It’s All Moms’ Fault—Again

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 12, 2007 · 0 comments

Mothers get blamed for everything.

But, now there is a new blame-mom connection out there. If you are a woman and you don’t eat well, it was your mother’s fault. This isn’t a joke or some pop psychology idea; sound research has shown that when it comes to eating and exercise habits, girls do what their mothers do. So moms, if you want healthy, active, trim daughters, you are going to have to shape up your own act.

At a “Mother Daughter Role Modeling Summit,” held in New York City, Joan Lunden, a celebrity spokesperson for healthy children, told mothers to “Walk the walk and talk the talk, first.” She was backed up by researchers who showed that girls as young as 5 were already mimicking their moms when it came to eating and exercise behavior. When researchers studied young daughters of dieting mothers, and they ask the girls, “What do people do when they are dieting?”, some of the startling answers were: “Smoke instead.” “Eat food in special packages.” “Drink diet coke.” And “Don’t get too close to the refrigerator. “

There has been an evolution of dieting by women in the US over the last 3 decades. In the 60’s women dieted intermittently in hopes of avoiding the dowdy look of their own mothers as they aged. Their daughters, today’s moms, started dieting in their teens. Today’s girls are already weight obsessed in elementary school. Fifty percent of 8 year olds are doing something to regulate food intake, like eating less sugar. By 13, 80% are trying a diet. Sadly, research has shown this is the exact wrong approach. The younger a girl begins to diet the more likely she is to develop an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. And, if that doesn’t happen, young dieters are much more likely to grow into overweight adults. If a girl is overweight at 12, she has an 80% chance of being overweight as an adult. If she is overweight at 20, her life expectancy can be reduced by as much as 20 years.

Help! If you are the mother of a daughter, what should you be doing? Behavioral researchers tell us mothers are society’s messengers. Moms pass on popular cultural messages to their daughters. And, today’s message is: thin is in. The message you want to pass on is: healthy, trim, and active is the way to go.

Some girls will never be slim, and that’s okay. But, it isn’t okay unless mom says so. If you hate your thighs chances are your daughter will hate hers. Tell her instead about her wonderful features—her height, her gorgeous eyes, her shapely waist. And shape is important—real women have curves, but the media message portrays most women as sticks with busts. Few real women look like Barbie. The level of a girl’s body dissatisfaction will be molded by her mother’s negative or positive perception.

To encourage positive mother-daughter modeling here are a few hints:

  • If you eat fruits and vegetables regularly, your daughter is more likely to as well.
  • Moms who regularly drink lowfat milk have daughters with higher calcium intakes.
  • Active moms have active daughters. You don’t have to run a marathon, but bowl, take a walk, ride a bike, or play badminton together.
  • Put a lid on negative comments about your body, and your daughter’s body. Neither of you may be perfect but saying it out loud doesn’t make it better.
  • Restricting foods makes them more desirable; instead of limiting the types of food limit the amount. A snack size candy bar or a single serving bag of chips teaches portion control, not indulgence.
  • Keep healthy choices in the house; availability influences consumption.
  • Make time for breakfast and there is a good chance your daughter will too.
  • We eat more when we eat out; tell your daughter this and show her how to control portions.
  • Don’t be preoccupied with dieting; be preoccupied with being healthy.
  • What you eat is a more powerful model than what you tell your daughter to eat. Model it, don’t preach it.

As moms our primary goal in life is to protect our children. By modeling healthy eating and activity behaviors, you are protecting your daughter from future disease and giving her a long life.

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