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Breaking Generational Cycles of Disordered Eating and Food Shaming

Disordered eating exists on a spectrum where at the most extreme end lies clinical, life-threatening eating disorders. Along the spectrum are many different dysfunctional eating patterns that are characterized by distressful feelings, thoughts, and actions around food. What makes an eating pattern more extreme is the psychological, emotional, and physical effects it has on the person and those around them.

This article focuses on the more subtle dysfunctional eating patterns that our children sometimes exhibit, often as a reflection of learned behaviors from – you guessed it – us, their parents.

Most of our food-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have been handed down from our parents in one way or another. And those were handed down from their parents, and so on. It’s a generational reflection of the past that continues on in our own psyches, emotions and behaviors now.

To learn about what we as parents can do to break this cycle while still remaining healthy, I went straight to the experts, and spoke with our Yes Collective Registered Dietitian, Alexia Hall. She recommends five Rs–Reflect, Replace, Review, Roll, and Relax–that can lead to healthier eating with your kids without food shaming:

1. Reflect and notice

The first step is not about changing, fixing or solving. It’s about taking a step back to observe and reflect. When we can notice the parts within ourself that need healing, we can be more present and able to help our family make the changes that work for us.

This type of reflection involves revisiting childhood experiences and family behaviors around food. Starting a journal is a powerful tool to keep track of thoughts and feelings that come up as you explore these memories.

As you revisit childhood memories, you can get curious around your response to foods, both negative and positive. Is there something from childhood that is coming up around certain foods? Something from a more current experience? Something a friend or a parent modeled?

See if you can discover the trigger that led to your learned reaction. This practice of noticing and reflection is about stepping into a space of witnessing versus doing.

Instead of fixing or changing anything, we can simply pay attention to our heart beat, body temperature, breathing, and muscle tension. How are all these affected when you’re around food? By noticing and observing without judgement, you’re better able to acknowledge what is taking place within you and how it might impact those around you.

2. Replace instead of restrict

The journey of a thousand steps begins with just one. Give yourself time to ease into transitions by making subtle adjustments to what you’re eating instead of sudden, drastic ones.

For example, try the 50/50 approach by replacing half of the rice in a dish with riced cauliflower, or swap out a carbohydrate-heavy ingredient in a favorite comfort food for something more nutrient dense – like our recipe for Cauliflower Mac n Cheese or Zucchini Ravioli.

We can also shift to non-calorie-focused ways of eating and remember that it’s not always about portion size. By increasing whole foods and protein we naturally feel full and are less inclined to overeat. In our One Big Idea article on the protein leverage hypothesis, we explain how diets low in protein cause people to eat more as the body searches for more protein. If we prioritize protein in our meals, we’ll feel more full and eat a healthy amount without counting calories.

3. Review your words

The emotional environment we create as parents has a huge effect on our kids, and at the core of that environment are our words and tone used around eating.

Before attempting any changes in our family's food behaviors, we can tune into ourselves and become aware of the language we're using around food. By changing the way we talk about food, using neutral and non-judgmental tones and language, we can start to model the behavior we'd like to see in our kids.

We can be especially aware of the labels we give to food and to any thoughts we speak out loud, remembering that what we say is just as important as our actions and what we do.

4. Roll with a community that cares about food

Whenever possible, surround yourself with a community of people who share the same values you do about food. The old “birds of a feather flock together” saying really rings true when it comes to eating, so if you can plug yourself in with people who also value fresh, whole, real foods and who have a positive relationship with eating, then the messages in your family’s food environment will naturally be more positive.

5. Relax with mindful eating

Truly tuning into your body as you eat, noticing sensations as they arise, will automatically allow for healthier eating patterns. One way to do this is to gather around a table for mealtime whenever possible, without the distraction of screens or other sensory stimulations.

