Health habits of moms and daughters

Jun 09, 2011

Nutrition columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget and her 17-year-old daughter Sophie take your questions about how a mother's health habits affect her daughter's habits.

Hi! I'm Sophie and am excited to chat with you all today!

Hi, all! Thanks for joining this chat with me and my daughter Sophie. We both are looking forward to answering your questions about mothers, daughters and health habits!

Do u think a mother can be too fanatical about diet? I have a cousin whose mom always tried to control what she ate. I believe it had an adverse effect. My cousin has weight issues to this day and she is now in her late 30s.

I definitely think a mother can be too fanatical. My friend's mom used to have an obsession with eating organic food. She now has horrible eating habits, and I think it's because of all the foods she was denied as a younger kid. Plus, you always want what you can't have...

Which oils and fats are your daughter advised to eat, to reduce, to reduce to a minumm, and not to eat??

Well, we try to stick with olive and canola oils, both of which are sources of heart-healthy fats. Of course, you have to watch how much you use because oils and fats are very high in calories. But you do need some fats for your body to absorb all the vitamins in vegetables. I have to say we occasionally enjoy some butter on hot, home-made bread. But that's a treat, not a regular occasion, these days!

My only child, a daughter, is 3 and at the dinner table she prefers chatting and playing to eating. When we sit down we sit as a family. In what way can I encourage her to focus on eating without having to feed her or play airplane?

You are doing a great thing for your little girl by establishing the habit of eating as a family early on. As long as she isn't being naughty (i.e. throwing food...), I wouldn't worry one bit. After all, in cultures such as those in the Mediterranean, meals are long, drawn-out affairs, focused as much on the companionship and conversation as on the food itself. And that tradition is the foundation of a very healthful lifestyle. Relax and enjoy this time with your daughter!


Quick, your mom is not looking, and we promise not to tell. What are some of the most embarassing things you've ever seen your mom do?

She has put salsa on yogurt. And warmed it up. I guess it's good for her, but really...


Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it! (That's from Jennifer; I know I'm not supposed to be looking, but I peeked any way!)

Are you teaching your daughter to cook healthful meals? I find this to be a missing link in many busy families today--not taking the time to teach our teens/young adults to cook. I'm making it a point to teach my son (now 28 years old) to cook. We have favorite recipies we take turns preparing and, each Christmas, I give him a cookbook for his own collection. I can't say he's a "chef in the making" but he is catching on to the idea and takes pride in his culinary skills.

Yes, we do cook together -- my son included -- and I'm looking forward to having more time for that this summer. It is a missing link for many families. Yours sounds like a really neat family, and I like hearing about your traditions. Those family recipes are real treasures; your son is lucky to have such good guidance.

Now that you both may book back at things, were the word "this is for your own good" ever used during spankings or whatever discipline was used, and what it indeed for your own good after all?

I can't remember ever uttering those words to the kids!

i loved reading your column today - and you both look great in the picture that was printed. i congratulate you both on having a relationship where you can talk about your health habits and recognize where you help/hurt one another. i learned a good bit about food/exercise habits from the contrast between my dad (good eating habits, makes time to exercise) and my mom (the opposite). i'm following my dad's footsteps, but i don't really have a way to talk to my mom about it. i just try to be encouraging when she does mention doing something positive (going to a class, etc.) any other thoughts on how to encourage her?

Sorry, technical difficulties. Thanks so much! I'm glad that you're leaning towards the healthful route. Talking to your mom about it might be more difficult than speaking through your example. Having her see how much happier you are after exercising compared to before might do the trick for encouraging physical activity. Or go to a class with her! This might open dialogue between you about your habits and you'll both be better for it.Something we've done in our family is suggest new healthful dinners. More often than not, these new things have become family favorites. Speaking from personal experience, I've wanted to keep the healthy streak going after eating a good meal. Good luck!

How do you as a mom/teen monitor how much junk food is eaten? If you limit it at all - were you always good about your eating or was there an age when concern about good nutrition kicked in?

