Feelings about Food and Mixed Messages


eating disorders

Here are some of the things children are told which contribute to the development of a belief system when it comes to food and food issues. I have said some of these things myself, not realizing what message I was sending. My point in writing this post is not written to criticise well meaning parents but for the reader to take a look at some of the ways our belief system about food was developed in the first place.

~ “Eat everything on your plate and you can have desert” This message indicates that desert is better, desert is a reward, and that desert is somehow special.

~ “If you can’t eat what is on your plate then I guess you are too full for desert” This message encourages us to overeat in order to get the prize, which is desert, which we have already learned is “better, special and the reward”.

~ “Save room for desert” Often only the adults in the room and at the same dinner table are told to save room for desert. How confusing is that to a child? As children we often have to eat the kinds of food and the amounts of food that THEY decide for us to eat, before we get desert. We think to ourselves ~ “I can’t wait till I am an adult. I don’t have to eat my sprouts, asparagus, meat, potatoes, (or whatever it is that you don’t want to eat that day), AND I can have desert whenever I want. I can’t wait to grow up and get away from controlling adults.”  

~ “Let’s celebrate ~ why do so many celebrations have to do with food?  

~ “You can’t have this (treat) unless you are “good” ~once again food is a reward for behavior and when we are adults we often consider food as a reward or recognition for any achievement.  

~ “You have been “good” so here is some money for candy”  I am not saying that all of this is wrong, I am just pointing out how we develop our relationship with food. How food becomes a reward and these things translate into a belief system about food. If an abuser has used treats and food this is even worse.

~ Making children eat food that makes them gag or making kids sit at the table until they finish a certain amount of food ~ think about the message you got when that happened. This is about power and control. This makes me feel like someone is saying to me “I don’t care what you like or how you feel, you eat it because I say you eat it.” This is a strange way to control a child and becomes a battle of wills. The parent always wins. Once again I encourage you to look at the message that you adopted into your belief system about food if this happened to you.

~”Because you disobeyed me, you can’t have desert for a week.”  

We see that in these last two points that now food has become a punishment. When food becomes both a reward and a punishment we have a bit of a conflicting belief about food.

What about these statements often prefaced by something like “You would be so pretty or you would be more popular if…?

~ “you would be so pretty if you lost (or gained) weight. You would be so happy if you lost (or gained) weight” These statements are loaded with innuendo and insinuation and come with additional info such as “you would be so happy if you cut your hair or grew your hair, if you stopped wearing makeup, or started wearing makeup; if you smiled more” and “You might have a boyfriend or girlfriend if you lost weight” All these statements indicate that you are not acceptable the way that you are. They teach us that we are not loveable unless our bodies, our hair, our clothing and our image, is a certain way! And we don’t even have an understanding of WHAT way. This big lie that we are not acceptable lives way deep down in our subconscious and cause problems that we don’t even begin to be aware of, tearing at our self esteem and destroying confidence.

Please add the things that you have heard or been told that contribute to mixed messages and a faulty belief system about food and food issues.

Exposing Truth ~ one snapshot at a time;

Darlene Ouimet

20 response to "Feelings about Food and Mixed Messages"

  1. By: Marie Posted: 8th March

    Food was always locked away from me and my siblings as kids , when we were fed diner we were made eat it all as there was nothing else. To add to this after my abuser abused me he gave me money to buy sweets so abuse = sweets. I went through periods of anorexia and bulimia and always calling myself ‘fat’ no matter what weight i was! Thanks for posting this, I love reading your stuff Darlene its almost like reading about me and my past, I can relate to this and its all beginning to make sense, thank you

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 9th March

      Hi Marie
      I can relate to what you are saying here too.
      Thanks for your comments!
      hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Cat Posted: 3rd September

    Darlene, I have to share a completey different but equally horrible young life experience around the topic of food. I didnt get much. My mother was so indifferent to our basic needs that there was rarely a prepared meal.

