Healthy Eating Tips

‘Almond Mom’ Behavior Can Be Triggering—Here’s How To Cope

Photo: Stocksy/ByLorena
ICYMI, tons of TikTokers are talking about what it’s like living with an “almond mom”—and the videos are resonating with viewers. (We’re talking over 50 million views.) They focus not only on moms who “eat a few almonds then feel full,” but also those who restrict food groups and over-exercise, among other disordered behaviors centered around body image.

The term goes back to clips of Gigi Hadid’s mom, Yolanda, telling Gigi to “have a couple of almonds and chew them really well” (yikes) when she felt weak and had only eaten half an almond so far.

This mother-daughter conversation isn’t experienced only by models and their moms, however. Registered dietitian and TikToker Katherine Metzelaar, RD said that nearly every session of hers has entailed clients sharing how their moms talk about body image, weight, and what and how much they and their child are eating. Metzelaar went on to explain that kids can easily take on those same food and weight concerns because they get the idea—from their moms—that they need to be thin to be lovable and attractive. They learn the (false) idea that food is the “enemy” and should be restricted as much as possible.

@katherinemetzelaar Let’s talk about almond moms (and parents)! The phenomenon of almond moms is not something new and I’m glad there’s more attention being brought to the impact that moms and parents have on their children’s body image and relationship to food. ##almondmom##edrec0very##dis0rderedeatingrecovery##dietitiansoftiktok##antidietdietitian ♬ original sound - Katherine Metzelaar, dietitian

It’s important to note that those messages aren’t always explicit or verbal, either—mom and TikToker Chalene Johnson pointed out that engaging in disordered eating or exercise behaviors can be very damaging to kids who simply witness it, too.

And of course, this problem isn’t exclusive to just moms and daughters; harmful comments can be (and are) made by other family members and impact people of other genders—they can hurt men and nonbinary people, as well. But for simplicity’s sake, however, we’ll stick with the term “almond mom.”

While we want to be empathetic towards an almond mom’s struggles—after all, she’s stuck in the horrible world of diet culture, too—it's important to acknowledge and validate that her behavior can be both triggering and damaging, especially for people recovering from disordered eating. And with the holidays coming up—aka, lots of food and family time—dealing with that may be a prominent concern in your mind. How do experts suggest you handle it?

You can feel upset and be empathetic simultaneously

First, let’s clarify something: While it may seem contradictory, you can be angry at your almond mom and feel compassion for her simultaneously. Your emotions—no matter how complex or negative—don’t make you a “bad” person, nor are they invalid. At the same time, validating yourself, while realizing where your almond mom is coming from, might help.

So, while acknowledging the harm in her behaviors, consider thinking about where her heart is at. “It’s important to understand that ‘almond people’ are likely projecting their own negative sense of self onto their children,” says psychiatrist and mental health specialist Erikka Dzirasa, MD, MPH, chief medical officer at Arise, a digital healthcare company offering eating disorder care and mental health support. “They may very well be wrestling with their own body acceptance, or they could even be suffering from body dysmorphia or an underlying eating disorder.”

Ultimately, while her comments can be hurtful, she probably isn’t trying to hurt you. “They oftentimes believe that they are trying to protect you from harm, without realizing they themselves are causing harm,” adds Christyna Johnson, MS, RDN, LDN, an anti-diet dietitian.

While holding those truths in mind, you can still hold onto your boundaries, which we’ll get to in a bit.

How to cope with those triggers

Hearing toxic diet talk (aka judgments about what or how much is eaten, comments about “needing” to burn off calories, and so on) can be upsetting. It may trigger you to engage in similar behaviors, or, frankly, it may just be straight-up annoying. After all, can’t we just focus on the parts of life that actually matter, like spending time with loved ones and having fun?

But regardless of where you are in your journey, how can you cope with the inevitable “Are you really going to eat all that?” comment?

Give yourself compassion

Be who your younger self needed and who your current self needs. Validate how you feel and be understanding of why. “You may have dealt with a lot of painful comments that have caused you to question your self-worth,” Dr. Dzirasa says.

Remind yourself that your self-worth has nothing to do with what you eat, how much you eat, what you look like, or how hungry you are. Remind yourself that your health—mental and physical—is paramount, and you aren’t doing anything wrong. “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel badly about your diet choices,” urges Cara Bohon, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, eating disorder expert, vice president of clinical programs at Equip, and clinical associate professor at Stanford University. “We need to eat all kinds of foods for our bodies to be healthy—even the sugars and carbs we’ve been falsely taught to avoid.”

Plan coping skills ahead of time

Before you head to that holiday meal, think about what’s helped you in the past when you heard unhelpful, diet-y comments. “Learn some good coping skills to use before interacting with that person, and use them again during and after to help you continue to feel good,” Johnson says.

You can brainstorm with your therapist or dietitian, if you have one. Otherwise, some ideas include texting a friend, having a few conversation topics in mind so you can change the subject, or practicing a grounding technique. An example of the latter is the 5-4-3-2-1 method: Think of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste or are grateful for.

Unlearn those toxic messages

Realizing and noting the negative impact (and inaccuracy) of almond mom-esque comments can also be helpful. There are tons of Instagram accounts and podcasts dedicated to anti-dieting—aka anything posted by Christy Harrison, RD or Christine Byrne, RD for example—that can be a solid starting point.

Dr. Bohon shares some of those truths and tips, such as food being fuel and to refuse to assign moral value to food (aka, remind yourself that carbs aren’t “bad.”) “Allowing all foods to be eaten without shame or guilt is critical,” she adds. “We need all kinds of foods to live and thrive.”

This process can help with the aforementioned self-compassion piece. “Then you can begin the process to unlearn those messages by offering your body love, compassion, and ultimately acceptance,” Dr. Dzirasa says. “You may need to compartmentalize so you can distinguish those learned messages from your own.”

How to communicate your needs to your almond mom

Taking care of yourself and being self-compassionate isn’t only an internal thing. Talking to your mom is another important step—for you, your relationship with your mom, and maybe even others around you who feel triggered.

It all comes down to one thing: setting boundaries. If you find this intimidating, we hear you. It requires you to put yourself and your needs out there, and to hope people won’t make fun of you over them. It’s also not something girls and women have often been encouraged to do in our society.

And it’s a step you’re (more than) allowed to take. “It’s okay to communicate to your ‘almond person’ how their words and behaviors may have impacted you,” Dr. Dzirasa says.

Dr. Bohon shares a few examples of how you can set boundaries kindly and firmly:

  • “I’d appreciate it if our conversations didn’t revolve around food anymore. I don’t enjoy discussing our eating habits.”
  • “We’re all different, and what works for you doesn’t work for me. Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
  • “It makes me uncomfortable when we talk about this. Can we talk about something else?”

As mentioned earlier, you may want to hold on to empathy throughout this conversation. “It’s important to keep this context in mind when you’re navigating conversations and relationships with ‘almond people,’ acknowledging that while they may be triggering to be around, they most often don’t mean to be harmful or hurtful, and are usually coming from a place of ignorance and naivete,” says Dr. Bohon.

Lastly, remember that “a couple of almonds” simply isn’t enough nourishment for anyone. Listen to your body, and eat what and when it wants. “I know that many of us have been taught that it is a ‘good’ thing to survive on as little as possible, but it’s not,” Johnson says. “You deserve to have more energy to do things and to feel better.”

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