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Does Your Teen Have a Weight Problem

May 24th, 2011

Has your teen-ager announced that she will only eat fruit for a week because she is “too fat?” Is your teen-age son using video games instead of basketball games for his entertainment? Are you puzzled about how to help your teen-ager look and feel her best weight without pushing her into an eating disorder?

The social pressure to be thin and experiment with new diets and diet pills is great among 12- to 17-year-olds. Our teens see super-sleek models idealized, skimpy clothes glamourized and effortless weight-loss programs marketed. Do their parents have healthy eating habits for them to model? Is the teen-ager receiving messages that unless she is thin she is not measuring up?

A recent study at the University of Texas in Austin and Stanford University interviewed 692 girls between the ages of 13 and 17. The girls who were dieting, using appetite suppressants and laxatives were more likely to be overweight three years later than those who were not dieting. Dieting predicts weight gain in teen-agers!

Few programs exist that are specially targeted to the teen-ager. Teens are left with dieting myths, misconceptions and downright incorrect dieting information. Teachers and parents must be aware of how they may be partially responsible for passing on ideas such as “fat is bad”, “don’t eat anything white” or “skip meals to save calories”. As parents, you need to continue to offer balanced meals, healthy snacks and exercise opportunities for your teen and yourself. Even though you think they are not watching, your teen “gets a message.” Are you sending the right one?

Teens need to be armed with correct information about healthy weight control. Teen programs need to help the teen-ager develop a healthier body image, use food for energy and health, and ignore the social and media pressures to be ultra thin. The nondiet approach to weight management teaches teens to take responsibility for their internal hunger cues and learn to eat when they are hungry, not when they are bored, upset or tired.

There are three programs that target teens with a respectful, do-no-harm approach.

“Teens and Diets: No Weigh,” is designed by registered dietitian Linda Omichinski as a part of her HUGS weight control program.

The University of California, San Francisco offers the program, “Shapedown”, which has been offered to teens successfully across the country for years.

“Afraid to Eat: Children and Teens in Weight Crisis” by Frances Berg, addresses the shocking epidemic of obsession with thinness in our youth.

This is only a partial list. If no such programs are available, consider working with a registered dietitian who has experience with teens and non-diet approaches to weight control.

So, the next time you lament, “I’m getting so heavy — I am going on the ‘Doctor Don’t Eat Anything Good Diet Plan’”, think about who is listening and what your teen is learning from you!

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