    I remember expressing hunger and being screamed at. Called a little bastard and told to look in the cabinet for a can of “something”. I remember being hungry in elementary when 3 of us shared 1 lunch. i remember getting to jr high school and not being able to eat in front of other kids. i didnt know why but i had so much shame around food. all the other kids just sat and ate and i would get panic stricken. i would say i wasnt hungry and sit and watch everyone else eat. i didnt have any lunch or money to buy lunch either. it took a long time to eat in front of other people. I started sharing some snacks with friends and eventually got money to buy lunches and eat normally with friends. when i think about that part of my life, i just cry. still to this day i have issues. i dont eat til im starving and then i eat the wrong foods. ive been working on that for a few months.

    i cant imagine being forced to eat. i can see how that would be cruel. i still shake my head at the cruely people carry out
    against others. especially parents to their own children.

    from the moment my daughter was born i loved her and treated her with precious love and care. how does one abuse their own? she is now in college with a meal plan and a bank card. the thought of her being hungry is unbareble to me.

    Love and healing…..


    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th September

      Hi Cat
      Thanks for sharing another view. This is also abuse and abuse that led to an eating disorder. It is so important for us to realize the roots of all this stuff in order to overcome the manifestations of the damage it caused. I was never starved, but the eating disorder manifested none the less. What a nightmare your childhood was. Thanks for sharing this here!
      Hugs, Darlene

  3. By: Cindy Posted: 16th May

    I never thought of myself having a ED until my daughter came down with full blown Anorexia at 14. I had to look within to see if I caused this or my husband. This is what I came up with. I remembered a day, in 1965, that my father went to the store to buy groceries, came back, and accused me in a hateful voice, a puny little 5th grader (I was always skinny), of “eating too much”. After crying about his statement, filled with guilt for eating. I decided I would try to not eat that week so he would love me. I remember looking at the one can a ravioli I had asked for, and trying to make it last two lunches, instead of one. When my hunger to finish the can became so great, I ate the whole amount and cried and cried, and vowed to do better, “not eating”…..so my father would love me. Looking back, it was child abuse. I was a latch key kid and had to eat my own lunches, at home, alone, everyday from 5th to 8th grade. That was abuse, too….since I never got to socialized with other classmates to form school friends. Four years I ate by myself….trying to not eat to gain love and acceptance from both of my parents. (I guess I got scawnier,my parents thought I had worms, until I told them I was trying not eat,basically killing myself,to please my father.) It never worked for me…completely stopping eating or gaining my parents love and affection. Eating disorders come from a place where the person just wants to be loved for theirself, but does not feel like that is happening….so they get everything mixed up in it . My daughter is OK, and so am I. The story ends rather happily…so far. I learned something in all of this about my relationship to my parents, as well as my relationship with my daughter. And my daughter’s need to have a father/mother that loves her no matter what she decides to do with her life.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th May

      Thanks for sharing this story Cindy,
      This is exactly what happens.
      Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Debbie Posted: 5th September

    Oh my! These are some wonderful posts…and selfishly I found myself smiling as I read some….only because “ITS ME” and my life over and over again.

    As kids…my siseter and I were FORCED to diet. We were told if we didn’t weigh “X” by summer vacation time we would not be allowed to go. And the insane part it was a vacation to HELL every year. When my step mom would drive us accross country from Nebraska to Washington State and get us totally away from my dad and family, she would beat us way worse. But we wanted to go…I guess because it was called VACATION??? Or if we would have said “screw it, I’ll eat and stay home” we’d probably been beaten to death! (Psycho she was)
    I remember days would go by and we’d be given a can of diet soda…that was it, that was the meal. And at times, if she’s cooked a huge meal, we weren’t allowed to leave the table unless our plates were clean, no matter how long it took….of course that was probably only when we were the RIGHT size.

    My sister and I visit about it today we are both overweight and we share how we NEVER force our kids to eat or not eat….BUT we, clean their plates for them as not to waste!! GREAT huh?

    Ya know, this just feels good reading and knowing there are others who can get through this, also find out HOW.

