Here's What It Means To Be An "Almond Mom" & Why You Really Want To Avoid It
It's beyond time to undo the diet culture damage of generations past, don't you think?
Reality TV moments going viral is nothing new, but one clip making the rounds will straight-up make you cringe. The moment in question is from a 2013 episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, when then-castmate Yolanda Hadid told her then-teenage daughter, Gigi Hadid, to “have a couple of almonds and chew on them really well” in response to Gigi mentioning she was “feeling really weak” and had eaten “half an almond.”
The term “almond mom” has since become a thing, with people sharing their own “almond mom” stories on social media. With more than 179 million views on TikTok alone (!), it’s clear that plenty can relate to the experience of life with a parent who scrutinizes food intake in a restrictive and downright disordered way.
Though Yolanda has said the comments were taken out of context and even made her own TikTok video in which she appears to eat more than a few almonds and jokingly calls herself the #worstmomever, the underlying message behind the viral clips proves why modeling #almondmom behavior is decidedly not the move. So how can you avoid it, even if you’re still unpacking diet culture-related damage from your own upbringing?
Ditching Diet Culture 101
“Diet culture is insidious, and unfortunately it continues to be perpetuated by well-meaning adults who are also victims as a result of their own upbringing,” says Keri Baker LCSW, a Florida-based therapist specializing in disordered eating. Even if you’re not being as outright as the reality star in policing your kids’ food intake, Baker says that “parents talking about their own food intake or bodies in negative ways can have long-lasting effects on their kids, even if they never comment on what their kid is doing.”
“Children are highly observant,” adds Monika Ostroff, LICSW, CEDS-S, executive director of MEDA (Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association). “They notice everything that their parents do. When parents have a turbulent relationship with food and their own bodies, it’s apparent in their routines. When parents ‘have’ to go to the gym before they allow themselves to eat or have rigid exercise routines, kids get the clear message that they need to ‘earn’ their food.”
No matter how old your kids are, you can chart the course and ensure they don’t grow up internalizing the same messages you might have about your appearance and self-worth. The two ways to do this are through your words and your behaviors — and trust that your kids do notice those tiny throwaway comments. “Pay attention to your language around food and bodies and take a neutral stance (at the very least!)” says Baker. “Ditch using terms like ‘good/bad’ and ‘healthy/unhealthy’ and integrate an approach where all foods and bodies are good and worthy.”
All Foods Fit, Not Just Almonds
In her own home, Baker says she “truly allows all foods without judgment. Stocking the foods that your family enjoys and allowing full access to those foods is important to neutralize the beliefs of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods that your children will pick up from the world around them. Kids will naturally gravitate to all sorts of foods — even fruits and vegetables — if all foods can be side-by-side without judgment or criticism. When you take this approach, kids can also naturally experience what different types of foods feel like in their bodies.”
“This idea supports the belief that food is just that: food. We eat food for all sorts of reasons; nourishment, pleasure, energy, ritual, fun,” adds Ashlee Knight, program director of Project HEAL.
And, adds Knight, there are other low-key behaviors that might reinforce restrictive beliefs, including having or supporting “cheat days” or “cheat meals,” emphasis on exercise for weight loss/control instead of joyful movement, being constantly on a diet, controlling food intake for one child or family member, extreme dieting/over-exercising in preparation for a vacation or event, encouraging cleanses or “clean eating,” or having scales in the bathrooms. Ostroff notes that even rules like “offering ‘healthy foods’ before ‘fun foods’ might be intended to encourage variety and nutrient dense foods, but instead it fosters a restrictive mindset.”
It also hampers your child’s ability to trust their own hunger cues, says Baker. “Kids are really great about listening to their intuition about what and when to eat, but well-intentioned parents can get in the way of that,” she says.
Mouthful of Almonds
What you say is equally as important as what you do, note the pros. Denise Hamburger, executive founder of BE REAL, recommends avoiding discussion or comments about your own body’s weight, shape, or appearance, including making your own body smaller or keeping your body within some pre-fabricated shape, size, weight, or BMI range.
Some specific “almond mom” comments to avoid, according to Baker, Hamburger, and Knight:
- “Wow, are you going to eat all of that?”
- “Are you hungry or just bored/thirsty?”
- She hasn’t lost the baby weight,”
- “She shouldn’t be wearing that dress,”
- “Look what he is eating at his size!”
- “Your cousin is ‘bigger’ than her sister.”
- “I’m so bad for eating that” or “I’m being good today, I can’t eat that”
- “A moment on your lips, forever on your hips”
- “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”
- Saying “I’m so fat” toward yourself
- “You’re not hungry, you’re bored”
- “We only eat clean” or “we are healthy eaters”
- “If you think you’re hungry drink a glass of water first and then you’ll see you’re not hungry after all”
- “That outfit is so slimming”
- “You look so tiny!” or “You look great. Have you lost weight?”
- “That sweater makes you look pregnant (or fat)”
- “Boys like skinny girls” or “girls like muscular guys”
“These comments keep kids in a constant state of anxiety about their body and their environment,” says Hamburger. “They come to believe that the world is constantly judging them for their body size and making character assessments behind their backs about them, because they see people judging others in this way. The message children can get is that some bodies are acceptable and others (larger ones) are not.”
Ostroff says you can “encourage your children to listen to the wisdom of their bodies and honor their hunger and cravings. Reassure them that they can trust their bodies.”
Breaking the Cycle of Body Hate
None of this is easy, but the pros insist that you can work on healing your inner child while avoiding becoming an almond mom yourself. “First of all, drop the criticism or judgment that you might have towards yourself,” says Baker. “We have all grown up in diet culture, and it can take time to come to terms with and unpack these deep beliefs that we have.”
It will take inner work, as well as combating commentary you might hear from others. “Essentially, there is no way for a child to not be impacted by the way food and bodies are talked about in their home environment,” says Knight.
“Awareness and mindfulness are key,” says Ostroff. “Begin by identifying personal biases. Do you believe that all bodies are good and worthy regardless of shape and size? Do you find yourself silently judging people or making assumptions about how they ‘must eat’ based on their shape or size? Do you move your body specifically to alter or maintain a particular shape or size? These are some questions to ask that can help you identify your internal biases.”
Begin with baby steps. “Focusing on yourself before shining the light on your kids can help you to model a much less pressurized and balanced approach to food in your home for your whole family,” says Knight.
“Identifying and calling out fatphobia will help everyone feel less pressure to conform to our society's impossible appearance ideals,” adds Hamburger. “Exposing the pressure on all of us from society to look a certain way is how we turn the blame against people for their body size to the culture that creates and perpetuates body size pressure and discrimination.”