Over the holidays, Jeff and I were talking about compulsory eating and how we were raised as kids ultimately affecting our relationship to food. Both of us were raised with cultural nuances that still affect how we relate to nourishment 40 – 50 years later.
It actually seems odd that as two mature adults, working in holistic health, we’re only now really learning how to navigate our healthy metabolisms, finally able to let go of emotional eating. (See the talk I did with Mary Beauchamp for more insight.)
Jeff let me know that growing up in a Jewish household meant that food was a huge focus, several times a day. That you didn’t really listen to your own ecology for when it was time to eat. The delicacies poured forth from an eastern European history full of deprivation, holocausts, loss of family members in favor of immigration for a better life, all of which produced a large charge around food. No wonder food is wholly celebrated. There is finally enough of it in plenty without the tyranny and suppression from forces from the past.
As a kid, I was raised by two mothers whose own mothers had gone through a couple of world wars. They knitted mittens for boys serving overseas, had boarders in their homes, and worked at least two to three jobs just to make ends meet. When we went ‘down home’ to the east coast to be with family during the summers, I was loved with ice cream, Tang, and a ton of cake. This was a compensation for my mother’s suicide, which was never mentioned once after it occurred. It was like my mother had converted into two scoops of pralines, caramel, and cream. I know where every ice cream shop is located in the city that we live in, no exception.
I told Jeff that at home, with my step-mother, it was insisted that I sit at the table until my cooling bowl of cream of wheat (or other such delicacies) was consumed in its entirety. Afterall, kids were starving in Africa. I actually sat for three hours, watching the ticking coo coo clock, and crying into that beige, molten lava of cream of wheat with Carnation skim milk and a teaspoon of brown sugar. “Can I have more sugar please?”, I asked as I gagged, heaving a spoonful back up. The Brothers Grimm and Disney would have been all over that orphan – stepmother scenario.
Fast forward – I never, ever, once suggested that my kids sit down and eat a meal. In early highchair days they could use their tiny fists to shove food in their mouth out of their own steam. Later, I also never insisted that they eat what I put in front of them, and I never forbid them from accessing food on their own volition. They had a little picnic table in the dining room that they could snack at at will. The bottom of the fridge and cupboard had healthy foods that they could graze on whenever they pleased. When they did choose to join us at the table, sometime around seven years of age, we tried to make meals fun, inclusive, and in many cases, by that time, they’d chosen to participate in meal preparation, also out of their own volition.
My children are well grown into adulthood with their own relationships and families, and neither of my kids have ever had issues with weight, diabetes, or addictions of any kind. Compare this to my own adult years, where I battled weight, was almost diabetic, and was addicted to sweets and carbohydrates worse than an alcoholic or drug addict. Trying to get the sweetness out of food instead of life just about did me in. Living to eat instead of eating to live was seemingly unconquerable for me after incurring so much trauma hooked to the consumption of food.
So when we witness our patients forcing their children into an adult consciousness around food and compulsory eating, the hair goes up on both our necks. When a spoon is forced into kids’ mouths instead of volunteering to scoop into their fists only what they desire, we are setting them up early for a lifelong need for therapy. We should know! When children are parented based on eating schedules, sleep training, and toilet training because their child, “just has to learn …” some compulsory, adulting thing, we stiffen right down to our barefoot shoes. This is actually due to accumulated misery being projected by the parent onto the child. The unhealed schism of expectation is often laid bare and glaring in all our sad faces.
It has to stop, or these babes will be coming to us for night time peeing the bed, diabetes, weight gain, emotional suppression, and just perpetuating the same gesture with their own children. We’ve been serving such parents and damaged children for twenty three years now. Around and around the karma merry go round we go. Grimm and Disney don’t need to be rubbing their hands with glee beyond the grave. We can stop compulsive eating and compulsory morality here. Today.
If you need more resources, read Dr. Wilhelm Reich’s, Children of the Future, Listen Little Man, or my book, Unfolding The Essential Self, about lifting the therapeutic veil on harbored rage as it relates to suppressed pathology. It all harkens back to compulsory morality. Our babes of the future deserve a better outcome for them to thrive in their autonomy, full agency, and the facility of discernment. At least, we hope that it is finally time.
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