Healthy Weight during Adolescence
I am aware that pre-teen and adolescent weight gain is a concern for many parents and children alike. I have prepared this guide to incorporate some of the sensitive and therapeutic ways in which these issues may be addressed via a combined parent // child // practitioner support package.
It is important to approach this topic with caution and I have put thought into some of the issues that might be at play. It is likely that puberty is playing a role as young people transition from childhood to adulthood. These are years when the body goes through significant changes and weight gain is often a part of it. It may be that weight was a concern prior to this, but regardless it is important to approach the topic conservatively as eating disorders commonly develop in these years, and parental influence has been shown to play a role. Frequent weighing can cause individuals to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours, and also contributes to lower self-esteem and greater body dissatisfaction in adolescents1,2.
It may be that your son or daughter's weight is not outside of the normal ranges for her age. You can utilize the growth charts and assess what is normal for their age. They may be found here – http://tinyurl.com/26utjoq. This will help you to understand what a healthy weight is, and how this significantly changes between the ages of 12 and 18. If her weight is not a concern at this time this is one way to reassure her of the different paces at which children develop.
If weight loss is an issue that needs to be addressed, approaching this from a health standpoint and with the support of a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner will help both you and your child to look at it with a broader perspective. A third party can also help sensitive conversations become easier. Overweight and obesity (the clinical terms for specific higher Body Mass Index parameters) and the Metabolic Syndrome are associated with many chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers), and when onset during adolescence, may often continue and worsen with age. Discussion of the reasons for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will help your child to understand why health and weight present an issue more significant than appearance alone.
If your child does fall into the category of overweight or obese it is likely that they have felt some physical limitations in activities such as sport at school – excess weight is limiting when trying to run or compete in sports. It is important to discover if their weight has been a problem and listen with sensitivity as it is likely a topic which has NOT been approached with kindness by their peers; excess weight is often subject to bullying. As bullying and teasing about weight can often create a negative feedback loop of eating for emotional reasons, this also may be something that we can discuss together and address if it is a concern.
Whether weight is or is not an issue that is in need of being addressed, you can still have a discussion about healthy eating and food choices with your child. Many food choices are still selected because they are eaten by the family and are conveniently available. Encouraging the family to support good food choices by purchasing a variety of healthier snacks and having a family meal-time also is something to address. Encourage healthy eating – including fruits and vegetables that are a variety of colours, healthy proteins and fats with every meal, avoidance of processed foods, and eating organic whenever possible. The teen years are commonly a time when processed foods and snacks become a quick fix rather than sitting for a healthy meal.
If other issues are a concern, such as irritable bowel syndrome, (IBS) we can address these with a discussion of dietary choices that help to eliminate the underlying cause. Symptoms of IBS may include alternating diarrhoea + constipation, bloating, gas or wind, mood swings and excessive fatigue. There are specific ‘therapeutic’ diets which may be appropriate in this case. If allergies or asthma are an issue, food sensitivity testing may be appropriate. I always approach the topic of therapeutic diets gently as too much emphasis on food elimination can lead to periods of restriction followed by poor eating on the reintroduction of foods precipitating paranoia surrounding food choices. This can be particularly problematic amongst teenage girls.
Encouraging movement may also need to be addressed. Too often adolescents are not as active as they were in childhood and this may lead to problems with their general health in the longer term (in addition to weight gain). We can discuss with your child what types of activity they enjoy – if it is not group sports, do the enjoy biking or swimming? Perhaps long walks with the dog? Or how about yoga or martial arts? Finding something they like and encouraging them to become involved in this or other groups that support engagement in these activities will also help foster a positive mental outlook. Do think outside the box and also consider that activities such as babysitting and playing with children, which can offer movement and enjoyment, as well as chores at home, planting things in the garden or helping cut the lawn.
I can help by actively engaging with you and your child to come up with some fresh ideas; this may help the goal of weight loss become less burdensome. I am also able to offer clinical guidance when questions arise. Research supports intervention programs that use diet and/or exercise as a tool. Multidisciplinary interventions obtained greater changes in body composition in patients with Metabolic Syndrome. This change was especially prevalent in the combinations of dietary interventions and physical exercise.
Other food-directed therapies that may assist in reducing cravings for high carbohydrate foods include bitters and natural sources or probiotics. Taking time to eat, chewing foods fully, and including bitter foods in the diet all will support digestive function and food awareness. Bitter foods include greens such as rocket, kale, Brussel’s sprouts, dandelion, and radicchio, as well as artichoke. Bitterness also comes from the other parts of fruits which are often discarded such as orange peels. Having some aspect of bitter foods at the start of each meal will help to promote improved digestion and reduce carbohydrate cravings. Alternately bitters can come directly from something such as cocktail bitters, and drank with a small amount of water and citrus before meals to support the digestive process. Food sources of probiotics include sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha. (Or simpler still, taking a probiotic powder… as not all children like the tasted of fermented foods)! Eating more foods such as these will also help improve gastrointestinal flora balance and may reduce sugar cravings.
Thyroid abnormalities may occur in adolescence3, and if so is something which must be addressed. If there are symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as those listed below I may recommend a thyroid panel – As thyroid problems can adversely affect growth and development during puberty, if suspected, I would refer you back to your general practitioner (GP) for management.
· Fatigue (being more tired than expected)
· Increased sensitivity to cold.
· Dry skin.
· Dry and brittle hair (more in the shower, on brush, clothing and bedding)
· Irregular and/or heavy menstrual periods.
· Weight gain
Doing things to reduce stress also supports weight loss and healthy eating. Support for stress reduction can include deep breathing techniques, gentle yoga or grounding poses, taking a walk or going outside before meals all can help to reduce stress, and may be beneficial. Healthy sleep also supports achieving and maintaining a healthy weight – discussion of sleep hygiene (no electronics at least an hour before bed, last meal 2 hours before bed, sleeping in a dark room, etc) may also be things that you wish to discuss.
I hope that this give you an insight into some of the ways in which Nutritional Therapy can support healthy long term weight management during adolescence. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to get in touch and let’s have a chat.
Albert Pérez, E, Mateu Olivares, V, Martínez-Espinosa, RM, Molina Vila, MD, Reig García-Galbis, M (2018) New Insights about How to Make an Intervention in Children and Adolescents with Metabolic Syndrome: Diet, Exercise vs. Changes in Body Composition. A Systematic Review of RCT. Nutrients. 2018;10(7)