With "almond moms," TikTok coins an epithet for a diet culture–obsessed parent

"Almond mom" videos on TikTok force a cultural examination of the effects of diet culture on children

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published January 31, 2023 12:00PM (EST)

Woman eating an almond (Getty Images/Dima Berlin)
Woman eating an almond (Getty Images/Dima Berlin)

Once upon a time, peanuts were the most consumed nut in the United States — until the 2010s ushered in the almond craze.

In 2014, The Atlantic reported that Americans were suddenly consuming more than 10 times as many almonds as they were in 1965. What changed? Apparently, press coverage of the health benefits of almonds. Studies kept popping up claiming that almonds had all kinds of health benefits: lower blood sugar, reduced blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.

"We came out of the period of low-fat eating, and then the Atkins diet got really popular," said dietician Rachael Hartley, and author of Gentle Nutrition. "I really associate almonds with the Atkins diet becoming popular, it was kind of this thing that was supposedly the low-carb, healthy snack that you could bring with you on the go."

Perhaps that's why people like Yolanda Hadid from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" were spotted promoting almonds on television in 2014. Last fall, a video clip from her former "Housewives" days resurfaced in which she encourages her then-18-year-old daughter Gigi to "have a couple of almonds" and "chew on them really well," after Gigi revealed she was feeling "weak." The clip went viral on TikTok, and led to a neologism — "almond mom" — used in confessional videos about diet culture-obsessed parents.

"The idea of an almond mom is essentially a parent who is projecting diet culture onto their child through the ways that they talk about food."

For her part, Yolanda Hadid says her almond quote was taken out of context. Still, that hasn't stopped users from leaping to share their own examples of how their own mothers compelled them to obsess over their diets. 

"I grew up in a household that did not have dessert," user KimfromNC shared on TikTok. When she asked "What's for dessert?," KimfromNC says her mom would respond "There's fruit in the fridge."

A quick search for the hashtag #almondmom on TikTok reveals hundreds of videos with titles like "POV [point of view] you grew up with an almond mom" and "When your half an almond a day mom wants a pizza." The hashtag has over 189.2 million views as of publication of this story. Lest you think the meme might have sexist undertones, it has a gender-flipped parallel in "almond dads" and "grape dad" memes, too. 

"Certainly moms get a lot more pressure around diet culture," Hartley said. "But dads can cause a lot more harm in many ways, because there's messaging about the value of other women's bodies." 

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Author and dietician Christy Harrison defines diet culture as a "systems of beliefs," including demonizing "certain ways of eating while elevating others," which "means you're forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power."

"Diet culture doesn't just mean 'being on a diet,' because you don't have to follow any sort of official diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting," Harrison wrote. As Beth Ann Mayer wrote for Parents, "almond parenting," is when parents "dole out unhealthy but unfortunately common eating advice that really needs to go back to the 20th century."

"I think it's been very cathartic for people to watch who have dealt with something similar."

"The idea of an almond mom is essentially a parent who is projecting diet culture onto their child through the ways that they talk about food," Hartley said. "It may not be that the parent feels like they are actively pushing their child to be on a diet or manage their weight; oftentimes [it] has more to do with their entire worldview around food which is wrapped up in this good-bad diet culture mentality."

For example, considering almonds to be a "good" snack as opposed to a bad one.

TikTok content creator Tylerr Bender has made a handful of "almond mom" videos, spinning comedy out of what it's like when an "almond child" goes to a friend's house who doesn't have almond parents. "I'll have Gatorade," Bender says, excitedly. "We can only drink water at home, our mom doesn't like us to drink our sugar." Bender was one of the first people on TikTok to make an "almond mom" video, and told Salon she was "shocked" by the response and how many people could relate.

"I think it's been very cathartic for people to watch who have dealt with something similar," Bender told Salon. "And I think it's been really helpful for people to see the community around it, you can see people making friends in the comments." In one of Bender's videos, a commenter identifies as a fellow "almond child," and says "that's why when I was a teenager I had a stash of junk snacks in my wardrobe." Another confesses: "HS [high school] friend would binge a whole loaf of wonder bread every time she came over, because she wasn't allowed white bread at home." 

Common threads emerge from the shared experience of the almond parents' children. As articulated in this nascent meme, the perceived effect of being a so-called almond child is having an unhealthy relationship with food.  A 2018 study published in Pediatrics found that weight shaming or an emphasis on a diet over healthy eating can lead to poor self-esteem and disordered eating. The study also found that parents who were told to diet as teens or kids were more likely to encourage their own children to diet. The negative effects can "compound over time, not only impacting the person directly receiving the messages, but also potentially hurting generations to come," the researchers stated. In other words, almond moms likely had almond moms, too, echoing the same diet culture rhetoric. But as researchers explained in Paediatrics & Child Health, it's not always crystal clear what the effects are when so-called unhealthy eating behavior is masked as "healthy eating."

And this is precisely the problem with almond parents, Hartley explained. 

"Because we live in this world where the view on food and fitness is the end-all-be-all of health, there's this undue amount of pressure that gets put on eating the 'right' foods," Hartley said. "And it takes a very normal concern for their child's health and gets wrapped up in this very rigid view of what healthy eating looks like — and unfortunately, that really isn't all that healthy."

Hartley cautioned that it's important not to jump to the conclusion that "almond parents" are causing disordered eating, despite a rise in eating disorders worldwide.

"On one hand, it's so important to have these conversations because absolutely these kinds of messages around food can put someone more at risk for an eating disorder; and at the same time, eating disorders are biopsychosocial, so there are underlying genetics that put someone at risk," Hartley said. "And it's not just like messages coming from a parent — often times these messages are being reinforced by our entire culture."

So, what can parents do today to avoid becoming an almond parent? 

"I think it first really starts with examining what their relationship or their definition of healthy eating is," Hartley said. "So if a parent is defining healthy eating as managing weight, or eating in a very rigid way, or not eating 'bad foods,' and eating mostly 'good foods,' that's not necessarily healthy eating and it's not something that we want to project on to our children."

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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