Parents’ Influence in our Relationship with Food

Chronic dieting is an autoimmune disease of the soul and the pathogenic process starts in the family.

My favourite quote about family comes from a well know American author Mitch Albom. In his book “The five people you meet in heaven” he says: “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” Sad, scary and true. We, parents, imprint our children with all kinds of things, including shame.  Shame of our bodies, our behaviour and instincts. Since they are little we teach them what we believe is a socially acceptable behaviour and patterns without thinking twice about how damaging they can be for a kid’s mind.  Sentences like, “Shame on you!” or, ” You should be ashamed!” are a very normal part of our conversation with children. We believe that we are raising good people who would function healthily within  society; but in reality, we are damaging them; not allowing them to trust themselves, and inflicting them with a belief that they’re broken. Because the true meaning of “Shame on you!” is “you are not OK as you are.” Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman presents this definition: “Shame is an acutely self-conscious state in which the self is ‘split,’ imagining the self in the eyes of the other.” Children and young people need validation of their surrounding to think they are OK.  Parents are the first and foremost source of feedback children get. We owe it to them to make this feedback a positive one. We can never be sure if we do enough, act right, or practice the best parenting methods, however; as long as we act and speak from a place of love – not only love of children but also love of self and love of life – we are doing the best we can.

When it comes to body image and relationship to food, the mother is the biggest influencer.From the time the baby is born, the mother feeds it. For a little baby, food equals love and attention. It finds comfort in satisfying its hunger, in sucking on a breast.  Mothers, food, comfort, love, and attention, all blend together for a little baby. If the mother for some reason is prevented or withholds from giving attention to the baby it can significantly damage her relationship with the child and the child’s relationship with food. As a consequence, food can turn, in the mind of the child, into a thing that is not to be enjoyed. Instead of being a source of nourishment in a positive sense; as created by nature for our survival, food turns into the enemy in the child’s mind,  or a way it may compensate for lack of love. Hunger and appetite would become something be to scared off rather than listened to.  As the baby grows it becomes more aware of its environment, and it also begins to notice and register the way its mother relates to her body. A mother who obviously despises her body, criticises her thighs, stomach or weight, is constantly unhappy with the way she looks, and diets a lot, presents that kind of model of behaviour for her daughters. Then it is only natural for a young girl to adopt the same attitude to her body. Children are our mirrors. They reflect the obvious as well as the hidden.

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