Family Eating Habits That Shape Us

22 Mar

There’s no denying that our environment and social behavior affects how and what we eat. Social eating as a separate issue will be a future post on this blog. But let’s start with a look at how we were raised to eat. Below, we both share descriptions of how our families approached meal options when we were growing up and how our perceptions of those choices affect our own approach to food now. We look forward to sharing how our meal-creating skills evolve as we continue to pursue our weight loss goals. [By the way, does chasing weight loss goals burn calories? ;) ]

Michelle’s Family:

I was fortunate, in a way, that I grew up with a few picky eaters in my family because they never forced me to eat anything I didn’t like or made me clean my plate if I was already full. My mom, for example, is lactose intolerant and has trouble eating many types of vegetables, so she has to get creative to keep up a balanced, nutritious diet. However, she is a wonderful mother, so when I was very little she wanted me to try lots of different foods to learn what I liked.  In order to do so, she pretended to eat lots of vegetables to set an example for me so that I would eat them. I loved broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, and a number of other things that my mom never ate. It was sneaky, but it worked. My dad also exposed me to various foods because he liked a wider range of veggies and styles of cooking (although I never did try his peanut butter and jelly pizza…still sounds icky to me). Both sides of my family come from traditional American meat-and-potatoes backgrounds. My ancestors on both sides have been in this country since the Mayflower days of the 1600s. A typical meal equation for us has been meat + potatoes + veggie = balanced diet. Dessert was never emphasized but also not discouraged. :)

When I was about 12, my mom and I moved from the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles. Los Angeles and its accessibility to all types of food from around the world significantly affected how I eat. Because there were so many options and I was making friends with people who were adventurous eaters, all of a sudden I was discovering a love for all kinds of styles of cooking: Thai, Indian, sushi, Mexican, Cuban, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, etc. In fact, it wasn’t until then that my mom really tried Chinese food for the first time. She has since developed an unwavering love for Cantonese food, which we share…on as regular of a basis as we can given that she now lives more than an hour away from me.  All of this exposure to various flavors has served me well in terms of being open to trying new things and being able to select from more options for my own eating habits and experiments in the kitchen.

Even though these foods were accessible and I continue to love them even more, the meat-and-potatoes (or pasta) style is still my go-to comfort food. It really wasn’t until I went to college that I started eating rice on an almost daily basis. Rice and ramen noodles–cheap, salty, and they’ll sustain you. When I met my now-husband back then, he opened up the world of Peruvian food to me. I LOVE the flavors…and that they put rice AND potatoes in many of their dishes. Now that I can cook things like lomo saltado and Peruvian arroz con pollo, I have learned how to use aji amarillo and aji panca pastes, cumin, cilantro, and other ingredients in ways I never expected. My husband does not consider anything a meal unless it has meat in it, which is a little weird to me. When I was growing up, sometimes we’d just have spaghetti and meatless marinara sauce and that was fine. Some of my friends are vegetarian (which I couldn’t do but understand) and even my dad became a vegetarian later in life. So, cooking for my husband and myself has required some adjustments to how we both think about what a meal is. And sometimes I’ll bake myself a potato in the microwave to go with my dinner because my husband can eat rice every day and not think about it but I end up going through potato withdrawal.

With all of these options, I now have to be more thoughtful about the choices I’m making about what I eat, especially as my body’s metabolism slows down with age. I do seem to have a problem making decisions sometimes. If I have to choose between item A and item B, I’ll usually try to find a way to have a little of both. This little problem can, at times, become a larger problem if I’m depressed because “a little of both” is a slippery slope that can lead to binge eating a lot of both. If I’m having some anxiety over something and I find myself wanting to fill an emotional need with food, I try to stop myself from getting carried away by thinking about what my body really needs to function healthily versus what my emotional need really means. Keeping my big-picture goals for making my body healthier in the forefront of my mind and approaching meals with a pragmatic attitude feels like work, but seeing little signs of progress makes it all worth it. And the more I credit myself for those baby steps, such as choosing broccoli over fries or noticing my jeans fit better, the more I feel motivated to stay on top of my goals and be more active. Physical activity also is a big part of staying healthy. As a kid, I could eat practically anything I wanted because I was a competitive athlete and could skate off all those calories. When I took a break from skating in college (I’ll do a separate post on skating soon), I started to see my weight yo-yo dramatically based on my level of exercise. Since I’ve returned to skating, I have definitely felt healthier but I notice I need to do even more to work off the calories as an adult. I’ve also been more aware of all the diets I’ve seen the women in my family try over the years and how weight yo-yo-ing and emotional eating can be shared or inherited traits (but that too is best saved for a separate post). At least we know we’re not alone even if it feels like we are sometimes!

