The Mother Daughter Relationship With Food, Part 1

September 28, 2012

Are you causing your daughter to diet? Are you trapped in a vicious cycle of disordered eating? Do you worry about your daughter’s eating habits? Do you take note of your own eating habits?

Many mothers do not realize that their own relationship with food will shape that of their daughters’. Women are not born to worry about their weight. We learn it from the media, from peers and sometimes from our mothers.

Do you complain about your body and weight, claiming you’re too fat? Do you count calories and list “forbidden” foods in front of your daughter? If you do, you may be warping your daughter’s perception of food. A mother’s eating habits are passed on to her daughter and a mother’s dieting history can become her daughter’s dieting future.

Disordered eating has become the norm for women in our culture. We binge and purge, we yo-yo diet, invent rules on eating, abuse diet pills and starve ourselves. In the process, our bodies and our self-esteem are deteriorating. Society says, “Girls will be girls” and “Doesn’t every woman diet?”

Every woman doesn’t diet and shouldn’t diet. But how do we stop the cycle? The first step is to let go of the need to control. Most girls who develop eating disorders do so out of a need to control something in their lives. Placing strict rules on eating is only going to cause more problems. Some common “rules” to avoid are:

No junk food — Many mothers have rules about junk or snack foods, allowing them only as a reward or possibly forbidding them altogether. As you have probably learned in other cases, when you say no, it becomes all the more desirable. If you forbid your daughter to have snacks, she may sneak around and eat them anyway. It is better to allow them occasionally as long as your daughter is eating more nutritious foods as well.

Low fat diet — It is usually not productive to put a young person on any type of diet. Restricting fat will restrict calories. During these years of growth, it is important for a child to receive the proper nutrition to grow up healthy. By insisting she eat only low or nonfat foods, you are giving the impression that nonfat is good and fat is bad, teaching her that if you eat fat you are a bad person.

No snacking between meals — This is another common rule in many families, but is one that is impractical. Most children and women, get hungry every three to four hours because their bodies need a constant source of fuel. Smaller meals, eaten more often, can be better than three large meals a day. Forbidding snacking can also cause overeating at meals as she struggles to replenish her body with lost nutrients.

Clean the plate! — Many of us grew up with this rule. We feel that we are being wasteful if we do not finish all the food on our plate.

I suggest giving smaller portions and then she can go back for more. Forcing her to eat when she’s not hungry can give her a negative outlook toward food.

Food will become the enemy, a form of punishment. Your daughter may rebel and avoid food when away from you or the opposite may occur and she may get the idea that overeating is normal and grow to have a weight problem.

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