Teen Weight Loss: Getting Started
(BlackDoctor.org) — Your teen’s weight is affecting his health — physically or mentally — so as a parent, you’re concerned. Perhaps your teen has been diagnosed with a health problem common in overweight teens, such as high blood pressure or sleep apnea. Or maybe your teen has expressed anxiety about his weight.
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Whatever the reason, you want to help. But it’s not easy for a parent to know how to help. While your teen might feel ashamed or even angry about his weight, he may also be resentful if you try to get involved. As much as your teen may want to tackle his problems without help, your involvement in managing his weight is important.You can help your teen make changes to his diet and exercise habits that will put him on a healthier track.
Set the Stage for Success
Helping overweight teens make healthy choices is complex. To help with teen weight management or teen weight loss, here are a few things you can do to set the stage for success.
Consult with your teen’s pediatrician regarding your overweight teen’s BMI. The first step is to talk with your teen’s pediatrician about your teen’s weight. Ask the doctor to calculate your teen’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is one way to measure body fat percentage. Your doctor will compare your child’s weight and height with other teens her age. If your teen falls within the overweight or obese range, talk with the pediatrician about what your teen’s weight loss goals should be. Whether weight loss is recommended will depend on several things:
- How overweight he is
- If he has weight-related health problems
- If he has been trying to lose weight and, if so, how long he’s been trying
The initial goal for the majority of overweight teens may be to maintain their weight and “grow” into it as they get taller. Keep in mind that even maintaining his current weight is much healthier than continuing to gain weight excessively. When weight loss is advised — doctors usually don’t recommend losing more than 2 pounds a week, at most.
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Talk with your teen to get their approval. If your overweight teen needs focus on managing or losing weight, they have to approve of the approach. They have to be involved. Of course, getting your teen interested in anything might feel like a challenge and teen weight loss can seem like an especially hard sell. Talk to him. Don’t tell your teen that they need to lose weight. Ask questions instead of making declarations — and really listen to what he has to say. Ask, “How do you feel about your weight?” Then, be quiet and listen. If your teen is resistant, lay off the topic for a little while. Hopefully you will have planted a seed for thought, and they’ll be more open the next time you bring up the question.
Be your teen’s healthy lifestyle coach. It may not seem like it, but you have more of an influence over your teen than you think. The trick is not to force a healthy lifestyle on your overweight teen. Instead, your role should be more like a coach than a sheriff. Encourage your teen to find his own incentives to change his food and lifestyle choices. Studies show what may sound like common sense: Overweight teens don’t feel happy about being overweight. Overweight teens don’t want to be teased at school. But overweight teens do want to feel in control.
Start with changes at home. Your overweight teen is not the only one who needs to make changes to his way of life. To help your teen succeed, you — and everyone else in the family — need to embrace a healthier lifestyle, too. If you single out your overweight teen and only have him improve his health habits, it won’t work. Instead, your teen is likely to feel criticized and punished, which is much less likely to motivate him than striving for a healthier way of living. Everyone in the family will benefit when you set health goals together.
Share your struggle. Not sure you’re up for the challenge of being a healthy role model? Relax a bit. It’s OK if your teen sees you struggling to build new habits. Let them hear your frustration as you waver between choosing a healthy snack like carrots and peanut butter versus an old junk food standby like chips and dip. Let them know that it can be hard to make the time to go for a walk around the neighborhood and find the motivation to do it. But remind them and yourself that feel good afterwards is worth it. Turn the challenges you face into opportunities to ask for your teen’s support and to work together ways to make healthy lifestyle choices easier for both of you.
Introduce Lifestyle Changes
Helping your overweight teen when weight management or with weight loss is recommended involves making some lifestyle changes. As anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows, these changes aren’t always easy. But they’re essential — and doable if you’re patient and consistent in making small improvements in your habits. The first 2 areas to focus on are diet, your teen’s food choices, and physical activity, or exercise.
The best-kept secret for encouraging a healthy diet and changing the way your teen eats is to keep it simple. Start with these 5 basic steps.
1. Lose the soda. One teen weight program in California had a lot of success by just asking overweight teens to cut out sodas and sports drinks and replace them with water.
2. Make fruits and vegetables visible and accessible. Eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and sweets will help your teen feel full and consume fewer calories. Have fruits and veggies cut, clean, and waiting in the front of the fridge so they’re easy to find and eat.
3. Encourage breakfast every day. Teens will often give up breakfast to sleep in late but this leads to overeating at lunch time and junk food cravings later in the day. So, if your teen is rushing out the door, hand her a smoothie made out of yogurt and fresh fruit or an apple and wedge of cheese to eat on the way to school.
4. Don’t keep any junk food in the house. Although you have limited control of what your overweight teen eats away from home, you can offer lots of healthy choices for snacking at home.
5. Eat at home. Several studies have shown that restaurant foods contain an average of 33% more calories than the same food cooked at home. Further, a study found that the more a family ate together, the less likely a teen was to be overweight.
