What we understand about food in childhood goes a long way to shape our relationship with what we eat as an adult.
The tendency to see high-calorie food as a treat or reward is common. Had a hard day at the office? Unwind with some chocolate or crisps. Stressed out after a row with your partner? Go on, tuck in, you deserve a treat.
Many people fall into the trap of overfeeding their families, cooking big meals and providing a steady flow of snacks, to show they care. Even the most enlightened parents occasionally resort to food bribes as a reward for children’s good behaviour and this can lead to conflicting messages around food that many of us do not appreciate until later in life.
Yo-yo dieters often report that cakes and sweets were handed out as an expression of love when they were growing up, but that their parents also subconsciously taught them to view these “forbidden foods” with guilt and shame.
Research also shows that children who were told to eat everything on their plate are much more likely to overeat in later life. This can also result in people losing the ability to listen to their body and be their own judge of physical fullness.
Children who grew up in an environment where they were required to eat quickly or miss out on food are likely to continue racing through their food as adults. This can inevitably lead to overeating when you consider that it takes 20 minutes for the brain to register that the stomach is full.
The good news is that it’s not impossible to challenge these inbuilt emotional responses to food. The first step is to examine and address the messages you received around food when you were growing up (and those messages that you now give out to others).
Are you a comfort eater? Take our quiz to find out how much influence your childhood eating habits have had on your food behaviour as an adult.