Weight is one of the trickiest issues to navigate as a teen. And as a parent, it can be hard to know what to say to your daughter if you are worried about her weight. Believe it or not, the best thing you can say about your child’s weight, according to reserach, is absolutely nothing. Commenting about weight can lead to body dissatisfaction, even if she is not overweight later on, binge eating and other eating disorders. What we can and should do as parents is to model healthy eating behavior and exercise and avoid making comments about our own or other people’s weight.
But what if your child expresses a desire to lose weight? You can be supportive of her effort by making sure that she is losing weight in a healthy way. There is so much misinformation on social media about nutrition and weight loss. It can be hard for teens (and adults!) to separate fact from fiction and know what is truly healthy vs. what is a fad. Start by making an appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist so that she can learn the basics of healthy eating and come up with a plan that will work for her.
Encourage your child to make small changes. Part of making changes in eating habits may be trying new foods, but if you child doesn’t like the food she is eating, she is unlikely to stick with it for the long term. If your teen doesn’t enjoy sports and is not naturally drawn to exercise, help him to find something the is active that he will be likely to stick with.
At Nourish, we work with many teens and adolescents to help them eat healthier so they perform better at sports, feel better and stay focused. Here is one 16 year old girl’s weight loss story. I interviewed Rose (not her real name) in October 2016. It is normal for weight to fluctuate during childhood, but Rose began to put on weight quickly after she reached her adult height. Her pediatrician became concerned about her sharp increase in weight over a period of about 2 years.
Diana: How much weight did you lose and over how long a period of time?
Rose: I lost about 30 pounds mostly over the course of 7 months, but before I began to actually lose weight I started to make small changes to my lifestyle that slowly affected my weight.
(Note from Diana: losing weight slowly, at a rate of 1 to 1.5 pounds per week is the healthiest way to make sure that weight loss is for the long term. You also lose less muscle mass when losing weight slowly.)
D: What were those small changes? Were they hard to make?
R: I started by identifying a single problem, for example buying unhealthy food at the school cafeteria. To solve that specific issue I began to pack my lunches at night so it was easy to grab in the morning. Another change I made was preventing myself from excess snacking after school by measuring out portions of snacks and then eating them in a different room than the kitchen so I wouldn’t be compelled to go back and get more. Some other changes were making a conscious effort to go to the gym often, not overeating at dinner, and increasing the amount of water I drank and amount of sleep I got. This ended up not being very difficult for me, because the changes were small and spaced out over a long period of time and for that same reason that’s why they’ve last so long.
D: Was there one event that led to your decision to lose weight? Why did you decide to lose weight?
R: There wasn’t one specific moment that led to my decision, but I was always somewhat aware that weight loss was a goal I’d like to accomplish. When I really focused on weight loss I decided that my main motivation was to feel more confident in my daily life and to increase my performance levels in the sports I play.
D: Did you feel pressure from peers or social media or your parents or anyone else to lose weight?
R: I felt no pressure from my peers to lose weight, but as a teenage girl growing up constantly surrounded by social media models it’s not uncommon to feel like you need to look like those girls. However, I don’t believe this played a large role in my decision to lose weight.
D: Did you follow a specific diet?
R: I didn’t follow any specific diet, in part because I had some background knowledge in nutrition. Because of this I was able to come up with a rough idea of how much food I needed and what types of food would be most beneficial. Instead of a “diet” I focused on eating healthy, measuring out my portions, and avoiding unnecessary eating.
D: What do you think led to your weight gain in the first place?
R: Snacking was definitely a major factor of my weight gain. I used to frantically eat once I got home from school without stopping to think about how hungry I actually was and on weekends I would graze throughout the day regardless of my hunger levels. Additionally, I was inactive aside from the scheduled sports I participated in.
D: Do you feel different physically or psychologically since you lost weight?
R: I definitely feel differently physically; I’ve improved my stamina for the sports I participate in and I generally feel more motivated to be active in my daily life. I rarely notice the psychological differences, but reflecting on it I believe I am less self conscious and less concerned with my appearance.
D: What would you recommend to other teens who would like to lose weight?
R: I would tell them to not get sucked into fad diets or taking weight loss pills or tea that are advertised on the internet. Weight loss ultimately started for me when I discovered how to make healthy changes that would last a lifetime, not just a one month diet.