You may have heard the term “almond mom” thrown around on social media.
By Emilie Procario, Dietetic Intern and Erica Leon, MS, RDN
Whether you have heard this term or not, you most likely know a few “almond moms” or might even be one yourself! Read on to learn ways of helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food and body image.
An “almond mom” is a term used to describe someone overly concerned with their own – and their kid’s — dietary intake and health — often to the point of obsession.
An almond mom is a parent who doles out common “nutrition advice” to their child. However, no matter how well-intentioned a parent is, certain comments about food and body image can encourage dieting behaviors and potentially lead to disordered eating or, even worse, an eating disorder.
What does an “almond mom” say?
Have you ever heard yourself saying the following:
- “You can’t possibly still be hungry; you just had a big dinner.”
- “We have lasagna for dinner tonight; you might want a smaller lunch.”
- “Are you going to the gym tomorrow? I see you’re taking seconds.”
- “Today was a day of indulging – Tomorrow we go right back to eating healthy.”
Dieting comments are normalized within our culture but are usually more harmful than helpful.
For example, have you heard yourself saying things like:
- Food must be earned (by exercise or by eating less in a prior meal).
- Foods are either “good” or “bad.”
- You have to compensate for eating (by activity or by restricting).
- You are “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods.
These comments tell growing children they must limit their eating to attain a desirable (thin) figure or be “healthy.” However, for the most part, developing children need adequate food and are supposed to be gaining weight from childhood through puberty. Restricting food and focusing on weight loss usually backfires and encouraging a dieting mindset in a child sets them up for a poor relationship with food and their body. Instead, focusing on health-promoting behaviors positively and in a non-judgmental way is more likely to create lasting change.
Parents who speak poorly about their own eating habits and body weight can also negatively influence their kids.
Subtle comments might sound like this:
- “I look fat in this dress.”
- “I need to lose 10 pounds before our vacation.”
- “I should stop eating carbs. I’ve been so bad lately.”
- “I’m not having dinner – I had a big lunch.”
A parent is the primary role model for a child, and how a parent (or other caregivers) views and treats their body is ultimately how kids learn to treat their own. Diet talk is prevalent in our culture. When a parent engages in dieting and negative body image talk, it can be just as damaging as directly commenting on a child’s eating habits or body size. It is important to remember that children always listen and learn by example.
What is the harm in a parent wanting their child to eat healthy foods and exercise?
It is appropriate for a parent to encourage their child to engage in health-promoting behaviors like eating fruits and vegetables, drinking water, managing stress, and moving their bodies. However, the way a parent encourages these behaviors makes all the difference. If a parent encourages a particular form of eating and exercising as a way to shape a child’s body – this becomes problematic. Instead, a child should be encouraged to exercise and eat nourishing foods because it will make them feel strong and energized — not because it will help “shrink” their body.
It is important to note that encouraging health-promoting behaviors should not come at the expense of restricting other foods that are often deemed “unhealthy,” such as cookies and cake.
Why shouldn’t a child be restricted from eating cookies and cake? Aren’t those foods bad for them?
Restricting “fun” foods like cookies, cakes, or other “treats” is often more detrimental to a child than the nutritional content of the food itself. “Off-limits” or “junk” foods become even more exciting when they are scarce. A child then puts these foods on a pedestal, often leading to overeating and eating in secret. This scenario can ultimately lead to disordered eating, including binge eating.
So what can you do instead?
Educate yourself! Learn how you can and pass that knowledge on to your children. Start by reading our article, 10 Tips to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food.
You can also read this article on how to prevent eating disorders in teens and adolescents.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
Download our Free Intuitive Eating Guide and get off that Diet Roller Coaster for good!