Helping teen understand importance of eating right

I am concerned about my daughter who will be 13 in just a couple of days. She is about 5' 2" tall and weighs about 130-135 pounds. I can't seem to make her understand the importance of eating right.

She hasn't always been overweight, but lately it's getting way out of control. She has noticeable stretch marks on her inner thigh, and hips; her stomach is quite pouchy and round. She is wearing a size 13 in the junior department.

The problem is not only is she overweight, but she is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. She mainly wants to eat junk food, like most kids, but she does not know when to stop. It's like she is binging or has no concept of when she is full, or what a proper amount to eat is. She's very picky about the foods she will eat. She doesn't like a lot of healthy fruits and vegetables all of the time. She wants to eat normal food like "Taco Bell" & "Burger King" like every other teen.

Do you have any practical suggestions for menu ideas that she could stick with, help her be healthier, and slimmer AND that a working mother can find time to prepare? Any suggestions on making healthy food and dieting more acceptable for a young teen??

I'm concerned that down the road she could turn anorexic if I push her too hard, and I don't want that either. She has been in counselling before for obsessive/compulsive personality disorder. She resented the counselling, and doesn't think that she has any problems. She doesn't see what the big deal is to be overweight, but I know that she is hiding the fact that it really bothers her deep inside.

Please, please help!


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

It may help to take your daughter to a professional registered dietitian who can help make a diet plan for your daughter that is specific to her likes and dislikes, her lifestyle, and her attitude. A registered dietitian will help your daughter to make modest changes in her exercise habits and eating that, overtime, will help her to lose weight and come to healthy terms with food. That person should also be able to determine what a realistic weight for her might be. A dietitian will be an outside source of help to her which will help her maintain some sense of freedom from you in this affair. Particularly in light of your concern about the potential for eating disorders, the intervention of a professional may be a very important preventative measure.

You can search for a dietitian near you who specializes in pediatric concerns as well as eating disorders. Go to for the home page of the American Dietetic Association. From there you can get to their list of registered dietitians and you can search by geographic location.

I also highly recommend that you purchase a book entitled "How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much", by Ellyn Satter. She is a professional nutritionist as well as a family counselor. The book has very helpful approaches on how to handle situations such as yours. Three chapters in particular will be important for you to read. They are Chapter 12, The Individualistic Teenager, Chapter 14, Helping All You Can to Keep Your Child From Being Fat, and Chapter 15, Eating Disorders.

It is best to approach the affair not from a 'dieting' point of view, but rather from a 'permanent change of eating habits' point of view. A diet connotes something that you go 'on' and as such is something you also go 'off'. What you want to do is develop healthy lifetime eating and exercise habits that will result in weight reduction. Therefore, a long term successful approach is not based on dieting.

You can be supportive of healthy eating and exercise habits by what you do. First and foremost, you need to be an example. Do you engage in vigorous exercise everyday? Do you eat a low fat diet with plenty of fruits, grains, and vegetables? Do you take time to sit down to scheduled family meals?

Second, be very selective about the foods you bring into the house. If you don't purchase cookies, cakes, high fat snack foods, sodas, etc. then they won't be around the house to tempt people to eat. Do buy lots of seasonal fruits and put them out for snacking. Allow low fat popcorn, crackers, non-fat or reduced fat cheese, whole grain cereals and breads. Cook up some tasty whole wheat muffins full of fall apples. Serve dinners that are low in fat. Put food on the plate in the kitchen, so that food in the serving bowls is not on the table begging to be eaten.

Require 5 minutes before allowing seconds. If after five minutes they are still hungry for the food, than allow it. This five minutes gives the body a chance to get the message from the stomach to the brain that it is "still hungry" or "I am full after all, and no longer want more". Use that five minutes to catch up on her news, whats going on at school, what that book is about she is ready, what to plan for the weekend, etc.

Finally, stress nutritional concerns, not weight concerns. You don't want your daughter eating that cookie, not because it will make her fat, but because it has no nutritional value, and the fat in it may eventually lead to heart disease. Discourage soda drinking, not because of the calories, but because the amount of phosphorous in it may deplete calcium stores in her and lead to osteoporosis. Encourage the high fiber cereal over the sugar coated one because it has more of the vitamins and fiber that she needs. Buy skim milk instead of whole, not because of the reduced calories, but because of the reduced fat is important, again, for prevention of heart disease and perhaps certain cancers, and the calcium is necessary for good bone health.

Purchase literature to have around the house that she may pick up and read, such as 'Health' magazine, or 'Women's Sport and Fitness'. They will have articles in them that she may self-educate (as opposed to being lectured by mom) and make the changes by choice, rather than by nagging force.

Best of luck to you in helping your daughter make some positive health changes.

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