Allow the enjoyment of the meal together to be the focus, and then tune into your bodies. Instill mindfulness techniques in your child by asking them questions during mealtime such as, “How do you feel after eating that food?” or, “What is your tummy feeling right now – are you still hungry, or are you getting full?” Being able to judge our hunger, and to focus on the enjoyment of food is a wonderful way to regulate our eating without over-analyzing things.

Also, for those of us who might have picky eaters, mindful eating can be a relaxed way to introduce new foods by slowly allowing new foods into the eating environment.

When a new food is presented, we can offer it to our children in stages – first see if they’d like to touch it, then if they’re comfortable with it they can move onto smelling it, licking or tasting a small bite of it, allowing the food to stay in their mouth, and ultimately swallowing it. We should never force any of these stages, particularly swallowing the food.

Ultimately this gives a child the opportunity to explore in a non-threatening environment. Ultimately you can find balance with your child when you get to a place where the kids are in control of if and how much they eat, whereas the parents are in control of what and when they eat it.

Breaking Generational Cycles of Disordered Eating and Food Shaming

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Breaking Generational Cycles of Disordered Eating and Food Shaming

Our Yes Collective Registered Dietitian shows us how to break patterns of disordered eating and food shaming while supporting healthy food behaviors.

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Key takeaways

1

Food shaming refers to critical and judgmental statements or actions toward another person’s food behaviors. Disordered eating patterns are persistent food-related behaviors associated with distressing thoughts and emotions.

2

When popular diet culture arose in the 1950s and 1960s, many families began to experience cycles of food shaming and dysfunctional eating.

3

Because we live in a toxic food environment, finding a healthy middle path is challenging but our expert Embody team has some great advice for breaking cycles while staying healthy.

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Disordered eating exists on a spectrum where at the most extreme end lies clinical, life-threatening eating disorders. Along the spectrum are many different dysfunctional eating patterns that are characterized by distressful feelings, thoughts, and actions around food. What makes an eating pattern more extreme is the psychological, emotional, and physical effects it has on the person and those around them.

This article focuses on the more subtle dysfunctional eating patterns that our children sometimes exhibit, often as a reflection of learned behaviors from – you guessed it – us, their parents.

Most of our food-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have been handed down from our parents in one way or another. And those were handed down from their parents, and so on. It’s a generational reflection of the past that continues on in our own psyches, emotions and behaviors now.

To learn about what we as parents can do to break this cycle while still remaining healthy, I went straight to the experts, and spoke with our Yes Collective Registered Dietitian, Alexia Hall. She recommends five Rs–Reflect, Replace, Review, Roll, and Relax–that can lead to healthier eating with your kids without food shaming:

1. Reflect and notice

The first step is not about changing, fixing or solving. It’s about taking a step back to observe and reflect. When we can notice the parts within ourself that need healing, we can be more present and able to help our family make the changes that work for us.

This type of reflection involves revisiting childhood experiences and family behaviors around food. Starting a journal is a powerful tool to keep track of thoughts and feelings that come up as you explore these memories.

As you revisit childhood memories, you can get curious around your response to foods, both negative and positive. Is there something from childhood that is coming up around certain foods? Something from a more current experience? Something a friend or a parent modeled?

See if you can discover the trigger that led to your learned reaction. This practice of noticing and reflection is about stepping into a space of witnessing versus doing.

Instead of fixing or changing anything, we can simply pay attention to our heart beat, body temperature, breathing, and muscle tension. How are all these affected when you’re around food? By noticing and observing without judgement, you’re better able to acknowledge what is taking place within you and how it might impact those around you.

2. Replace instead of restrict

The journey of a thousand steps begins with just one. Give yourself time to ease into transitions by making subtle adjustments to what you’re eating instead of sudden, drastic ones.

For example, try the 50/50 approach by replacing half of the rice in a dish with riced cauliflower, or swap out a carbohydrate-heavy ingredient in a favorite comfort food for something more nutrient dense – like our recipe for Cauliflower Mac n Cheese or Zucchini Ravioli.

