You may be over forty, but most of us have one stubborn little kid rattling around inside. This “kid” represents some unfilled childhood need. And until we either fill or let go of that need, there he or she stays—never aging, always demanding.
Kids like to eat junk food. They’re not mature enough to realize that it’s bad for them. They want a cookie, not broccoli. They want cake, not tofu. Kids, when they finally slow down long enough to figure out they are hungry, have notoriously little patience until fed. Isn’t this the essence of cravings? This pattern was established growing up and it can still dominate today. This is why it’s so important that you discern when it’s hunger talking or that little kid inside saying, “I want what I want—now!”
It’s time to take back control over your eating habits by establishing new ones based upon your maturity and understanding. When your little kid pitches a fit, you can calm him or her by acknowledging that you’ll be making adult choices from now on. Those childhood messages no longer have to determine your eating patterns today. From eating everything on your plate to a backlash against brussels sprouts, many of your reactions to food began when you were growing up. Understand that you’re no longer growing up—you’re grown, and you’re able to make positive choices from a position of maturity.
Be prepared for that little kid to perceive your control and maturity as a personal loss. After all, he or she has been setting many of your food rules for years and has become used to being in the driver’s seat. As you work through these changes, recognize this could be the source of internal conflict you feel between knowing what you need to do and feeling like doing the exact opposite. You’ve got to decide who will have the upper hand and control your eating patterns. For continued success, you need to be the adult.
Think back on the significant pattern changes you’ve made in your eating. What’s been the hardest to change? Is there a change you know you should make but seem to be unable to? I’d like you to frame it within the context of you, the adult, and you, the child.
The adult knows what you need to do. The child wants to continue what you’ve always done. Spend some time today acknowledging that that child exists within you. Can you identify the age? Is there more involved than food? In other words, when you don’t eat like your child wants, are other emotions associated with that child? Anger? Rebellion? Sadness? Loss?
Recognize children will often use food to deal with emotions because it’s one thing they have under their control. And it is often a way children find to successfully control the adults around them. Watch any young child pitch an absolute fit in the grocery store over some snack item. Then watch the parent give in to the tantrum to avoid further embarrassment. As children gain a sense of their own independence and control, food is often the avenue used to express it.
Your own child could be the very thing fighting your best intentions to be your best physical self. Childhood issues can be very difficult to work through on your own. If you find yourself unable to assert an adult decision because of past childhood issues, I urge you to seek out a professional counselor or therapist. In many cases, food covers over other issues that can be successfully dealt with through the partnership with a professional. The personal insight gains can positively affect not only your eating habits but your very approach to life.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.