Dieting in Adolescence

Dr. Purushothaman
November 28, 2013

Concern with weight and shape is extremely common during the adolescent years. In addition to being exposed to the real health risks of obesity and improper nutrition, teenagers are being exposed to the unrealistically thin beauty ideal that is portrayed in the media. Images and words in the media tell teenagers that being thin means that you are beautiful, happy and in control. But, in real life, people that are happy and successful come in all shapes and sizes.

Through media exposure, teenagers are also being exposed to a number of ways to lose weight and achieve this thin ideal. The sources of information available on health and proper nutrition are often dubious and unreliable. The result is that many teenagers feel the pressure t be thinner than is required for good health, and try to achieve this goal through poor and sometimes dangerous nutritional choices.

Facts about teenagers and dieting:

* Teenagers' reasons for dieting are varied, but body image dissatisfaction and a desire to be thinner is the motivation behind the majority.

* Every 1 in 3 teenager girls and 1 in 4 teenage boys have tried dieting to change the shape of their body.

* Rather than following a healthy eating plan, teenagers usually use fasting, skipping meals, extreme diets that limit important foods, laxative pills as well as diet pills in order to lose weight.

* Teens who diet are usually influenced by friends who value thinness and engage in unhealthy dieting techniques. Teens are also hugely affected by parents that frequently diet and do not have healthy eating habits.

What is the problem with teen dieting?

The majority of teens who diet do so without any apparent guilt, but they may be putting themselves at risk with little chance of tangible benefit. Dieting is not a good solution and healthy long term solution for weight problems since most tends tend to diet in an unstructured way and decisions to go about losing weight are haphazard and often short-lived.

Unhealthy dieting can cause:

* Nutritional deficiencies, particularly of iron and calcium which can pose short and long term risks. In growing children and teenagers, even a marginal reduction in food intake can be associated with decrease in growth.

* Disordered eating, even without weight loss or gain, has been shown to affect menstrual regularity for girls.

* The long-term risks of unhealthy dieting can lead to osteoporosis, intestinal problems such as constipation, gallstones and digestive problems.

* Many lifestyle habits are established during the adolescent years and alterations in the eating habits of children and teenagers could have lifelong implications for dysfunctional eating.

Recommendations for a healthy diet for teenagers:

 Learn the 5 basic food groups: Foods can be divided into 5 basic groups: milk products, meat/eggs, grains, fruits and vegetables. Your diet should mainly consist of fruits and vegetables with lean meats and good amounts of whole-grain (bread, pasta, rice...) at every meal.

 Eat at least 3 meals per day: Breakfast is essential. Skipping breakfast can compromise performance at school and during the day. Eating snacks is largely habit. Snacks are unnecessary for good nutrition but harmless unless you are overweight. Snacks should be mainly fruits.

 Decrease the amount of fat: Excessive amounts of fat can lead to weight gain so try to eliminate extra fats from your diet by eating lean meats and concentrating more on chicken and fish rather than red meat. Limit the number of eggs to 3 or 4 per week and instead of whole milk, drink semi-skimmed or non-fat milk. Especially, limit he amount of oils used during cooking. Note that red meat may be hard to give up because of the widespread misconception that red meat helps to build muscle mass and strength. Other foods such as fish, chicken and beans also have lots of protein and hence the same function as red meat.

 Increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole-grains

 Avoid excessive salt

 Avoid excessive sugar: Eating foods with a lot of sugar can cause jitters, sweating, dizziness, sleepiness, and intense hunger 2 to 3 hours later. Sweets are not harmful in moderation, but taken excessively sweets can lead to obesity.

Tips for parents:

 Teenagers who are concerned about weight or shape should be educated about the difference between 'healthy weight' and 'cosmetically desirable weight'. For teenagers, these may be very different, because many teens want to be thinner than is required for good health.

 Educate dieting teenagers about the health risks of using diet pills, laxatives and improper dieting methods.

 Try to implement good eating habits for the whole family so your children will be encouraged to eat healthy foods.

 Physical activity is an important part of staying healthy and feeling good. Let your children spend time every day doing something active they enjoy.

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