The lens through which children see the world is often guided by their parents. Here’s how diet behavior and language can influence a child’s view of their body and food.


It isn’t hard to see how inundated we are by diet culture. Advertisements for dieting are everywhere, conditioning us to believe that our worth is equivalent to our weight, and our body size determines whether or not we deserve to take up space. Sadly, dieting has become a standard norm, with dieting for weight control contributing to a $60B dollar industry in the United States alone.

The truth is that diet culture runs deeps, subconsciously influencing many of our choices, thoughts, and behaviors on a daily basis.

Unless you are proactively challenging the lies created by these dieting messages, it is easy to become stuck in the mentality that there is something wrong with your body and it needs to be fixed.

It could be something as simple as viewing food through a lens of “good vs. bad”, or getting stuck in the narrative that you must always be watching what you eat. It can be something more invasive, like negative self-criticism that runs through your mind like a bad song you can’t get out of your head.

Many women are so influenced by the dieting rhetoric that their own bodies become the enemies, something that cannot be trusted. Years may go by feeling at constant war with oneself or feeling inadequate.

How can these beliefs and the dieting mentality carry into motherhood?

Beliefs about your body and self-worth that are deeply rooted in diet culture can lead to a host of behaviors that reflect inadequacy, low self-esteem, or insecurities. Mothers play an especially important role in shaping their child’s perception of weight, shape, and appearance.

Research has also found that young children are often influenced by their mothers’ weight-loss attempts and dieting behaviors, and children of dieting mothers may be more likely to experience body dissatisfaction, chronic dieting, and disordered eating as they grow.

Mothers who chronically diet may unintentionally serve as models and sources of information on dieting for their young children, who may first learn about dieting by observing their mothers’ use of weight-control behaviors. Children are keenly aware and influenced by the eating habits of their primary caretakers, and they may be picking up on dieting behaviors, even if unintended.

A dieting mentality or weight-controlling behaviors that kids may be affected by may look like some of these following scenarios:

  • Mom may cook a meal for her family but eat something separately.
  • Mom doesn’t participate in certain family events or functions to avoid eating.
  • Negative self-talk about one’s body, especially in front of kids (ex: using phrases like, “I look horrible in this”, “I feel fat”, “Once I lose this weight, I’ll feel so much better.”)
  • Discussing dieting or diet behaviors
  • Restricting oneself from eating certain foods
  • Negative discussions about food, (ex: “This food is so bad for me”, “If I eat this, it will go straight to my hips”, “I’ve been so bad today – I better just eat a salad for dinner.”)
  • Chronically skipping meals with children and the family

These behaviors can become so commonplace that you may not even realize when they are happening. Because of the strong effect dieting behaviors can have on children, it is important to practice awareness of where dieting thoughts and behaviors may be lurking.

Every mother wants the best for their child, and no mother ever intends to trigger harmful eating behaviors in their child.

Understanding the potential effects of a mother’s dieting mentality on her children can be helpful for creating positive changes. It is also important to note that mothers are not to blame for the development of eating disorders in their children. On the contrary, mothers may have the greatest ability to influence positive approaches to food and body, as well as cultivate self-esteem and body acceptance.

It all starts with you, mama.

If you have found yourself struggling with a dieting mentality and are concerned about how this may be impacting your children, it is important to first give yourself grace and compassion. The incessant thoughts of food and body image can end with you and not carry over to your children. Starting with awareness of your own thoughts and behaviors around food and your body can be the gateway to creating a different way of living. You have the ability to embody the habits you desire for your children, and create a new rhetoric that promotes body acceptance and a peaceful relationship with food.

Peace with food and your body is not only possible, mama. You don’t deserve anything less.

Adapted from the original article.

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones.  Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.

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