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How I Learned Not to Be a “Normal” Eater

  • Eating

In the interest of helping you understand how you developed dysregulated eating habits, I thought I’d share my story with you. All our stories, of course, will be different but will also have themes and threads in common. It’s important to remember that not just one thing derailed your eating. Rather, it was a combination of factors beyond your control. It’s nothing you did and it wasn’t your choice to have a dysfunctional relationship with food. It’s something you learned from circumstances and now must unlearn.

First off, my father was not a great role model with food. He was an overeater, in part likely from growing up during the Great Depression. And perhaps his sense of food deprivation was also due to how his parents related to food. I don’t know because his mother died before I was born and his father died when I was a toddler. At any rate, my father always finished all the food on his plate and then some. When my parents went out to dinner with friends, he was affectionately known as “Garbage Can” Koenig because he finished the food on everyone’s plate. He was never more than ten pounds overweight that I recall because he dieted frequently to take it off.

Second, my father was overly attached to me tasting everything and belonging to the clean plate club. He’d sit with me at dinner reading the New York World Telegram until my plate was devoid of food, no matter how full I was or how I begged him to let me stop eating. I’ve no doubt he did these things out of great love for me, but his pressure turned me into an overeater who hated to waste food and believed more was better.

Third, my mother, a “normal” eater, had this bizarre habit of not letting us open a new box of food until the previous one was finished—no Corn Flakes unless the Cheerios were gone, no Ritz Crackers unless the Saltines were no more. She also wouldn’t allow me to eat food made for “company,” when she could have bought or made more of it so I could have some before it was served to them. Instead, I’d sneak it and eat it in secret.

Fourth, both of my parents were highly appearance conscious Manhattanites and judgmental of how other people looked and dressed. Thin and fashionable was praised and unkempt or frumpy was condemned. My mother frequently called out to me as I was leaving the house, “Do you know what you look like from the back?” Hence, I came to believe that all eyes were on how I looked all the time, judging me harshly. 

It's crucial to understand your food story. If you’ve never spent time delving into it, take a few minutes and identify the factors which determined your relationship with it. Once you understand its roots, you’ll have an easier time changing unwanted behaviors.