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How to set boundaries with grandparents about weight and eating habits

How to set boundaries with grandparents about weight and eating habits

Setting boundaries with grandparents who make negative or inappropriate comments about weight and eating habits can be a challenging task. However, it is essential to handle these situations assertively, as they can have a lasting impact on our children’s body image and relationship with food.

Katie’s story

Katie’s mother-in-law frequently mentions her son Liam’s rounded stomach. She makes it sound as if it’s a sweet joke, but everyone can feel the tension in the room when it happens. It’s not a sweet joke, but a compulsive expression of her weight stigma. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Liam feels worse about his body each time he sees his grandmother. 

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Of course Liam feels bad. Because regardless of the intention or exactly how the comments are phrased, they send the message that Liam’s stomach is something his grandmother is observing and thinking about. These comments imply that Liam’s stomach’s appearance is part of his grandmother’s love and acceptance for him. Katie knows it’s her and her wife’s responsibility to change this narrative for their children, but it feels impossible! 

“My wife’s mother is stubborn and completely stuck in diet culture,” says Katie. “We’ve tried and tried, but nothing shifts this pattern. I feel like the only option is to go no-contact, and that’s not what we want to do, because there are positive aspects to the relationship despite all the body-based comments.”

When grandparents make inappropriate comments about our children’s weight or eating habits, many of us may feel frozen, unsure of how to respond. While this reaction is understandable, we do have to address these harmful practices. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go no-contact. It might be better for everyone if you become more assertive about enforcing your family’s boundaries.

Brody’s story

Brody’s dad has always made it a practice to scrutinize and comment on people’s food choices. “I think he’s so obsessed with his own eating and weight that it spills out onto everyone else,” says Brody. “I barely escaped his food-negative parenting practices, and I don’t want my daughter Miriam to have to do the same.” 

When Brody tells his dad to stop talking about food, he dismisses the objections by claiming he is not being critical, just stating the facts. “He thinks it’s OK to talk about people’s plates because it’s supposedly a simple observation, but there’s so much more going on,” says Brody. Like most people, Brody can sense that his father’s comments about eating habits are not driven by simple observation, but judgment and fear of weight gain. 

It’s important to recognize how a grandparent’s behavior affects your children. By placing emphasis on what and how they eat, Brody’s dad is teaching his grandkids that his opinion of their food choices and eating habits matter and is intertwined with how he feels about them. Such comments teach kids that love involves being judged on something as personal and intimate as dietary preferences. Grandparents’ opinions are powerful, and shape our kids’ understanding of love and acceptance.

Why setting boundaries with grandparents is so hard

Setting boundaries about what our grandparents can say about weight and eating around their grandkids can be challenging because despite being parents ourselves, we are still our parents’ children. This means that while we raise our own kids, we may simultaneously strive to please our parents and make them proud of us.

This desire for parental approval is natural and normal, as we all crave affection and admiration from our parents. However, when it comes to establishing our children’s body boundaries, it can backfire. In an attempt to maintain harmony or be dutiful children, we may allow our parents to say or do things with our kids that we wish they wouldn’t.

Remember that you have permission to prioritize being your child’s parent over being your parents’ child. Although this transition can be difficult, it is necessary for the sake of our children’s mental health.

How to set boundaries with grandparents about weight and eating habits

It is essential to communicate to your parents that comments about your child’s body or eating habits are unwelcome, especially within your child’s earshot. This applies to both positive and negative comments since focusing on our children’s appearance and eating habits reinforces an external perspective (what others think) rather than an internal one (what they think).

Setting boundaries with grandparents regarding how they talk about weight and eating around your children is absolutely necessary.

The most crucial aspect of establishing boundaries is to understand that you are solely responsible for enforcing them. No one else will uphold your boundaries since they are personal to you. However, just because others may not remember or respect your boundaries does not mean you are powerless. It means that you must take action.

“Boundaries are not dependent on whether the other person does what you ask. They’re really dependent on whether you follow your own boundary and do what you say you’re going to do.”

Lori Gottlieb, MFT

For example, Michelle’s mother continuously brings up Eva’s weight loss out of concern for her health. While Michelle understands that her mother worries about Eva, her weight-based chatter makes everyone uncomfortable and self-conscious. Michelle is well-informed about her child’s weight and health, and is receiving support from professionals for eating disorder treatment. Her mother’s comments, far from helping, are doing more harm than good, so it is time to set a boundary. 

Free Download: Non-Diet Approach To Health For Parents

The basic facts you need to start using a non-diet approach to parenting with this free downloadable PDF.

This process typically involves three stages:

The first occurrence: State your request.

“Hey, Mom. Please refrain from discussing Eva’s body. Let me update you on the vacation plans we’re making for this summer…”

If it happens again: Repeat your request, emphasizing the boundary.

“Mom, as I mentioned earlier, it is important to me that you avoid commenting on Eva’s body. I understand your concern, but this is really important to me. If you mention her body again, we will have to leave.”

If it persists further: Enforce your boundary.

“Mom, I love you dearly, and our time together is valuable. However, despite my previous request, you continue to discuss Eva’s body. Therefore, we will have to leave. I will speak to you later. Goodbye!”

I understand that this may sound challenging or even impossible. Setting boundaries can be difficult, especially if you have spent your life prioritizing your parents’ wishes. Nonetheless, now that you are a parent yourself, your primary responsibility lies in safeguarding your children’s mental health.

Learning to establish boundaries with grandparents is among the most challenging tasks we face, especially if we’re parenting a child with an eating disorder. However, it is highly rewarding, particularly because our children observe and learn from everything we do. By setting respectful boundaries with loved ones, we equip our children with an essential lifelong skill that nurtures their well-being and mental health.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to help their kids recover from eating disorders, body image issues, and other mental health conditions.  She’s the founder of, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with mental health issues.

Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Guide To Parenting A Child With An Eating Disorder

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