Understanding The Importance of Eating Habits and How It Played a Role in My Self-Image.

Understanding 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.

As a result, our food portions grew also.

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.

Why?

Just because!

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.

Continuing on!

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?

My Journey on Discovering Self-worth.

My Journey on Discovering Self-worth.

The first layer: illness.

As a child, I knew I was loved. I knew there were people around me who (mostly) loved to fuss over me, brush my hair, make sure my seat belt was on and made sure I had a hot milo for supper before bed (thanks grandma!).

Being born premature, my early childhood consisted of multiple hospital visits. Doctors and nurses would check if I was growing normally, if my lungs were functioning well (being diagnosed with asthma) and if I was learning at a similar rate to other children my age.

I was in and out of hospital a lot due to severe asthma attacks and on two separate occasions, I was treated for pneumonia.

All of that coupled with having a fast metabolism, the food I ate burned quicker than my parents could feed me so I was a skinny kid.

A family friend was over one night, chatting with my parents. He must’ve thought I was too young to understand him so he asked in a casual tone, “Is she sick?”. His head jerked slightly to imply me standing behind him.

Fear set in quickly.

I ran down the hall into my parents’ bedroom.

The feeling of shame welled-up inside.

I cried silently. I was confused. He just asked a simple question. So why did it hurt me so much?

As I said, I knew there were people who loved me, but that night was a turning point in how I saw myself. I began to wonder if I was actually sick.

I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

The second layer: obedience & perfection.

Before I started primary school, I learned about obedience like most children do. If you behaved well, there was a reward. If you misbehaved it meant consequences. For me and my siblings, consequences often meant physical punishment. Being obedient was the name of the game and being fearful was a by-product of ‘playing’.

Throughout primary school and high school, I would fail or end up with sub-par results when my school report came. I excelled in English and Art but everything else was a struggle.

When I’d ask for help at home, it was met with the common response:

“You don’t know anything! How could you not know this yet?!”

That familiar feeling of shame welled-up inside.

I stopped asking for help.

At 15, I got my first job. Little did I know, asking for help would be a hard lesson to learn.

The third layer: religion & fear.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, church was a family ritual most Sundays. We’d sit quietly in the pews, listening to bible readings and the priest summarising a life lesson. As a kid, I spent my time looking at the colourful stained windows. How did they paint so high up?

Sometimes, the children were ushered into the back room that had thick windows. I learned there that children were to be seen but not heard. Church was a sacred place and all sacred places required respect.

As I got older, I learned about how humans were worthless sinners because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, our value was restored by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only Christians had this amazing Saviour.

When I came of age, youth group felt like an oasis in a world of darkness.

I understood that I was worth it because God saw something in me. A loving, kind and just God had a perfect plan for me.

I was saved and this meant freedom for my soul. I knew if I turned away from God, I would be apart from Him for eternity which I didn’t want. The more I learned about eternal suffering, the more scared I became of the afterlife.

It was a good thing to be “God-fearing”.

Because of Him, I had a family. Because of Him, I had strengths and these were a Gift. Because of Him, I could heal when I was hurt. Because of Him, I could forgive because He first forgave my sins.

Years later, my perspective would change from “freedom in religion” to “freedom away from religion”.

Breaking Down The Layers.

Growing up with these layers of self-worth from such a young age would be a challenge through childhood, adolescence and in my adult life.

As a kid, I tried to run away with my brother. We travelled 2 minutes from home and had to be picked up. As a teenager, I struggled to abide by the curfew rules and would come home late. I didn’t trust any adults, not even the school counsellor who tried to help me. I tried to run away from home for the second time. I stopped attending youth group. I stopped listening to sermon videos and reading my bible and ultimately, I left the religion I grew up believing in.

My only comfort besides the friendships I forged, was being creative. I could draw and write for hours on end. I vented my frustrations, questions and motivations.

By the age of 17, my rebellious streak calmed.

At 18, I moved out of home. I started meeting new friends who were kind, confident, care-free and out-spoken. They were beautiful people! Some of them did not have rooted beliefs in religion. How could they be so confident without the guarantee of a Saviour? By the age of 19, I realised that was the life I wanted for myself.

I stripped my life of unneeded baggage emotionally and physically.

I started seeing a counsellor. I had to face the past abuse, exercised control throughout my life and the belief of worthlessness. I now saw my passion for perfection as a strength. Even if I make mistakes, I will always strive for excellence. It doesn’t mean I’m “dumb” or that I “don’t know anything” – it means I am persistent and resilient. I learned how to reframe my mindset.

I began a decluttering journey, getting rid of unusable items. I realised I held onto all my belongings out of comfort and as a distraction to facing the pain I felt within. For a period of time in my life, I felt empty. Instead of becoming self-aware, I kept things I didn’t need to fill the ‘void’. Letting go of my hoarding habit was such a cathartic process.

The more I healed my emotional wounds, the more I realised:

My self-worth was up to me to decide.

No matter what others did or said.

As each year passed, I continued to break down these layers of self-worth that I’d taken on. It is still a work in progress, but a path I am so glad I walked down years ago.

Remember, your worth is not reliant on any thing, person or being.

You are worthy, just because.