Share with us how your family’s eating habits have affected your perspective on food and dieting!

Stay healthy, my friends! ;)

–Michelle

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Vita’s Family:

Eating habits are known to be developed in childhood within family’s customs and values. My childhood overlapped with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of a whole new economic and social structure of Russia, which for the first few years resulted in a pretty dark economical depression. As a kid, of course, I couldn’t possibly comprehend the whole situation; to me the world was just a huge playground, however I can’t even imagine how tough it was for my mom, or any parent in that case, to raise a child in that time. Now I can see where all the eating habits I have got their start.

Family Rule #1: Take all you want but eat all you take! It was considered very rude to leave anything on your plate. Either finish it all or next time don’t take so much food, better to put less and have one more plate than to be rude! I guess this rule had its roots in another one…

Family Rule #2: No food could be thrown away! If my mom made a pot of chicken soup for example, we had to finish all leftovers no matter how many days it would take. Although our family consisted only of three people, so she never cooked large amounts. It would last for a maximum of two days. Nevertheless, there was no such a thing as asking for another dish for dinner just because you are tired of eating chicken soup again. And any leftovers, like rice or potatoes, were used to make hash browns or rice pancakes in the morning. The same rule applied to any groceries. We bought produce based on its life span, never in bulk, and usually just enough for a couple of days.

Family Rule #3: Make the best of what is available! With a kind of uncertain economical situation back when I was growing up, no one had the luxury of weekly menu planning, more than to have a craving for a juicy steak for dinner. Dinner was usually planned right there at the grocery store based on availability and what was on sale. Therefore, being picky about your dinner was total nonsense. I ate all my veggies and I asked for more! Before I came to the United States, I had never heard that people can’t eat this or that particular food. For example, tongue: what a yummy full-flavored meat, my absolutely most favorite type ever! Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found out that Mexican cuisine uses tongue in practically everything. Lengua tacos, lengua quesadillas, lengua burritos…I’d have that for breakfast, lunch and dinner if only I wouldn’t gain a single extra pound from it!

There are also a few specifics of Russian culture that stuck with me forever. For example, Russian cuisine does not use many spices; salt, pepper, and bay leaf are pretty much it. Of course, people use different spices based on the recipes, but when it comes to original Russian cuisine dishes are not spicy at all. I remember once reading somewhere that the amount of spices people eat correlates with the geographical location of the country they live in: the closer you live to the equator, the spicier the food is. I believe it mentioned something about mountains as well, that food tends to get spicier with elevation level of the country. It makes total sense for Russia, I guess lack of spiciness could be explained by geographical location. And even though I’m always open to trying any type of new food, one thing I can’t possibly tolerate is a spicy food. As much as I tried to adopt little by little, I always have some sort of allergic reaction, and it isn’t a pretty picture to see me like that somewhere in a restaurant. I remember having this reaction in a Thai restaurant when I decided to try one of their soups. I particularly specified to make it extra mild, with just a trace of spiciness in it, but little did I know that Thai mild is as mild as a bowl of chili peppers. Poor waitress, I still remember the look on her face when she was ready to call an ambulance on me.  Not a pretty picture…

There is also a rich selection of dairy products that are being produced in Russia, some of which I don’t even know what they are called in English since I’ve never seen them here. Have you ever heard of kefir, sort of a liquid yogurt? A traditional Russian milk product, which is rich on probiotic minerals, works miracles on the digestive system. Buttermilk, cottage cheese, sour cream, these are only a few of the dairy products that are widely used in everyday intake, not to mention all the sub-products of it. Statistically, U.S. produces a little more than twice as much milk per year than Russia, of course considering that the population is twice as much as well. However it feels to me that dairy products are not as popular here than they are in Russia. It makes me sad though because dairy products are rich on calcium and vitamin D, not to mention that they are a great snack. I only wish there would be more availability of it here.

I would like to point out that those times, that I described earlier in my Family Rules, long passed in Russian history. In no way possible do I want to leave an impression that the country is still in an economic wreck. That was only a short time after the collapse of an old regime, which Russia recovered from pretty fast. Just to be clear, there are no lines for rationed food and no bears riding bicycles. :) I only mentioned it because my childhood happened to overlap with those times, therefore shaping all my habits with it. I might even write separate post about the way Russia is now, though it has nothing to do with the weight loss subject.

Yours truly,

— Vita (:

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3 Responses to “Family Eating Habits That Shape Us”

  1. sweetopiagirl March 22, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.

    • Diet Drop March 22, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks! :)

      • sweetopiagirl March 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

        You are welcome!

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