How to Help a Teen Lose Weight

Overweight teens need adult support to lose weight in a healthy manner.
Peter Dazeley / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

It’s hard enough for an adult to deal with the effects of obesity, but those issues--feelings of insecurity, trouble losing the weight, bullying and health problems--are magnified in teenagers. On top of that, there are serious health risks, as kids who are overweight have a diminished quality of life that’s comparable to other teens with chronic diseases, such as cancer. That can lead to depression, a negative self-image and social isolation.

Despite this, it’s harder than you might think to guide a teenager to weight loss. You can explain until you’re blue in the face about the risks of being overweight and obese, but teenagers don’t tend to think about the long-term effects. Instead, they want immediate rewards. As a parent, you share responsibility in helping them find the motivation to shed pounds safely.

Step One: See a Health Care Provider

Take your teen to the family doctor or pediatrician. Before your teen embarks on a weight-loss journey, it’s important to know if he has a health issue, such as a problematic thyroid, that’s causing weight gain. Weight gain may also be a side effect of certain medications. The doctor can rule out any of these issues, clearing the way for healthy weight loss.

Step Two: Make It a Family Affair

Your teen can’t--and shouldn’t--go this alone. Even if you think you’re at a healthy weight, it’s better for your child if you hop on the bandwagon to improve your eating and exercise habits.

Some things you can do to make the whole family healthier:

  • Replace sugary or fat-filled snacks in the pantry with healthier options. Rather than stocking the cupboard with cookies, candy, soda and the like, shop for air-popped popcorn, whole-wheat crackers, bottles of water and plenty of easily accessible fruits and vegetables, such as whole fruit, chopped fruit and prepped vegetables like baby carrots.
  • Serve smaller portions by giving the whole family smaller plates. Encourage everyone to fill half their plate with fruits or vegetables in order to avoid overeating less-healthy parts of the meal.
  • Remove liquid calories from the house. Soda, fruit juice, sports drinks and specialty coffee can easily add 500-plus calories to your diet a day. If the whole family like the carbonation of soda, purchase calorie-free seltzer water.

Step Three: Get Active

If you want your teen to move more, you need to model active behavior. Limit TV and computer time (including removing a TV in the teen’s bedroom, if applicable), and schedule family bike rides, jogs, tennis matches or basketball games.

If your teen is interested in a regular fitness routine, make an appointment with an introductory session with a personal trainer at a local gym, so she can learn some of the basics. If she’s resistant to the idea of formal exercise, simply encourage her to move more. Some options include taking the dogs for daily walks, joining a sports team and biking to school instead of taking the bus.

Step Four: Stay Supportive

You might think you’re doing a teen a favor by hiding food or lecturing him on his weight. All you’re doing, however, is creating a complex that you don’t support his efforts or don’t love him as much because of his weight. Resist the temptation to compare him to someone else, whether a friend or a sibling, or make comments about body image as portrayed in the media. In the worst-case scenario, this could lead to an eating disorder.

You know that it’s vital for your teen to lose weight to live a long healthy life. Your teen is likely focused on how she looks and how people treat her. Help your teen achieve both of these goals with a healthy, family-centered approach to weight loss. 

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