Nature or Nurture? Why Your Eating Disorder Could Be Destroying Your Daughter.

Eating disorders are not only harmful to the person suffering. Did you ever consider the harm one person’s eating disorder could bring on another? Especially when it’s a young girl, watching her own mother. Our daughters model everything we do. They may tune out our words, but they watch our every move and mimic as many as they can muster.

When we don’t take care of ourselves — or worse, when we plummet down the dark tunnel of an eating disorder — we are unknowingly taking our daughters with us. Three of the most powerful risk factors for the development of an eating disorder are (1) a mother who diets, (2) a sister who diets, and (3) friends who diet. Research shows that eating disorders are far easier to prevent than to cure — and parents are in the most powerful position to accomplish that. Most efforts to create positive behaviors and healthy mind-body images take place within the context of the family — not in clinics or medical programs. Always, what you do is far more impactful than what you say.

Through yoga teacher training, we’ve learned to live not as judge, critic or fixer — but as models — be the light by living your best path. On a recent visit to Detroit, Vedanta scholar Gautam Jain instructed parents in the listening audience that there are only two rules to follow when it comes to raising children:

Live your ideal life.  Shut your mouth.

The mother doesn’t even notice that she’s saying it. Standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom, her young daughter quietly watching TV on the mother’s bed, the mother mumbles, “Ugh. I look so fat today.” It’s not the first time she’s said it. At the mall, trying on clothes, her daughter along for the ride. At the beach, on a family vacation. When trying to decide on take-out for dinner — “I’d love Chinese, but I don’t want to get fat.”  The mother’s insecurities penetrate the little girl’s psyche, as the same destructive, self-hating messages play like a broken record over and over again throughout her childhood and adolescence. It’s built into the family construct, too. The father, at the dinner table, says, “Don’t put salt on your food because salt makes you retain water and that makes you fat.”

Everywhere she turns, the growing girl — who is healthy, beautiful, normal for her age and grade, but most likely not in the 1% of skinny-minny girls who will go through life never having to worry about weight gain — hears a fearful message of FAT, FAT, FAT… How is she to accept herself as she is?

It’s bad enough that in our society, the majority of media images portray an unrealistic female figure. If it’s swirling about in our own homes, perpetrated by the very people whom we look to for guidance in every other realm of life, what then?

At, we’ve received countless emails from fathers who are concerned that their wives’ unhealthy, eating-disordered behaviors will be copied by their daughters. They are right to worry.

For midlife women — for anyone! – it may be hard to admit you have a problem and seek help. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your daughters. What legacy do you want to pass on to the next generation? We want our children to do well, to be well, to live well, to grow into healthy whole adults — and to get there, they need a strong, solid foundation.

Regardless of where you are right now, consider these following ideas for not only getting healthy yourself, but helping your daughter build a lifelong foundation of well-being, peace and self-acceptance.

1.  If you are a woman, get comfortable with your own body — no matter what size, shape or number on the scale. Don’t criticize your appearance — ever!

2. If you are a man, never criticize anyone’s appearance, especially women’s.

3. Remember that people are more than mere bodies. Focus on the many intangibles that create the composite person in front of you — and banish any critical ideas, especially those grounded in superficiality.

4. If you see someone teasing others about their appearance, step in and tell them they are wrong.

5. Emphasize — by example and by word — the importance of fit, healthy bodies — not being THIN. Whenever possible, teach by example — and involve those you love in exercising together, for health.

6. Praise your children for their special, unique qualities — not how they look.

7. Don’t diet. Rather, learn about healthy, nutritious eating involving a variety of foods, unprocessed and close to the source.

8. Learning to rely on intuitive eating and listening to your body’s feedback is an essential tool for nourishing your body and soul. There is no greater gift a mother can give her daughter.

So many times, mothers call, asking if they should put their daughters on diets. They don’t realize the supreme damage they’re doing to their little girls! And they don’t realize that it is THEIR problem, not their daughters’. From puberty through adolescence, girls experience healthy, normal development, resulting in beautiful female curves — that is not the same thing as getting fat!

Girls — and boys — need to know, and frankly, celebrate, that a woman’s body develops as it does for healthy childbearing later in life. And men need to stop glorifying the skeletal form as an ideal female.

This is a perfect time to create a family conversation about the images in magazines, on TV and in the movies. Make it clear that some models and actresses look as they do by undergoing plastic surgery or living with eating disorders. Talk about how advertisers strategically prey on body-image insecurities by sending messages about the benefits of being thin.

Recent research reveals that it is possible for mothers to pass along an eating disorder to their children. While doctors have suggested that genetic, biochemical and environmental factors may contribute to a person’s likelihood to develop an eating disorder, many doctors believe the “teach by example” theory reigns supreme — where mothers with their own undiagnosed eating disorders remain untreated and their children simply follow their lead.

Another study revealed that relatives of people with eating disorders are at increased risk of having an eating disorder of their own — along with major depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Take the most courageous step — get help! A lifeline exists and we at can get you there.

Midlife women still have many, many years to build a healthy, successful life and in addition, save their daughters from facing a similar fate.

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  1. I don’t usually comment on blogs, but just wanted to say I totally enjoyed reading. Thanks so much

  2. Keep up the good work. Everyone is opened to there opinion. Excellent blog here, i am still reading :)

  3. I am Completely Concur with your oppinion.this blog post is very encouraging to people who want to know these Subjects.

  4. Great site! I come here all of the time! Keep up the great work!

  5. I am so glad this was published. I have an eating disorder and have been for years. I have a young daughter (9) but don’t make comments about my disorder or the body image issues, etc. I treat her, and hear the words coming out of my mouth, in the way I wish I could hear myself say and BELIEVE them. I will, hopefully one day!

    Frustrated in her forties!

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