As children, we learn a lot more from our parents than most of us realise. They don’t just teach us how to tie our shoelaces, read and write and brush our teeth, they also teach us their personal beliefs. Consciously and unconsciously, they pass on their beliefs about life, money, work, gender roles, equality and prejudices, and they pass on their beliefs about food.
A mother who is always dieting often displays a fear of food that is picked up by her child. A parent who uses food as pleasure or reward will teach their children the same. A parent who feeds to show love will raise a child that will learn to associate food with love. Not all teaching is words, through behaviour, emotion and reaction we can easily bare our true feelings without realising.
In some families, beliefs about food can be passed on through many generations. This means you are not only dealing with your own relationship to food, but with theirs too. Being with them awakens those beliefs. Eating with them often means you have to behave as they believe. Even talking of food and weight with them follows their belief.
Making attempts to change your relationship to food is often met with disapproval from those that taught you. I’ve seen families at war because one of them wants to stop using food and the others don’t. Why would they react this way, why would they get angry or nasty about what should be a good change? Because of fear. Fear that you can do what they can’t. Fear that what they believe is wrong. Fear that you might take away their way of feeling better. They need you to be like them so they can feel ‘safe’ in what they believe. By acting as they do, you give them permission to eat, you make their decisions ‘right’.
Family is never easy no matter what the subject, but the most liberating thing you can learn is that you can’t change them. And just as you have no right to ask them to change, they have no right to demand anything of you be it behaviour or choices about your life. You are not them and that means you can create your own beliefs, you can decide to start again.
Extract from “Still Overweight? The 6-week course that changes your weight and relationship to food forever”