Ep.53 – How your childhood eating could be affecting your IBS
19 Jun, 2024

Episode Intro

If you've ever decided to change your diet to better support your digestion, but struggle to stick to this new way of eating, then this episode is for you. There are lots of reasons why we struggle to make changes to our diet. Could be down to time, lack of clarity on your goals, or just feeling really confused about what to eat. But the other area I'm going to cover today is our attitudes to food, and how our childhood experiences of eating can influence what we do as an adult. This week I'm going to talk about how meanings are linked to foods, and how this can play a part in how challenging we find it to follow a new diet.

Podcast transcript

Breathing techniques for IBS

welcome to episode 53 of the Inside Knowledge podcast for people with IBS, I’m Anna Mapson. In my work as an IBS nutritionist, I work with people all over the world who have all different kinds of relationships to food I find it so interesting. The things that we think are completely normal and just, this is how I’ve always done it, could be completely alien to somebody else.

And once you get into understanding a little bit more about how people come up with these habits, ideas and attitudes about food and feeding ourselves, Then we can sort of dig a little bit deeper and see whether it is linked to how they’ve grown up. Is it linked to bad experiences? All of these things help shape our food landscape.

The reason I wanted to run this episode of the podcast about this topic is to try and reassure you really that sometimes It’s not just that you haven’t understood a topic properly. So, for example, if you’ve got IBS, maybe you’ve tried to do the low FODMAP diet. In this case, it’s quite a tricky diet to follow, it’s a little bit

unintuitive in terms of understanding what to eat, but it’s not necessarily down to how clever you are and whether you’ve understood it or not. sometimes, it’s down to our emotional connections to food and changing things about the way that we eat. It can feel so much more difficult than just following the instructions.

Logically, you understand them, you know them, and yet at the time how to make the change and how to make it stick feels very difficult. So this week it’s a bit more of a loose format for this episode I suppose, just me talking really. But I do have a couple of tips at the end and some things that you can focus on if you want to give this bit of exploration a go in your own life.

Once we know what habits we actually have, or what attitudes we actually have towards food, we become aware of them, then we can think about, okay, well, where did this come from? Why do I have this attitude about the way I eat? And then you can start to think about how to change that in order to make life easier for yourself.

Maybe there’s this sort of overriding Need to be more healthy and yet the healthy food that you Desire in your mind to be a healthy person is Upsetting your stomach and that can feel really challenging It’s like you want to be eating lots of vegetables and lentils and whole grains But those are the foods that upset your tummy.

And so there’s this Cognitive dissonance, I think it’s called, where you have a set of beliefs or attitudes, but your actions don’t line up with them. So you believe that you are a healthy person, you’ve always eaten healthily, and yet now you cannot eat in that way, and it feels really emotionally challenging.

And I know a lot of people I work with have this really difficult set of beliefs thoughts and you go round and round in circles just thinking I want to be this healthy person because you know that you maybe have done it in the past. That can be quite common. Or the other side of a lot of people I work with is this kind of thinking well I don’t really want to follow a diet.

I don’t want someone to tell me what to do. I don’t want to be beholden to a set of rules about food. And, these rules, they’re not rules that someone’s just put in arbitrarily about what’s a good diet. It’s based on like scientific biology around how things are digested. And yet when you look at it, this is, there is a set of rules and that can also feel very challenging.

If you’re someone who Has always in the past really enjoyed eating and been a real foodie and now you’ve got to follow all these boring rules and all the food you love, you can’t eat. It’s very individual and it’s very personal how all these Associations with food come about.

A lot of it is from our childhood and thinking back to how we were brought up around food can be quite transformative. If you think about how babies are fed, there’s a real element of food being wrapped up with love as well. So with breastfeeding, like the mother is literally feeding the baby and passing through a lot of those oxytocin hormones, which are relaxing.

It’s like the love hormone passing from a mother’s breast into the baby. And there’s a real sense of connection through feeding a baby as well. You’re holding them in your arms, you’re looking them in the eye, you’re gazing at them. That is basically One of the first experiences that we have as a newborn is the love and the food coming together.

And, um, It’s no wonder that we have a complex set of emotions about that as well depending on your relationship with your mother and general family life in the early days. I know I just mentioned, breastfeeding, but obviously You can still get that connection through bottle feeding. I just meant that that’s originally how humans started being reliant on a parent. Obviously nowadays we do have the option for bottle feeding and I used to teach, uh, before I was doing, this job I used to teach baby massage and teach baby weaning. So I did a lot of work with mums and newborns and spent a lot of time thinking about how we can set up a good healthy relationship with food and trying to support people to do that in their own families.

I think the reason I’m quite passionate about it as well is because we tend to eat The way that we’ve been brought up. We tend to eat what we’re familiar with, what we know about, and it’s important, if we can, to try and create a good healthy environment for children to eat from the beginning.

So, thinking back to your childhood, maybe just thinking about how you were brought up around food, were your family mealtimes enjoyable? Were you forced to sit at the table till you could finish everything there? Did you have to finish your broccoli before you were allowed pudding? Did you actually hate the food that you had?

