A perfect diet plan for a teenager to lose weight is what many parents are searching for! Unfortunately, there’s no such thing. The best diet plan for a 16 year old girl or boy to lose weight is relative to that persons eating habits and metabolism too. Since teenagers have different healthy eating habits and metabolic rates, the best diet plan for one teenager may not be the best diet plan for another teenager.
Teen Weight Loss Secrets
Successful teen dieters reveal their weight loss strategies.
With over 12.5 million of our nation’s children overweight, we need to find creative ways to encourage young people to adopt healthy habits. But it’s hard enough to get adults to take responsibility for their weight and health. How do you inspire kids who are also dealing with the tumultuous nature of being a teen to succeed at weight loss?
Overweight teens bear a heavy burden. They must cope with the teasing, social isolation, verbal abuse, and emotional torture that often result from being overweight, as well as their own negative self-images.
Wes Gilbert, son of registered dietitian Anne Fletcher and one of the teens who is profiled in Fletcher’s book Weight Loss Confidential, describes his anxiety and guilt about being overweight.
“I worried about whether clothes made me look fat, what others thought of me, and especially when old friends gave me the look when they noticed how much weight I’d put on,” he says. When Wes finally lost weight, he says, “a huge metaphorical burden was lifted.”
“Kids who are overweight have a quality of life similar to kids with chronic diseases like cancer,” says Kerri Boutelle, PhD, LP, an adolescence and obesity expert at the University of Minnesota.
At her STAR (Service for At-Risk Teens) Clinic, she finds that overweight kids tend to have, or are at risk for, depression, poor self-image, and social isolation. They are also perceived as lazy and less attractive than normal-weight teens.
Teen Weight Loss Woes
For Fletcher, her desire to help her overweight son became a passion for finding solutions to help overweight teens. She interviewed 104 kids to learn what life was like when they were overweight, and what helped them lose the weight and keep it off. The results were published in Weight Loss Confidential: How Teens Lose Weight and Keep it Off and What They Wish Parents Knew.
“Their stories broke my heart. Being overweight affected their popularity, self-esteem, ability to get dates — everything that is important to a teenager,” says Fletcher, who also wrote the Thin for Life series on weight control in adults.
One of the teenage girls in the book described boys groping them as if it were acceptable because they were overweight.
“The pain and suffering of being an overweight teen was what finally led most of these teens to embrace serious weight loss,” says Fletcher.
How Parents Can Help Teens With Weight Loss
Teens cannot succeed at weight loss alone. They need supportive parents who create healthy home environments — and who serve as good role models. When parents succeed at losing weight, their children are more likely to succeed as well. But when a teen has overweight parents, it’s often very difficult for that teen to lose weight.
“The hardest part about helping kids lose weight is resistant parents who don’t want to change their own behavior,” says Boutelle.
Experts agree that it’s a bad idea for parents to nag or say things like, ‘Haven’t you had enough?'” to their overweight teens. Instead, let your children know you are there for them and willing to help — then back off and let them decide when they’re ready.
“Parents need to give their kids some space without feeling like they are giving up on them,” says Gilbert. “When parents are overbearing, their suggestions backfire, and the teen misses out on the important motivation that comes from making decisions for yourself.”
Experts advise talking to them about the pros and cons of being overweight. But use examples they can relate to. For example, talk about the impact their excess weight will have in gym class, not on their health.
“They could care less about health or what is going to happen in 10 years,” says Boutelle. “They live in the present.”
Teens should also be involved in the process, Fletcher says.
“Ask them to help decide which snacks and foods should be on the grocery list and which ones should we eliminate for the entire family, not just the overweight teen,” says Fletcher.
One of the best things you can do for overweight teens is to help them feel good about themselves, experts say. And one way to do this is to help them cultivate their assets and strengths.
“If you can help your child feel good about herself, it will empower her and help her resist the torment,” says Fletcher.
And a teen who feels empowered is more likely to tackle a weight issue.
Exercise for Teen Weight Loss
Model behaviors are not limited to the kitchen.
“Active parents usually breed active kids, so if you want your kids to become more physical, lead the way,” says Boutelle.
She also suggests turning off the television and limiting computer time. Parents may want to reconsider allowing teens to have TVs in their bedrooms.
“Studies show that kids who spend hours in front of screens are more sedentary, and to make it worse, there is a strong tendency to be snacking mindlessly while sitting,” says Boutelle.
Keeping It Off
For virtually all the teens profiled in Weight Loss Confidential, regular exercise has become a way of life.
