What the 'almond mom' trend on TikTok says about parenting and diet culture

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It was 10 years ago that a conversation between a mother and daughter about eating, on an episode of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," caught the public's attention.

"I'm feeling really weak. I had like, half an almond," Gigi Hadid, at the time a teenager, told her mom Yolanda Hadid on a 2013 episode of the reality show.

In response, Yolanda Hadid told her daughter, "Have a couple of almonds and chew them really well."

While Yolanda Hadid later said her comments were taken out of context and came when she was "half asleep" after undergoing surgery, the imprint of a mom seemingly encouraging her daughter to restrict food stuck.

PHOTO: Yolanda Hadid (L) and Gigi Hadid are seen in NoHo, April 22, 2022, in New York City. (Gotham/GC Images via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Yolanda Hadid (L) and Gigi Hadid are seen in NoHo, April 22, 2022, in New York City. (Gotham/GC Images via Getty Images)

Today, judging from social media, the term "almond mom" is used to refer to a parent who imparts unhealthy food beliefs or disordered eating on their child.

The hashtag #almondmom brings up thousands of videos on TikTok alone of mostly young women impersonating the ways they see their parents, mostly moms, doing everything from limiting their own food intake to questioning their child's diet choices and over-exercising.

"Are you really hungry or are you just bored," a woman says in one video, mimicking a so-called almond mom.

"I just got back from my 12-mile walk. I am starving," another woman impersonating an "almond mom" says in a video, as she measures out two almonds to eat.

Tyler Bender, a 20-year-old digital creator in Denver, has racked up over 144,000 followers on TikTok thanks in large part to the "almond mom" videos she has created since July, when she said she filmed a quick video in a grocery store satirizing what she described as "skinny moms on diets."

"I went to the nut vending machine and I got like one nut and put in a sack and tied it up," Bender told "Good Morning America." "I just assumed that people would be like, 'Oh, that's so weird and quirky,' and then there have been so many people who related to it."

She continued, "It's like a community in the comments, the amount of people that are like, 'This is healing for me.'"

Bender said she continues to be surprised by how much her videos resonate with people, including her own mom.

"My mom watches them and she thinks they're hilarious, but I know she's watched them and also been like dialing it back," Bender said. "I think anybody who watches them knows, like, OK, time to dial it back. I don't need to be so worried about that all the time."

Bender said the goal of her videos is not to glamourize or amplify restricted eating, but to use humor to shine a light on the diet culture that pervades families to this day.

"It's just kind of like raising the flags of hey, this behavior isn't normal. If you're seeing this, say something, or know that it's not cool and it's not normal," she said. "I think it's made parents more aware of like, 'I don't want to pass down my diet culture to my daughter and have her do the diet pills I did, so I'm going to watch my mouth now because kids see everything.'"

A cultural issue

The "almond mom" trend on social media comes as eating disorders continue to be an ongoing crisis in the United States.

Eating disorders remained second only to opioid overdose as the deadliest mental illness throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with eating disorders responsible for one death every 52 minutes in the U.S., according to data shared by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Nearly 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the organization.

MORE: African-American eating disorder survivor shares her message that eating disorders don't just affect 'thin, young, white affluent women'

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are diagnosed by specific criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association.

Disordered eating, which is more common, is not a specific diagnosis but describes irregular eating behaviors or a preoccupation with food, weight and body image, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which represents nutrition and dietetics practitioners.

Virginia Sole-Smith, author of the upcoming book "Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture," said that while it's clear that home life influences a child's thoughts on food, it's "reductive" to think that, as with the "almond mom" trend, it's moms alone who may be causing damage.

"We know that eating disorders have a whole variety of causes, so the mom alone does not cause it," Sole-Smith told ABC News. "There is a genetic component. There are environmental components, all these different things."

She continued, "Parents of all genders really influence their kids' relationships with food and body, and there's a lot of potential to cause harm there, but it is not limited just to moms."

That point is echoed by Maya Feller, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, who said the "almond mom" trend does track with research showing the outsized impact parents -- not just mothers -- have on how kids view food.

"Whatever the family culture of food is shapes the way that kids perceive, and I think that's separate from gender," Feller said. "If we see parents who engage in restrictive behaviors, then we know that's what's being passed down to the kids."

Both Feller and Sole-Smith acknowledged that the influence of parents only goes so far, as kids are also impacted by what they see on social media and in pop culture.

Sole-Smith, also author of the "Burnt Toast" newsletter, said navigating diet culture and fatphobia can be particularly hard for parents. While body-positive role models like Lizzo and even the self-awareness seen in "almond mom" videos are helpful, it's an uphill battle.

"I've certainly noticed in my reporting that Gen Z has a fluency with naming concepts like diet culture, fatphobia, intuitive eating, that these are words that are not foreign to them ... but that doesn't always translate to zero disordered eating, right," Sole-Smith said. "They're still swimming in the same sea that we're all swimming in and stuff comes up."

Of the role parents play, she added, "Parents can either be the counternarrative to that, or they can reinforce that."

What parents can take away from the 'almond mom' trend

When it comes to helping raise kids who have healthy relationships with food and eating, parents can start by creating a "safe space" at home, according to both Sole-Smith and Feller.

"Make the home a place where kids' bodies are respected, trusted, treated with dignity, where their food preferences are respected, treat foods aren't demonized and where movement is encouraged in terms of how do you love to move your body, not movement for the sake of body shape," said Sole-Smith, adding that parents can also talk to their kids about what diet and weight messages they see in pop culture.

Feller also recommends parents be "neutral" when it comes to food.

"As a parent myself, of course sometimes I see my kid not having their vegetables, and I want to be like, 'Eat your vegetables,' but I hold myself back because I'm really not trying to create a hierarchy around food," she said, adding, "Food is not a reward or punishment. Food is food."

Feller said parents can also help by offering the structure -- a variety of foods, served at regular mealtimes, ideally at a table and not in front of a screen -- that will empower their child.

"Then the kid is the one that's meant to decide if they eat and how much," said Feller. "There doesn't have to be the power struggle around what gets consumed."

MORE: Women speak out to break eating disorder stereotypes amid pandemic surge

Sole-Smith said that with her own children, she recognizes that it's normal development for kids to be picky eaters, and looks at what new foods they have tried over time, not in one meal or one day.

Both Feller and Sole-Smith also emphasized that the single best thing parents can do is set a good example with their own actions.

"They learn from watching us much more than they learn from having us count their broccoli bites," said Sole-Smith, adding of her own approach, "I offer a range of foods that I would like them have access to. I sit down and eat my own meal and enjoy it, and I don't think very hard about what they're eating or not eating -- and the more I do that, and the more relaxed I am about it, the more they try different foods."

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or NationalEatingDisorders.org.

What the 'almond mom' trend on TikTok says about parenting and diet culture originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com