Every Food Psych podcast episode begins with the same question: “So, tell me about your relationship with food growing up.” I’ve been so immersed in these podcasts. Every time Christy Harrison asks her guests this question, it gets me thinking: What would I say?
My earliest food memories take me back to the dinner table when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I remember sitting around the table– we’d have family style dinners with my sister, brother, mom and dad. My mom would cook most nights. The meals that I remember most from this time is tuna helper, orange roughy baked in white lemon sauce, casseroles, always paired with some type of vegetable, usually canned (frozen veg hadn’t made it’s big appearance yet). and always, always, a dinner salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber with ranch dressing). Our family also had dessert most nights! We loved (and still do) Blue Bell Ice cream. My dad would scoop us chocolate chip cookie dough into little ice cream cups and I’d eat all the cookie dough balls first (obv the best part).
Breakfast usually consisted of leftovers. I also remember we were obsessed with toaster strudels for the longest time. My mom packed us lunch every day– usually a peanut butter sandwich with fruit, chips, granola bar. After school snacks were a must– I remember we had chocolate chip cookies, cheese ball puffs… that’s all that I can remember at this point.
My sister and I often got in fights at the dinner table and I remember getting sent to time out or up to my room in the middle of dinner. I also remember getting a lot of stomach aches after dinner — but I think that could be explained with the fact that I was a VERY anxious child. I’d pick random things to be obsessed with– for example, for YEARS, I was obsessed that I would accidentally swallow a bobby pin. <– yes, you read that right. I was also extremely shy. I barely talked in school and had really bad social anxiety. Another area of anxiety for me (and still is today) is the fear of getting sick and dying. As a child, I would constantly be afraid of throwing up, getting diagnosed with cancer or some other terrible disease. To this day I still fear death and it’s a major source of anxiety for me.
Because I was so shy and anxious, I had very little friends. I’d keep to my one or two girlfriends and that’s about the way it stayed until high school, when I finally branched out and had a small group of friends.
But going back to food– when we were young, the Hein kids were known as bottomless pits. We could eat tons of food and still go back for seconds, thirds, even fourths. We’d have competitions for how many slices of pizza we could eat at CiCi’s. I remember eating to the point where I’d be really stuffed, and somehow this feeling was comforting. Unfortunately, overeating caused quite a few stomach aches.
My parents never really talked much about nutrition or physical activity when we were really young– I don’t think they felt they had to. We ate pretty much anything they set in front of us and loved veggies, seafood, things little kids normally don’t like. We were all very physically active– we’d play outside from the moment we got home from school until it was time for dinner, and then we’d go out and play again. We were involved in sports like soccer, softball, basketball. I think because we were so active, it never crossed my parent’s mind that perhaps I was overeating due to anxiety.
My parents were (and still are) fairly normal eaters. I do remember my mom going on a couple diets here and there — the “blood type” diet was a big one, and I think she tried out the recipe for the cabbage soup cleanse at some point. The message I got from this was more of my mom wanting to be healthy, rather than lose weight. She never did talk much about losing weight when we were little kids.
My relationship with food stayed pretty much the same until college. I could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, and never saw any type of repercussion other than the stomach aches. My body size growing up was very much on the small side. People would always comment on my super skinny body and it used to really bother me. I was a late bloomer too– I didn’t start taking on a more womanly body shape until a couple years into college. Stayed pretty much a bean pole up until then.
When I got into high school, I was lucky to have friends who weren’t completely obsessed with their body image or weight. When we hung out, we’d order pizza, eat raw cookie dough, chips and candy, and the thought of gaining weight never entered my mind (perhaps it entered theirs, but we never really talked about it).
At this point, my parents kept up the same meal habit– a main dish, veggie side, a side salad. My mom and dad both started experimenting with recipes and started using fresh vegetables and more nutritious food choices– and us kids still ate it all up. There really wasn’t anything we wouldn’t eat, which I’m sure made meal planning a little easier for my mom.
My childhood and leading up to the end of high school I think I had a fairly intuitive relationship with food. I know that I tended to overeat at times. Looking back and with what I know now, that overeating was probably caused by my anxiety. I remember when I would go back for seconds or thirds, I’d get the feeling that the food was so good, that I just wanted to eat as much of it I could hold. We were never food insecure, although I do remember my mom making a couple comments about the grocery store budget at times. Could I have been overeating to help myself feel better about my shyness and many anxieties? Probably so.
I remember being so shy in school, that I would only talk to my one or two friends. Boys never paid much attention to me, unlike the other girls. I never got asked to be someone’s “girlfriend” until I got to college, let alone asked to a school dance, or even prom. My insecurities were mostly about my super curly hair, glasses and braces. I’d see these beautiful pictures of women in magazines and as I started to read things like Seventeen– I remember one time some teen magazine published an “Improve Yourself in 10 steps” tear-out manual in one of its publications. I kept that manual in my diary and was super preoccupied about improving myself. I would research ways I could make myself more attractive– by trying a bunch of makeup, outfits, ways to style my hair, and none of it “worked”. No matter how hard I tried to “improve” myself, my self esteem never got any better.
When I got to college, I “finally” started receiving attention from men and it seemed to be only because of my smaller body size. I never had a normal relationship with a man until I met my now husband (which didn’t help with the self confidence, lol). Food wise, I dabbled with vegetarianism and going gluten free throughout my first several years in college, but still ate very large quantities of food without thinking about it. I just ate until I was stuffed. Many people would comment on my smaller body, and how “lucky” it was that I had a seemingly high metabolism and could eat as much as I wanted. These comments would always bother me.
Sophomore year of college was a big one: I discovered dietetics and I started dating my future husband. For a long time, I thought the reason I picked nutrition was because I loved helping people and wanted to help people live a healthier life. But looking back now, it was most likely my fear of sickness and death that fueled most of my interest (not that I don’t love helping people). My overeating as a child spilled over into my adult life– overeating and the feeling of fullness comforts me and makes me feel alive in the moments I’m scared of sickness or death or feeling lonely. Obviously this is a huge issue and I’ve begun taking steps to fix it (will have to save that for a future post).
Like I said last week, I truly believe that most dietitians become dietitians because they have a genuine, caring personality. But what if what we’ve been taught, and what we promote, has done nothing other than harm our patients and clients, and OURSELVES? What if the reason for many of our career choices was to hide or encourage our own disordered eating? It’s truly mind blowing.
We’ll stop there for today, as the rest of the story is my relationship with food as an adult.
What do you remember most about food growing up?
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!