No force exerts more power on how girls perceive their bodies and their relationship with food than the examples set by their own mothers, research and countless examples show.
Some of you are mothers; all of you had one. What did you learn about food, eating and weight from your own mother and what is your daughter learning from you? How and why do you eat the way you do and how can you prevent your daughter from repeating your mistakes?
Eating disorder treatment specialist Carolyn Costin, clinical director and founder of the Monte Nido Treatment Center, says that modern culture may send some women and girls the message to feed and nurture others, but not themselves.
“Because of the undue emphasis placed on appearance, females come to view their bodies as instruments to be used in the pursuit of approval from others and as sources of personal pride,” Costin says. “This can, however, lead to them experiencing their bodies as a source of disapproval, failure and psychological pain.”
Food may become a medium through which females communicate many feelings. Women use food to demonstrate love and caring, to get approval, as a way of being creative, as a way of distracting from other issues, as a source of comfort, as a means of apology, and there are many more. In her book, “Your Dieting Daughter,” Costin challenges women to ask themselves, “What has food come to represent in your life and in your messages to your own children?”
Costin offers some advice for helping mothers become healthy examples of self-acceptance to their daughters, and for dealing with eating disorder issues.
Messages that backfire
Mothers send messages every day that their daughters pick up on – from lessons of kindness to others, to the tendency to judge one’s self-worth based on physical appearance. Be aware of messages that can backfire, even when you have the best intentions:
- Compliments – You may do or say things that send the wrong message to your daughter. The focus on appearance, even when giving a compliment, can backfire in many ways. For example, to compliment someone on her weight loss may be construed to mean that she was not attractive before. Excessive praise for appearance can reinforce the notion that external qualities are more important than internal ones, regardless of the cost it takes to maintain it.
- Food as reward and punishment No matter how many experts have warned against it, parents – especially mothers – often use food as a reward and punishment. Children learn that certain foods belong in special categories, like “good” and “bad.” This kind of thinking sets the stage for someone to restrict, sneak eat, rebel by eating, comfort themselves with, or overly indulge in, the forbidden “bad foods.” Costin teaches her eating disorder clients at Monte Nido something that is important for everyone to understand: “There are no bad foods; there are only bad eating habits.”
- Food as love – People learn a variety of ways to associate food with being nurtured, cared for and loved. Food, early on in the mother-daughter relationship, is connected to love – getting one means having the other. A girl may use food as love if she feels, consciously or unconsciously, that she is not getting love somewhere else. Where emptiness exists in any way, food can mask it and be a substitute filler, at least temporarily.
- Swallowing feelings/stuffing anger – People stuff down or swallow their feelings with food. People who use food in this way describe it as having a numbing effect on them, Costin says. Starving is also a way of avoiding feelings or demonstrating in some way that, “I don’t have any feelings or needs.” To heal people from using food in this way clinics like Monte Nido teach their clients that all feelings are acceptable; it is their behaviors they need to learn to monitor and control.
Mothers who want to set a good example for their daughters should consider this, Costin says: “Is what you are doing to yourself what you would also do to your own daughter? If you don’t want her to skip meals in order to fit in a dress, or binge because she’s having a bad day, then you shouldn’t do it either.” To learn more about eating disorders and treatment, visit www.MonteNido.com.
Source: ARA Content