How to Raise a Confident Child by Healing Your Relationship With Food
“I don’t want to pass down negative experiences I’ve had around food and my body. Where can I start?”
There’s no questioning it: Raising kids is HARD. Like, really hard.
The process of growing, birthing, and feeding children is a refining process that can bring a lot of unresolved issues straight to the surface.
This is especially true when it comes to feeding children. Suddenly, when you’re responsible for feeding another little human, it can feel like a spotlight is shining on your own attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts that may surround food and your body.
Why is that?
The truth is that your past experiences around food and your body have played an important role in shaping your current relationship with food, as well as your thoughts and feelings toward your body.
This means that your past eating experiences may have been influenced by your upbringing, as were your parents, grandparents, and generations before them.
Growing up in an environment that brought challenging situations around food and your body can form negative roots in your life’s story.
Your past experiences around food may also play a role in how you currently feel about food and your body. The way you experienced food, especially in your upbringing, can be a powerful force that has shaped your narrative and formed your beliefs and behaviors with food and your body.
How Feeding Kids Can Reveal Underlying Food Issues
As a parent, feeding your own children can put these beliefs and behaviors under the microscope.
The feelings or behaviors that your children may express about food or their own bodies can trigger emotions in yourself that may be connected to some of those deep-rooted experiences from your upbringing.
Let’s take a look at what some of these scenarios might look like in real life (please keep in mind that these are just some potential examples from countless of possible scenarios, and everyone’s experiences may look completely different):
For example, maybe you grew up in an environment where food was scarce, and you may not have had predictable access to meals or went through recurring periods of hunger.
This challenging food environment can shape the way you view food today and the manner in which you feed your children.
You might find it triggering if you have a picky eater or when your child refuses to eat and ignores a plate of food that you know you would have loved to have as a child.
While your child may very well be going through a normal phase of learning and development by refusing food, the action itself can trigger an array of emotions that are connected to your particular upbringing and experiences around food, including anger, guilt, grief and more.
These feelings can then trigger an unhelpful response to your child in attempt to “correct” the behavior that may have triggered you in the first place.
In this example, you may require your child to eat everything on her plate or force her to eat certain amounts.
Typically though, these responses will only create more tension and stress between you and your child, especially at mealtimes, and will do nothing for addressing the underlying issue that you may be dealing with.
As another example, let’s say you grew up in an environment where your caregivers frequently dieted or promoted dieting.
Maybe you watched your mother eat something different from the rest of your family, count her calories, or weigh herself frequently.
Maybe you weren’t allowed to have certain foods in the house while she was on a diet or commonly heard foods described as “good” vs. “bad”.
Maybe you were also encouraged to diet or weigh yourself often, starting as a young age, in order to control your weight or manipulate the size of your body.
You may have been shamed for your body size or heard shaming language around food or other people’s bodies in your home.
These experiences can play into a narrative that you grew up to believe about food and your body.
Maybe these types of situations caused you to feel as though your body couldn’t be trusted or that food should be closely monitored and controlled.
You may not know how to feed yourself, outside of a diet, or how to talk with your child about food without using polarizing terms.
You may start to worry when your child gravitates toward a food that you were told was “unhealthy” to eat, or feel anxious if your child seems to be growing into a larger body size.
These feelings might trigger responses in attempt to control your own fears, such as controlling your child’s food portions, limiting certain foods, or questioning their food choices.
While good intentioned, these responses can be unhelpful for your child and perpetuate the cycle through to another generation.
As one final example, let’s say you grew up in a home where certain foods were forbidden, like desserts and sweets.
You may have felt obsessed with these foods, since you weren’t allowed to eat them at home.
Maybe you learned to hide these foods or felt guilty for eating them.
You may have immediately found yourself gravitating toward all the dessert foods at holidays, parties, and your friends’ houses that you didn’t have access to in your own home.
As you grew up, you may have found yourself out of control when it came to eating desserts, or even binging on them from time to time.
You may not trust yourself around desserts or avoiding having them in your own home.
Now with children of your own, you may not feel confident about how to approach desserts with them.
You may feel confused and fearful, and the logical thing might seem like strictly controlling the amount of desserts or sweets that your kids get exposed to, but it doesn’t seem to help.
Signs You May Have Experienced a Difficult Upbringing with Food and Body
Do you resonate with any of these examples?
