You are brilliantly and wonderfully made; you know that, right? You are who you are today because of everything you've experienced up to this present moment—and both the good stuff and bad stuff have helped shape you. This is certainly true on a spiritual, personal growth, and emotional level, but have you ever thought about the impact your childhood and years growing up have had on your physical health today?
Have you ever thought about why you crave the foods you crave? Or where your health struggles came from? Many people want to know exactly where their health issues started. Chronic hormone, immune, brain, and digestive disorders didn't happen overnight. And for many of us, our health is where it is today because of the foods we were fed growing up.
So if you ate like crap as a kid, are you doomed? If you're cringing just thinking about the foods you ate growing up, I feel your pain. As a kid who grew up in the '80s and '90s, my idea of the perfect Friday night was eating vanilla pudding, peanut butter cookies, and pizza—in that order—while watching the news and Jeopardy (as you can see, my super-nerd status started very early). So let's get to the bottom of it. Here's what you need to know about how the food you ate as a child dictates your health today:
It starts before you're even born.
Your first meal wasn't in the high chair; it was when you were growing in your mom's womb. Research has shown that if Mom ate a diverse diet while pregnant, she is less likely to raise a picky eater. At the time of conception, if your mom had nutritional deficiencies, they had the power to actually determine your genes, increasing risk factors for health problems such as diabetes, mental health problems, and autism.
The microbiome is at the center of it all.
We can't talk about the early foundations of our health without talking about the microbiome. The trillions of bacteria in your gut and on your skin are 80 percent of your immune system. The majority of the health problems that we see today are connected to the microbiome, so it's important to remember that our gut garden started to grow at birth. One potential issue for a baby's microbiome is that a majority of women in America are prescribed antibiotics during pregnancy and delivery. Many antibiotics are able to cross the placenta and end up reaching the growing baby. The way you were born also determines the start of your microbiome. You receive the foundation of your microbiome from your mom's microbiome. Babies that are born vaginally have different microbiomes than little ones born via C-section. With 32 percent of all births Caesarean today, we do not yet fully understand the long-term impact this has on our microbiome and future health.
Breastfeeding can influence your health trajectory.
Phew. All that in the first nine months of your life—before you were even born! Next, the way parents eat directly influences the eating habits of their children and that starts with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding begins to positively affect eating behaviors because it exposes babies to a variety of different foods and flavors from the mother's diet through her breast milk. Research has associated breastfed babies with less picky eating and a willingness to eat a wider range of different foods when they start eating solids, which can certainly influence your health later on.
Vegetables are always important.
Studies have also shown that up to 33 percent of kids eat almost no servings of vegetables, the most common source being french fries! These patterns are shown to continue as children get older and the quality of their diets continues to decline with an increased intake of processed snacks, soda, and fast food. Polyphenols from vegetables, fruits, and extra-virgin olive oil play a significant role in the prevention of degenerative diseases by improving your microbiome environment.
Your childhood sets the stage for your future health.
During the first two to three years of your life your microbiome's diversity increases to that of an adult's microbiome. The bacteria from breast milk, the foods you ate, the dirt you played in, the pets you had were all forming your growing gut garden. When your microbiome development is altered by factors—such as antibiotics or poor eating habits—it can set the stage for problems like obesity, food sensitivities, allergies, and autoimmune disease. And this is all before you even had a choice over the foods you ate!
You establish your cravings for life.
It is these formative years that set the ball in motion for the foods you craved and chose as a child. Fascinating research looked at the link between the smell of food, nostalgia, and our cravings. The findings? Scent is tied psychologically to memory. Foods such as warm apple pie, pastries, and candy can subconsciously remind us of happy memories from our past and ignite serious cravings for comfort food.
What the heck do I do now?
You can take this information in two ways: be angry and feel like there is no hope, or you can give yourself grace. Obviously, you had no say about what you were fed the first years of your life. Choose to forgive yourself for being hard on your body. You can establish a new foundation of health and habits, but you can't heal a body you hate. If we ate tons of junk foods as a kid (even vanilla pudding and pizza), there is still so much hope for us. Your body is amazingly resilient and wants to thrive. We can't change the past, but we can do a lot to start rebuilding; let's go over some action steps that can help us regain control over our health:
1. Adopt a diet free of processed foods.
The foods we eat will either help or hurt our gut health. And processed foods can upset your microbiome and damage the intestinal lining. Eliminating them is a good way to re-establish a healthy gut, which is the foundation of good health.
2. Evaluate your medications.
Turn a critical eye to any medications you're taking. It amazes me how many people take medications like antibiotics, antacids, and NSAIDs regularly and don't know what the side effects really are.
3. Make sure you're taking a probiotic to protect your gut.
An overgrowth of yeast or bacteria can be extremely detrimental to your health. Probiotics—specifically a combination of bifidobacteria, enterococcus, and lactobacillus—have been shown to have a positive effect on gut health and can help you heal any damage caused by a childhood full of ice cream and cheese puffs.
4. Get real about your stress levels.
Chronic stress affects you in so many different ways—none of which are good for your health. Getting ahold of your stress levels by adopting a yoga or meditation practice can help you get back on track.
5. Move your body.
There's no doubt that exercise is good for your body and your mind. It's a great place to start if you're looking to increase energy levels, balance blood sugar, and even reduce the effects of aging.
6. Take a B vitamin
B vitamins are uber-important for so many reasons but they are specifically needed for methylation—a massive biochemical superhighway that makes for a healthy brain and gut, detoxes pathways, and protects your DNA. Stress, a poor diet, and different medications can deplete this important group of vitamins, so supplementing is an important step in the right direction for many of my patients.