    Thanks again Darlene….Love you lady 🙂

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 6th September

      Hi Debbie!
      Ya.. this is what I am talking about. Thanks for sharing this Debbie, so much insight in here. I have asked myself those questions too, “why did I want to go??” and I don’t know. I remember some of the “deep down thoughts” that I had that I thought made going almost worth the abuse.. So strange today the way that I was trained to think.
      Thanks so much for sharing a piece of your story here. I love the ending.. that is such a huge thing so many of us do and it illustrates exactly what I am talking about ~ when you said “My sister and I visit about it today we are both overweight and we share how we NEVER force our kids to eat or not eat….BUT we, clean their plates for them as not to waste!!” This is exactly what happens. We do a good thing that ends up being bad for us, or punishing ourselves the same way we were punished. And the cycle continues.

      Hugs my friend, I love you too!

  5. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 5th September

    I hear you. I have a problem with the whole thing about parents controlling kids to that degree with food ~ Being taught that food is expensive so you HAVE to eat it and “we can’t waste it”, we become the garbage.. what is the difference between throwing it away or eating when you don’t like it or are not hungry? I guess the bottom line is what we learn about ourselves; We learn that we don’t actually know what makes us sick. That someone else knows best how hungry we are or are not and we can’t trust our own hunger. That someone else knows better then we do when we are full or not. That we must finish what we are given, OR as you say don’t waste the food that costs the most money ~ which also crosses over into our belief system about money!
    Thanks for your comments Jim, they spured my thinking in a few other directions!

    Hi Diana,
    That is exactly what I am talking about. The conclusion that we come to about ourselves when others (esp. those in authority) make statements like this.
    Thanks for your comment,

    Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: diana Posted: 5th September

    “you would be so pretty if you lost (or gained) weight. You would be so happy if you lost (or gained) weight”

    ..which translated to you are ugly and unhappy. Great message.

  7. By: jimmy b Posted: 4th September

    The first thing I was forced to eat was a take out brand chicken. I didn’t like it but because it cost money I was supposed to eat it. I was a little wee kid and didn’t understand why I had to like it. It made me sick. I remember feeling scared and “bad” What would happen next time I didn’t like something this made me nervous when we would go out–so I would eat it and then go outside and throw it up. To this day I cannot eat that type of fast food–It makes me sick
    Another thing I was taught was to eat the expensive parts of the meal first, what ever my father deemed it too be. Usually it was the meat first and then what ever I wanted. My favorite food is baked potatoes but they had to take a back seat to the meat. I am still an over-eater but I can pick and choose what I eat and in which order.
    I also have a problem with the power of the adults to control the kids’ eating. I don’t see any thing wrong in a kid having more of what they like rather than dessert. I would do anything for pie but I would rather have another portion of carrots than Angel food cake.
    Darlene you have made some terrific points and things to think about–how the mind-set about food is started

  8. By: Cyndi Posted: 4th September

    Oh brother. I’ve been reading a lot about emotional eating and some of these messages were included in those reasons. The bottom line is the only healthy (mentally healthy and physically healthy) is as necessary fuel for our bodies. Attaching any sort of emotion to any food only leads to problems. Your examples of food as rewards are very important. We don’t even realize that these messages are implanted in our brains and then when we have a bad day we feel as if we deserve a treat. When we have a good day we feel as if we deserve a treat. It leads to a never ending cycle of eating when we aren’t hungry to meet emotional needs that we really need to address.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th September

      Hi Cyndi,
      Exactly! The food beliefs are an easy example to use to get everyone realizing how the belief system forms. This is how ALL false beliefs form; in this same similar twisted sneaky way. We are taught that the meaning of something is something different then what it really is. Like that it is your own fault if you were beaten or that you were responsible for sexual abuse for whatever reason. It simply isn’t true but we don’t realize that when we are children. When food is used as a reward when we are children, we relate to it that way, and we never question using food as a reward (or punishment) when we are adults. For me it was the same thing with abuse. I never really thought about why it was not my fault. I just kept trying not to “DO” the thing that brought on the abuse, long into adulthood.