That's a tough one, especially because I don't believe in ruling out whole categories of food altogether -- and also because we also have a 14-year-old boy in the house and keeping him full sometimes requires some "junk." I also grew up eating at least my share of junk food. I always thought I ate healthfully enough, though, until (as I said in the column) I started reporting on nutrition. Now we just talk about what we're eating and make decisions together, and try to be both smart and relaxed/realistic about what we eat.

My personal rule is for every bit of junk food I eat, I have to have a fruit or vegetable (a substantial fruit or vegetable) with it. Not saying it completely offsets it, but I get my servings of fruits and vegetables and can have the "junk food" I want. Also, I count calories... If it doesn't fit into my day, I will have it a different day. I became concerned about good nutrition the end of my freshman year.

I am just over 30 and am already seeing similarities emerge between my current health habits and my mom's habits that I've witnessed critically over the past 20 years. It's kills me - "I will not be like my mother." Are there any psychological tricks you recommened for how to get me to snap into a more active lifestyle if it seems that these habits are passed down between generations?

Well, one thing that could help might be to try to shift from feeling critical about your mom's health habits to being sympathetic. I know how hard that can be, but it might help get you to a different state of mind. Then maybe even make a list of your own behaviors that you would like to change. When I lost weight recently, I learned from Brian Wansink to just pick three "small changes" to make at first. Simple things such as not picking at leftovers while you do the dishes, or not taking second helpings of dinner. Once those three small changes become habit, you can choose three more small changes to make. Those habits can of course include physical activities. Say, I'm going to just walk around the block after dinner. Once that's under your belt, you can build on that. Maybe you can bring  your mom along for the ride, too!

Also: Try to keep in mind that your mom may have had issues with her own mom, so try to be kind and give her a break -- and focus on the things she has done right!

My daughter is returning home after graduating college and I'd like to know how to approach her significant weight gain. I do not ever mention her weight but she does frequently. She comments that coming home makes eating easier because we really only have healthy food with few treats, a normal schedule, etc. However, she has turned any conversation re: food into one about her weight. "What do you want for dinner?" has become a very loaded question. If I just ignore the food issue all together, she'll bring it up anyway ... "why didn't you ask me to come to the grocery store?" or "you didn't get anything I like!" I'm sure a lot of this is part of the adjustment of coming home (for however long she's here) but battling over food is not fun. She had never been overweight before going junior year of college so this is all very new to us. Thanks for any thoughts. What advice do you have to just clear the air and get things going fresh with our family which includes a father and younger siblings, none of whom have weight issues (nor do I if that matters). Thank you.

This is a complicated issue. Though I am a few years younger, it's about the same story with me. If we talk about food, I feel that I have to justify what I eat with an explanation. For example, if I take a second serving, I announce that I haven't eaten much that day. If she's trying to lose some weight, invite her to the grocery store. Maybe she doesn't know what to ask you to buy or isn't sure what should be a treat and what should be integrated into her diet. And when I say "diet", I mean daily eating pattern. Diet is not a fun word. Also, try to be receptive to where she's coming from. If it's all very new to you, it's surely new to her! Food isn't the only issue in being overweight. Go for walks with her, bike rides, anything. Your family with thank you for taking positive steps and not dwelling on the matter at hand.

Sophie is spot on in her answer. I wrote a column about this issue last fall; all the experts I interviewed suggested I not make a big issue of the weight gain but rather subtly encourage healthful eating and physical activity while she's home. As the experts pointed out, your child is all too aware that she's gained weight, and she doesn't need you to point it out to her. What she does need is for you to love her no matter what and make healthful eating and activity options abundant, without making a big deal about it. Taking her grocery shopping is a great idea!


Here's the link to that column:

You hit the nail on the head and told me something I needed to hear - be sympathetic towards my mom and stop being critical. My own husband says I'm too hard on my mom, but he's part of the relationship dynamic, so it's harder to listen to him, if that makes sense. Thanks for pointing this out and offering tips!! You may have saved/enhanced this mother/daughter relationship!!

