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Comments from childhood and how they shape adult relationships with food

As a dietitian, I've worked closely with individuals on their journey towards a healthier relationship with food. Through these interactions, I've come to understand the impact that childhood comments about food can have on our eating habits and relationships with food as adults. Many of us carry with us the echoes of well-meaning but potentially damaging remarks made by parents, caregivers, or other authority figures during our formative years.

Woman thinking over a cup of tea

The Echoes of Childhood

How many of us recall being told to "clear our plate" before being allowed to leave the dinner table? Or perhaps we were met with the ultimatum: "No dessert unless you finish your vegetables." These seemingly harmless directives often sow the seeds of unhealthy relationships with food. Similarly, the forbidding of treats or the warning that indulging too much would lead to undesired weight gain can linger in our minds long after childhood. To add to this, children often aim to please the adults in their lives and if they are told a particular food is 'bad', this label can stick with them through to adulthood.

These comments, intended to instil discipline or promote healthy eating habits, can inadvertently cause feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety surrounding food. They create a rigid framework of rules and restrictions that dictate our eating behaviours, often leading to cycles of bingeing, guilt, and subsequent restriction.

Mother and child grocery shopping

Breaking Free from the Cycle

Recognising the influence of these childhood comments is the first step towards healing our relationship with food. By acknowledging their impact, we can begin to challenge the validity of these ingrained beliefs and establish healthier patterns of eating.

Here are some tips to help navigate this journey:

Reflect on Childhood Messages. Take the time to identify and unpack the food-related messages you received during childhood. How have these influenced your attitudes and behaviours towards food as an adult?

Challenge Unhelpful Food Labeling. Remind yourself that all foods can fit into a balanced diet and that enjoyment and satisfaction are integral components of eating. Move away from labelling foods as 'good' or 'bad'.

Practice Mindful Eating. Tune into your body's hunger and fullness cues, and approach eating with awareness and without judgment. Allow yourself to savour and enjoy food without guilt or shame.

Cultivate a Positive Food Environment. Surround yourself with supportive individuals who encourage a healthy attitude towards food and body image. Find resources, such as support groups or professional guidance, to support you on your journey.

Embrace Variety and Flexibility. Instead of feeling pressure to stick to strict dietary rules, aim for variety and flexibility in your eating habits. Allow yourself to enjoy a wide range of foods in moderation.

Key Message

Our relationship with food is deeply intertwined with our past experiences and the messages we received during childhood. By acknowledging and challenging the negative beliefs and rules instilled in us at a young age, we can break free from restrictive diets and create a healthier, more balanced approach to eating. Remember, it's never too late to rewrite the script and embrace a nourishing relationship with food.

Parents with young child making a sandwich

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