Unlearning 3 Childhood Eating Habits That Don’t Serve You

Everything you’re doing now is rooted in what you learned in your childhood home.

That may be a tough pill to swallow, but only if your listening is defensive. Perhaps you read that sentence and had the thought, “I’m an adult. I’ve modified my behaviors as I’ve grown up! I’m not childlike anymore!”

In reality, we’re all childlike – the idea that adults mature to a magic number and pupate, crawling forth from their cocoons and emerging into perfect and complete adults couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even in the ways we rebel from our childhood selves, we’re basing our current behavior on lived experiences from our childhoods.

Including the way that we eat.

Kids are tricky, and parenting, as anyone who’s been parented or is a parent certainly knows, does not come with a manual. 

So sometimes, we ingrain habits in our children that we don’t mean for them to carry with them forever.

And yet, impressions are a curious thing. Nagging your child for 18 years about the importance of doing the dishes right after dinner might never stick, but that subconscious guilting via “starving kids in China” could stay forever.

Psychologists specializing in childhood analysis will tell you – many of the issues that plague you in adulthood are borne out of experiences you had when you were little.

Often, those experiences and the learned behavior that accompanies them no longer serve you!

And there are three major childhood eating habits that could stand to be unlearned…

Finishing Your Plate

If you can remember one or both parents refusing to let you leave the table before you finished your meal, reminding you to be grateful because a child in a third-world country would be thrilled to have your dinner, or encouraging you to get seconds after you’d finished your first plate, it’s possible you’ve internalized this message.

Sometimes, parents just wanted to make sure you were eating enough calories for your tiny body to grow. Sometimes, they were using a false sense of scarcity to instill gratitude in you for the food you were given.

But as adults, a lot of us tend to pile our plates up high, and then eat way past the point of satiety in order to accomplish an unspoken contract between us and our plates: You must finish your portion.

Here’s the thing…

You don’t have to. And in fact, in the West, our portion sizes are considered huge. You don’t ever have to finish your plate. You can save it for later if you think you’ll eat it, but you can also compost it, throw it away, give it away, or repurpose it into something else.

Picky or Familiar Eating

Here’s a tough one to pinpoint, because every picky eater has had a different journey with food. 

Maybe a microwavable chicken pot pie made you sick once and you never tried it again, or you couldn’t stand eggs because one time your mom left a shell in your scrambled breakfast, or just hated the taste of brussel sprouts from the first time you ever tried one.

Fear of relinquishing control or losing your agency as a child can make you cling to those identifiers long past their usefulness, and hamstring you in certain grown-up endeavors.

For example, the more we understand the implications of our diet on everything from our energy levels to the bacterial colonies in our digestive tract to mental illnesses, the more we try to diversify our diets. 

Self-imposed restrictions you haven’t reconsidered in years may be holding you back – tell your inner child to be brave and try new things. 

Just because you wouldn’t have eaten an acai bowl at 10 years old doesn’t mean you can’t at 40!

Making Meals out of Junk Food

We didn’t always know what we know now, and the internet wasn’t around for a lot of parents to research and outsource other options.

For a long time, a heavy pasta dinner with bread (and a small salad) was a pretty normal meal. As families steadily required dual incomes, cooking a well-rounded dinner every night became less feasible, and so many of us grew up eating microwavable TV dinners, quick-fix quesadillas, and other junk-food disguised as real food.

And now that you have the power of the grocery store, your income, and the internet at your disposal, you can make adult-friendly versions of the treats you loved for dinner as a kid! 

Use real cheese for that quesadilla and stuff it with veggies! Try a pasta replacement, like spaghetti squash or pasta made with ancient grains, plus tomatoes from your garden for that decadent Italian dinner. Make your own chicken pot pie from scratch with bone broth and farm-raised chicken instead of microwaving a frozen one.

There are all sorts of ways to upgrade your eating habits from the ones that kept you alive through your childhood. 

Eat exactly how much you need, always be open to trying new things, and use fresh and healthy ingredients if you’re feeling nostalgic for a childhood favorite. 

But if you need more help and guidance beyond this advice…

You may want to consider signing up to watch Dr. Trevor Cates’ exclusive four-episode series, “Cooking for Vitality.” As a naturopathic doctor and a mom of three kids, she’s made it her business to know what kind of eating and cooking feeds you energy, and what kind doesn’t.
The series doesn’t drop for a few weeks, but if you click here to find out more about it, you’ll be ready when it does!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.