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A Mother's Body-Image Problems Can Spread to Her Daughter

So how do we break the cycle? Chadwick offers excellent suggestions, most of them subtle but surprisingly hard to practice.

-- Resist the urge to focus on your weight when talking about yourself. Shift to positive comments about your hair or your smile.

-- Also resist the urge to "constantly recheck the way you look," she says in an interview. That means not stopping to examine your reflection in every store window you pass.

-- In the clothing-store dressing room, rather than say, "Oh, my thighs look terrible in these pants!" say something like, "Hmm, the cut of these jeans isn't right for me," or "I don't like the way this fabric drapes," she says.

-- Have a sundae now and then. She says: "When the family goes out for ice cream and you just order a Diet Coke, that sends your daughter a message. Make good food choices for the most part, but try to make room for a treat. It's a balance, and it can be hard to get there, but if you do, it's a freedom from constantly trying to make yourself something you're not."

-- Accept compliments graciously; don't brush them off, especially in your daughter's presence. In fact, it would behoove you both if you learned to pay yourself a compliment now and then.

-- Be patient with yourself: You're not going to undo a life's worth of body-image problems overnight. But until you do get to the point where you're comfortable with your own body, Chadwick suggests in her book, "fake it."

"None of this means that we never have a negative thought," Chadwick writes. "But it's all about balance, what you focus on, what you consciously decide to say to your daughter."

-- Finally, recognize that it's never too late. "Fortunately, it's not too late to change the message you're sending," Chadwick writes. "The good news is that you can talk to her about it. If she's open to it, ask her how she feels when you talk about your body [negatively]. Or if she's following your example and putting herself down, tell her that you feel responsible for teaching her that behavior. Kids understand that adults make mistakes; in fact, it makes us seem more human to them."

"Your daughter is looking to you as her role model for what healthy middle age looks like," Chadwick tells me. "Even if she says you're a dork, you're still her role model, whether she likes it or not."

Check out today's Checkup blog post, in which Jennifer continues the conversation about moms, daughters and body image. Subscribe to the weekly Lean & Fit nutrition newsletter by going to http://www.washingtonpost.com and searching for "newsletters." Go to the Wednesday Food section to find Nourish, a new feature with a recipe for healthful eating every week. And e-mail your thoughts to Jennifer at checkup@washpost.com.


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