About a year or so ago I planned on during a nutrition seminar focusing on the needs of teenagers and those seeking to best improve physical fitness for athletic performance and general well-being. What follows is a breakdown of what I had planned to discuss with a message for parents first, and then teens.
**At Adaptive Transformations, we do not work with anyone under 18 because, for the most part, they don’t need it. Here are some guidelines that may be of benefit for teens around nutrition.
I will start with speaking to the parents. As a parent it is our responsibility to model good behaviors to set the example for our children. It is more often what we do, than what we say, that is picked up on and mimicked by our kids.
- Addressing nutrition and/or eating more is not a fix for a psychological issue. What I mean by that is that if your child is struggling with an eating disorder then further focusing on food without professional assistance is not the answer for that problem. Have them talk to a counselor (and don’t stop at one if you don’t find the right fit upon initial consult).
- Make activity a priority, even if they won’t join you. Just because your teens aren’t working out with you doesn’t mean they aren’t active. If you desire for them to be active, then lead by example.
- Avoid creating rigid rules. One thing I see a lot is that people set arbitrary rules like “clean eating” or “no added sugar”. Nutrition and changing of dietary habits are something where most need to learn to walk before they run. If incorrectly applied, food rules can lead to under-eating or even worse an eating disorder.
- Let your child fail. I have two young kids and it has been difficult for me to allow this to occur. I want the best for my children and may overreach at times to try and ensure they are successful. When our kids deviate from our path to create their own, we need to be OK with it, even if that path leads to failure. Failure isn’t the only way to learn but it is a necessary evil in learning, growing, and developing. This will help prepare them for life in the future and to function autonomously as adults.
- When it comes to food, if it is in your home… either you or someone you love will likely end up eating it. Having meals on hand and some snacks in your house will help limit unhealthy (or less optimal) options. Also, if you have food prepped, kids will eat that food rather than make their own. So, if you are constantly winging it and they are constantly just hitting the fast-food drive thru we need to help provide them some alternatives.
Now, for the teens. If you aren’t yet a teenager these guidelines will be of benefit for you as well.
- Eating less doesn’t fix depression, it’s often a contributor. I understand that if you consider yourself overweight you might think that losing weight is the answer. Recognizing what your body can do (athletically and performance based) and being physically active has much more potential to build confidence. That may not be the answer to depression but it’s a much better start than eating less and spiraling into a world of negativity as a result. It’s not normal to want to eat less and be less and it can manifest into problems and lifelong struggles you can’t yet comprehend.
- More is better than not enough. There are a few caveats to that, but I think you know what they are. You are smarter than we were and literally have the whole world at your fingertips via access to the internet / smartphones. And bear in mind that “the information you consume is who you become.” Try and follow people that will help you be stronger and live longer.
- When at a crossroads for gaining strength or focusing primarily on weight loss, choose strength.
- Counter to what your parents may believe fast food is better than not eating. Do some research, find the best options you can and remember calories are your friend. Don’t believe me? I am betting you know someone that has been dieting, or in general have some messed up views about what healthy food looks like. Do you want to be like them? Is it not more reasonable to choose sensible options that fix now and then later you can choose better options in abundance? If you are gravitating to unreasonable and “quick fix” options at least know that the end game for almost all those people is disaster, sometimes physically but almost always mentally. Every shortcut you choose will take you further from your true goals
- If you are deciding on being a vegetarian or vegan, you need to know that you must have a strategy for protein. There are amazing parts of the plant-based movement that are good for us and good for the planet but the people telling you that protein is optional aren’t helping. In general, seek whole food options and a mix of fruits, veggies, and lean meats.
- The experiences you will have as a teen are transformational and come and go fast. You should dream big, and avoid putting limitations on what you can accomplish. Most importantly, I encourage you to push beyond your comfort level. With that being said, there has to be balance, don’t strive to want to be that person that is always suffering whether it’s related to food or even workouts. Eat and do things that bring you joy. Build your life around that.