Overcoming Dysfunctional Childhood Emotional Eating Patterns

“Clean your plate! Don’t you know there are starving children who would love to have what you’re eating?” Many of us grew up hearing this sentiment repeated over and over, leading us to eat all the food on our plates or suffer with feelings of guilt and low self-esteem. Depending on the circumstances of our childhood, we may also begin the pattern of eating for comfort. Childhood emotional eating habits often follow us into adulthood, impacting our relationship with food and making it difficult to eat mindfully. Overcoming these habits is an important step to beating compulsive overeating.

We also take food cues from our parents or other adults. This can mean that we model their behaviors such as dieting, engaging in emotional eating or hording food. Before we are even conscious of this, we have absorbed thousands of cues. If our role models have a dysfunctional relationship with food or are critical of our eating, this can contribute to our eating behavior as adults.

If you were constantly told by your parents to clean your plate, you may find it difficult to turn down food now that you are an adult. Feeling a constant need to consume all of the food you are served can sabotage your weight loss efforts and lead to the consumption of more calories than your body wants or needs. To overcome this compulsive overeating trigger, be wary of the amount of food that ends up on your plate in the first place. Use smaller plates when you are dining at home. A small plate filled with food will leave you feeling less deprived than a large plate with lots of empty space. If you are eating at a restaurant, ask the wait staff if they could put half of your entree in a take-home box before dinner is served. This allows you to eat a satisfying amount without forcing you to sit and stare at your leftovers.

If parents models less than healthy eating behaviors, monitor your own self-talk around food. Try to identify where that message came from and whose voice is in your head. By allowing yourself to detach from your negative self-talk, you are able to gain perspective and see the situation more clearly. Just because we learn to speak negatively to ourselves about food and eating when we are young, does not mean we need to continue the pattern.

Our childhood has a huge impact on the way we view food. Overcoming nonconstructive childhood habits is an empowering way to take control of your health and weight loss.

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.
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