It’s no secret that teens have a tendency to overeat, particularly when pizza, chips and other tasty snacks are on the menu. Add to that their tech-driven lifestyle, and putting on extra pounds is becoming all too easy for teens, even with their relatively fast metabolisms.
Research shows that many obese teens will hang on to their extra pounds for life. It might feel like your teen’s eating habits are mostly out of your control and it can be a sensitive topic to bring up, but the following six strategies can help you create an environment of change—while being somewhat discreet.
1. Serve breakfast. Research consistently supports the benefits of eating a healthy, well-balanced breakfast. This means serving whole grain carbohydrates and fiber (think: fruits and vegetables), along with protein (think: low-fat or nonfat dairy, eggs or lean breakfast meats). In addition to helping kids stay alert and focused, studies show a.m. eating pushes off cravings and helps dieters control their weight.
2. Swap junk food for healthy snacks. One of the most important rules of healthy eating is to keep the unhealthy stuff out of your kitchen. Make fruits, vegetables and small portions of nuts and seeds easily available. Try making smoothies or nut bars. Leave unhealthy foods—like cookies, chips and other high-fat snacks—on grocery store shelves.
3. Get creative with veggies. Eating healthily doesn’t have to mean salads at every meal. Dress up sandwiches with lettuce, tomatoes and spinach. Add extra flavor to pasta sauce with chopped onions, peppers and mushrooms. Greenify smoothies with kale, spinach and broccoli. And keep washed and chopped veggies on hand for quick snacks.
4. Encourage activity as a family. Rather than sitting in front of the TV on a lazy Sunday, plan a nature hike, shoot hoops in the backyard or create an indoor obstacle course. Run up and down stairs, jump rope and create stations throughout the house for squats, push-ups and pull-ups. Is your son or daughter set on binge watching a certain show? Create a bartering system where your teen has to complete an exercise circuit between each episode. Even then, make it a goal to limit screen time to 2 hours or less per day.
5. Teach your teens the HALT acronym. Like adults, kids often turn to food for comfort. Sometimes, our bodies call for energy (in the form of food) when what we really need is rest or hydration. Teach your teen to remember the HALT acronym before every meal and snack: Am I Hungry? Am I Angry? Am I Lonely? Am I Tired? It may not only prevent them from eating when they’re not hungry, but it also teaches them to be introspective and identify what they’re feeling.
6. Be a role model. Our kids learn by watching us. If you smoke, stop. If you’re inactive, get moving. And if you eat junk, clean up your diet. Most importantly, eat meals together as a family. You (and your kids) will not only eat more slowly, allowing your brain and body time to digest what you’ve eaten, but you’ll also set the stage for healthy communication.
Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician and the physician champion for childhood wellness. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in midtown Detroit and Sterling Heights. Read more of Dr. Leatherwood Cannon's articles.