clean your plate: how childhood memories pack on the pounds
What was dinner like for you as a kid?
Of the many things we can remember as kids – most of us can remember our childhood dinner table. Some of us will remember traditional meat and potatoes dinners with everyone around the table at 6 PM sharp, others will remember eating out more often than not, and others will remember dinners in front of the TV.
That childhood dinner table was comprised of lots of things – the food we ate, the people sitting around it, but most importantly, the psychological menu being served.
Think back to your general childhood dinner experiences – Fun? Informative? Connected? Tense? Hostile? Quiet? Noisy?
What was the tone set about food? Healthy choices? Lots of repetition? Always eating what dad liked? More than enough? Not enough? Clean your plate? Eat fast? Eat slow?
The lessons and experiences from that childhood table continue to impact how you eat and even how you live today. For example, the lesson of the clean plate club – eat everything off of your plate or else you will get a heaping dose of guilt for dessert – plagues most of us with over 54% of adults reporting that they clean their plates every time they eat.
Tense dinner tables can leave people anxious about food, or using food to numb anxiety and tension that emanated from their early dinner tables. For some of us, parents’ unhappy marriages and entrenched gender roles could lead to dinner tables fraught with tension that we as children did not understand – and we may very well have taken it into our adult relationships with food (and other people).
In You Are WHY You Eat, I provide exercises that allow you to reflect on how you ate as a kid may impact how you eat now. Habits from childhood can dog us for a lifetime.
Our early dinner table experiences set a tone for our current relationship with food and mealtimes. When I work with clients who have very healthy relationships with food, they often report dinner tables that were not particularly fraught with tension, but with lots of healthy options and no pressure to clean that plate. On the flip side, those that really struggle with food report childhood dinner tables that were full of castigation, anger, and criticism, with some stuffing on the side.
One of the most critical and hard to break lessons we learned at the childhood table was to eat for others. Clean your plate out of guilt. Eat the meatloaf to please mom. Don’t waste food because dad works hard. Fast forward 30 years and now you see that now you are not only eating for others, you are living for others (get married to please mom, stay in the job to please dad...).
So think about your dining table as a kid or as an adult. Let’s hear how it shaped you and how it may be making things harder or easier for you.
You can’t change your history, but you can remain mindful of it. It’s January and most of us are trying to drop anywhere from a few pounds to hundreds this year. As you reflect on your relationship with food, and on WHY you eat – think about those early lessons at the table – and how they may be impacting how you eat now. And for those of you with families of your own – think about how you can construct a family table now that builds healthy habits for a lifetime. Pass on the second helping of guilt, and learn to listen to your body.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and author of You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life. Dr. Ramani was also featured on Bravo's THINtervention and was the co-host of Oxygen's new series My Shopping Addiction. She takes an edgy and real approach to life, love and health. Visit doctor-ramani.com and follow her on Twitter @DoctorRamani.