We can also shift to non-calorie-focused ways of eating and remember that it’s not always about portion size. By increasing whole foods and protein we naturally feel full and are less inclined to overeat. In our One Big Idea article on the protein leverage hypothesis, we explain how diets low in protein cause people to eat more as the body searches for more protein. If we prioritize protein in our meals, we’ll feel more full and eat a healthy amount without counting calories.

3. Review your words

The emotional environment we create as parents has a huge effect on our kids, and at the core of that environment are our words and tone used around eating.

Before attempting any changes in our family's food behaviors, we can tune into ourselves and become aware of the language we're using around food. By changing the way we talk about food, using neutral and non-judgmental tones and language, we can start to model the behavior we'd like to see in our kids.

We can be especially aware of the labels we give to food and to any thoughts we speak out loud, remembering that what we say is just as important as our actions and what we do.

4. Roll with a community that cares about food

Whenever possible, surround yourself with a community of people who share the same values you do about food. The old “birds of a feather flock together” saying really rings true when it comes to eating, so if you can plug yourself in with people who also value fresh, whole, real foods and who have a positive relationship with eating, then the messages in your family’s food environment will naturally be more positive.

5. Relax with mindful eating

Truly tuning into your body as you eat, noticing sensations as they arise, will automatically allow for healthier eating patterns. One way to do this is to gather around a table for mealtime whenever possible, without the distraction of screens or other sensory stimulations.

Allow the enjoyment of the meal together to be the focus, and then tune into your bodies. Instill mindfulness techniques in your child by asking them questions during mealtime such as, “How do you feel after eating that food?” or, “What is your tummy feeling right now – are you still hungry, or are you getting full?” Being able to judge our hunger, and to focus on the enjoyment of food is a wonderful way to regulate our eating without over-analyzing things.

Also, for those of us who might have picky eaters, mindful eating can be a relaxed way to introduce new foods by slowly allowing new foods into the eating environment.

When a new food is presented, we can offer it to our children in stages – first see if they’d like to touch it, then if they’re comfortable with it they can move onto smelling it, licking or tasting a small bite of it, allowing the food to stay in their mouth, and ultimately swallowing it. We should never force any of these stages, particularly swallowing the food.

Ultimately this gives a child the opportunity to explore in a non-threatening environment. Ultimately you can find balance with your child when you get to a place where the kids are in control of if and how much they eat, whereas the parents are in control of what and when they eat it.

Disordered eating exists on a spectrum where at the most extreme end lies clinical, life-threatening eating disorders. Along the spectrum are many different dysfunctional eating patterns that are characterized by distressful feelings, thoughts, and actions around food. What makes an eating pattern more extreme is the psychological, emotional, and physical effects it has on the person and those around them.

This article focuses on the more subtle dysfunctional eating patterns that our children sometimes exhibit, often as a reflection of learned behaviors from – you guessed it – us, their parents.

Most of our food-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have been handed down from our parents in one way or another. And those were handed down from their parents, and so on. It’s a generational reflection of the past that continues on in our own psyches, emotions and behaviors now.

To learn about what we as parents can do to break this cycle while still remaining healthy, I went straight to the experts, and spoke with our Yes Collective Registered Dietitian, Alexia Hall. She recommends five Rs–Reflect, Replace, Review, Roll, and Relax–that can lead to healthier eating with your kids without food shaming:

1. Reflect and notice

The first step is not about changing, fixing or solving. It’s about taking a step back to observe and reflect. When we can notice the parts within ourself that need healing, we can be more present and able to help our family make the changes that work for us.

This type of reflection involves revisiting childhood experiences and family behaviors around food. Starting a journal is a powerful tool to keep track of thoughts and feelings that come up as you explore these memories.

As you revisit childhood memories, you can get curious around your response to foods, both negative and positive. Is there something from childhood that is coming up around certain foods? Something from a more current experience? Something a friend or a parent modeled?

See if you can discover the trigger that led to your learned reaction. This practice of noticing and reflection is about stepping into a space of witnessing versus doing.

