I love it when Mom’s come to talk to me about their daughter’s weight and food challenges. Moms want to help. Moms feel guilty. Seeing their child suffer is heartbreaking. They think that they did something that led to their daughter’s binge eating, closet eating, or poor self-esteem. So Mom’s continue to do things they believe to be ‘helpful’, when in reality those things might actually not be so ‘helpful’. Then, they are often surprised when their best efforts are met with resistance (or sometimes even anger) from their daughters. Especially those daughters who are in their teens or 20’s, are not as open to suggestions from Mom; they are becoming independent and don’t want the guidance.
Over the years I’ve seen the efforts Mom’s put into trying to ‘fix’ their daughter. Some turn out positively, but most do not. Often when mothers enforce a strict attitude around food, exercise and nutrition, they enforce the ideals of dieting, and ultimately push their daughters into unhealthy eating habits[i].
Today I want to share with you the 5 things that every Mom needs to STOP doing (and what you can replace it with).
- Sharing weight loss stories to inspire.
You think that by sharing your success, she will be motivated to step up and make it happen for herself. Unfortunately, all she hears is a reminder of her own repeated failures. This also reinforces the idea that she ‘should’ be trying to lose weight[ii] and that she couldn’t possibly be happy with who she is right now.
What you can do instead: Find magazines like FabUPlus to have around the house. Start following and listening to body positive activists. Find women that look like her who have achieved success and happiness. When you present positive full bodied role models, you begin to remove the anxiety associated with weight. Encourage her to be happy with herself just the way she is. Don’t just do this for her, do it for yourself.
- Commenting on those wrappers that you found.
The shame surrounding binge eating and closet eating is incredibly strong. Getting ‘caught’ is horrifying. So when you find the wrappers, just throw them out, or leave them for her to take care of. By talking to her about it, even if it comes from love, will only drive her deeper into her secret hell[iii].
What you can do instead: Keep all conversations food neutral and remove the food labels; No more ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘junk’, ‘healthy’, ‘clean’. When all food is just food, and when everything is fair game to be consumed whenever, the ‘thrill’ is gone. Start to keep a diary of how often you say out loud, or in your head, something about food – time of day, good or bad, too much, too little, healthy or junk. You may be surprised at how many food rules come up.
- Inviting her for a walk.
If it’s truly to spend time with her, and not actually because you believe she needs the exercise, then disregard this rule. When parents are trying to model good behaviour they can sometimes go over the top. Sharing details about how much they moved and how good they feel is not a real testimony. Instead, it’s a deceptive way to say “you should be doing this too”.
What you can do instead: So yes, do active things. Invite them to come along. But move for yourself and let her make her own decision about her activity.
- Lecturing her on the importance of exercise and nutrition.
When Moms try to influence their daughters’ weight and eating habits, it increases the risk of the daughter developing problematic eating behaviours[iv]. I know that you know, and she knows that physical activity is important to health. We also all know that some foods, aka‘junk’ food, lacks nutrition and health benefits. She is ‘educated’ by the TV, social media, teachers, and other women. This kind of ‘education’ is everywhere. What she needs help with, is finding out what HER body likes and doesn’t like. That can only happen in a space where she can experiment, without judgement.
What you can do instead: Resist the urge to educate her about the importance of exercise and nutrition[v]. Buy books like Intuitive Eating, Women Food and God, and read them. Learn about what she’s going through and then let her go through it.
- Offering up solutions when she’s crying in your arms.
I know that it’s hard to watch her suffer. I know that you want to make it all better for her. Your instinct is to try to solve her problems and to protect her from whatever is making her upset. But sometimes doing nothing is exactly what needs to be done, even if it’s often the single hardest thing to do.
What you can do instead: Let her be sad. Let her be frustrated. Hold her. Love her. Tell her that you are sorry that she is having to go through this. She needs to know that you have her back. She needs the space so that she can hear her own voice and know what she needs next. For yourself – book time with a coach or counsellor to help you cope with all of your feelings that come up while she suffers. That is the best thing that you can do for her.
Although many of these situations will challenge you to think differently, know that your choices can either benefit her, or break her down. You are her role model (whether she admits it or not) and fundamentally, she needs your support. Remember that although you can shape her, she will always be her own person. There are so many things that are more important than weight and when you change the conversation, you can change her life for the better.
Until next time,
Live Life. Love Food. Be Free.