Eating right - the teenage years

The teen years can be hell when it comes to food, but it's more important than ever to eat well. Supernanny expert Yvonne Wake explains why

What a tricky time it is to be a teenager! It should be such fun, and yet it’s sometimes very stressful. You have to contend with changes to your body shape and size, going through puberty and sexual maturity, changing relationships with parents and younger siblings and sometimes moving schools and losing your friends.

And there’s more: the first real important exams take place and parents and family members are always asking you what you want to be in life when all you really want to do is listen to music on your iPod and speak to your friends on the phone. When it relates to a healthy diet, you wish your parents would stop trying to force ‘healthy’ food down you. Forget it, I hear you say!

But it can’t be forgotten – this is a very crucial time to start thinking independently about your diet as well as your energy levels. Your highest energy needs occur during your teenage years (between 14-18 years) when you are growing very fast. Your body is maturing and you're developing different food tastes - not always the healthy kind. If you're in the upper age group, you may have moved away from home and started to cook for yourself - or not as the case might be! Whatever your age, as a teenager, you don’t know everything and the learning curve can be very stressful.

These days, young people often model themselves on very thin so-called ‘celebrities’, which makes for a very pressurising time. Trying to stay thin can take you away from eating a wholesome diet, and lead to bad skin, dull-looking hair and unhealthy nails.

Trying to look cool, and peer pressure, play a part in bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol, and quite often this leads to ill health and depression. It is hard for many teenagers, but if you are looking at this page it suggests that you might be interested in making positive changes to your life.

Helpful hints to keep you on the straight and narrow:

Are changes really needed?

You may wish to improve your concentration levels at school, or genuinely need to lose a few pounds. You may be hungry at school around 11am and head for the unhealthy pack of crisps and wish every day that you hadn’t. You may even want to eat a healthier diet than that of the rest of your family. You may want to become a vegetarian. Whatever the challenges, you need to make a plan and write it down. You are a responsible teenager and this is the time when you will start to take control of certain things in your life like eating and keeping fit and healthy.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Never forget that.

Here’s why: breakfast kick-starts your body after eight hours of sleep when energy was being slowly used up. This is the longest time your body will have gone without eating, so you need to fill up the supply of energy to get you through the day. About one quarter of your body needs are found in breakfast, and that’s a substantial amount to skip out on. It has been scientifically proven that your concentration levels are much lower if you don’t eat breakfast, and it may also lead to you snacking on unhealthy food throughout the day – so leading to you becoming overweight.

Your healthy breakfast could include: wholegrain cereal (oats), with milk, or a couple of slices of wholemeal toast with banana or peanut butter on the top. A toasted bagel with banana is also a good idea, plus a fruit smoothie which can be varied each day. Add to this a couple of fresh fruit pieces like a kiwi and an apple. Drink water too, this will get you in the habit of drinking six to eight glasses a day.

Fitness and exercise regimes

These may be fast disappearing in a teenager’s life due to the lack of PE opportunities in schools, as well as the type of exercise on offer not always being appropriate or enjoyed by teenagers. What to do then? Walk everywhere, ride your bike, go running with a friend in a park nearby, go to the local sports club (there are lots of local authority sports clubs in all areas which are not expensive to join – these are not private health clubs). Go swimming; there are local pools in most areas, start up a team yourself with local friends i.e. football or basketball, or even a running group. These are all inexpensive (or free!) choices. Simply remember, keeping fit is as important as eating healthy food. The two go hand in hand.

Looking good and feeling great can be achieved by everyone and especially by teenagers. Eating a healthy diet will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Concentration levels at school will improve and contribute to your long-term education and working life. Keeping fit will keep you in good shape and you will never need to go on a diet conjured up by the latest celebrity. Your confidence in all areas will be boosted as a result of keeping a good eye on your eating habits and your fitness levels.

Healthy optimum foods which should appear at some point in your daily diet

If you need to make great changes to your present diet to include these, do it gradually. Write it down and stick to the plan. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but give it your best shot!

• Fresh fruit and vegetables (between five and ten per day)

• Wholemeal bread – Not white bread as it contains very few nutrients

• Salads to include; lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, radish, beetroot avocado, onion, nuts

• Nuts and raisins, unless of course you are allergic

• Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, dried berries

• Fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel

• Rice

• Wholewheat pasta

• Six to eight glasses of water

Unhealthy foods which should not appear in your daily diet if you can possibly help it

Again, write down the plan and try to avoid these foods as best you can. Ask a friend to join you in the changes and keep a check on each other.

• Any fast food – bought at a fast food outlet

• Fizzy drinks of any kind – bought from shops or machines

• Crisps and savoury snacks in packets

• Processed foods such as microwave dinners

• Sweets, chocolate, ice-cream

• Cakes and biscuits

Right now you may be thinking that you can’t live without a packet of crisps on the way home from school or that favourite fizzy drink, but unfortunately it really is up to YOU to decide! Only you can make those changes to your diet and your energy levels. If you are serious about being healthy, then think about your nutritional intakes and your fitness levels every day. Try not to be ‘faddy’ about being healthy, just do your best, be gradual and eventually it will become second nature!

Related links

Teenagers and Dieting: You think she’s beautiful, but she thinks she’s fat. How can you change the diet mentality of your teenager?

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