How to Help Your Overweight Teenager

Teen girls running together

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

Teen girls running together
Mlenny / Getty Images

Accept, Support, and Encourage

How your teenager thinks and feels about themselves stems in part from how her parents and friends see them (or their perception of that). The more you accept your teen for who they are, the more they will be able to accept themselves. Be there to listen when they need to talk without lecturing or trying to fix the problem. Encourage them 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 their self-esteem. Teach them to be media literate, questioning the images they see and forming realistic body ideals.

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

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.

Actions to Avoid

• Don't talk about weight, instead talk about health.

• Don't let others talk about their weight. When family members make comments about weight (their own or the child's) the child is at higher risk of developing an eating disorder or gaining weight.

• Don't diet. The goal should be healthy eating, which can develop into a lifelong habit.

Encourage Your Teen to Develop a Good Attitude

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 non-starchy 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 ideas 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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