“Exercise, a healthy diet, and changing behaviors is what is going to make a difference and help kids lose weight and keep it off,” says Boutelle.
Fletcher asked teens what helped them resist falling back into bad habits.
“The overwhelming response: These kids did not want to return to the painful days when they were overweight.” She adds, “The kids are also happier, more self-confident, enjoying an improved quality of life, and feeling better in general.”
Fletcher’s son, Wes, agrees. “I’m simply happier in a lot of ways. I have less anxiety about my appearance, my weight is no longer ever-present in the back of my mind, I feel healthier, have more energy, and have learned to enjoy many new kinds of foods,” he says.
Teen Weight Loss Wisdom
Boutelle says that successful behaviors for teenage weight loss include:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Eating more whole grains
- Eating more low-fat dairy and lean meats
- Eating less fat
- Drinking less soda
- Exercising regularly
- Getting on the scale weekly
For their part, parents can stock the house with healthy foods — including some treats. They can also enjoy nutritious foods and engage in regular physical activity together with their teens. But while serving as good role models, parents should still allow teens to make their own choices. To succeed, teens need to take responsibility for what they eat and how often they exercise.
Parents may need some additional guidance to help overweight teens get to the stage where they are ready to lose weight. Health care professionals can provide suggestions that teens will listen to, as well as support for both parents and teens.
A Teen Diet Plan for a Whole Week
Teenagers are smart enough to appreciate the benefits of a healthy diet, but they are also easily tempted by fast and tasty junk food. The trick to creating a weekly meal plan for teens is to include plenty of nutritious substitutes for sugary foods laden with empty calories. Pick a few basic menus for each meal and alternate days to take some of the fuss out of planning. Teens will not object to eating their favorite meals two or three times a week.
It’s tough to monitor a teen’s diet, particularly when he eats away from home. Include your teen in the planning process, write down the plan and shop for all the ingredients for the week ahead of time. Focus your plan around the calorie needs of your teen. Caloric intake for teens varies, depending on age, gender and fitness level and whether weight loss is a goal. Keep in mind that teenagers need at least five servings of vegetables and fruit per day, and more is even better. Since snacking is an important element in a teen’s diet, offer fruits and vegetables as snack sources. Creamy dips go a long way to making raw vegetables into a welcome snack.
Teens who eat breakfast do well in school and tend to eat healthier for the rest of the day, according to the Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on children’s health. Pick easy and fast items for breakfast so you don’t have to give a lot of thought to what to eat on busy mornings.
Teens need plenty of whole grains every day, so whole-grain toast with peanut butter is a good choice. Add a glass of skim milk and a piece of fruit for calcium and vitamins. Yogurt mixed with granola and berries is quick, as is cottage cheese with pineapple. On weekend mornings, try a scrambled-egg sandwich on a whole-wheat roll with ranch dressing and bacon for your active, growing teen with a hearty appetite, or mix seasoned dressing mix into scrambled eggs and serve with breakfast sausage.
Sending a homemade lunch to school with your teen is the best strategy for good nutrition. Make sandwiches with lean, sliced turkey or tuna. Add loads of vegetables and use whole-grain bread. For teens who aren’t interested in sandwiches, make chicken salad with mandarin oranges and almonds and creamy dressing or send a piece of cold, baked chicken. Kale chips are a satisfying, vitamin-rich and low-starch alternative to potato chips. Stick to your meal plan and assemble lunches the night before.
Load at least half of your teen’s dinner plate with vegetables and fruits. Consider mixing them with whole grains for visual and taste appeal. Fried rice with spinach and peas, and couscous with dried fruits are good choices. Keep portion sizes for protein under control. Teens need 5-1/2 oz. of protein per day, and a 3 oz. portion of meat is about the size of a bar of soap.
Healthy eating for teenagers
The teenage years are a time of rapid growth and development, so a healthy balanced diet is particularly important. Healthy, active young people can have large appetites. If you’re a teenager, it’s important to eat well-balanced meals, rather than too many snacks that are high in fat, sugar or salt.
What to eat
You should eat a healthy balanced diet that matches your energy needs. This should be made up of the five main food groups of the Eatwell guide:
- fruit and vegetables
- potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
- beans, pulses, fish, eggs and other proteins
- dairy and alternatives
- oils and spreads
Fruit and vegetables
All age groups are encouraged to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Research shows that five portions a day can help prevent heart disease and some types of cancer. Fruit and vegetables are also full of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are low in fat.