Instead of fixing or changing anything, we can simply pay attention to our heart beat, body temperature, breathing, and muscle tension. How are all these affected when you’re around food? By noticing and observing without judgement, you’re better able to acknowledge what is taking place within you and how it might impact those around you.

2. Replace instead of restrict

The journey of a thousand steps begins with just one. Give yourself time to ease into transitions by making subtle adjustments to what you’re eating instead of sudden, drastic ones.

For example, try the 50/50 approach by replacing half of the rice in a dish with riced cauliflower, or swap out a carbohydrate-heavy ingredient in a favorite comfort food for something more nutrient dense – like our recipe for Cauliflower Mac n Cheese or Zucchini Ravioli.

We can also shift to non-calorie-focused ways of eating and remember that it’s not always about portion size. By increasing whole foods and protein we naturally feel full and are less inclined to overeat. In our One Big Idea article on the protein leverage hypothesis, we explain how diets low in protein cause people to eat more as the body searches for more protein. If we prioritize protein in our meals, we’ll feel more full and eat a healthy amount without counting calories.

3. Review your words

The emotional environment we create as parents has a huge effect on our kids, and at the core of that environment are our words and tone used around eating.

Before attempting any changes in our family's food behaviors, we can tune into ourselves and become aware of the language we're using around food. By changing the way we talk about food, using neutral and non-judgmental tones and language, we can start to model the behavior we'd like to see in our kids.

We can be especially aware of the labels we give to food and to any thoughts we speak out loud, remembering that what we say is just as important as our actions and what we do.

4. Roll with a community that cares about food

Whenever possible, surround yourself with a community of people who share the same values you do about food. The old “birds of a feather flock together” saying really rings true when it comes to eating, so if you can plug yourself in with people who also value fresh, whole, real foods and who have a positive relationship with eating, then the messages in your family’s food environment will naturally be more positive.

5. Relax with mindful eating

Truly tuning into your body as you eat, noticing sensations as they arise, will automatically allow for healthier eating patterns. One way to do this is to gather around a table for mealtime whenever possible, without the distraction of screens or other sensory stimulations.

Allow the enjoyment of the meal together to be the focus, and then tune into your bodies. Instill mindfulness techniques in your child by asking them questions during mealtime such as, “How do you feel after eating that food?” or, “What is your tummy feeling right now – are you still hungry, or are you getting full?” Being able to judge our hunger, and to focus on the enjoyment of food is a wonderful way to regulate our eating without over-analyzing things.

Also, for those of us who might have picky eaters, mindful eating can be a relaxed way to introduce new foods by slowly allowing new foods into the eating environment.

When a new food is presented, we can offer it to our children in stages – first see if they’d like to touch it, then if they’re comfortable with it they can move onto smelling it, licking or tasting a small bite of it, allowing the food to stay in their mouth, and ultimately swallowing it. We should never force any of these stages, particularly swallowing the food.

Ultimately this gives a child the opportunity to explore in a non-threatening environment. Ultimately you can find balance with your child when you get to a place where the kids are in control of if and how much they eat, whereas the parents are in control of what and when they eat it.

Disordered eating exists on a spectrum where at the most extreme end lies clinical, life-threatening eating disorders. Along the spectrum are many different dysfunctional eating patterns that are characterized by distressful feelings, thoughts, and actions around food. What makes an eating pattern more extreme is the psychological, emotional, and physical effects it has on the person and those around them.

This article focuses on the more subtle dysfunctional eating patterns that our children sometimes exhibit, often as a reflection of learned behaviors from – you guessed it – us, their parents.

Most of our food-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have been handed down from our parents in one way or another. And those were handed down from their parents, and so on. It’s a generational reflection of the past that continues on in our own psyches, emotions and behaviors now.

