One in five teens in the United States is overweight, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. As teens gain independence, they also make more choices regarding which foods they’ll consume. As your teenage daughter grows and develops, encourage her to fuel her body with healthful foods. Steer her in the right direction -- set a positive example at home and educate her on the importance of proper nutrition and physical exercise.
Teenage girls sometimes fall prey to unrealistic body images. This can lead to fad diets or eating disorders. Your daughter might need to lose a few pounds, but it’s possible that magazines, TV programs and peer pressure have distorted her perspective. She should visit a doctor or a dietitian to determine whether weight loss is necessary. Don’t focus on weight or criticize your own weight in front of your daughter. Emphasize that a healthy body is the goal.
Teach your teen to substitute healthier choices for high-calorie foods. She can make subtle changes that will have a positive effect on her weight. If she drinks whole milk, she can change to 2 percent milk, then move to 1 percent and finally skim milk. Cutting out even one sugary soda is a step in the right direction. She might feel hungry when she steps into a fast food restaurant, but she’ll be satisfied -- and proud of herself -- if she chooses a plain burger in place of salty fries and a shake.
Include your teenage daughter in meal planning. She can go online to find tasty-looking, healthful recipes. Buy lots of fruits and vegetables and teach her to roast a chicken that she can use during the week for sandwiches. Gear conversations toward food choices for a healthy body, not diet talk for weight loss. Don’t bring foods into your home that will sabotage your daughter’s effort to lose weight.
A teenager shouldn’t give up foods she loves, but you can educate her on portion sizes, says Jackie Keller, fitness expert, celebrity chef and founding director of NutriFit in Los Angeles. Since restaurant foods are typically super-sized, your teen needs to acquire a mental image of adequate portions -- a tennis ball equals one serving of cooked rice; a pink eraser is a serving of cheese; a golf ball equals 2 tablespoons of peanut butter; a piece of chicken is the size of a deck of cards. This knowledge influences her decision on how much to eat.
Teens are often on the go; when hunger pangs hit, they crave high-calorie snacks like potato chips and cookies. “A lot of eating is purely impulse,” Keller says. Encourage your teen to minimize impulse eating by putting mental processing time between the idea and the act. She should first drink a glass of water slowly and contemplate whether she really needs or wants the high-calorie snack. If she’s very hungry, she can eat a piece of fruit to take off the edge. If she still wants the snack after the fruit and water, she should try to choose a healthier alternative or at least eat only half of a small portion to minimize the damage.
Teenage girls sometimes skip meals to “balance out” indulging, Keller says. There is a problem with that practice -- hunger increases substantially and metabolism slows down with this “starve now to eat later” plan. This often results in overeating. Encourage your teen to start her day with a healthful breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal and fruit. With this positive start to her day, she’ll eat fewer calories overall and will be less likely to overdo eating the wrong foods.
If a teenage girl eats a well-balanced diet, she gets all the nutrients she needs, Keller says. Your teen needs wholesome food and well-rounded meals that include all food groups: dairy, protein, fat, grains, fruits and vegetables. Use Choose My Plate.gov to estimate calorie needs based on age, weight and activity level. Calcium is a problem for many women, including the younger set, Keller says. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as skim milk, cottage cheese and yogurt, are all good sources. Encourage your teen to prepare brown-bag lunches so she can avoid school lunches laden with sugar and salt. No food should be off-limits. If she indulges in birthday cake, she can balance that choice by passing on the chips.
Teenagers should exercise for at least an hour each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Encourage your teenager to do aerobic exercises such as dancing, walking or swimming. Some teens enjoy the group experience of joining a sports team. Others prefer to exercise alone or with one or two friends. Teenage girls should include strength training in their weekly workouts. This can be as simple as push-ups. Exercises such as jumping rope or running strengthen bones.
- Jackie Keller; Celebrity Chef and Founding Director, NutriFit; Los Angeles, California
- Kids Health for Teens: How Can I Lose Weight Safely?
- University of Florida Family Youth and Community Services: Using My Plate in Your Life -- Teens
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Weight -- It's Not a Diet, It's a Lifestyle!
- Palo Alto Medical Center: Teens and Nutrition
- Mayo Clinic: Tween and Teen Health
- Safe Teens: Exercise and Fitness
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?
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