As I mentioned above, there are countless situations that could’ve created challenging experiences for you around food and your body, which are unique to you.
Here are some other potential signs that you may have experienced a difficult upbringing with food and your body:
You weren’t sure where your next meal was coming from
You were forced or pressured to clean your plate as a child
You were shamed or bullied for your body size, weight, or appearance
You were encouraged to diet or put on a diet as a child
You witnessed close family members frequently diet
You heard food talked about in polarizing terms, such as “good” vs. “bad”, or “healthy” vs. “unhealthy”
You were shamed or bullied for your food choices or how much you ate
Certain foods were forbidden, such as desserts and sweets
You were often told you couldn’t have food (such as more food or certain foods)
You frequently heard negative body talk, either about yourself or other family members
Sometimes, these experiences can be traumatic, such as being bullied for your body size or weight, having unreliable access to food and regularly experiencing hunger, or being put on a diet .
Many of us having had troublesome experiences around food and with our bodies and may unknowingly be carrying or harboring guilt, fear or shame from those experiences.
This can create a snowball effect in the way that we raise and feed our own children if we’re not able to heal from them.
Your current relationship with food and your body is like a complex web: there are many contributing factors that interweave together to form your story and how you feel about food and your body.
Understanding the many different layers can be helpful for identifying any potential narratives that you’re currently carrying that may not be helpful to you as you parent, feed and care for your children and yourself.
It can be easy to minimize or dismiss these experiences, chalking it up to how "that's just how things were", or, “it’s the lot I was given”, etc.
In doing so, there is a lack of understanding about the implications of what is involved. Remember, the goal of looking back at potentially challenging experiences that you’ve faced around food and your body is not to cast blame or point fingers at anyone.
Rather, the intention is to have a better understanding about your own current relationship with food and your body, so you can resolve any underlying issues that may be impacting you and how you feed your own kids.
Developing a healthy relationship with food comes with understanding the experiences that have shaped your eating habits.
It’s also important to understand that looking back at your past can sometimes bring up feelings of anger, sadness, grief, even anxiety and depression.
Try approaching this from a place of curiosity to better understand what might be coming up for you, so you can learn and heal.
If you find yourself harboring these emotions or unable to cope in a positive, effective way, this may be a sign that professional help is needed to better process what you are experiencing.
Having the support of a specialized nutrition therapist or counselor can help you therapeutically process any past challenging experiences with food and your body
When Triggering Food Experiencing Influence Unwanted Feeding Behaviors
Unresolved pain from past experiences around food or your body can become part of a vicious cycle that directly related to how you feed your own child.
As I briefly described in the examples above, different feeding scenarios with your own children can trigger feelings from your unresolved past.
Some of the common triggering scenarios I often see in parent-child feeding interactions include but are not limited to the following:
When a child refuses to eat
Having a child that may be in a smaller or larger body
When a child is dealing with picky eating
If a child is exposed to body or food shaming
Normal appetite fluctuations that may cause a child to eat more or less than usual
A child who is facing a challenging medical issue, poor oral motor skills, or mental condition that causes concern around food intake and growth
Erratic or unpredictable feeding schedules
Difficulties setting boundaries with a child, especially around food
When a child seems to gravitate toward or become fixated on a particular food(s), such as desserts, candy, snack foods, etc.
For a parent who has a history of challenging experiences around food or body, a triggering feeding interaction with a child can set off strong feelings, which are likely strongly connected to the underlying issue.
Here is how the cycle could potentially unfold in these types of scenarios:
Parent-child feeding interaction trigger: A parent may be triggered by an interaction that occurs while feeding her child (such as in the examples described above)
Feelings Resurface: The interaction triggers strong emotions, which could be connected to an unresolved food/body experience from the past. Feelings that may arise could include anger, shame, frustration, irritation, etc.
Compensating Behavior/Coping Mechanism: In order to control the situation or mask feelings of fear, a parent may respond to these feelings by exercising control in feeding her child. These behaviors may be done in effort to protect herself or her child but typically involve overstepping the feeding relationship. These behaviors can create distrust, fear and stress between a parent and child in feeding interactions. Examples may include behaviors such as controlling portion sizes, forbidding certain foods, pressuring to eat, etc.
Problematic Feeding Relationship: Poor feeding interactions between a parent and a child can create more problems at meals and escalate to more severe complications for both a parent and the child.
