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The damaging food story a mother passes on to her daughter…


The Gilmore Girls returned to our screens over the Thanksgiving weekend. The show is about a touching, if somewhat idealized mother-daughter relationship.

While I never watched the original show, my little sister’s excitement was so infectious I decided to indulge in some binge watching  with her (the only binging I engage in!).  The program didn’t disappoint. My husband told me he read somewhere that it was like ‘a warm hug’ and indeed it was. Though something struck me while watching it over the weekend, and I realize that this is something I hear all the time in my clinic.

The family story around food is perpetuated, passed on from mother to daughter, and the Gilmore Girls are a great example of this

Many of the scenes are set around junk-food indulgences late at night, or an array of different random foods that you wouldn’t naturally put together.  I think I recall one scene where Lorelai and Rory are munching on mini doughnuts awaiting some chilli! These ladies love to eat, and they seem to have a particular penchant for highly processed ‘rubbish-y’ foods, yet they both have lovely figures. This makes sense in a fantasy world, but what actually interests me is the mirroring of the daughter’s attitude towards food. She has the same tastes, beliefs, and approach to food as her mother.

Recently I was speaking with a mother who was talking about how to communicate a healthy relationship with food to her own teenage daughter. She told me that she encouraged her daughter to try and always eat healthily and exercise so as to avoid putting on weight.

This seems like a healthy message, right?

But what that’s also doing is inadvertently creating a story around food- watch what you eat! Be careful not to gain weight!  I suggested that a healthier message might be to just eat when you feel hungry and enjoy your food, as opposed to monitoring what you eat, and focusing on eating well. Our body naturally knows what it needs, if we actually allow ourselves to listen to it. 

As parents your actions around food and your body are communicated whether you actually articulate them to your children or not

I was working recently with a client who was talking about her own life long dissatisfaction with her body which started as early as she could remember. We went though her personal body and food story and then I asked her what her mother’s approach was. She told me her mother never nagged her or made her feel uncomfortable about her body, but thinking about it, she realised that her mother has been on some sort of diet and had always been dissatisfied with her body.

Our actions speak volumes

Children pick up on so much, and indeed identify whether positively or negatively with their parents. So it’s important to start to ask yourself what food story you communicate to your children. Is it a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ or do you lead by example, eating well and finding ways to reinforce a sense of pride, respect, and love for your own body? This is the key to protecting your child against falling into body dissatisfaction and a lifetime of dieting.

I encourage you to assess what you are communicating to your children around food

Are you a picky eater?

Are you constantly dieting, or feeling dissatisfied with your own body?

If you can say yes to these questions, I suggest it’s time to assess your own food and body story and how this has shaped you inside and out. This is a simple idea, but take some time to reflect upon it: what you focus on in your mind and heart is exactly what you will see and experience in the world outside. So if you want to change your environment, your circumstances, or your opportunities, change what you are focusing on inward.

If the story you tell yourself is: I’m unhappy with my body and it’s really difficult for me to lose weight, then that is exactly what you will experience. And indeed it is exactly what you will communicate to your loved ones.

It’s time to stop the generational cycle of body dissatisfaction

Start by loving your body. Regardless of what size it is, if you’re reading this, it’s doing an amazing job. Learn to respect it and  in turn you will treat it with the respect it deserves, both in your thoughts and in your actions. It is so painful when we see our daughters (and sons) struggle with their self-esteem, with how they view themselves, and how they relate to food. But pause and think, is it the case that you have those thoughts, feelings and insecurities too?

We cannot be perfect role models all the time, but we can certainly try to lead by example

Start by cooking together, enjoying food together, and taking care of your bodies in a healthy and maintainable way.  Where the focus is on pleasure, freedom and most importantly, listening to your bodies needs together and noticing the positive changes as you do this! Drastic action is rarely maintainable, but gentle changes and focusing on being ‘good enough’ is optimal in all things.

If you would like to find our more about how to shift what you focus on in your mind so that you can change how you experience food and your body, then check out my free training: Break up with Bad Eating Habits. 


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The damaging food story a mother passes on to her daughter…

Karina Melvin, MSc, MA

Karina Melvin provides online psychoanalysis and counselling services from her South Dublin office with her team of high-level psychoanalysts. You can learn more about online counselling, psychoanalysis by clicking the link below.

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APA Reference
Melvin, K. (2019). The damaging food story a mother passes on to her daughter…. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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