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Mother’s Day: Mothers, Daughters and Eating Disorders

Mothers have a significant impact on their daughter’s emotional well-being, self-esteem, and eating habits. Every daughter watches her mother and takes notes on how she talks, how she acts, how she treats her body and how she views herself. A daughter is aware if her mother has low self-esteem, if her mother treats her body well and how her mother views her relationship with food. As a result, every mother has a massive impact on their daughters’ eating habits. They model eating behaviors and thoughts about health and dieting, establish relationship boundaries, and even have a genetic influence, as a mother’s gene pool can contribute to the possibility of her daughter being genetically predisposed to developing an eating disorder. As a mother, you play a significant role in how your daughter views her body and how she behaves around food.

As a mother, your words and actions matter

Some contributing factors that may increase the likelihood of developing disordered eating behaviors include a mother’s criticism when suggesting that her daughter change her weight and body shape, as this tends to elicit body dissatisfaction in the daughter. A mom may not mean anything malicious by this but may say comments such as “ it seems you are outgrowing your clothes”. A mom may also make body-related comments either consciously or unconsciously about the appearances of others. Maybe she commented on her daughter’s friend or a stranger in a shopping mall to body image. A young girl will take note of these comments and internalize them, which can lead to her to believe that she is not good enough. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for mothers to tease their adolescent daughter about their weight or body type or to even suggest their daughter goes on a diet starting at a young age. A daughter’s attitude about body weight, shape and diet are often conveyed through her mother’s comments, jokes, criticisms, and shaming. As a result, a mother’s comments about others and her daughter can be detrimental to her daughter’s self-esteem and her eating habits.

Mother eating with her daughter.

You are your daughter’s mirror

A relationship exists between the attitudes about the weight that girls develop and how much their mothers talk about their weight, shape, or size. If a mother is continuously talking about her weight and body shape, it is more likely that her daughter will struggle with low self-esteem and depression. If a mom is always on a diet, constantly commenting about her hips, her desire to lose weight and how some foods are harmful while others are healthy, her daughter will pick up on these comments even if they are not directed towards her. Additionally, mothers who tend to be controlling over their daughters are more likely to provoke a need for control within their daughters. It is well-known that children who feel as though they have little control over their life will seek areas where they can exercise control which includes food and eating habits.

So as a mother, how can you prevent tearing your daughter down? How can you be a positive role model in regards to food and body image?

  • Always teach that food is nourishment for the body and not a way to gain or lose weight
  • Treat yourself with respect and self-love.
  • Do not be controlling over your daughter. Allow her to express herself freely.
  • Engage in body positivity: Teaching body-positive messaging does not mean accepting unhealthy practices, but it does mean coming from a place of empathy and understanding and empowering your daughter, not forcing or guilt-tripping her into to making changes.
  • Create definite mother-daughter boundaries between you and your daughter: You want your daughter to be able to talk to you about the hard stuff, but it is also vital that you are present and consistent when any negative talk or actions arise. Create an identity that is not centered around your happiness
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