You know, what was the vibe around the table? Did you have chats about what was going on at school? Or did children have to eat first and the parents ate later and you didn’t actually have family mealtimes? Sometimes people ate their meals on their laps, watching telly. And again, that can be a good social.

There’s no judgement in all of this, I’m just asking you to think about how you were brought up, and how that might have shaped how you feel about food generally and eating today. Maybe also you had other people in the house who had health conditions, either food allergies or celiac disease, And there could have been a sense of fear of food, of contamination, that we had to be really super careful about food, and obviously that was to meet another family member’s health conditions, but perhaps that’s also influenced your feelings about food, and a cautiousness and a kind of health anxiety that could run beneath what you’re feeling now about your digestion.

People who have IBS can often feel this, what you’re eating is bad for you and is damaging you somehow. And particularly for people who have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, there’s this real sense that food is something. can make things worse, so of course, you’re going to have some worry about that. And it’s like fueling your attitude that certain foods are good for you or bad for you. And actually just even me using those words, good for you, bad for you, leads me onto the next area that I wanted to talk about, which is really around clean eating the thoughts that often are influenced by social media making food out to be, more moralistic, I suppose, than it actually is.

I know I’ve talked about this a few times on the podcast before, but people calling food toxic or inflammatories or using words like nasties around food, and it’s just not actually very helpful for our attitude towards eating and to fueling ourselves. But that is a big influence as well over our relationship with food is what we’re consuming mentally online?

What social media accounts are you following that are shaping your attitudes towards eating? One of my clients a few years ago said he really wished that food was not wrapped up with all social occasions because it was putting him off socializing. And if you think about it, quite often when we invite people over, we’ll make dinner for them, or you go out for a meal, or even just go for drinks and then food might be available. Food is often part of our celebrations. I have clients for whom this is a really big part of why they want to work on their digestion and get better. Because it’s affecting their social life. So when. You can’t join in with everyone else. It does feel really difficult, and it can feel more emotional than the logistics of actually bringing your own food and getting out and eating it at the same time as everybody else because it’s about joining in, feeling part of the the social event, maybe the family birthday party, whatever.

If you have that gap between you and them, and of course, there’s the social embarrassment of explaining it’s to do with your IBS, or this is the reason you can’t join in, you know, it feels like you’re putting a barrier in place when you do that. Sometimes, not everybody will feel this, but I know people I work with feel like they’re being awkward by bringing their own food or suggesting that they go to certain restaurants because it better suits them.

And I suppose I just wanted to just highlight it really, not to say whether it’s good or bad or whether you should or shouldn’t feel like that, but just acknowledging it sometimes can almost think, Oh, that’s why I’m feeling so wrapped up about this food changes is because I’m putting some pressure on, or I’m trying to change the social norms within my family or my friendship groups.

So a couple of the sort of situations that I was going to talk about as well, thinking about how we grew up around food. I’ve had a client recently that grew up in a very healthy household with limited chocolates or biscuits, crisps in the house. They were really, really healthy and it was always vegetables, you know, healthy snacks, hummus and raw carrots and that sort of thing after school.

And then he became a student, went off on his own to live on his own and suddenly had a bit of money to feed himself. No parental instructions. And he kind of lived off fast food, McDonald’s. He also really didn’t eat what I would consider enough food. So we talked about, you know, how to increase up his food, but the key.

The thing I want to mention is this sense of control, like this sense of, there’s certain foods that you’re not allowed, just really backfired because as he got to his own place to live and his own money, he just wanted to eat all the foods. He wasn’t ever allowed growing up, it was kind of rebelling against that.

So for you, like, is there a sense that you, don’t want to eat lots of vegetables and things because you were forced to eat so many as a child and you’re kind of rebelling against it or somewhere in your head it feels that you’re conforming to other pressures that perhaps your family put upon you and you, you want to be your own person. But eating that way doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re all alone.

following your family’s guidance. The general healthy guidance about eating vegetables. It is important. However, it’s trying to unpick like, where’s my resistance to that sense of eating healthy? Is it coming from wanting to be different from my parents, wanting to rebel, or is it something else?

Another example of somebody I’ve worked with who had parents who very much controlled their intake of food. They were just very controlling and always would not put out enough food. So she ended up eating very, very fast. Having this thought at the back of her head that she needed to stuff down the food as quickly as possible because it was often taken away or not enough food was given as she was growing up.

This can also be a problem for people who have had food insecurity, so maybe you haven’t had enough money to have sufficient food on your plate on a regular basis, and there’s that insecurity of knowing where your next meal will come from, or whether you will have a proper dinner this week. So, In those senses, either whether someone is overly controlling your food, or whether you don’t have enough money for the food, that can also lead to different approaches to eating.

