Hoda Kotb explains why she never taught her daughters what it means to be ‘on a diet’

Hoda Kotb red carpet 2024
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Even though we’ve come a long way in the cultural understanding of how damaging diet and weight loss culture is, there’s so much responsibility on parents to instill a positive body image in their kids—and that’s without mentioning the work they might be doing on healing their own along the way. Hoda Kotb is crossing that bridge with her two daughters, revealing what happened when her eldest daughter asked her what a diet is, a word she says she’d never used before in their home.

In the June 5 episode of her “Making Space” podcast the TODAY co-anchor talked to Ashley Graham about all kinds of topics related to body image and self-esteem. Graham, a mom of three, has been open for years about her experiences in the modeling world, and Kotb can now relate as her girls are growing up.

“My mom, my sister and I were talking,” Kotb began. “And my sister said something about going on a diet. And Haley, who’s 7, said, ‘What’s a diet?’… She [doesn’t] know because we’ve never said it.”

“I didn’t say a word. I wasn’t like, ‘We don’t talk about that in our house.’ You know, I just let it ride. … Don’t make a thing out of it,” she continued.

It seems her direct avoidance of the d-word is in line with her overall parenting strategy, which is to encourage Haley and Hope, 4, to embrace themselves as they are.

“I walk around with stains, and Haley goes, ‘You’ve got a stain on your shirt.’ I go, ‘Exactly. Let’s go out.’ But I want her to know that flawed is beautiful, that broken crayons still color, like all the things that we need,” she said.

Graham noted how kids are “like sponges,” adding, “Your children are watching you. They are soaking it all up. And they’re saying exactly what you say. And when you say that you don’t like something about yourself, your kid is going to go look in the mirror and say, ‘Wait, do I have that same thing that Mommy or Daddy said? Is that something that is wrong with me too?'”

Of course, broaching these topics with little ones is never easy, but many times it’s more about what you say around them than about them. If you’re encouraging them to love and celebrate themselves but you’re berating your own body in the mirror or talking about foods being “good” and “bad,” they’re going to internalize that. If you’re praising someone’s weight loss in front of them, they’re going to get the message that losing weight is good and gaining weight is bad—a terrible mindset to instill in someone with a body that is growing and changing.

That said, unlearning diet culture and undoing what could be decades worth of damage is neither quick nor easy, so chatting with a therapist who specializes in disordered eating can help you reframe your relationship to your own body, while giving you the tools to talk to your children about theirs. It’s a long journey but well worth the work so that the term “diet” simply becomes “the things we eat” instead of “the things we should and should not eat.”