Revisiting my childhood relationship with food
Revisiting my childhood relationship with food
When poring through old photographs I stumbled across some pictures of my childhood. In one picture, I am walking along the beach with my nan. I’m holding a doughnut, and am enjoying the yumminess of the sweet dough as I take bite after bite.
This image got me thinking about my relationship with food as a child. While privileged to have access to plentiful food, a range of foods, and a healthy relationship with food during childhood, I think it is interesting to be curious about our connection with food during our early years.
At age six, food was delicious, it was fun, and I loved most foods. At school I got excited for breaktime when I could follow the smell of a freshly baked cookie to the dining hall, then quickly devouring the cookie before rushing to the playground to expend my built-up energy from the classroom. I went home from school to be treated to a custard cream biscuit and orange squash before going to sports clubs or ballet lessons. My sister sat with the biscuit tin next to her (she was named the biscuit queen) dunking biscuits in her tea. I felt jealous, as I didn’t like tea and I wanted to try this biscuit dunking experience, so tried to dunk mine into my orange squash (not recommended). I came home from sports clubs to be fed a yummy home-cooked meal by Mummy. A favorite meal was salmon, rice, and peas (with ketchup on my rice).
Growing up I did not like bacon or cheese, but I loved pasta and all fruits. I did not like tomatoes or olives (I love them now), but I loved roast dinners and all the vegetables soaked in gravy. My favorite was the stuffing ball, which I would save until last. I loved our weekend trips to the penny sweetshop with Grandad, where we could pick the sweets that we wanted to eat and pack them tightly in the paper bag to see how much we could fit in.
On Sunday mornings we would visit my other grandparents and every week Nanny would provide us with a bag, which contained four chocolate bars and £2. On the drive home Daddy would let us eat one of the chocolate bars, my favorite being the Mars bar. I would click my seatbelt and open the wrapper, taking my first bite, savoring the perfect mix of the soft, yet chewy toffiness encased in the sweet milk chocolate – I was content. Nothing bad ever happened.
I loved sports growing up and was extremely active, perhaps hyperactive. Mum and Dad would ensure I had snacks with me or had been feed a healthy meal beforehand to ensure I was fueled well. Often after running training, netball matches, or cricket, we would be fed a light tea by the opposing team, which was always welcomed by us children who were hungry after offloading lots of energy. My favorite foods were grapes, watermelon, and little sponge biscuits called Jaffa cakes, with delicious discs of orange jelly hidden under a layer of dark chocolate.
Mostly my childhood relationship with food was happy and joyous. However, this relationship has changed since my eating disorder, which I developed at the age of 12. At that young age I lost my innocence as I was initiated to the diet culture world. I learnt about the word “calorie” and was exposure to magazines promoting unrealistic body standards, and diets. I did not feel good enough in this new world so started to adopt restrictive behaviors around food. I remember the exact day when I began labelling foods as good or bad. I remember the day I stopped allowing myself to enjoy these joyful play foods.
I miss being able to go out for Chinese food at weekends for my favorite foods, crispy seaweed, and duck pancakes. I miss being able to go out and eat cake or chocolate. I miss the innocence and freedom I had around food as a child. I miss the memories that were made around foods that brought pleasure and joy.
I have worked hard to reclaim food freedom during my eating disorder recovery, to erase labels, to stop seeing foods as black and white. I am working hard on associating food with 50 shades of grey. No food is inherently good or bad, and we need more narrative and messages on a daily basis to help us all believe this truth.
The best part about reflecting on the extent to which food was associated with carefree feelings in childhood helps to inspire me to believe I can recreate space for this freedom and fun around foods in adult life, too. Hopefully one day I will look back at photographs and find a picture of me as an adult walking along the beach, again with a doughnut in my hand, savoring the yumminess of the sweet dough as I take bite after bite.
Jennifer Hamer is a PhD candidate at Griffith University in the field of eating disorders in athletes. Prior to this, she completed her master’s degree in eating disorders and clinical nutrition. Jennifer’s passion is driven by her 17-year journey with an eating disorder, which robbed her of a career as a professional athlete and almost took her life. Jennifer is a passionate eating disorder advocate, author and speaker, inspiring others to break free from their eating disorder, reject diet culture and help women to see themselves for who they truly are. Jennifer uses both her personal experience and academic expertise to support individuals on their own journey to recovery.