Maybe every time you see food now, you feel like you have to eat, you have to get it down because in your head, you don’t know where the next meal might be coming from and you’re trying to protect yourself. The opposite of that is also true. So I have also had a client I worked with a few years ago and she had a Mediterranean.

herritage, they had a slow, long meal with everybody sitting around the table, you know, lovely sociable time and a lot of pressure from the mother to eat. So constant pressure to fill up your plate, eat more, come on, eat more, eat more. And actually then, um, In later life, she found it quite hard to be on a diet because, in one way, she wanted to lose weight, this person, she wasn’t massively overweight, but she wanted to get into a smaller body and, um, wanted to lose a bit of weight and yet she had this voice in her head of being always told you need to eat more, you must finish everything that’s on your plate, have more portions, you know, and, and that meal time should be a really big part of, you know, Family life that you must have a long meal time with extensive foods and lots of different plates and you know Everybody’s eating all the time throughout this two hour dinner time.

So I mentioned there that we have sometimes this sort of Parents voice in our head telling us what we should eat and actually in sort of psychology terms We have these three ego states.

So these three kind of parts of ourselves. So one is a parent that is telling us what to do. One is like an adult, which is the rational adult following the logic and the facts. And then we also have a child, which is more responding as your inner child might have. And I think this is quite an interesting way to think about your food and your approaches to eating as well.

So, for example, your parent voice in your head, your, might be telling you, you shouldn’t eat that, that’s bad for you, or, on Sundays we have a roast, this is just what we do. The adult voice might be thinking, okay, well, I know I need to eat protein, so therefore, I’ll eat this much chicken for lunch and I’ll have fish for dinner.

You know, that is a sort of logical approach to putting together your meals. You might think about food in that way as well. And then your sort of inner child might have either a real, like, disgust of certain foods that you were fed. And like, I can’t bear to eat that or just, I want it. I eat it. Um, so.

It’s really normal for us to have all of these three states in our head all the time and sometimes they’re conflicting which can also feel really difficult when you’ve got different voices inside your head. I’m obviously not talking about, you know, real voices like schizophrenic voices but they are thoughts and different parts of ourselves and once we can kind of see where some of these things are coming from it can help us unlock these ability to change the way we eat or change the way we respond to ourselves, even if we don’t change the actual habits and actions.

We might just be a bit more gentle on ourselves knowing where those thoughts have come from. A little example of that personally for me is that I have got a real thing about wasting food and or just wasting anything in general like I, you know, really use up all the toothpaste and scrape it out before we’ll throw the toothpaste away.

I don’t really like wasting food and that came definitely from how I was brought up. My mum’s parents were, Immigrants to this country and didn’t have a lot of money and definitely instilled in her a sense of do not waste. You know, we must make and do. And then that has definitely been brought over to me as well.

Not necessarily only about money, but like using the Earth’s resources, making sure we don’t waste. As part of my eating disorder training that I did over the last year. One of the activities that we had to do was to throw away a piece of food that was good.

There was nothing wrong with it. We had to do it as part of, like, exploring our own sense of whether you waste food. And the reason it’s important in terms of attitudes to food is that If you eat everything on your plate because you don’t want to waste it, effectively you’re kind of wasting it into yourself, because you don’t really need it, you don’t actually want it, but you’re still eating it anyway, just in order for it not to be wasted.

So, interesting, very interesting, and I actually found that experiment quite difficult but it really helped me think about, well, where did this come from, why did I grew up with that sense that waste is really bad. And obviously like logically, we only have limited resources in each family and within the world.

So we don’t want to waste loads of stuff, but at the same time, it’s like, what emotions is that triggering? Is it. triggering emotions that are larger than the actual activity should warrant. So, if you’ve got to the end of this episode and thought, oh, this is interesting, I think I might like to do something about this.

I was thinking about some specific things that you might be able to put into place. In your own life to help you with this. One of them might be to write yourself a little essay or journal entry or kind of picture, it could be a lifeline of how you were brought up. brought up around food, what was going on around all of these different points in your life?

How was eating at school, for example? Think about it and about whether that has influenced your attitude to the way you eat now. Also just being really mindful about What might be coming out of that life story of eating?

Maybe you want to be mindful about eating and if you want to go back to episode 2 where I talk a lot about mindful Eating that can be helpful. Just really focusing on the mechanics of eating a little bit But also thinking about mindful shopping, you know, are you actually buying foods that are gonna be right for you?

Are you planning meals that are So just, investing a bit of time in it, I suppose, which is really tricky if you’re already time poor. You’re very busy. And then, I guess the other thing is, if you’re trying to make changes to your diet, is actually having a plan, knowing where your, what your end goal is, and trying to work backwards from that in mini steps, so little things to break it down into achievable steps.

So I know that’s quite high level actions this week, and there’s not anything necessarily specific that you should take and do at the end of this episode, but it’s probably worth just thinking about, even if you don’t actually do anything, is just have a little think about it.

Whether these have brought up anything for you, and whether you’d like to do anything about it. So, I’ll leave it there for this week. Thank you very much for listening to this episode of the Inside Knowledge. Better digestion for everyone.

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