spending time with my family. You can read more about me and my blog here.
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