When your teen is overweight or obese, it’s easy to think of it as their individual problem. But lifestyle changes are best approached as a family effort. An effective weight loss plan for teenagers should encourage them to choose nutritious foods and healthy behaviors. If you want to know how to help your teenager lose weight, focus on what you can do to be supportive, not on foods you think they should stop eating.
- What not to do
- Encourage drinking water rather than sugary substitutes
- Instead of forbidding junk foods, fill the house with healthy options
- Frame choices positively
- Eat meals at home together
- Encourage physical activity that your teen enjoys
- Limit screen time and encourage sleep
- Foster a realistic, healthy body image
Even if they’re not talking about it, your teen knows that they are overweight. Children and teens who are overweight are at risk for bullying and lower self-esteem, and your teen may already have a lot of negative emotions tied up in their body size. If you make comments about their weight, or your own or others’ weights, even well-intentioned ones, your teen is likely to feel hurt and judged.
Dieting can have a similarly detrimental effect. While restrictive, fad diets can result in initial weight loss, the weight generally comes back quickly once a person returns to normal eating. This can lead to yo-yo dieting, and actually increases a person’s long-term odds of being obese. These kinds of diets can also lead to eating disorders. Quick weight loss might seem desirable, but shedding pounds this way isn’t worth the continuing risks to your teen’s physical and mental health.
So, instead of talking about weight and suggesting diets, what can you do to help your teen? The following are tips to help teens of any size lead healthier lives.
It’s important to stay hydrated, but water is generally the best choice. Sugar-loaded drinks like sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juice can add up to a lot of empty calories. Water also helps to flush out toxins, which can in turn lead to more weight loss.
Instead of forbidding junk foods, fill the house with healthy options
You don’t have much control over what your teen eats at school or afterward, but by providing lots of nutritious foods in the house, such as fruits and vegetables cut up and ready-to-eat, you can encourage healthy snacking at home.
Children and teens respond much better to carefully-worded, positive directives. Instead of telling your teen not to eat those french fries, ask if they would like some cut veggies and hummus. Rather than telling them to get off the couch, invite them to go for a walk with you. The same outlook can help make food choices less overwhelming. Instead of limiting calories or cutting out entire food groups, for example, focus on adding fruits and vegetables, fiber, or protein.
Even when it’s not fast food, restaurant meals tend to be significantly higher-calorie than home-cooked ones. Even better, get your teen involved in meal planning and preparation so that they feel invested in the process.
The goal is to find something they like to do so that they are more likely to do it regularly. Whether your teen likes to be social or prefers quiet time alone, there’s an activity out there that’s just right for them. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but these don’t need to be consecutive minutes. Start small with a quick evening walk or weekend bike ride, and work your way up to that full hour. The goal of exercise shouldn’t be to lose pounds or inches, but rather to increase fitness and improve health. Let them see you exercising, too, and find opportunities for the family to get moving together.
There are lots of reasons to limit screen time, including the mindless snacking it encourages, as well as its interruptions to sleep. Not only do teens stay up late on their devices, but nighttime screen use can make falling asleep more difficult. Sleep is critical for overall health, and lack of sleep is associated with weight gain. Not getting enough sleep has also been shown to interfere with hormones that regulate hunger, leading to overeating. In addition, insufficient sleep can leave you too tired for physical activities.
Teens need to understand that genetics and body type play a major role in determining their weight and appearance, and going hungry or exercising intensely is unlikely to drastically alter the way they look. It’s also important that they know it’s normal to gain weight as they grow and undergo puberty. Do your part by limiting comments you make about people’s bodies, including your own, that suggest people can control their size.
Your teen is learning to live in their changing body, and the habits they develop will have an impact on their physical and emotional health for the rest of their life. Now is the time to do all that you can to encourage positive, healthy choices that will help them feel good about their bodies.
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