I wanted to share our family experience. We had some difficulty with my daughter and discussing about how she was gaining weight really fast. I directed conversations towards exercising together and getting fit. She finally agreed and now she is a fitness enthusiast and a healthy eater. It seems like the brain often connects the two.

I'm so happy for you! That's excellent! Positivity is the key.

any suggestions on learning how to bake bread? do you use a breadmaker? where do you get your recipes?

Step one. Use the King Arthur Flour Easiest Loaf You'll Ever Make recipe. And do it right. Let it rise. Pound it down. It'll be fantastic.

Here's the recipe we use. We do have a bread machine but rarely use it. We stick to King Arthur Flour recipes because they always turn out great!

I just want to thank my mom. I never really heard her talk about her body one way or another or at least I don't remember it. She did pass on to me a slavish devotion to chocolate, but no body issues, thank goodness. It gives me hope with my own 3-year-old daughter that all I need to do is eat fairly healthy myself and shut-up. :-) And having a kid around has definitely pushed me to eat more veggies, myself. It's so fun to see her say, "Veggies make me big & strong!" and to make her little muscles flex. I can hardly talk about veggies without eating them myself. Hopefully by the time she is old enough to eat on her own, she'll be indoctrinated that you just eat veggies at every meal, and not even think about. We'll see.

I think thanking your mom is a very good idea indeed! The mother/daughter dynamic is so powerful in our lives, and it's wonderful to hear about instances in which it works in a positive and healthful way. Your daughter is lucky, too -- she'll likely benefit from that positive dynamic herself. Good luck with the veggies!

Convenience foods, takeout and eating out offers teens & young adults higher-fat, higher-sodium foods than "plain" home cooking. A home meal of chicken, pasta and a steamed veggie seems like hospital food after Thai, flatbread pizza, sushi and the like. But home cooking is healthier, by far, and much cheaper. (Plus eating-out portions are massive...) Teens are not learning to cook and don't see the huge diff in nutrition and cost.

Cooking at home and eating together as a family are both really important. And home cooking needn't be bland or dull or "like hospital food." Experimenting with different cuisines with your family can be great fun!

My mom can make a mean flatbread pizza. I love making Thai food. My brother is gifted at making sushi. Just use natural ingredients and eat reasonable portion sizes. Though some teens aren't learning to cook, there are more of us that are than you think.

I'd also suggest to look at the unspoken messages you're sending. Kids are experts at reading their parents. My dad/stepmom would never have said anything about my weight, but I could tell by the subtle change in their attitude toward me when I showed up with an extra 10-15 lbs. Believe me, I got the message that I wasn't good enough for my southern belle stepmom (which totally backfired -- I'm kind of obstreporous, so that attitude just induced further couch-potato-dom). If you're daughter is bringing weight into every conversation, something is bothering her, but you don't know what it is -- maybe it's the weight, maybe it's some other problem at school that caused her to retreat into brownies. So I might take one of those opportunities to open a conversation: the next time you ask what she wants for dinner and she says "I'm so fat, just a salad," that's a good time to say something like, "honey, I hear you putting yourself down a lot about your weight. Is there something you'd like to talk about? I hate to see you hurting like this when you're just the best kid I've ever known." Or something like that. It can't be about her weight; it has to be about how she FEELS about her weight, about what's going on inside of her. It also can't be about you "fixing" her; it has to be about you supporting whatever she wants to do to fix it (or not).

Thanks for your perspective on this. You're absolutely right; the focus on food might be disguising some other, deeper issue that needs addressing. And I love the way you worded what you would say to the young lady; very loving and supportive.

Thanks, everyone, for the great questions. Enjoy the rest of your day, and relish every moment you get to spend with your loved ones.

Thank you for the good questions! Have a good day!

In This Chat
Jennifer LaRue Huget
In addition to writing the weekly Eat, Drink and Be Healthy nutrition column, Jennifer also blogs on health news for The Checkup and writes the Lean and Fit newsletter.
Sophie Huget
Sophie Huget, 17
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