When we can reflect on our early childhood experiences with food and the belief patterns that become engrained in our psyche, it can provide clarity on why they are so hard to break. One tool that can help us be more in tune with our bodies is to create moments where we become acquainted with our childhood self and the experiences that may have shaped our relationship with food and body image.
Examining Your Family’s Relationship with Food
An eating disorder can develop out of a range of factors relating to how we were raised, including the environment we grew up in and our parental figure’s own relationship with food. Consider these aspects of a primary caregiver that may have affected your connections with food:
- A primary caregiver constantly dieting and restricting certain foods
- Primary caregiver eating different food or meals than the rest of the family
- Speaking negatively about his/her weight
- Not allowing certain foods in the house
- Gave food as a reward or took it away as a punishment
Since your eating disorder did not develop overnight, the time and intense work involved in understanding where these habits originated will take time, patience, and kindness with yourself.
How we were raised by our primary caregivers holds clues to grasping how their relationship with food influenced our own.
The Effect of Temperament
A common feature to examine in understanding disordered eating patterns is one’s temperament. Temperament is defined as a person’s mental, physical, and emotional traits, or one’s natural disposition from birth. Let’s look at how one’s temperament can shape their relationship to food throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Ask yourself these questions to gain a clearer understanding of how your temperament may have affected your predisposition around food and eating habits:
- Were you told you were a calm and easy-going baby or an agitated and anxious one?
- Did you have a difficult time expressing your emotions as a child?
- Did you find that food was more comforting or soothing to you in times of distress or anxiety?
- Was food used as a reward when you accomplished a task or did well in school?
- Do you have any affiliations with foods that are particularly soothing or comforting because of fond childhood memories?
Spending time delving into these types of questions can help gain introspection into how your temperament drives your behavior. Once we have a clearer understanding of what type of temperament we have, then we can begin to learn self-compassion and work towards regulating some of the emotion-driven behaviors behind eating disorders.
As children, we are observers by nature and are therefore much more likely to emulate a parental figure’s actions as opposed to what they tell us is right or wrong. We begin to form our own ways of interpreting good and bad, right and wrong. These interpretations stay with us long after childhood and even into adulthood.
Going Deep: A Simple Meditation
Navigating our emotions around the memories surrounding food and family influence can be daunting. It is normal to build mental blocks in order to prevent ourselves from feeling uncomfortable. One way to slowly begin curiously examining our past is to take part in mindfulness practices in order to gain more introspective awareness.
Empowering ourselves to recognize how childhood influences impact our body image and relationship to food can greatly deepen our recovery from disordered eating. Carving out 10 minutes in your day for meditation can be a supportive and effective way to begin tuning into your innate body-mind connection.
Below is a simple, body awareness meditation that may allow you to connect with your thoughts and feelings in order to gain a sense of peace:
Begin in a comfortable position, ideally sitting upright with your feet on the floor.
Start to notice the flow of your breath.
Try not to judge it.
Notice where your breath is originating from your chest, stomach, or diaphragm.
On your next inhale, count to eight, then hold your breath for two and exhale to the count of 10.
Do three rounds of this.
Finally, allow your breath to return to its normal state, and take note if anything changes mentally or physically.
Learning to trust our body and be the curious, intuitive, and observant child we once were is going to take investment into your own recovery and taking a gentle look into the past. Trust that recovery from disordered eating is possible. Remember that we were all born with the ability to give our body what it needs and to listen to the cues it gives us to survive, thrive, and be authentically ourselves.
If you would like to learn more about working with a clinician to support you in your recovery, we offer a complimentary 15-minute call.
Written by Emily Bachmeier
Excerpts from “Stop Bingeing, Start Living: Proven Therapeutic Strategies for Breaking the Binge Eating Cycle”