      Thanks Cyndi!
      I love your comments! Hugs, Darlene

  9. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th September

    Hi Eddie,
    Thanks so much for sending me the comment when you were unable to post it. (sorry about the trouble!)

    You bring back a lot of memories and some pretty big feelings too. This is one of the reasons that I always say that “abuse is abuse is abuse” because of the way that it makes us feel. “imprisoned and caged and feeling violated in that something is being forced into us” (or forced onto us) And I am sure that the readers who have been abused with objects are getting the same feeling that I am getting.

    Being forced to do what we did not want to do, something that feels so wrong and it is so different when we are forced to clean our bedroom or forced to go to bed at our bedtime, those things don’t have that “wrong” feeling that makes us feel so powerless and helpless, caged and unloved. We can be made to feel so powerless as children that we accept that we are powerless forever.

    Oh I could write so much more about all of this..(and I will!) Thanks so much for the comments.

    Hugs, Darlene

  10. By: paulette Posted: 4th September

    I grew up with these same rules. I remember having to eat stuff that made me gag like canned peas and liver – yuck! I recall one night at supper I complained about a piece of meat that was too hard to chew. I wasn’t allowed to remove it from my mouth. I was made to sit at the supper table until I finished it. It was way late, past my bedtime and I still hadn’t swallowed it. She even made me go to bed with it … in the morning it was still in my mouth. She finally let me spit it out – it was a large piece of grissle (sp?) that was not at all swallowable. When I got older I swore I would never make my children eat anything that made them gag. I don’t even make them finish what’s on their plate. I hated that I had to eat everything on my plate as a kid. To this day I HATE the feeling of a full stomach.

    Food was used as a form of control … ‘if you’re good you can have a treat’ – I don’t use that adage either with my kids. I buy my kids a treat because I want to, not because they’ve ‘earned’ it.

    Great post, Darlene!! It also made me realize that I still reward myself with blasted treats. I tell myself, ‘I did ‘this,’ ‘that,’ and ‘the other thing,’ so I deserve a large Caramel Coretto from Second Cup.’ Nasty way of thinking – no wonder I struggle with weight so much. Many a time too though I have used food to medicate.

    Since the recent changes in my life – I am hoping that I can get away from medicating myself to healing myself instead. I know that I need to love myself enough to get out of that. Maybe I will have the ability now that I feel I have my power back!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th September

      I just got an email from Eddie who has informed me that when he tires to comment to this post, he is taken to an error page. This has happened before and remains a mystery even with tech support… SO if anyone else is having this problem, please send me your comments throught the contact form and I will post them on your behalf. (using your first name only) Darlene

      Here is the comment from Eddie:
      I remember similar episodes as well, and you’re very right when you say that it is all about power and control. And strangely, it’s memories around food and such that I can remember well. I wonder if that’s somehow because it’s such an “intimate” thing, food, in that we need it to survive so we ingest it, yet have negative memories associated with it due to the power someone was wielding over us with it.

      When I was little, my mother was determined that I was going to eat an orange so she made me sit at the table until I did. So think about that for a moment – basically, the child feels imprisoned and caged. I didn’t want to eat it because I didn’t like oranges and pleaded with my mother not to make me eat it because I knew I would throw up if I did. Didn’t matter, had to eat it. So I did – and threw it up. But, she “won”. So, this also goes to feeling violated in that something is being forced into us that we do not want – sound familiar? Yeah. Another time when I was about 8 or 9, I was feeling sick to my stomach and my mother was trying to give me some Pepto Bismol. Again, I told her that I didn’t want it because I knew it would make me throw up. But she made me take it anyway – and I threw it up.

