Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Karen Plumley
When a child turns 12 or 13, she may notice changes in her body. Breast development, hip broadening and intense growth spurts can be daunting for many teenage girls. Young boys, too, may notice that although men a lot older than they are have developed muscles on their chests and arms, this might not be in the cards for them until much later. Instead, young teenage boys may feel awkward and clumsy, and their self-confidence could suffer.
As a result, many teenagers turn to dieting to achieve the look they want, or develop eating habits that are harmful. How do parents guide their teenage children in the right direction for a healthy lifestyle and help them avoid fad diets and other unhealthy behaviors?
Healthy diet and lifestyle
According to Dr. Carol Robey, M.D., FAAP, of Merrimack Valley Pediatrics in Nashua, a teenager is considered overweight when her body-to-mass index (BMI) is in the 85th to 95th percentile, and obese if her BMI rises above the 95th percentile in her age and height ranges.
But this is only part of the story. For Dr. Robey, the way a child feels about her weight is also important.
“As part of any exam, I will ask my patients how they feel about their weight, and show them where they are positioned on the weight chart. This can really have an impact on how teenagers will respond to diet changes and recommendations,” she said.
One of the most important things parents can do for their overweight children, according to Dr. Robey, is to eliminate sugary drinks from their diets.
“A child can lose five pounds per year by simply drinking water and low-fat milk instead of juice and soda,” she said.
One of the mistakes parents make when their children are young, Dr. Robey said, is they give their youngsters lots of juice.
“People naturally love sweets and drinking juice will enhance their affinity for sugary drinks. Next thing you know, they are asking for soda and replacing their daily milk intake with sweet fluids. Families that do not offer sweet drinks like juice, find that their children tend to love water and milk more and also tend to keep their weight at healthier levels,” she said. “If you can only succeed in one major diet change, eliminating sugary drinks should be it,” Dr. Robey said.
Dr. Robey also pointed out that parents have to be good role models for their children.
“Parents who go on fad diets, complain about their weight often, drink lots of soda or skip meals are not setting a good example for their kids,” she said. In fact, skipping meals can actually cause weight gain, because most people who do not eat regular meals tend to snack more on unhealthy foods that are high in fat, calories and sodium. It has also been shown that children who eat regular meals do better in school and have generally higher standardized test scores.
Say no to fad diets
Diets that eliminate a certain type of food from the diet, such as carbohydrates, vegetables or fats, are simply unhealthy for teens. Teenagers need a well-balanced, regular meal schedule in order to help with their growth and development.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has replaced the food pyramid with a simpler-to-understand model for healthy eating: the “Choose My Plate” model. The new dietary guideline reaches back to the four food group idea, representing it as a plate split into four categories — vegetables, fruits, grains and protein — and a fifth, separate circle representing a small glass of milk, or “dairy” group. The model also explicitly encourages people to eat a little less, or avoid “oversized portions” of anything, without completely depriving oneself of any particular food. For more information on this new USDA model, go to www.choosemyplate.gov.
According to www.healthykids.org, dieting can be dangerous for teens because they may not get the right kinds and amounts of nutrients, which can lead to poor growth and other health problems. Eliminating sugary drinks, exercising regularly and practicing portion control with well-balanced, regular meals may be all that is necessary to maintain a healthy weight.
If parents are concerned about their teen’s weight, they should talk with the child’s pediatrician. It might also be helpful to seek the advice of a registered dietician.
Julie Izsak, M.Ed., RD, LD, and a registered dietician with Nutrition in Motion of Bedford, recommends teenagers get at least 60 minutes of exercise per day as part of their healthy lifestyle.
“Exercise does not have to happen all at once; it can be split up throughout the day,” Izsak said.
Also, Izsak said not all teens are the same. “There is never a one-size-fits-all plan for the teenagers that I see. But in general, I try to make a weight loss plan flexible. A rigid plan tends to turn kids off. As long as they realize that bad days do happen, they will not get discouraged. I try to recommend that they not eat their heaviest meals at night, but that they do eat regular, healthy meals and snacks, and that they are doing regular physical activities that they enjoy,” she said. Not everyone has to be in organized sports, for example, but many will enjoy dance classes, Zumba, and swimming or running on a regular basis.
Taking dieting too far
When a teenager takes dieting too far, there are warning signs that parents will want to look out for. According to Izsak, teens might seem lethargic, their skin tone might change to an unhealthy hue, they may lose a lot of weight in a short period of time, and they may start to develop an obsession or fear of food.
Dr. Robey agrees, and also noted that parents should be especially alert if an eating disorder runs in the family or if a traumatic event happened recently that may cause depression and/or extreme weight loss.
“Kids who lose a lot of weight quickly or are not maintaining a healthy weight may not be thinking clearly,” said Dr. Robey, and this can lead to a susceptibility to illogical dieting or other strange and destructive behavior.
Parents can also help by promoting their child’s positive self-image. Just how can this be done? Dr. Robey recommends that parents stop talking about what is wrong with their own bodies, and stop focusing on outwardly losing weight or dieting, but instead try to be a good role model for their teenage daughters and sons.
“Don’t skip meals, offer healthy choices, cut down on sugary drinks and be active as a family,” she said. These recommendations are the cornerstones of a long-lasting, healthy lifestyle.
Parents should pay attention to any of the following warning signs listed below (courtesy of www.healthykids.org). If you notice any of these dieting danger signs, you should contact your family doctor as soon as possible:
Karen Plumley is a freelance writer and mother of two from Pelham. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Sep 29, 2011.