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What can I do to help my overweight teen?

If your overweight teenager is ready to put some effort into getting healthier, he or she will need your help. Although being more independent is important to teens, your support is needed in this effort. You can help by creating a reasonable plan. But remember, your teen needs to buy into it and have a desire to stick with it to be successful. Some teens do best with 1 or 2 simple goals, while others will want to move faster and make sweeping health changes. Encourage any movement in the right direction. Having a partner in the plan (such as a friend) can also help. Part of being successful is to have a support for when the going gets tough.

What can I teach my teen about food?

  • Teach about healthy diet and weight.

    Tell your teen the truth. Losing weight and getting in better shape takes effort. Have open-ended conversations 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. (Energy drinks can have as many calories as soda.)

    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.

  • Use the ChooseMyPlate method to teach your teen how 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.

    There are serious consequences of starvation or fad diets for a teen who is still growing. Unrealistic goals lead to feelings of failure and sometimes to eating disorders. Fad diets or dieting can also throw your teen’s hunger cues off track. Restrictive diets that say when and what to eat at certain times make it hard for people to recognize when they are comfortably full.

  • Teach your teen to eat only when hungry.

    People eat for many reasons such as time of day, or feeling bored, frustrated, nervous, or depressed. 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. People 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.

  • 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. Try not to keep foods that are high in calories, sugar, and fat in the house. If you bake something, keep a few servings for your family and share the rest with neighbors or friends. That way you can satisfy the craving and move on. Any foods can fit into your teen’s diet if your teen learns a healthy balance between treats and healthy foods.

  • Encourage healthy snacks.

    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
    • 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.

Strong emotions can get in the way of a healthy meal or diet plan. If there are issues from the past or present that need be addressed, find counseling for your teen.

Does my teen need to go on a specific diet?

If you are worried that your teen is overweight or obese, talk with your teen’s healthcare provider. Most healthcare providers say teens who are still growing should not go on diets. Rather, they should try to adopt healthy eating habits and try to maintain their current weight (but not gain any extra). When your teen finishes growing, the weight will even out.

If your teen is above 95% on the Body Mass Index (BMI) for Age growth charts, your provider may recommend 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/

Written by Terri Murphy, RD at RelayHealth. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-07-06
Last reviewed: 2011-07-05 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. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.