Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


Can Poor Body Image Be Passed on Through Generations?

I have no doubt that it can

I vividly remember my mother preparing healthy, balanced meals for my dad, my brothers, and me most nights—she's an amazing cook. We always sat down as a family for dinner and talked about our day. This is one thing that I am so thankful for and will continue to do with my own family.

Something that has always stuck out in my mind, however, is that my mom rarely ate what we ate. Instead, she would often eat only the vegetable portion—maybe a salad or some cooked veggies. I remember wondering why and thinking that it was a bit odd, but I never questioned it. It was just normal. That's what Moms did—they ate salad for dinner while the rest of the family enjoyed a satisfying, balanced meal.


That was what I thought to be "normal" anyway. I also remember my mom always being quite self-conscious about her body, particularly her weight. She often avoided clothes shopping because she was embarrassed about her size and didn't like the way clothes looked on her. She often dieted and would never, ever have dessert. That sticks out in my mind: no dessert for Mom—ever. She often made comments about her weight and rarely accepted compliments on how beautiful she was. And she was, and still is. She's one of the most beautiful people I know, both inside and out. 

When I was young, I remember having my own issues with body image and self-esteem. My mom was always the first person that I would go to, cry to, and listen to, as she comforted me and told me how beautiful I was, how beautiful my body was, and to enjoy it. But she also apologized to me about how it was her fault that I had bigger thighs and wider hips. It was her genetics that contributed to my curvy physique and she felt bad about that. She wished that I inherited more of my father's lean, skinny genetics.

Somehow during high school or University, my own self esteem, body image, and confidence began to grow and continued to grow as I became a wife and mother. I imagine that was because I was studying nutrition and became more educated on food, physiology, and metabolism. Or it was because I had strong friendships, and a healthy relationship with my husband. It was possibly, probably a combination of both. It's hard to say. But it did and I am thankful for that. As my nutrition counseling practice grew and I developed a strong interest in working with women who suffered from eating disorders and body image issues, I became passionate about intuitive and mindful eating. I taught my clients how to have a healthy relationship with food rather than dieting or restricting. 

What I discovered in many of my nutrition counseling sessions is that most of these girls had mothers who had poor body image, disordered eating habits, and/or a history of dieting and restricting themselves. Most, if not all of these women, grew up with mothers who loved them dearly and who were good mothers, but they were unhappy with their own bodies and who often instilled their own dieting habits and rituals onto their daughters, sometimes unknowingly. 

Before I started writing this post, I phoned my mom and asked her if she thought that her body image issues stemmed at all from her own mother's issues with weight, dieting, and body image. We had a long conversation about it and realized that as loving and well-intentioned as my Grandmother was, her poor body image and years of dieting likely had some sort of effect on my mother's body image and relationship with food. I have no doubt that this all started generations ago.

Is it possible that poor body image can be passed on through generations? 

According to research conducted by Dove, through the Unstoppable Moms For Unstoppable Girls program, girls are most often looking to their mothers for advice on how to care for themselves and their bodies. Across all countries that were studied, mothers were the primary source of self-care learning. Not to mention that more than half of girls globally say that their mother is one of their female role models. What's more is that six out of ten girls avoid activities because they feel badly about the way they look. However, when girls have a role model at home—and more often than not, this role model is mom—they are less likely to let anxiety about their looks hold them back. Long before peer pressure kicks in, Mom’s behaviour shapes who their daughter is and who she will become. 

My baby girl is due in June. Because of what my amazing mom has shared with me, what my career has taught me, and what I have experienced in my own life, I will do whatever it takes to teach my daughter (and son) to celebrate their bodies. I can't think of a better way to do that then to continue to celebrate my own body. Diet talk, diet foods, and negative self-talk will not be a part of our family or home life. If you are a mother to a daughter, watch how you speak about your own body. Be careful to eat normally and healthfully, and enjoy desserts and treat foods sometimes. Be careful to not outwardly express your own poor body image issues at home where your daughters can hear you. They are listening, soaking it up, and learning from you. Speak about your body the same way you want your daughter to feel about her own. 

YMC is celebrating all of the Dove Unstoppable Moms for Unstoppable Girls contest winners!
Read more inspiring stories from the winners of the Dove Unstoppable Moms for Unstoppable Girls Contest and get great advice on how to raise your own Unstoppable Girl. Plus, download a special tool kit from Dove to teach the young girls in your life how to grow into strong, confident women.