How Do Mothers Contribute to Their Daughter's Eating Disorders and Weight Concerns?

Find out how mothers may influence and contribute to their daughter s eating disorders and weight concerns.Since the early 1970s, research into the origins of eating disorders in young women has spotlighted the mother-daughter relationship. Some researchers have suggested that mothers "model" weight concerns for their daughters, although findings have been inconsistent when testing this hypothesis. An alternative conceptualization focuses on more specific, interactive processes between mother and daughter that may contribute to (or mitigate against) the development of these concerns, and could apply to dyads for whom modeling may be a factor as well as for those for whom it is not.

Jane Ogden and Jo Steward, from the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guys and St. Thomas' in London, evaluated 30 mother-daughter dyads with regard to their degree of concordance about weight concerns (a reflection of the modeling hypothesis) as well as the role such dynamics as enmeshment, projection, autonomy, beliefs about mother's role in the relationship, and intimacy play as predictors of weight concerns and body dissatisfaction in the daughters. The daughters in this study were between the ages of 16 and 19, and the mothers between the ages of 41 and 57. They were primarily white and self-described as upper middle class.

Findings appear in the July 2000 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Beliefs About Autonomy and Boundaries Predict Eating and Weight Concerns

Within this sample, while there was a similarity in weight and body mass index between the young women and their mothers, mothers and daughters did not share the same views about dieting or body satisfaction. In this study, therefore, the modeling hypothesis was not supported.

There was, however, support for the interactive hypothesis. In particular, daughters were more likely to be dieting when they had mothers who reported feeling less in control of the daughter's activities as well as if both mother and daughter saw it as important that their relationship lack boundaries (i.e., they were enmeshed). Daughters were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies when their mothers reported feeling both less in control of the daughter's activities and feeling the daughter did not have a right to her own autonomy as well as if the mother saw it as important that their relationship lack boundaries.

This study suggests that there is far greater complexity to the development of weight concerns in young women than simple modeling of thoughts and behaviors by their mothers. Clinicians who work with adolescents may want to pay specific attention to relationship dynamics between mother and daughter, particularly aspects of control and enmeshment that may be predictive of the development of eating and body shape concerns if not the development of an actual eating disorder.

Source: Ogden, J., & Steward, J. (2000). The role of the mother-daughter relationship in explaining weight concern. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 28(1), 78-83.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 20). How Do Mothers Contribute to Their Daughter's Eating Disorders and Weight Concerns?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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