Teenagers and Dieting

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

In an ideal world, no teen would diet. But sadly it is hard to avoid the ‘thin is beautiful’ messages that bombard us every day from friends, family and the media.

Studies in the US showed 43% of high school students were on a diet – and many didn’t even think they were overweight!

Teens may try skipping meals, diet pills or low carbohydrate diets in an effort to lose weight. Thankfully, most will get hungry or bored within a few days, but you should look out for signs of more serious conditions such as Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia nervosa.

As a parent, the best thing you can do is encourage healthy eating and boost your child’s self esteem. Show that you value her for who she is (not what she looks like!) and give genuine compliments at every opportunity.

You can also be a healthy role model and try to limit comments about your own and others’ weight or appearance. You’ll struggle to gain her respect if you’re worrying about your own weight all the time.

Most importantly, establish a close relationship with your teen so they feel comfortable confiding in you. If they feel peer pressure to be thin, or just to be on a diet, then discuss these feelings and work out strategies to deal with them.

Tips to encourage good eating habits in your teen: 

  • Speak to them about their food choices, but try not to be confrontational. Discuss why they have chosen the diet – is it peer pressure?
  • Be a good role model. You can’t expect them to stop dieting if you are always counting the calories. 
  • Provide healthy alternatives at home. 
  • Compromise: agree to support their diet approach if they eat at least two vegetables each day. 
  • Eat meals at the dinner table with the whole family. Try to make meals relaxed – not an opportunity for nagging or arguments. 
  • Don’t give up! The dieting phase will probably pass and eventually they will remember all your good food advice!

What is a balanced diet? 

  • Vegetables and fruit: at least five helpings a day of fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit & veg. 
  • Bread, potato, cereals and pasta: should make up one third of what you eat and be included in every meal. Choose wholegrain or wholemeal versions wherever possible and avoid adding butter, cheese or creamy sauces. 
  • Milk and dairy: two to four portions a day are essential for bone health. Choose low fat versions of yoghurt, milk and cheese. 
  • Meat, pulses, eggs: should be eaten in moderate amounts. Choose lean cuts of meat and avoid creamy sauces and batter. 
  • High sugar and fat: don’t need to be cut out completely, but should be limited as much as possible. 
  • Don’t forget exercise! At least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise is vital for good health.

Low carbohydrate diet:

Carbs are the body’s fuel, and are particularly important for active children. Removing them from a diet forces the body to rely on fat or muscle for energy which can lead to tiredness and nausea.

However, not all carbs are equal. Many young people eat too many ‘bad’ carbs from foods such as pizza, chips and biscuits rather than wholewheat bread or wholegrain cereals. Unhealthy carbs contain too much sugar and fat. The body quickly converts them to glucose and your child is likely to feel hungry soon afterwards.

A low-carb diet can be hard to sustain in the long term. Many people lose weight initially, but often find the diet restrictive within a few weeks.

If they’re keen to try a low-carb diet, encourage your teen to read around the subject, and to restrict their intake to good carbs so they can sustain their diet for as long as they want.

Related links

  • Could my Child Have an Eating Disorder? In this article, beat, the national support organisation for people with eating disorders, shows how parents can support their children and help to treat an eating disorder, one small step at a time…
  • Supporting a Studying Child: Feeling helpless as your child faces their final year at school? Here are some basic things every parent can do to support their child during this challenging time.

Find out more

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