      With my father, it was more about what he didn’t say that drilled through to my soul. I once made the mistake of selecting the “wrong” piece of chicken from the dinner platter. That piece was supposed to be my mother’s. I had already eaten off it, so I’m sitting there wondering what I’m supposed to do when it’s now realized by all at the dinner table that I had made such a grave error. My father’s eyes just bore right through me. Another example is when I was eating “too loud” for him, so I had to consciously try to eat as quiet as I could. There are other examples, but you get the idea. It was a power thing.

  11. By: carol Posted: 4th September

    i remeber being sat many times on a sunday after noon with the remains of a cold dinner infront of me- strugglin to eat everythin on my plate, my father also gave me it for breakfast if i hadnt eaten it the night before yuck. so i get this point, but i often wonder if my parents did it becos money wsa tight and they realluy didnt want to waste the food, but either way it was pretty bad sometimes wheb we were forced to eat more of/ or kinds of food we didnt like.
    i havent made food into a battle ground with my child as i dont want her to have the issues i have, though i have made her sit at the table til she done, but that is just the eating notv the amount she ate

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th September

      Hi Jackie,
      Thank you for your feedback, I am so glad that you understand what I was writing about in the blog post. People so often don’t realize the damage they do when they try to control certain eating or behaviors of others, like our kids and how much they eat or don’t eat and using food to punish leaves such a lasting effect on our beliefs about the purpose of food. Being abused with food ~ starving kids ~ sets up a fear that of starving with often ends up in an overeating problem and a belief that “I better eat now because there might not be any later”.
      Thanks so much for being here!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Carol,
      Here is another thing that I don’t understand ~ my mother has stories like this too. If they are “poor” and they don’t want to waste food, and if the child is really just NOT hungry, then essentially kids become like the replacement for the garbage. I have eaten things all my life because I didn’t want to “waste food” but when I am not hungry, it would be better to waste the food. Sometimes so much of this is really about a power struggle. A child feels like “you can’t make me eat” the parent thinks “yes I can” and pretty soon it has nothing to do with food or hunger but more about who wins/ who has more power. I learned all this stuff mostly by looking backwards at the stories from people with weight problems/ body issues/ food issues ~ Looking at the results of being forced to eat or not being fed.
      Thanks Carol for sharing your story,
      I am really glad that you are here!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Paulette,
      This is a big part of what I was getting at too Paulette! I remember when my Dad was out of town on business and my mom would say “oh lets have a treat” and it was like this special time when we had special food with our mother, food we didn’t have when Dad was home… it was like ‘love’. It was when she was happier, easier, like our friend. We wouldn’t be scared of her, and we shared food, treats sometimes, and I grew up relating food to those good times and using food to recreate that feeling that things are going to be okay and yes, that does grow into using food to escape the world and the stress of daily life.
      I am really glad that you are here too!
      Hugs, Darlene

  12. By: Jackie Posted: 3rd September

    An eye opener on some things listed here. I’m thankful though, growin up the way I did..that my parents were not into “treats”/”birthdays”/ or any other holiday much. We never got candy or desserts b/c it was always we “didn’t deserve it” and in a huge way I’m thankful for that part of them. Main thing we did suffer though was bein forced to eat everythin on our plate, timed in doin it and once in while havin to go hungry. I use to, when I would be [punished and not allowed any food, I got to where I like dry dog food b/c it was good I spose but then my “mother” found out I had ate it and I was punished again w/havin to eat it for a week and honestly I didn’t mind…least I got SOME food. Bein told so mnay times I was..nevermind…um…I saw some of my mother in ME, in this w/my kids and now I’m goin to change that one habit, even though they fix their own plates…I’m goin to let it go and not worry if they don’t “clean their plate” anymore…As for the endin of this blog…I use to be called a pig or hog or another name when I ate all the food upon bein forced (more like double mesagin to me)…My boys use to pick on their sister for the way she’d eat her food and I often wondered if kids in school were tryin to “take” her food from her but…Today my boys no longer call their sister names as to the way she eats her food. I had to put my foot down with it b/c it hurt me as a child and I knew it was hurtin my BabyGirl so thanks Ms. Quimet for this “eye opener” 🙂

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