Health experts recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day to stay fit and to help prevent obesity in teens. To help with teen weight loss, your child needs to build up to an hour of energetic daily exercise. Try these 2 tactics to get your teen moving:
- Coach your teen to set small achievable goals. Starting with 10 minutes a day is fine — as long as your teen actually does it. Then have them slowly add a few minutes every day. Small, achievable steps will help them have successes which will build them self-confidence and keep them motivated.
- Get the whole family involved. Take up hiking as a family or go on bike rides together. Getting family members pedometers can encourage everyone to take more steps. And giving your teen their own pedometer will give them an easy way to monitor their own activity level.
Helping with weight maintenance or teen weight loss isn’t just about food and exercise. Experts say that other changes — like removing the TV from a teen’s bedroom to cut back on screen time and encouraging them to get enough sleep — can also help.
If making lifestyle changes isn’t enough to help your teen manage his weight, get some outside help.
When it comes to dealing with obesity in teens, many families get stuck. Talking to someone outside the family can give you perspective and direction — and help your overweight teen set realistic goals. If you and your teen have gotten into conflicts about her weight, outside advice could help defuse the situation.
You have many options. Start with a pediatrician, a dietitian, or another expert in obesity in teens. Seeing a therapist, such as a psychologist or a social worker with a background in teen weight loss, can also help. Many teenagers who are overweight also struggle with depression, so therapy can have additional benefits.
Treatment approaches for obesity in teens differ. Experts disagree to some degree on the best approach. Some stress the importance of monitoring to track progress. Strategies include regular weigh-ins and keeping track of food and exercise. Others think that close accounting doesn’t work. Ultimately, you have to decide what approach feels right for your family. Your teen may benefit most from programs that are oriented to kids his or her age. Here are some options to check on. Check to see if your medical insurance plan will help cover the costs of weight management programs.
Weight loss programs for teens right in your doctor’s office. Some doctors may have programs that include sessions with dietitians or behavior experts.
Pediatric weight management centers in a hospital or separate center. These may be similar to programs in doctors’ offices and offer the support of several experts.
Other Treatment Options
What happens if these steps don’t help your teen manage his weight? Then you and your teenager — with a health care provider’s input — might consider some other treatment options for obesity in teens.
Medication. There are no prescription weight-loss medicines currently recommended for teens. Weight-loss medicines can have serious health risks and side effects. If you’re curious about the use of medication or supplements for weight loss, talk with your teen’s pediatrician. Many overweight teens experiment with over-the-counter weight-loss pills. These supplements are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. If your teen is taking any, talk with him about the risks, and strongly encourage him to talk with his doctor or a pharmacist about potential negative effects.
Surgery. An operation to reduce the size of the stomach can help obese teens who haven’t been able to lose weight any other way. It can be effective, but it has potentially serious risks. This procedure also may not be covered by insurance.
Be aware that surgery, on its own, won’t cure obesity in teens. Your child will need to follow a special diet — and be vigilant for signs of nutritional deficiencies — for the rest of his life. This step should be taken only after careful consideration and a full evaluation by a team of doctors and other child obesity experts.
Obesity in Teens: Tips for Parents
Making significant lifestyle changes that affect the whole family can be daunting — and your teen may be resistant at first. These suggestions can help keep things moving forward.
Keep it simple; don’t change everything at once. Don’t suddenly outlaw all sweets, demand 2-hour jogs, and hide the video game console in the garage. That will backfire and set your teen up for failure. Start with the simplest changes — ones that your overweight teen can complete and feel successful with. Focus on doing them every day, and then increase them over time.
Don’t micromanage. If you’re commenting on every bite your overweight teen puts in their mouth, they’re likely to get angry and withdraw. Plus you’re damaging their confidence to trust their own decision making. Remember that they are attempting to make some big changes in their life, and it will take time. They’ll slip up here and there, and that’s normal. What you want to see is progress, so try to keep the big picture in mind. Remember, successful change can sometimes be 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
Stress a positive body image. In our popular media, thin is beautiful. That can be demoralizing for a heavy kid. You won’t be able to counter the influences of our culture single-handedly — or take away the pain caused by teasing or bullying at school. But you can emphasize what’s important. Make it a personal goal for yourself to comment on your teen’s strengths and positive qualities regularly. Let your teen know that they are wonderful, and you love them unconditionally. Help them see that the people who make judgments based on appearance are not seeing them for the wonderful person they are.
Emphasize the medical, not the superficial. When you talk about healthy eating and exercise, your teen might feel like you’re ashamed of how he looks. Emphasize that you’re only trying to help because of the serious medical risks of obesity. Talk about diabetes, arthritis, and liver disease. Motivate them by reminding them that making the efforts to be healthy will help them do the things he likes to do more easily. You’re not judging his character. You don’t want them to look “better.” You’re helping them be healthier.