This cycle can reinforce the food and body image challenges that you were exposed to as a child and perpetuate the injury through to a new generation of your children.
Healing from your own challenges and pain can help break this cycle so that you’re able to feed your children from a place of trust and joy, not from a place of fear.
Freedom in Your Relationship With Food Through Healing
If you want to raise children who have a good relationship with food and who feel confident in their bodies, it’s important to first examine the lens through which you feed them.
HOW you view food, your past experiences, if left unresolved, can be an influencing factor that shapes the way you feed your own kids.
You are more likely to feed them from a place of fear and distrust if you distrust yourself and your body.
When you’re able to identify and be aware of these issues, you can change the narrative around food and your body, not just for yourself, but for your kids and generations to come.
As you gain awareness and heal, this will help improve your relationship with food and your body. As you learn to trust your body, you will also rebuild your feeding intuition and confidence in feeding your own children.
Healing your past is a powerful mechanism for also creating healing in your children’s future.
When you are aware of and have healed from the areas in your past that may have made food difficult for you or created feelings of distrust toward yourself in your body, you will be more likely to build positive eating experiences for your own children and help decrease their risk of experiencing harmful interactions around food and their bodies.
This is an important first step to build confidence in your child and for raising kids who feel good about food and their bodies.
Changing your relationship with food can empower you to be a positive role model for your children and a catalyst for freedom for generations to come.
How to Heal From Your Past to Raise a Healthy Child
While healing looks different for everyone and your own journey will be unique to you, here are some general steps that can help you progress through this process:
First, take some time to identify potential experiences from your past or upbringing that may have created a challenging food and body image environment for you.
If it might be helpful, talk this through with a trusted family member that you feel safe with, and who might be able to help you recall past memories.
Remember to approach this from a place of curiosity to get a better understanding of the factors that may play a role in food and body image.
Once you’ve identified some of these experiences, you can start to connect the dots. How did those past events influence how you currently feel about food, your body, or feeding your kids?
Awareness and exploration of the trigger can help you understand the connection to the deeper feelings that might be coming up for you. What were some of the needs you may have had in your childhood that went unmet
Your past experiences may be part of your story, but they don’t define you or your future, and you can heal from them to create a different narrative for yourself AND your children.
In doing so, you are decreasing their risk of also experiencing a negative relationship with food and their bodies. It takes courage to challenge the beliefs that have come with past lived experiences.
Begin with the belief that you are capable of overcoming challenging situations from your past to create healing for yourself and your children.
4. Focus on Building a Trusting Feeding Relationship:
As you start to form trust in yourself, especially with food and your body, you will begin to build confidence in how you feed your children.
Your own healing work will prevent you from projecting any underlying fears or anxieties related to food or body on to your own children.
This will allow you to feed your children from a place of trust rather than fear, which is essential for building a positive feeding relationship with your children while rebuilding your own feeding intuition.
This is essential to boosting self confidence in a child.
5. Practice Self-Care:
Self-reflection and healing is hard work.
If you’ve uncovered painful parts of your past that you’re processing and working through, or if you’ve identified unmet needs you may have had as a child, it’s important to be cognizant of how you are caring for yourself.
Compassionate, rest, nourishment, and self-respect are all forms of self-care that are critical for your healing and important to model for your children.
What to Expect on Your Healing Journey
The beautiful part of this process is that you can start right where you are, exactly as you are.
As you work through your own healing journey, keep these things in mind:
-This process has may ups and downs: As you learn to navigate challenging food and body image experiences from you past, you may journey through highs and lows. Know that both are a normal part of the process.
-To heal from your past requires vulnerability and trust, especially when moving toward unknown places
-Healing takes time and patience
-This journey will look different for everyone
You may find it helpful to work with a professional, especially if you’ve had traumatic experiences around food and body image in your upbringing or if you’re currently struggling with an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food.
Please consider connecting with an eating disorder specialist, such as a registered dietitian or therapist, to help guide you through your healing journey. If you’re wondering how to fix relationship with food, you don’t have to do it alone.
If you’re interested in working with a nutrition therapist to create a more positive relationship with food and to rebuild your feeding intuition for your children please connect with me today.
I’d be honored to hear your story and learn how I can help.
Remember that you are deserving of healing, and your courage to stop the generational cycle of harmful food and body image experiences will create a ripple effect that pass through to future generations, beginning with you.