How Can I Help My Overweight Teenager?

What to Do and Say to Help Your Teen Get Healthier

Teen girls running together. Credit: Mlenny

It can be a struggle as a parent to know how to help a teenager who is overweight. How do you help her to be her healthiest self while also encouraging a positive self-image? This article explains some tips that can help you help your overweight teen.

Accept, support and encourage your teen.

How your teenager thinks and feels about herself stems in part from how her parents and friends see her (or her perception of that).

The more you accept your teen for who she is, the more she will be able to accept herself. Be there to listen when she needs to talk without lecturing or trying to fix the problem. Encourage her to find activities and friends with like-minded interests. Having hobbies can help your teen build confidence.

Learn about body image and help your teen understand what body image is and how it affects her self-esteem. Teach her to be media literate -- questioning the images she sees and forming realistic body ideals.

When starting a healthier diet for your teen, include the whole family.

Don't single your kid out. Healthy eating and exercise should be a family issue. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), "Family involvement helps to teach everyone healthful habits and does not single out the overweight teen." 

Get your family active - out and about in activities you can all enjoy together.

A healthy lifestyle is a teen's best defense against being or becoming overweight.

Plan fun, physically active activities for the whole family to enjoy. Make them a part of your daily/weekly routine, a fun habit and try not to turn them into a chore. Be a role model and enjoy the activities with your kids. Try not to make it a special occasion, but something that you just do all the time together.

The more 'everyday' and habitual physical activity is in a teen's life, the more they will continue the good habit into their young adulthood.

Encourage your teen to develop a good attitude about healthy eating.

Children and teenagers should never be placed on a restrictive diet for weight loss, according to the NIMH, unless a doctor recommends and oversees one for medical reasons. A super restrictive diet can result in nutrient deficiencies that interfere with your teen's growth and development. 

A better approach is to offer the whole family a variety of well-balanced wholesome food. Consider using the USDA's MyPlate model. With this approach, you make half your plate fruits or vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter starch (such as a starchy vegetable like potato, or a whole grain, such as brown rice). Shifting the focus to the proportion of foods on your and your teen's plate (more nonstarchy vegetables, less refined carbs) can go a long way to improving the nutrition quality of meals and promote a healthy weight.

Try and introduce new foods or fun healthy recipes on a weekly basis. Encourage your teen to get involved in meal planning and prep. They may also get ides from their friends.

All of these tips can help you help your overweight teen not only get him/her to a healthy weight, but also help his/her self-esteem and confidence. Plus, the whole family will be working towards a healthy lifestyle.

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