How can I stop my daughter developing an eating disorder? This is a commonly asked question with no simple answer. The advice few mothers want to hear is, 'Be a good role model and eat sensibly - whatever you do, she'll probably copy.' While it cannot be said definitively that anorexic, bulimic or compulsive-eating mothers raise daughters with the same problems, there is considerable evidence the other way. Ask a teenage girl with an eating disorder about her mother's eating habits and more often than not there's a long history of food or dieting issues. It is not always the mother: just as often it's the father whose unhelpful attitudes to food and mealtimes, usually learned from his parents, have been foisted on the children. We all carry around a unique 'food script' - the family rules about food - from childhood. This may include mantras such as 'Think of the starving millions and finish everything on your plate', 'Daddy and the boys get bigger helpings than Mummy and the girls', or 'Girls can't have second helpings because they'll get fat'. Those with grandparents or parents who lived through hard times and food shortages will probably experience food as a loaded topic. Worst of all is plain misinformation, such as being told certain types of food are 'slimming' or 'fattening', when of course there are no such magic foods. Weight gain or loss is a much more complex issue. Check your own food script: what runs through your mind when you see a girl tucking into an ice cream or French fries in the street? 'Please don't say I made my daughter anorexic,' a hugely overweight mother pleaded once before starting an interview about just that topic. A chat with the emaciated 16-year-old daughter revealed the woman probably had pushed her in that direction, through a decade of Weight Watchers, yo-yo dieting from vast to slim and back up again. The mum had even struggled through one Christmas with wired jaws, doing all the festive cooking while subsisting on diet drinks herself. Meals were an ordeal of calorie counting, guilt, envy and constant comments about food, fat and body shape. It's no wonder the daughter was preoccupied with food. She could have developed any or no eating disorders as a result; the fact is she recoiled from her mother's behaviour and rejected food entirely. Current research being done in Scotland shows children as young as three have an awareness of body image and that a relationship exists between food and body shape. So mothers who really want to help their daughters should remember that from a very young age children also notice secret solo ice-cream feasts, chocolate guzzling, dieting and starving-bingeing cycles. Should any of this behaviour be tied in with emotional events or family rows, or comments from the father about body size, dangerous links can be made. It doesn't matter what you say, children pick up on what you do, and if Mum uses food to stuff down her emotions, or literally swallows her anger after a fight with Dad, that's a pretty strong message. So be aware of those snide comments about other people's shapes, your own, 'Does my bum look big in this' obsessing and ability to devour a packet of chocolate biscuits at a sitting. Little eyes are watching and learning. The writer is a specialist counsellor in weight control and eating disorders.