Apologies for those of you who were searching for the LoFat twitter updates today. LoFat was unfortunately unable to provide real-time tweets of the dietician training, so I will give you a brief overview! Today's focus was on how to approach, motivate and succeed with teenagers in regards to health.
We need to first think about the real differences between young children and teenagers. One important difference is that with physical growth comes changes in hormones and metabolism. Those changes influence body image and mood. Another change is age, and with age comes increased expectations and responsibilities. A very important difference is social. Teenagers are motivated, demotivated, enabled and disabled by the social environment. The parental influence is important, but it ceases to become a motivator. Teens want to feel accepted by peers and want to feel "normal" according to the larger social circle.
Knowing these difference and really understanding their implications helps us identify ways to motivate and inspire teenagers to succeed in a healthy lifestyle:
- By empowering teens to understand and take control of their body, they become more independent and thus successful. Teach them about their body, how BMI works, muscle VS. weight gain/loss, etc.
- Aid them in finding fun ways to move and exercise. Exercise does not mean treadmill; paintball, bowling, swimming and many more can be options.
- Educate them on making healthy food choices when they are dining out.
- Teach them to read the labels and look for healthy recipes.
- Help your teenager identify and establish a "buddy system". By that I simply mean having another friend or family member go through all or part of the experience with him/her.
- Be flexible! Allow a free day for example.
- Do not compare. Each child is different.
- Rewards should not be with food. An experience-based reward or more privileges are good examples.
I will add one note that is specific to parents, and I hope you can accept it from me... If you are a healthy role-model, your child will eventually learn from you. Do not expect change, if you cannot model that change.
As an adult in the teen's life do be aware of how you approach the topic of weight loss. Focus on gaining a healthy lifestyle rather than losing weight. The dangers of unhealthy body image, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia), and yo-yo dieting are severe. If you do suspect that your teen may be exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety, obsessive and/or disturbed behavior and mood swings, do consult with a therapist.