This is a guest post by parenting, trauma and childhood behaviour expert Jane Evans. She recently teamed up with a company called Fink Cards and released a product that is centred around raising awareness of childhood trauma and its impacts.
This article is all about the links between trauma and healthy habits. Over to Jane!
You may wonder what my Parenting Impacted by Trauma Fink Cards have to do with physical health and good eating habits, at a glance it’s not obvious and if you aren’t a parent, even less so!
However, all of us have been parented or cared for by someone when were young children and that will have a profound effect on our diet and exercise habits today, especially if we were exposed to high levels of anxiety and/or adversity in those formative caregiving relationships.
Looking at how, why and what our relationship is with food and exercise often reveals a great deal about someone’s earliest years. If they then go on to work with, parent or care for children or young people then being able to identify and potentially address a more complex relationship with food and physical activity can be life changing.
A new born baby comes in to the world with a survival based drive to connect with those who are closest to them or they will not get fed, held, changed and soothed. Limited brain development means their efforts are simple ones, track with their eyes, cry and imitate facial expressions from those closest to them.
They also are very tuned in to their Mother’s emotional state, having been inside them for 9 months, and they also work hard to tune in to any other significant figures in their daily lives. When they are being fed, whether breast or bottle fed, they like to be close to the person feeding them and so they will pick up on their emotional state.
If the person feeding the baby is feeling anxious about it, ‘will they take the right amount/am I doing it the right way/will they sick it all up/are they putting on enough weight’ or, if the adult is stressed in other ways, perhaps because they are in an abusive relationship and their partner tries to hurry them through the feeding as they don’t like them being preoccupied with the baby, or they are constantly criticising them, or a parent is struggling with depression and not getting much emotional connection with their baby the baby begins to relate feeding as something stressful as they feel the tensions.
Why does this early experience matter and what does it have to do with adult behaviours around food and eating?
Babies and children learn most about everything from those around them, how they make them feel and what they see them doing and hear then saying. A parent who has their own childhood trauma to cope with every day may have a complex relationship with food. Over-eating sugary, fatty foods may act as way of numbing emotional pain, sugar has been found to have numb out the stress response so making people feel more ‘emotionally comfortable’.
Likewise, under eating, purging or limiting foods serve as a similar distraction from internal stress and distress as they are about focusing on something else. Grow up in a household where food is a ‘big thing’, meal times, even as a toddler are stress related, celebrations and commiserations all revolve around food ‘treats’ and patterns are easily established.
Research into the fact that we have brain cells in our stomach and digestive system, how early trauma impacts our digestive system in emerging all of the time. The same goes for exercise, having a stressful childhood will mean needing adult habits which alleviate our systems default ‘stress’ mode. Sometimes that’s through excessive exercise, or through feeling too overwhelmed and exhausted by the stress cycle to even attempt it.
Again, learning how to sensibly and effectively use healthy food and regular exercise comes from childhood and watching the adult’s behaviours.
For me, the great hope comes from the fact that brains can be reshaped and rewired to enjoy healthy food and eating habits and regular exercise. It’s good to have support to do this as it can seem like entering an ‘unknown land’ without a map and emotional knock backs and increased stress can send us back to what ‘feels’ familiar, however unhealthy that is.
As a parent or carer, changing what you do today WILL change what your child does moving forward. If you suspect your own childhood stresses are the foundation for complex eating and exercise needs look for support to have the life you and your children deserve!
Jane Evans has been working with families with complex needs around early childhood trauma for over two decades. As a passionate advocate of offering an understanding of the impact of early childhood trauma in all areas of our lives, Jane speaks and trains around the World.
Jane has written two books to be used for young children who have lived with domestic violence (How are you feeling today Baby Bear? & Kit Kitten and the Topsy Turvy Feelings) and her work with traumatised families has also featured in Channel 5’s documentary ‘My Violent Child’.
For more information about Jane visit: www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk
Fink Cards is a leader in the field of creating powerful conversations, creating award winning publications that start positive conversations.
Jane’s set of Parenting Impacted by Trauma cards contain 48 compelling questions.
They are priced at £14.99 and available here!