'Apple Watch dads' are fitness-obsessed fathers. Experts say their impact on body image can be just as impactful as 'almond moms.'
On a 2013 episode of Real Housewives, Yolanda Hadid told her daughter Gigi Hadid to "eat a few almonds" and "chew them really well" after the then-teenager said she was feeling "really weak." After this clip resurfaced on TikTok recently, the "Almond mom" phenomenon was born, because her "advice" rang true for many young women who shared their experiences growing up with mothers obsessed with their weight, body image and food.
But moms aren't alone. Where almond moms are likely to make comments about your weight and theirs and micro-manage eating habits, “Apple Watch dads,” are the fitness-obsessed fathers who, though often left out of the conversation, have just as much of an impact on body image and mental well-being as their female counterparts.
“The reason we talk about almond moms and the impact a mother can have on their children’s body image and relationship to food is because historically, women and femmes have been more affected by unrealistic beauty ideals and body standards,” Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, and eating disorder dietitian and owner of Ruby Oak Nutrition in Raleigh, N.C., tells Yahoo Life. “Unfortunately, there’s a growing pressure on men to conform to these body ideals as well, which means the conversation is being expanded to include Apple Watch dads.”
While an Apple Watch dad might be more closely associated with an intense fitness regime, Byrne, an “anti-diet dietitian nutritionist,” says she’s not sure if there’s a real difference between food and body obsession depending on which parent is obsessing. “It’s harmful when mom does it, and it’s equally harmful when dad does it.”
There are not as many of the egregious, Yolanda-esque examples of men fostering a bad body image environment in pop culture. But it does exist. Chris Martin recently struck a not-so-great-sounding chord when he revealed, on Conan O’Brien’s podcast that he only eats one meal a day. He was already on “a really strict diet,” when a lunch at Bruce Springsteen’s house inspired him to restrict himself even further.
“I was lucky enough to go over there for lunch the day after we played Philadelphia last year, " he said. “Bruce looks even more in shape than me, and Patti [his wife] said ‘he’s only eating one meal a day, so I was like ‘well there we go, that’s my next challenge.’”
“Seeing a parent eat just one meal a day normalizes that kind of restrictive and unhealthy eating pattern,” Byrne says. “It’s especially damaging for kids and teenagers, who need more calories and nutrients to support their still-developing bodies. Because the behavior is rooted in wanting to look ‘fit,’ which translates to thin and/or lean in our culture, it also sends the message that conforming to body ideals is more important than prioritizing your own well-being.”
There are mental health implications, too, as Shannon Dolan, a Texas-based nutritional therapy practitioner, explains. “The consequences can be huge for the child exposed to these types of behaviors,” she tells Yahoo Life. “When you withhold food even when you’re hungry, over-exercise, are constantly dieting and are using negative language around your body, the child can start to view themselves similarly, and think they are only worthy of love if they look a certain way.”
On TikTok, many Apple Watch dad videos are posted in jest. There’s the video of a dad, post-surgery, circling his home while on crutches to “close his rings.” Another featuring a tour of a sparse kitchen with the caption “how does one survive on protein powder alone?” In a follow-up, her dad is seen (nailing) a CrossFit workout.
Interestingly, it is more challenging to find someone who is willing to discuss their Apple Watch dads openly than their almond moms. A 2021 study conducted by the journal Body Image sheds a bit of insight into why that is. The study, which examined fathers’ experiences having body image conversations with their daughters, included 30 cisgender, majority white fathers. Poor communication and fear of saying the wrong thing were among the chief obstacles in having open, honest dialogue. However, there is also the problematic prevalence of fathers conflating thinness with health.
“We identified an alarming trend of anti-fat attitudes throughout their responses,” the authors wrote in the study, adding that the propensity to conflate thinness with health is “unsurprising, given that even experts have not come to consensus on the most appropriate way to approach discussions about ‘healthy eating’ with young children.”
This phenomenon of the Apple Watch dad, though often overshadowed by their female counterpart, is hardly an isolated incident. If you have lived with, or are currently living with a weight-obsessed parent, there are ways to not only manage but protect yourself and your mental health from the impact.
“If you’re comfortable doing so, a good way to navigate this is to set a boundary,” Byrne said. “You might say, ‘it makes me feel bad about myself to hear you talk about fitness, dieting and body size. I’d really like for us to maintain a good relationship, and I think avoiding those topics would really help.”
Both Byrne and Dolan agree that seeking out a mental health professional can be beneficial to working out your own feelings about body image regardless of where they stem from, a piece of advice parents could stand to take, too.
“It is so important that parents work through their relationship with food, exercise and body image so they don’t pass on these behaviors to their children,” Dolan said.
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