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Recently I read a book describing attachment styles and was reminded of the importance of our earliest relationships which teach us how to connect to and trust in ourselves and others. Not only is your learned attachment style predictive of how you will relate to people in adulthood, it also plays a part in how you attach to yourself—to your internal world—and has a direct bearing on how you may use food in your life.

British psychiatrist John Bowlby described four “attachment styles” that develop between children and their care-takers and get played out in life. Note that by neatly summarizing them, I’m over-simplifying a complex subject and that styles are not as black and white as portrayed below.

Secure is characterized by people with high self-esteem, positive self-image, and good mental health. They have the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships.
Anxious resistant is found in people who have difficulty being soothed, feel unlovable and worry about being loved and abandoned. They tend to be clingy in relationships.
Anxious avoidant is associated with people who appear not to care about relationships and desire neither great dependence on others nor for others to be highly dependent on them. These individuals often avoid intimate relationships.
Disorganized/disoriented is found in people who lack sound and stable emotional control, have poor mental health, a negative self-image, and low-self esteem. Not surprisingly, they have difficulty making and keeping healthy relationships.

Think about these styles as ways you also connect to yourself, especially with food. If you have a secure attachment, you trust your appetite and don’t look to others to tell you what, when or how much to eat, recognize that only you have that information, and honor the connection you have with both your physiology and feelings. Alternately, when you’re insecurely attached to a felt sense of your emotions or food desires, you become anxious, avoidant, and confused around food, don’t know what/when/how much to eat, and look outside of yourself for answers.

Attachment categories are not meant to be rigidly exclusive. Instead, view them as generally informative, whether we’re talking about your attachment style to people or the connection to yourself. Their significance is in helping you understand how your relationship with food might have been affected by your attachment to your early caretakers. Just more food for thought.