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8 Eating Habits That Haunt Us From Childhood

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While we are constantly creating new habits, many of the habits and routines that we currently have are ones that were created and have stuck with us since we were kids.

For example, as a little girl, Bruce Lee was a big deal in my house. You know, the martial artist turned Hollywood film star? My dad used to play his movies on repeat and I would watch for as long as he would let me. I was in love! 

Come mealtimes, I didn’t always want to eat everything on my plate and my parents would say, “Bruce Lee eats his peas and carrots” or “Bruce Lee finishes his dinner.” And then I would gobble it all up. Worked like a charm, right? 

This soon became a regular routine for me. Food was on my plate, so I finished it, regardless of whether I was hungry or not, and this continued long after my infatuation with Bruce Lee. In fact, there are still times when I’m out to eat or served a plate at a friend or family member’s house and it feels like I should finish it, or I do so without even thinking about it. 

Sound familiar?

Or have you ever had a day when things seem to be going well, you are getting into a really great groove with some new routines and eating habits, and then life happens? Perhaps you have a really long and stressful day at work, you forget your lunch at home or you don’t have the greatest workout, then you find yourself reaching for a specific comfort food? 

On the contrary, you might have an AMAZING day, crush that training session, hear something exciting from a friend or family member and then want to celebrate that news with a treat and a fun evening out! I know that when I was a child, a parent-teacher conference going well always meant that we got to celebrate with some ice cream or a meal out at my favorite restaurant. It was the best and it felt good!

Reaching for food in these or similar situations might feel good in the moment, but oftentimes those choices are not effective in helping us get closer to our goals and at times can lead to feelings of guilt or disappointment. We likely will notice many of the habits that we have that we don’t even think about as we begin to look at our eating habits and make a lifestyle change.

Examples of Childhood Eating Habits

Some specific examples of eating habits that have stuck with me since childhood are:

1. Pressure to finish all the food on my plate.

“Bruce Lee eats all of his peas and carrots! Bruce Lee finishes his chicken and rice.”

2. Labeling foods as good vs. bad. 

Growing up, I can count on one hand the number of times that my dad took me to a fast-food restaurant. The food was “bad” and was something that Mom and I snuck in when we were out together. Even now, when I grab some food from a fast-food establishment, those feelings of eating “bad” food come up.

3. Food as a source of comfort when sick or not feeling well. 

As a child, any time I was sick and had to go to the doctor, I always got a chicken sandwich and fries from Burger King afterward. It helped me feel better in the moment and I also connected that food with feeling better in the long term when I started to feel better in the following days. 

Here are some other eating habits from childhood that you might still notice in yourself or others:

4. Celebrating with food.

“No cavities! Let’s go get some ice cream.”

5. Using food as a method to calm down or create a distraction. 

“I’m sorry that you crashed on your bike! Let’s have a popsicle to feel better.”

6. Treat days and nights. 

“No more Halloween candy after tonight!"

7. Sneaking food and eating quickly. 

“Hurry! Let’s eat more before Mom and Dad get inside!”

8. Cinderella at the ball. 

Heading over to friends’ houses and having access to food items that you might not usually have at home. 

“All of the habits that you have right now—good or bad—are in your life for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide a benefit to you, even if they are bad for you in other ways.” – James Clear,
Atomic Habits

While we all have had different experiences growing up, chances are that most of us have experienced at least one of these situations, and some of those habits can and do stick with us past childhood. 

So what can we do? 

How to Improve Childhood Eating Habits

Dropping old habits and creating new ones can feel like A LOT of work at times. We don’t have to do everything at once to be successful and oftentimes just
creating more awareness for ourselves is the first step! Some examples of questions you can ask yourself are:

  • When does this habit actually happen? Identifying specific situations is important here!
  • How often does it happen?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What triggers the behavior and causes it to start? 

Diving into these questions can be a great starting point and we’ve created this worksheet to help you get started. 

Journaling is a great way to spend some time exploring and getting more familiar with your current eating habits—the ones that are effective for you and the ones that might not be.

Once you become more aware of the habits that aren’t serving you, you can start working on turning those into healthy habits (plus work on not repeating these tactics with your own children). 

Learning to integrate some mindful eating techniques and strategies can be a big help as well.

How to Help Children Have Healthy Eating Habits

Reading over these tips, thinking back on your own childhood and if you have children of your own (or plan to have them in the future!), you might be wondering, how can I help my children have healthy and effective eating habits? While there really is no right or wrong answer or way to do things, there are some things that you can do as a family. 

  • Help guide healthy and effective choices, don’t force them. This could include things like having a variety of fruits and veggies available and allowing your children to make a choice on what they would like to have. 
  • Encourage mindful eating. Coaching your children to chew each bite at least 15–20 times, as well as doing it yourself, can help with slowing down while eating. 
  • Keep screens away from meal and snack times. When we are distracted while eating it can be really challenging to pay attention to natural hunger cues and signs of fullness. Staying away from screens and other distractions can help your children recognize those feelings, as well as create a space for some family conversations!
  • Do your best not to use food as a reward OR punishment. Instead, treat meals and any other treats in a similar fashion… all foods help fuel our bodies. 
  • Be the example! You can teach your children how to build a balanced plate with protein, carbs, fats and some veggies by doing so yourself. 

Know that you also don’t have to do this work alone! Most of us have carried some habits with us for a long time but that doesn’t mean we’ll have them forever or that we can’t create new ones. If you’re feeling like you need some extra support in recognizing ineffective habits, as well as creating new ones, a WAG coach can help.

Here are more Team WAG blogs on habits that can help you successfully create new ones:


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Posted by Nicole Kupfer

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