The Importance of Eating Habits and How It Played a Role in My Self-Image
We are molded by our experiences and how we are conditioned as children.
Disclaimer: This experience is my own and may not be true for all children/people who are naturally slim or children who were force-fed.
Growing up, my parents ensured that me and my siblings knew how fortunate we were to have food in our bellies, clothing on our back and shelter over our heads.
We learned early on to be grateful for what we had. These values are still a huge part of my life today.
However, my parents’ and other adults concern of how slim we were only grew as time passed. So did our food portions.
As a kid, I struggled to sit and finish my meals. All I wanted to do was play games with my siblings or read or draw or ANYTHING ELSE besides eat.
Between the ages of 6–11, I remember running around and being reminded to “finish your food!!” at every single meal. Even when we were tired and feeling full.
There are a few key emotions I want to address with what is called “psychological blackmail”.
- Shame: “Look how much bigger your brother/sister/friend is!”
- Guilt: “So many people are starving in the world! You need to eat!”
- Fear: “If you don’t finish your food, there will be something to cry about.”
We’d often have to be “force fed” to finish every bite. Even if we fell asleep, we’d slowly be fed until the bowl was empty or my parents couldn’t wake us up!
Although it didn’t seem major, those years resulted in being conditioned to eat large portions of food.
My friends in high school were often shocked and it became a running joke. Growing up, I didn’t see the effect it had until later.
That’s what I’ve been doing?
It wasn’t until I left high school and moved out of home that I realised my habit.
Even today, people would ask, “Where does all that food go?”.
My response is usually along the lines of “I don’t know, it’s just in my genes”. That’s followed by, “You’re so lucky!” or “I just look at a cookie and I gain 2kgs!”.
In my early twenties, I started seeing a guy (now my boyfriend) and he was the opposite when it came to food portions.
He appreciated good food and loved a home-cooked meal but he would not eat anywhere near the same amount as I would.
At first it was funny but as time went on, I realised that these kind of portions were doing more harm to my body than good.
In saying that, we both addressed habits that needed attention: my portions were ridiculous and my guilt of not finishing my food even more so. And Luke’s habit of only eating once or twice a day maximum could not fuel his body for the long hours he worked.
When I realised this habit, I began making a conscious decision to change. I encouraged my boyfriend to try his best to eat 3 meals a day around his night-shift schedule.
How I unlearned these habits.
1. I began eating to satisfaction and practiced mindfulness.
I enjoyed all my favourite foods, but no longer felt the urge to stack my plate.
Being mindful really helped during this ‘transition’. I listened to my body and my tastebuds.
Meals did not need to be a one-person competition of how much I could fit into my digestive system.
It became an act of self-care: feed my body well, and express gratitude throughout the process of cooking, plating and serving.
This has become one of the ways I show people I love them. Cooking can be a labour of love!
2. I trained my mind to let comments slide like water off a swan’s back.
People noticed this change in habit. I’d receive comments like “Oh, you’re not hungry anymore? There are seconds and thirds!” or “You need to eat more! Look at you!” or “I wish I could eat my fave foods and still be as small as you!”.
Now, I was actively changing my perspective each time someone made a comment.
I knew they were just curious or concerned and what people said were usually from a place of love.
During this time, between ages 20–23, I started loving my body instead of ignoring it.
Yes, I loved to dress up and find clothes that fit perfectly but that was a distraction to actually taking the time to APPRECIATE this body that people called “too skinny” or “so boney”.
This was also the time I realised how different bodies, shapes and sizes DESERVED love and appreciation.
No matter what people said, I was going to love my body for all it’s strength, skinniness and stature!
3. Thought patterns: My body may be skinny but it is also strong.
Instead of feeling insecure about me being “too skinny”, I started focusing on strength. Slowly — but surely! — I began working out.
At first, it was just walking around the block. For about a year or so, me and my boyfriend would go for walks around the neighbourhood after work or after dinner.
We got to spend quality time but we also got some light cardio in for the week!
Mentally, I started feeling more confident and comfortable in my own skin.
I practiced positive self-talk and body image weekly.
I reminded myself that my legs have taken me through endless hours of work.
My arms have comforted my loved ones.
My eyes have seen so many kind and inspiring people.
The journey to shifting my mindset felt like an uphill battle. It was difficult to find the balance.
Some days I couldn’t stomach enough food and other days I could snack constantly.
Some days I hated everything I wore and had that classic problem of “I have nothing to wear!”
In reality, I had loads to wear but I did not have the confidence or positive body image to match.
Through the years of being told my body wasn’t good enough or ‘not the norm’ whether it was from:
- Concern: “Do your parents feed you?” (Yes, an extended family member asked me this in private.)
- Envy: “Ugh, I wish my body was like yours!” (From a complete stranger in a fitting room.)
- Curiosity: “How do you stay so slim?” (From work colleagues to family friends.)
Years of comments like these eventually wear a person down.
Regardless, I did not give up on this self-project because I knew that this would prove to be beneficial not just mentally, but emotionally and physically.
I hope these ‘unlearning’ lessons gave you an insight that it is possible to change thought patterns concerning food and self-image.
Today, I enjoy food and everything that comes with it! From the flavours around the world to the comfort it brings when cooking and sharing it with loved ones.
Love the body you’re in. Regardless of what people say. If you are healthy and happy, you’re doing amazing and I see you!
What are habits that you need to “unlearn”? What is the first step that you can take today?