“Have a couple almonds and chew them really well,” Yolanda Hadid of “Real Housewives” fame tells her daughter, supermodel Gigi Hadid, when Gigi complains of “feeling really weak” in a 2014 clip from the show that recently went viral on TikTok.
Despite recently telling People that the clip “is taken so far out [of context]” and “has nothing to do with the reality of our lives,” Hadid posted a TikTok of of her own on Sept. 29 eating a bowl of almonds with the caption “#worstmomever #almonds.”
The original clip has inspired people to reflect on the experience of being raised by their own “almond moms” in TikTok videos that have now been viewed hundreds of millions of times.
For those of us who are parents, it’s easy to sit back and congratulate ourselves for never encouraging our own kids to go hungry for the sake of thinness. But while we might never reach the extreme of suggesting thorough chewing to ward off hunger pangs, we may still be guilty of saying or doing things that teach our children to be critical of their bodies and second-guess their own hunger cues.
“Even if parents aren’t actively commenting on their child’s eating habits or food choices, children pay attention and they absorb a lot more than most parents are aware of,” said Alissa Rumsey, author of “Unapologetic Eating.”
HuffPost spoke with Rumsey and other experts to identify some of the things parents say that pass along “almond mom” sentiments to their kids without even realizing it.
“You know, if you just lost a few pounds, you’d be faster, right?”
Even couched in the language of athletic coaching, it’s easy to wound a kid with comments about their body. Jillian Lampert, Ph.D., an eating disorder specialist with the Veritas Collaborative, suggested that rather than the above, you could say, “What’s really working well for you in your racing and what are you working on to improve?” or simply congratulate them on finishing the race.
“Drink water if you feel hungry — you’re probably just thirsty” and “You’re not hungry, you’re just bored.”
These types of comments are a problem, Sarah Herstitch, LCSW, an intuitive eating counselor, explained to HuffPost, because they “plant the seed of mistrust in the body. We need to be teaching our kids how to honor and respond to their bodies’ cues with respect.”
She continued, “Restricting and disconnecting from natural cues builds mistrust and can easily lead to disordered eating.”
“No dessert for me tonight. I’ve been so bad today.”
We might think its okay to criticize our own eating as long as we keep quiet about our kids’ food choices, but the impact is the same. You may only be speaking about yourself, but a child may “take these comments and internalize them,” Alexandra Altman, LCSW, a therapist practicing in Maryland, told HuffPost.
Hearing a comment like this one, a child might “learn to associate dessert or treat foods with shame. They think, ‘Those foods are bad, and to be avoided. I shouldn’t want them or indulge in them and if I do, I should make up for it,’” said Altman.
Labeling foods as “good,” “bad,” “clean,” “healthy” or “for sometimes.”
Anything that reflects judgment can have a negative impact on kids.
“Of course you want your kids to eat vegetables,” said Lampert. But offering a variety of foods and allowing kids to eat what appeals to them is the way to go, instead of judging individual food items.
“If we teach our kids that relationship with food that’s based on fear and anxiety ... we’re setting them up to have difficulty,” Lampert continued.
You may have good intentions in applying the word “clean” to talk about foods that are minimally processed, but the moralizing is still implied: Other foods are “dirty.”
“Even elevating certain foods can be harmful,” explained Rumsey. “I had a client who had been teaching her kids that vegetables made them ‘healthy and strong’; she never talked about sugar or candy being bad for them — yet, on their own, they came up with ‘sugar makes you tiny and weak.’”
“Are you sure you want to eat that?”
Whether you’re making an observation about what your child is eating or how much, the message is that they shouldn’t trust their own internal hunger or desire to eat something, but impose instead an outside judgment on whether the food or portion size meet someone else’s criteria for what is “healthy,” or “good” or “right.”
“I can’t believe she’s wearing that. She doesn’t have the body for it!”
You may have been taught to cover up any parts of your body that didn’t look the way they were “supposed” to — according to society, your parents, whomever — but people have the right to wear whatever they like in order to be comfortable. Your comment judges the person’s body, not the item of clothing — and your child will understand this.
“She looks like she’s gained weight.”
Any comments you make about other people’s bodies teach your kids what you think a body is supposed to look like.
“A comment about someone else’s growing body, or large body,” said Altman, can lead them to think, “Wait, I look a bit like that person, does that mean my mom is looking at my body with the same scrutiny and disgust?”
“I’m just going to have a salad.”
When your words and actions don’t match, kids will notice. Maybe you serve your family one meal, but you yourself consume something different. Whether you’re sticking to foods that are low-cal or low-carb, your kids will catch on that you’re eating a certain way because you’re not happy with how your body looks. The same applies if you always hide your body in baggy clothing, or avoid having to wear a bathing suit. Kids will understand that you feel ashamed of the way your body looks and come to believe that maybe they should feel the same way about their own body — which, if you’re genetically related, may in fact resemble, or may come to resemble, yours.
Describing “that beautiful time our kids think we’re superheroes,” Lampert explained the impact parents have on kids when they criticize their own bodies.
“How is that kid ever going to feel like they are enough? Their superhero is criticizing themselves,” she said.
So, what can you say and do if you don’t want to condemn your children to a lifetime of doubt and dissatisfaction with their bodies?
First, work on your own relationship with food.
“A therapist or dietitian who specializes in disordered eating and body image concerns can help you understand your own patterns, learn new ways of approaching food and how to rebuild trust in your own body. Your kids will absolutely feel the ripples of this personal work,” said Herstitch.
Second, don’t be afraid to admit it when you slip up, and say something to correct yourself. Altman offers the example, “I said I was being so bad by eating french fries, but they’re pretty delicious and there isn’t really anything wrong with one type of food or another, you know.” Or, “Maybe I wouldn’t wear that outfit myself, but it’s nice that this person has the confidence to!”
Last, and most importantly, pause and reflect before you speak. The roots of diet culture run deep, often back generations, and the thoughts that first cross your mind often aren’t ones that you want your kids hearing, once you consider them for a moment. You don’t need to be a complete “almond mom” to send your kids the message that you value thinness over other things.
Examining your own thoughts, you may find that you’re afraid of your kid getting teased for being fat. Reframe this so that it’s about your fear and not their body.
“You can teach your kids to be resilient and strong and have positive self-esteem no matter what their size,” said Lampert. “That’s going to do much more for them than [to] teach them how to keep their bodies smaller than their body wants to be so that they’re not teased.”
Just because we grew up a society that valued thinness so much it taught us to ignore our own bodies’ hunger, or to try to override it with ridiculous strategies like excessive chewing, doesn’t mean we have to pass it onto our kids. Think before you speak, course correct when you need to and do your best to demonstrate to your children the freedom of body acceptance and eating with enjoyment.
“Although it’s new terminology, the beliefs, behaviors and messages passed along by ‘almond moms’ is that of diet culture,” said Herstitch.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to an organization as the Vertias Collective; it is the Veritas Collaborative.