Did Your Teen's New Year’s
Resolution Involve Dieting?
by Dr. Ann L. Engelland
(January 7, 2004)
Logging onto AOL in January brings frequent reminders about
waistlines and the latest diet fads. Teens see this pitch
and add it to the inventory of media information that is
pushing them to change their bodies
for a happier, sexier, more successful and maybe healthier “New
If your pre-teen or teen is expressing new concerns about
his or her weight, there are a few guidelines for assessing
the safety and appropriateness of the concern. There are
few households where the adults wouldn’t benefit
from some dietary shifts and improvements. Some common
sense principles may help you and your child achieve reasonable
goals. Making this a family commitment is often a good
idea that ensures everyone’s success.
What would be the warning signs that a teen’s dieting
is misguided or inappropriate?
- The desire to lose weight seems more motivated by emotional
than health factors. “I’m not popular because
I’m fat.” Or “If only I could get rid
of my stomach I’d be happy.”
- The teen signs on to a drastic change in lifestyle. “Mom,
I’ve decided to become a vegan in 2003.” Not
only is a vegan diet (void of all animal products, including
cheese and eggs) very difficult to do in a healthy manner,
it is usually high in calories and unlikely to be successful.
are quite sure that your daughter is at a normal weight
and do not think dieting is necessary or safe. If
any degree of struggle or disagreement arises between you
over this issue, it is best to turn to a professional who
can assess the teen’s weight and health status and
explore the psychological and emotional motivating factors
in order to provide guidance.
- You see evidence that your
teen is using caffeine, laxatives, diet pills or is vomiting
to control intake and weight.
- You see a marked increase
in concern over fat content of food, accompanied by scrutiny
of food labels, avoidance
of previously favorite foods, and “fear of fat.”
note an uncharacteristic and perhaps unsustainable level
of physical exercise that accompanies his/her new
resolution. In an era when most American teens are not
getting enough exercise and spending too much time in
front of various screens, there are still many who use
exercise as a tool for weight loss and body changes that
may not be appropriate.
What are some common sense guidelines that can be introduced
into your home that will benefit most family members?
- Increase the amount of calcium in the diet: calcium
fortified OJ, skim or 1% fat milk (even with some flavoring);
such as collard and kale can be added to soup. The elimination
of carbonated beverages from the home goes a long way
to encouraging milk consumption. Teens need at least
mg of Calcium each day to ensure strong bone growth that
will serve them for a lifetime. Have calcium supplements
or Tums available at home.
- Stop stocking crackers, cookies,
candy, chocolate chips, fatty, and salty foods.
moving to “brown” foods: whole grain
breads, whole grain oatmeals, nuts, and brown rice (or
mix it half and half with white rice) are examples. Try
ethnic meals that involve rice and beans. Remember portion
control here or you will lose your credibility with the “dieter.”
- Explore breakfast options. Almost any non-sugar food
is better than leaving home on an empty stomach. Ask around
for popular ideas. Offer to get up and make pancakes or
oatmeal. Try “dinner at breakfast” with a re-heated
- Have fresh fruit and veggie options easily
available: easy-peel clementines (expensive, yes, but better
chips or crackers), celery stalks to dip in peanut butter,
carrot sticks (healthier than the “baby” carrots),
Navel oranges, delicious pears, fresh fruit salad in a
bowl in the fridge.
- Explore what your child is doing for
lunch at school. Often the options are limited to tempting
like fries, chicken fingers, and packages of chips. Offer
to participate in making a brown-bag lunch once or twice
a week. Point out the money-saving aspect to your teen
and the yummy, comforting options like PB and J and put
it on multigrain bread.
- Remind your child about the calories
(and caffeine) in large popular coffee drinks. For
instance a Starbucks Venti
white chocolate mocha(with whole milk and whipped cream)
has 600 Calories and 15 grams of saturated fat!
- Try to
have a family meal at least three times a week. There
are many good reasons for this but if you are worried
about your child’s eating habits there is no better
way to monitor and model for them.
If your child is an athlete, encourage a high protein
snack after school before practice to help curb the evening
appetite and to improve performance. Protein bars, a small
pack of trail mix, or a yoghurt are all good options.
If worries about weight loss or unreasonable body image
issues persist, schedule your teen’s pre-college
or pre-camp check up early. If you are seeing your regular
pediatrician who will be swamped at this time of year,
call ahead and give him or her a “heads-up” on
your concerns. Other parents may want to have their child
seen by a specialist in adolescent medicine for whom questions
of nutrition, body imaging and exercise are routine and
usually explored in depth.
Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted
to Adolescent Primary Care. She can be reached at
Have a teen health question? Use the form below to send it to Dr. Engelland. Please note: Dr Engelland cannot respond privately to individual queries online. Comments are welcome and anonymous questions may be answered in future columns. Serious medical problems should be referred to your own physician.
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