Mindpath Health’s Kiana Shelton, LCSW help discuss what growing up with an ‘almond mom’ means.
Warning: This article includes discussion of eating disorders, diet culture, and weight stigma. If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact NEDA.
Did you grow up with an almond mom? It’s a question many women and girls asked themselves earlier this week, after clips of Yolanda Hadid—also known as Gigi and Bella Hadid’s mother—went viral on social media.
In the videos compiled from Hadid’s stint on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Yolanda calls Gigi’s body “big and bulky” and complains she “eats like men.” During an episode on Gigi’s birthday, she tells her then teenage daughter she can only “have one night of being bad” then has to “get back on her diet,” before allowing her a single bite of cake. The most troubling of all, however, is a scene in which Gigi calls her mother complaining that she feels “really weak” after only eating “like half an almond” that day. Yolanda’s response? “Have a couple of almonds, and chew them really well.”
Despite Hadid’s viral comments, the almond mom is not a novel concept—and definitely not limited to stage moms. I know, because I hail from a generation of women whose daily lives revolve around how little they’ve eaten and how much weight they’ve subsequently lost. Almond moms are obsessed with dieting, but don’t openly acknowledge it, justifying their restricted calories for the sake of being “healthy.”
What matters most to an almond mom is getting and staying thin, so much so it inevitably overshadows accomplishments, accolades, and milestones—unless, of course, you look skinny while celebrating. To ensure that stays the case, they tend to sustain themselves on single-digit quantities of almonds—though they occasionally dabble in green juice, 100-calorie snack packs, and nonfat yogurt—and struggle to comprehend why their daughters don’t do the same.
TikTok has proved the experience is alarmingly universal: If you search “almond moms” on the app, you’ll find content created around the topic long before the Yolanda clips resurfaced. At the time of writing, the phrase has amassed 600 million views.
In the videos, teens and 20-somethings parody their “half-an-almond-a-day moms” who refuse to eat during scenarios like trick-or-treating or at the Hershey store. Others highlight the triggering toxic mantras by which their almond moms live, including “A moment on the lips forever on the hips” and “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” reciting them with cheerful fervor.
Hadid seemingly replied to the criticism with a TikTok captioned #worstmomever in which she does various activities like walking, reading, and playing with baby goats—all while toting a large bowl of almonds.
Underneath the humor, however, lies something more sinister: the undeniable fact that even in 2022, during a newfound wave of body-positivity, the almond mom mentality is alive and well. But even worse is how much these harmful dieting fads impact women, regardless of whether or not their mothers realize it.
“Children follow more of what we do than what we say, which is why not addressing dieting and/or limiting caloric intake, but still being obsessive about it while in the presence of your kids, can have even more of an impact on children than parents are aware of,” Kiana Shelton, LCSW and women’s health expert at Mindpath Health, tells Glamour. So even if your almond mom doesn’t or didn’t actively address your eating habits, her problematic habits can still have dire consequences.
“Let’s say a mother uses body-positive language around her daughter and does not impose restrictive eating on her,” Kara Lissy, LCSW, a psychotherapist at A Good Place Therapy, explains. “Imagine that girl’s confusion when she later observes her mother checking her figure in the mirror obsessively, using derogatory language about her own body, and counting calories. The most important thing a mother can do for her daughter is to model high self-worth, though that can be an uphill battle against diet culture.
“Many neural pathways are formed during childhood and adolescence, and over time and with practice, these ways of thinking and behaviors become very engrained,” Lissy continues. “Young women whose mothers planted the seeds for their eating disorders feel reinforced when they are complimented on their weight loss, and learn early on to attach value to the way that they look rather than the other wonderful qualities about them that have nothing to do with their weight or what they ate.”
One would think these antiquated ideals died along with the Atkins Diet in the 2000s, and some of them did: Cool plus-size clothing finally exists, curve models frequently walk the runway, and “body positivity” carved out its well-deserved place in the mainstream lexicon. But cultural shifts swing like a pendulum, and while one side opts to embrace all bodies, the other is injecting themselves with diabetes medication in order to stay skinny.
And since trends come in 20-year cycles, it’s a safe bet today’s almond moms are working overtime to keep early-aughts aesthetics alive. They were, after all, the target demographic of fad diets during their prime: Young moms desperately trying to shed weight. And if millennials, who were preteens and teens, barely survived the uniquely fatphobic period unscathed, imagine how much postpartum women internalized the messaging. Take that residual internal body shame and add today’s post-Goop, faux-wellness culture world, and the almond mom remains convinced that her regimented eating is a holistic lifestyle choice. However, the children they influence usually don’t get to opt in or out.
“My mom is always commenting on her own weight, will never finish her meal, eats half and claims she is stuffed,” Melanie,* a 30-year-old gallery associate, tells Glamour. “Whenever she does eat carbs or something ‘unhealthy,’ like a burger, she claims she’s ‘being a piggy. [Because of it] I had an eating disorder in high school, and it has taken me almost a decade to not feel guilty for eating things for pleasure.”
“My mom had put a device that made a cow noise in the fridge every time you opened it so you could never get food out without alerting anyone or being made to feel ‘like a cow,’” says Bianca,* a 29-year old animator living in California. “One moment that really messed me up was I was 12, and my mom had given birth to my second sister. She went to a ‘health farm’ to lose the baby weight and gone for a month—I’d missed her so much and was so excited for her return, I even wrote a poem for her. But instead of acknowledging me, she was too busy basking in everyone’s comments about how good she looked. I was crestfallen, and that was when I realized that being skinny was more important than anything else.”
Experiences like this can affect women well into adulthood. “My mom’s relationship with food was always strict—she’d go to the gym every day and I had never seen her consume anything she’d deem as ‘junk food,’” Mika,* a 22-year-old student in New York City, recalls. “This outlook on food really impacted me, and continues to impact me today. I feel guilty after eating anything that seems ‘unhealthy,’ and it’s extremely hard to change that—I developed two eating-related disorders as a result. I can’t remember any time of my life where food wasn’t an enemy.”
However, food—and, in this case, almonds—isn’t necessarily the bad guy. Men snack on almonds all the time; Barack Obama’s favorite snack is seven “lightly salted” almonds. The true enemy is weight-loss schemes, which are designed to prey on women and, by proxy, their daughters.
Knowing this, almond daughters often fear they’ll pass this mentality on to their future children. “If I were to have a girl…it feels hopeless,” Melanie says and expresses that she hopes she has sons to spare them the pain. Bianca feels the same: “I’m scared to have a daughter and pass on those insecurities by accident.”
This type of behavior is easier to pass down than one might think, with most almond moms simply being unaware. “Many parents may sit in the perspective that they ‘turned out okay,’ therefore it’s okay to do with their children, or simply don’t know a better route to take,” Shelton says. “It takes a lot of courage to make corrective actions to patterns that have been a part of your upbringing.”
The first corrective action? Addressing the issue. Unlike their predecessors, teens and 20-somethings have chosen to speak up—and that’s not nothing. “There is still a lot of work to be done to unlearn lessons many of us have been conditioned to learn,” Shelton says, though she notes that normalizing boundary setting and conversations around mental health is where it starts. Almond-mom TikTok demonstrates what this generation refuses to tolerate. As a result, they’re disrupting the pattern.
“Calling out fatphobia or toxic diet culture when you see it is so incredibly important,” Lissy concludes. “It is important for us as women to show up for each other, but it is also important to educate others on their wrongdoing.” What’s more, Lissy says, is that some people may truly not know a comment is inappropriate until they’re explicitly told that it’s unacceptable. Fortunately, today’s almond daughters have no problem addressing that.
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