Teenage weight loss is a touchy subject. In previous decades, we might have associated teenage weight loss with eating disorders among girls who were trying to lose weight in an unhealthy fashion. While that kind of weight loss continues to be a problem, the rise of childhood obesity has re-framed the discussion of teenage weight loss to one of how to actually help overweight teens reach a healthy weight.
More and more, pediatricians are informing parents that they must help their overweight teen lose weight. However, because 60% of Americans are currently overweight or obese, the parents themselves might not know what do to do. Doctors are not necessarily educated on nutrition, and while nutritionists and dietitians can sometimes be helpful, most of the time those eating plans go out the window if the teen is not motivated or feels singled out because the rest of the family is not eating the same way.
The problem is not necessarily the extra weight that teens carry. The problem is usually that teens are modeling poor eating habits after their parents or friends. Skipping breakfast, eating fast food after school, and leading a sedentary lifestyle of less physical education at school and more video games at home are all contributing factors. No wonder teenage weight loss is such a challenge!
Try not to despair, and take this opportunity to grow as a family. There are several key features of successful teenage weight loss that can be implemented if parents and teens work together. Here are 5 tips to make the process more compassionate, effective and fun:
1. Get your teen ready and make it a family affair. Enroll him in the process by asking him if he is willing to work with you on something the doctor said was important. Your teen may already feel uncomfortable among his peers due to his weight, and treating him like he has a problem will only add to his discomfort. Teens do not want to feel "weird," they want to fit in. Make a commitment as a family to learn and implement healthier eating habits together, and this will make it easier for your teen to eat healthier.
2. Get your home ready. You may not be able to control what your teen eats at school and when he's out with his friends, but at least you can create an environment of health inside the home. As part of your agreement to make it a family effort to eat healthier, get rid of the soda, chips, ice cream, sugary cereals, and candy. It might be difficult at first, because you might be used to thinking that you "need" to buy these foods for the kids and their friends. But take a stand as the parent and insist that if the goal is for your teen to lose weight and eat healthier, these foods cannot be in your home. Imagine how he would feel if he was told that he couldn't eat chips, but then he sees you eating them! If they really want it, they will find a way to get it - outside of the home. And think about the money you will save when you don't have to buy these nutrient-poor foods anymore!
3. Get educated. Enroll the assistance of a health coach, nutritionist, dietician or other nutritional consultant who has specific protocols for teenagers and has good "bedside manners" with them. Some nutrition experts only look at calories and food groups but ignore the social life and food preferences of the teen. If a teenager doesn't like a turkey sandwich with carrot sticks on the side, he isn't going to eat it! It's important that the consultant can determine which foods your teen currently likes to eat that can stay on the new eating plan, and what would be some healthy new additions that would be agreeable to him. Not only will this help the teen learn how to fit healthy eating into his day, but you may also learn some new things about your child.
4. Add a protein-packed breakfast. Protein is essential to growth, and teens need a lot of it. They really should getting protein at every one of their meals and snacks. It's especially important for your teen to have protein at breakfast in order to help get their minds ready for learning. Oftentimes, teens run out the door to school without eating anything. This creates a situation where their blood sugar gets low, they can't focus on their classes, and they are starving by lunchtime so they overeat at school, where they aren't served the healthiest lunch. A breakfast that includes protein (not just a bowl of sugary cereal) will kick-start their metabolism, wake up their brains, and prevent them from overeating at lunch. Some examples are eggs with toast, Greek yogurt with fruit, or a protein shake or bar if time is an issue.
5. Pack healthy snacks and water in their backpacks. Teen weight loss is often thwarted by school vending machines and after-school trips to fast-food restaurants. Fast-food, soda, chips, and candy bars are empty calories that contribute nothing to the nutritional needs of a teenager, or anyone else for that matter. Find out what kind of portable protein-filled foods your teen would be willing to eat - nuts, fruit, protein bars, protein shakes - and arm him with this artillery to fight off his hunger. Teach him to eat every 2-3 hours so that he doesn't become ravenous for lunch or dinner. If he learns to fuel his body proactively with healthy foods, he can still go out with his friends but may not be as tempted to eat the unhealthy foods in a reactive fashion.
Helping your teen lose weight might seem like a tall order, but if the whole family supports their teen in his efforts, everybody wins. If you as parents have guilty feelings that it's somehow your fault that your teen is overweight, set the feelings aside and don't make the issue about you. Make it about improving your child's life for now and for the future.