A portion is about 80g. Examples of a portion include:
- one medium-sized piece of fruit, such as an apple, orange, banana or pear
- two small fruits, such as kiwi, satsuma or plums
- one large slice of pineapple or melon
- one tablespoon of dried fruit
- three heaped tablespoons of fresh or frozen vegetables
- one glass (roughly 150ml) of fresh fruit juice or a smoothie
Dried fruit and fruit juices or smoothies can each be counted as only one portion a day, however much you have. Both dried fruit and juices should be taken with a meal as the high sugar content can be damaging to teeth.
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta are a good source of energy, fibre and B vitamins and should be used as the basis for meals. Choose higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or by leaving the skin on potatoes.
Wholegrain food contains more fibre than white or refined starchy food, and often more of other nutrients. We also digest wholegrain food more slowly and can help us feel full for longer. They also help prevent constipation, protect against some cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Starchy foods are also low in fat, though the butter or creamy sauces that are often added to them can have a higher fat content.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs and other proteins
Beans, peas and lentils are good alternatives to meat because they’re naturally very low in fat, and they’re high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Other vegetable-based sources of protein include:
- tofu/bean curd
- textured vegetable protein – a manufactured soy product
- mycoprotein – a fungal protein
These are widely available in most major supermarkets.
Eggs are a convenient alternative to meat and are extremely versatile. They can be scrambled, boiled, poached or made into an omelette.
Young people are recommended to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and pilchards contain lots of omega 3 fatty acids and are good for heart health. Fresh, frozen and tinned fish are all good options to choose.
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamin B12 and iron. A diet rich in iron will help prevent iron deficiency anaemia which is a common condition in teenage girls. Processed meats and chicken products should be limited as they are high in fat and salt and lower in iron.
Dairy and alternatives
Milk and dairy foods (and alternatives) such as yoghurt and cheese, are important sources of calcium, vitamins A and D, B12, protein and fat. Calcium is needed to help build strong bones and for nerve and muscle function.
Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium and therefore plays an important part in strengthening bone.
Try to choose lower fat varieties such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, cottage cheese, Edam cheese and half fat cheddars. When buying dairy alternatives, such as almond or soya, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified varieties.
Oils and spreads
Getting enough healthy fats is essential for growth and development. The best are unsaturated oils and spreads for example, rapeseed, olive or sunflower.
What to avoid
Avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin because these contain high levels of mercury compared to other fish which, until the age of 16, might affect a young person’s developing nervous system.
Foods high in fat, particularly saturated fat, sugar or salt, should only be eaten in small amounts or not very often.
From the age of 11, everyone should try to eat no more than 6g salt and 30g of sugar a day.
If you are active and eating a healthy balanced diet, you should be able to maintain a healthy weight.
If you are overweight, you should stick to a balanced diet, try to cut down on foods containing sugar and fat, and get plenty of physical activity. Teenagers should be aiming for at least an hour of physical activity every day.
In particular, it’s a good idea to:
- cut down on sweets, cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks
- eat fewer fatty foods such as chips, burgers and fried food and processed foods such as instant noodles
- eat regular balanced meals
- base meals on starchy foods, choosing wholegrain varieties whenever possible
- eat more fruit and vegetables
Aim to drink six to eight glasses of fluid every day. Water, low fat milk and sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count. The focus should be on eating a healthy diet and being active rather than on losing weight.
- Healthy weight
Being vegetarian or vegan
Vegetarian or vegan diets can be healthy, providing that a wide variety of foods is eaten. When meat and animal products are avoided, extra care will be needed to make sure that you get all the protein, vitamins, iron and other minerals needed.
This is particularly important if you are following a vegan diet. It’s more difficult for those following a vegan diet to get all the vitamins they need especially, Vitamin B12 and riboflavin as these are found in animal food sources.
It’s therefore recommended that vitamin B12 and riboflavin (another B vitamin) supplements should be taken.
Getting enough protein
Make sure you find an alternative to meat, fish and chicken as the main sources of protein. These could include:
- pulses, such as lentils, butter beans, kidney beans and chickpeas
- bean curd (tofu)
- soya protein (textured vegetable protein)
- nuts, either finely chopped or ground (unless there is a family history of allergy)
Getting enough iron
Iron is important in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body so it is important for teenagers to get enough iron, especially teenage girls who are at increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia.
Good sources of iron include:
- wholegrain cereals
- leafy green vegetables such as spinach and watercress
- dried apricots or figs
Eating foods containing vitamin C with iron-rich foods can make it easier to absorb iron from our food.
You should also avoid having too much tea or coffee because it reduces the amount of iron absorbed by the body.