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Weight: Helping Your Teen Lose Weight

What can I do to help my overweight teen?

If your overweight teenager wants to lose weight, he or she will need your help. Being more independent is important to teens, but part of being successful is having support when the going gets tough. You can help by creating a healthy plan that your teen is willing and able to follow. Talk "with" not "at" your teen. The best you can do is let teens know that you are there to guide, listen, and support them.

  • Teach about healthy diet and weight.

    Tell your teen the truth. Losing weight and getting in better shape takes effort. Talk about the habits that lead to gaining too much weight such as not enough exercise, skipping meals, drinking too many soft drinks or energy drinks, or eating a lot of fast food.

    Tell your teen that weight and body shape run in families. It is OK if a healthy size for your family is a size 14, with healthy eating and exercise. Make sure that you are a good role model for your teen.

  • Use ChooseMyPlate as a way to eat a balance of healthy foods in the right amounts.

    The ChooseMyPlate method divides the plate into 4 food groups: fruit, vegetable, grains, and protein. You can use this plate to choose foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Simply fill half of a 9-inch plate with fruits and vegetables. The other half of the plate should be split between starches (such as whole grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes) and lean proteins, like lean meat, beans, and peas. A cup of low-fat or skim milk or yogurt on the side is ok.

  • Don't allow your teen to practice unsafe diets.
  • Starvation or fad diets can be very dangerous. A teen who is still growing needs the right amounts of vitamin or minerals. Diets that are too low in calories, or limit foods to only one thing, such as grapefruit, can cause health problems very quickly. Detox diets that encourage laxatives and enemas can lead to eating disorders. Fad diets or severe dieting can also throw your teen's hunger cues off track.
  • Teach your teen to eat only when hungry.

    Teens eat for many reasons such as time of day, or feeling bored, frustrated, nervous, or depressed. Emotional eating can get in the way of a healthy weight loss plan. If this is a problem for your teen, seeing a counselor may help.

    The best reason to eat is hunger. Ask your teen when they eat, overeat, or crave certain foods. If your teen is eating when not hungry, encourage your teen to do something else such as exercising, reading, or working on a project to stop thinking about food.

    Help your teen practice eating until hunger is satisfied, but not to the point of feeling stuffed. If your teen eats this way, he should be hungry every 2 to 3 hours. Snacking is not a bad habit, as long as snacks are healthy. Teens who eat small frequent meals instead of a few large ones often have lower body fat, even if they eat the same amount of calories per day. Try 3 smaller meals, with a few snacks in between.

  • Provide healthy snacks.

    Try not to keep foods that are high in calories, sugar, and fat in the house. Have healthy snacks on hand at home and talk with your teen about switching from high fat high sugar snack foods to healthy snacks such as:

    • Flavored rice cakes or pretzels
    • Graham crackers
    • Crunchy vegetables (carrots, celery, jicama, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers)
    • Low calorie yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit
    • Fresh or frozen fruits without added sugar
    • Fat free string cheese
    • Air popped popcorn (made with regular popcorn in brown paper bag in the microwave)
    • Zero calorie flavored water, mineral water, unsweetened teas, or drinks sweetened with Splenda or Stevia instead of sodas or energy drinks
  • Get your teen moving.

    Encourage your teen to get at least 60 minutes of exercise most days. Teens who are very overweight or not used to exercise need to start slow. It is always best to check with a healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. Team sports, exercise such as walking, biking, dancing, skating, or using exercise videos are all good options.

  • Let your teen have treats.

    Cravings happen. If your teen really wants a high-calorie snack, let her go out for a treat. The treat should be a reasonable portion. Any foods can fit into your teen's diet if your teen learns a healthy balance between treats and healthy foods.

Does my teen need a specific diet?

If you are worried that your teen is overweight or obese, talk with your teen’s healthcare provider. Children and teens should not be put on a strict diet unless under the care of a healthcare provider or dietitian. A diet that is too strict can interfere with normal growth.

If your teen is above 95% on the Body Mass Index (BMI) for Age growth charts, your provider may suggest a specific diet for slow weight loss.

If your teen has stopped growing, it is usually safe to go on a calorie-controlled diet plan. The plan will include eating a variety of foods from each food group. About 1 or 2 pounds per week weight loss is a good goal. Talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian about diets that would be safe for your teen.

You can get more information about healthy eating from the ChooseMyPlate Web site at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-07-25
Last reviewed: 2012-05-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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