I recently read a book that I thought might be good for the parents of any teen. Especially girls, but boys as well. It was recommended to me by a friend, who was particularly impressed by the section on how dieting does NOT work, and that especially in teens who are still growing, it usually leads to the body ‘resetting’ at a higher weight. So teens who diet are likely to end up weighing more than they might have otherwise. Any teen thinking about going on a diet might think twice if given this information. This books appears to be mostly common sense, but completely against what the consumer culture and diet industry would like us to believe.
The book is titled: “I’m, like, SO fat” Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight Obsessed World, by Dianne Newmark-Sztainer, PhD.
One thing that struck me was how our culture is obsessed with being thin, while at the same time, our culture pushes super-sized junk food. Our kids are supposed to be fit, strong, and ripped, and at the same time, video games are getting better and better, as are opportunities for kids to have a social life and a lot of fun on the internet. So they’re supposed to eat crap, sit around, and yet be thin and strong. An impossible combination.
The focus of the book is mostly helping your teen if and when they start struggling with body issues, perhaps talking about wanting to lose weight, perhaps starting to diet on their own. She urges you to talk to your kids about dieting, about how it DOES NOT WORK, no matter what Special K and Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig would like you to believe. If it worked, it would work, and they’d be out of business. She urges you to help your children to manage their weight through behavior, not diet. Behaviors like eating all of the foods on the food pyramid, and not restricting yourself from entire groups (like Atkins does). Like getting out and moving some. Healthy eating and a healthy activity level will bring a healthy weight. Perhaps not as fast, but more long lasting, and leading to happier, healthier person. Also, what is a healthy weight for one child may not be a healthy weight for another person of the same height, even if they have the same build. We have to learn to trust our bodies. This is extremely difficult for teens, who compare their bodies so much to those of their friends, and might wish they could be the same size as a thinner friend, or have the curves of another friend.
She also talks about helping your teen to have better self-esteem, something that’s sometimes difficult at this age, when so much of our teens self-esteem seems to be wrapped up in their looks more than anything else. I was hoping for more concrete information in this area, but she focused mainly on parental behaviors. She says, the four cornerstones of promoting healthy body image are:
1. Model healthy behaviors for your children.
- Avoid dieting, or at least unhealthy dieting behaviors.
- Avoid making weight-related comments as much as possible.
- Engage in regular physical activity that you enjoy.
- Model healthy (but NOT perfect) eating patterns and food choices.
2. Provide an environment that makes it easy for your children to make healthy choices.
- Make healthy choices readily available.
- Establish family meal norms that work for your family.
- Make physical activity the norm in your family and limit TV watching.
- Support your teen’s efforts to get involved in physical activity.
3. Focus less on weight, instead focus on behaviors and overall health.
- Encourage your teen to adopt healthy behaviors without focusing on weight loss.
- Help your teen develop an identity that goes beyond physical appearance.
- Establish a no-tolerance policy for weight teasing in your home. (This means fat jokes about people on TV even.)
4. Provide a supportive environment with lots of talking and even more listening.
- Be there to listen and provide support when your teen discusses weight concerns.
- When your teen talks about fat, find out what is really going on.
- Keep the lines of communication open – no matter what.
- Provide unconditional love, not based on weight, and let your child know how you feel.
There’s also a section on parenting an overweight child, and helping them to find acceptance and happiness with their body, and another on how to spot the warning signs of an eating disorder. The key if you suspect that your child might possibly, perhaps, maybe be coming down with an eating disorder, is to TRUST YOUR GUT. Get them help. The sooner, the better.
Neumark-Sztainer is the parent of four teens, and so she has tips on bringing up touchy topics with touchy teens. This books wasn’t the be-all and answer-all type that I thought it might be, but I thought it did have some very good, affirming information, thoughtfully presented.