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Sorting Out Beliefs Learned from Parents

I’m sometimes amazed at what clients tell me, as if what they’re saying is a provable fact. It’s obvious to me that their thinking isn’t rational and that they have no idea they’re spouting—or, worse, believing—falsehoods. Sometimes these untruths are about eating and sometimes they’re not. Either way, they’ll need to change these beliefs to become “normal” eaters and emotionally healthy people.

When we’re children, we believe nearly everything our parents tell us—but that doesn’t mean that all they say is true or that the beliefs we learn from them serve us well in adulthood. Just as you’re probably not still adorning your living quarters with dolls, toy soldiers, miniature tanks, stuffed animals or posters of teen idols, it’s not great mental health to be walking around with outdated, erroneous beliefs in your head.

We believe what we learn growing up for several reasons. First, we don’t have the brain capacity to analyze what’s true or false. That growth and maturity won’t come until our late twenties or early thirties. Second, as children, our view is that our parents know and are right about everything. Third, our payoff in going along with what they believe is approval and praise and avoidance of punishment, especially if we’re brought up not to question. And, fourth, if our parents have certain convictions, it’s likely that their families and friends will have the same or similar ones, so we’re not exposed to alternate ideas.

This is brainwashing, pure and simple, but it’s inevitable. Until you evaluate all your ideas, thoughts, convictions and beliefs, they’re not really your own and you haven’t reached maturity. Beliefs are from parents, teachers, religious leaders, and the general culture. It’s only when you consider and question what you believe—beginning in adolescence or early adulthood—that you finally become a mentally healthy, mature person. Skepticism, reflection, and evidence are all your friends and key to this process. Remember, one of the hallmarks of mental health is scrutinizing our beliefs. Try this. Fold a paper in half length-wise and in the lefthand column, write down all your major beliefs (refer to my book, The Rules of “Normal” Eating for ideas). You should have one to two dozen of them. Then go through them very carefully and examine their veracity by measuring them against evidence and rationality. Cross out beliefs that are untrue and, in the righthand column write down corresponding beliefs that are. For example, “I need to finish all the food on my plate” becomes, “I can leave food on my plate.” And, “It’s better to do things yourself than ask for help” becomes “Sometimes it’s valuable and necessary to ask for help.”

Developing a rational, mature, evidence-based belief system will not only help your eating but improve your life immensely. Curiosity, questioning and reflection are essential tools of adulthood and of leading a conscious, intentional life. If your aim is to eat mindfully, it’s time to start living more rationally.



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