Plus, what an "almond mom" actually is.
Eating disorders are currently on the rise, affecting both men and women and people of all ages. In fact, 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
While there are different causes for disordered eating, one of the most common is when the behavior is modeled or reinforced by a parent. In recent months, the term “almond mom” has gone viral after an older video resurfaced of Yolanda Hadid telling her model daughter Gigi—in response to her saying “I feel weak”—to eat a few almonds and chew them really well. After this video resurfaced, more people on social media have begun sharing their experiences and ideas about eating from parent to child.
What Is an "Almond Mom"?
The phrase came from the awareness that mothers can and sometimes do transmit disordered eating to their children by telling their children it’s OK to starve themselves to look thin, that thinness and body image are extremely important and that hiding disordered eating in order to be thin in the cloak of "it’s just healthy eating" is ok as well, Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?" podcast from iHeartRadio, explains.
“It’s important to understand that these people are likely projecting their own negative sense of self onto their children,” says Dr. Erikka Dzirasa MD, MPH and Chief Medical Officer at Arise. “They may have internalized the societal standards of beauty and pressure to be thin, leading to a preoccupation with weight and food as well as feelings of shame or guilt associated with food. They may very well be wrestling with their own body acceptance or they could even be suffering from body dysmorphia or an underlying eating disorder.”
Messages they have received from their parents or other cultural factors could have also impacted how they see their bodies and their relationship with food. There is room to hold compassion for them, as they are likely dealing with a lot of negative self-critical thoughts and self-judgment, Dr. Dzirasa adds.
It’s possible to extend grace and empathy, while also holding appropriate boundaries and refraining from internalizing their standards as your own. Those boundaries may include speaking up and sharing how their comments about your food choices or body are harmful or even toxic.
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The Link Between Almond Moms and Orthorexia
Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder where the person thinks they are eating extremely healthy but in reality, they are restricting calories or types of foods to the degree it’s unhealthy. It is actually an eating disorder, Dr. Saltz explains.
Mothers who have eating disorders can transmit this type of eating to their children via modeling their own needs, preferences and feelings about their bodies and food, but also by telling their children they need to do the same.
“Perpetuating restrictive eating is really dangerous,” says Dr. Dzirasa. “An almond a day or per meal is not enough to sustain life, and it is actually quite dangerous. Inadequate nutrition and restrictive behaviors can lead to electrolyte and hormonal imbalances, hair loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, infertility, and worst case, sudden cardiac death.”
Signs of an Almond Mom
Here are some signs that you may be dealing with an Almond Mom, based on examples of what they might say or do, according to Dr. Saltz.
“We can’t have sugar in the house.”
“We can’t have this food in the house because it makes me fat. It makes your father fat. It will make you fat.”
When a child says they are hungry the mom says, “Really?” Or the mom says, “Have a carrot,” “Drink water,” or “You're just bored, let’s do something.”
Foods are discussed in terms of calories and calories allowed.
Mom openly discusses dissatisfaction with her own body.
How Parents Can Help Children Who Struggle With Disordered Eating
If you're worried that your child is exhibiting disordered eating behaviors, here's how to help them.
Treat your own eating disorder
If you have disordered eating, you will likely have an impossible time not modeling this, Dr. Saltz explains. If your child already has disordered eating, this requires professional intervention.
Be mindful of what you say and avoid triggering topics
Eating disorders can be very serious and require real treatment. Support your kids by not discussing bodies as indicators of beauty or attractiveness, and by not talking about food connected to weight or body, Dr. Saltz states. Talk about food related to fuel, strength and joy—all positive indicators.
Make healthy meals, but don’t discuss calories
Serve healthy food, with some treats as well, but without discussion of their calories.