To learn about what we as parents can do to break this cycle while still remaining healthy, I went straight to the experts, and spoke with our Yes Collective Registered Dietitian, Alexia Hall. She recommends five Rs–Reflect, Replace, Review, Roll, and Relax–that can lead to healthier eating with your kids without food shaming:

1. Reflect and notice

The first step is not about changing, fixing or solving. It’s about taking a step back to observe and reflect. When we can notice the parts within ourself that need healing, we can be more present and able to help our family make the changes that work for us.

This type of reflection involves revisiting childhood experiences and family behaviors around food. Starting a journal is a powerful tool to keep track of thoughts and feelings that come up as you explore these memories.

As you revisit childhood memories, you can get curious around your response to foods, both negative and positive. Is there something from childhood that is coming up around certain foods? Something from a more current experience? Something a friend or a parent modeled?

See if you can discover the trigger that led to your learned reaction. This practice of noticing and reflection is about stepping into a space of witnessing versus doing.

Instead of fixing or changing anything, we can simply pay attention to our heart beat, body temperature, breathing, and muscle tension. How are all these affected when you’re around food? By noticing and observing without judgement, you’re better able to acknowledge what is taking place within you and how it might impact those around you.

2. Replace instead of restrict

The journey of a thousand steps begins with just one. Give yourself time to ease into transitions by making subtle adjustments to what you’re eating instead of sudden, drastic ones.

For example, try the 50/50 approach by replacing half of the rice in a dish with riced cauliflower, or swap out a carbohydrate-heavy ingredient in a favorite comfort food for something more nutrient dense – like our recipe for Cauliflower Mac n Cheese or Zucchini Ravioli.

We can also shift to non-calorie-focused ways of eating and remember that it’s not always about portion size. By increasing whole foods and protein we naturally feel full and are less inclined to overeat. In our One Big Idea article on the protein leverage hypothesis, we explain how diets low in protein cause people to eat more as the body searches for more protein. If we prioritize protein in our meals, we’ll feel more full and eat a healthy amount without counting calories.

3. Review your words

The emotional environment we create as parents has a huge effect on our kids, and at the core of that environment are our words and tone used around eating.

Before attempting any changes in our family's food behaviors, we can tune into ourselves and become aware of the language we're using around food. By changing the way we talk about food, using neutral and non-judgmental tones and language, we can start to model the behavior we'd like to see in our kids.

We can be especially aware of the labels we give to food and to any thoughts we speak out loud, remembering that what we say is just as important as our actions and what we do.

4. Roll with a community that cares about food

Whenever possible, surround yourself with a community of people who share the same values you do about food. The old “birds of a feather flock together” saying really rings true when it comes to eating, so if you can plug yourself in with people who also value fresh, whole, real foods and who have a positive relationship with eating, then the messages in your family’s food environment will naturally be more positive.

5. Relax with mindful eating

Truly tuning into your body as you eat, noticing sensations as they arise, will automatically allow for healthier eating patterns. One way to do this is to gather around a table for mealtime whenever possible, without the distraction of screens or other sensory stimulations.

Allow the enjoyment of the meal together to be the focus, and then tune into your bodies. Instill mindfulness techniques in your child by asking them questions during mealtime such as, “How do you feel after eating that food?” or, “What is your tummy feeling right now – are you still hungry, or are you getting full?” Being able to judge our hunger, and to focus on the enjoyment of food is a wonderful way to regulate our eating without over-analyzing things.

Also, for those of us who might have picky eaters, mindful eating can be a relaxed way to introduce new foods by slowly allowing new foods into the eating environment.

When a new food is presented, we can offer it to our children in stages – first see if they’d like to touch it, then if they’re comfortable with it they can move onto smelling it, licking or tasting a small bite of it, allowing the food to stay in their mouth, and ultimately swallowing it. We should never force any of these stages, particularly swallowing the food.

Ultimately this gives a child the opportunity to explore in a non-threatening environment. Ultimately you can find balance with your child when you get to a place where the kids are in control of if and how much they eat, whereas the parents are in control of what and when they eat it.

Enjoying this article? Subscribe to the Yes Collective for more expert emotional wellness just for parents.

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