Development of Unhealthy Relationships and Food
Unhealthy patterns with food can develop from a variety of reasons and triggers. Read below to see if any of the following have impacted you:
- Difficulty Regulating Your Emotions: One of the biggest things that can cause people to develop an unhealthy relationship with food is not being taught as children how to regulate emotions in healthy ways. For example, one may learn to eat a pint of ice cream after having a hard day or due to anxiety about an academic examination. It is important for parents to model appropriate ways to cope with tough emotions that do not involve food, such as journaling.
- Focusing Too Much on “Willpower”: The media constantly gives unrealistic expectations about the human body, and adults often enforce these expectations by being overly controlling with food. Common messages are that in order to be “attractive, happy, successful, worthwhile, etc., then you have to be thin.” Unfortunately this is not accurate information. While we do have some control over our weight, body shapes and sizes are largely driven by genetics.
- Banning or Severely Restricting Foods: It may sound like a good idea to cut soda or other “sugar” and “fat-filled foods” from our diets, yet doing so is often detrimental. As soon as you feel deprived of something, that’s the thing you’re going to crave and eat too much of when you have access. These types of behaviors can result in a pattern of binging or being overly conscious about what you are eating. Instead, focus on creating a healthy balance of food in your pantry. It is truly about moderation.
- Teaching Good Foods Vs. Bad Foods: Similar to banning or restricting foods, teaching children that there are certain foods that are “bad” is harmful and unhealthy. Having labels and judgments often leads to anxiety and unnecessary fear.
- Forcing Yourself to Eat at a Certain Time or a Certain Amount: Parents will sometimes force their children to eat at a certain time or finish all the food on their plates. It is healthy for children to make those kinds of decisions for themselves. While it is important to teach children about structure and balance surrounding food, it is equally important having other foods (apples and yogurt) available in case your child gets hungry later. This strategy teaches children how to make their own choices surrounding food, while also allowing them to learn the limits and bounds of choice.
- Not Eating Together as a Family: Whether in the car, at their desks, or on the go, Americans often eat alone. As a result, families are missing opportunities to connect and teach children about mindfulness around food. It is tremendously important for families to have at least two meals together per week. Connection is very important for the health of the family.
- Not Unplugging During Meals: Focus on the present moment and try to avoid getting distracted while eating. During meal times, everyone should have his or her phones turned off and away from the dinner table. This teaches presence, connection and also respect.
- Using Food as a Reward or Punishment: When a child accomplishes something, such as getting a good report card in school, it might be tempting to take them out for an ice cream cone. Unfortunately, developing a reward or punishment system around food can foster an emotional relationship with eating. Instead, place more value on spending time together, talking to your children, and letting them know with words and affection how much you care about them.
- Not Providing Any Guidance About Food: Being over-attentive to a child’s food and eating habits can lead to unhealthy eating habits down the line, and ignoring food consumption and meal time altogether can likewise create a set of problems. Remember, society and culture will influence and educate where parents do not teach or model at home. Similarly, not taking the time to teach children about food and eating can make them feel as though they are not important.