Over the past few weeks I have given a couple of talks to teenage girls and their parents – one of the talks was to athletes, another to girls in Years 7-10 about the importance of developing good nutrition practices when they are young. The more I speak on this topic, the more passionately I feel about it and hence the motivation for this blog. The rather harsh reality is that the food choices teenage girls make, and the growth patterns their bodies start to follow basically program their metabolism and body weight for their entire adult lives. Often parents and health professionals are so scared of teens developing eating disorders that they are also scared to be strict when it comes to the girls food choices on a daily basis. While eating disorders are on the rise and teenagers in general are at risk, we also have 25% of teens with significant weight issues, which will ultimately lead to weight issues in adulthood unless we take control.
The food and behavioural patterns we see in teenage girls that leaves them so vulnerable to weight gain are easy to understand – a few extra kilos associated with adolescence coupled with less physical activity courtesy of far less structured sport, more screen time and more study hours can quickly become many extra kilos if we are not careful. In addition, the types of foods teens are drawn to – soft drinks, fast food, cakes, juices, iced teas and convenience f00ds such as breakfast drinks consumed quickly on the run are all carb heavy options that bump up insulin levels over time and contribute to more weight gain, especially around the abdominal area. What is then 5 or 10 extra kilos by the end of high school quickly becomes 15-20 throughout the uni days of college, contraceptive use, less structure and plenty of drinking and before you know it, a small framed female for which a healthy weight may range between 55-65kg is suddenly 2o or even 30kg, and once you are weighing 80 or 90kg in your twenties, it is very difficult to get off.
So back to why the teenage years are so important – stop feeding your girls so many processed carbs now – the sugary drinks, snack food, white bread and confectionery. Keep an eye on how often they bake and constantly reiterate the importance of protein rich foods for fullness and salads and veges for weight control and the health of their skin and hair. Teenage girls are notoriously good at telling parents what they will and wont do – in the case of food, nutrition and their weight, be confident that taking control and telling them is the right thing to do both for their teenage years and their entire adult life.
Some other tips and tricks
1) Swap plain toast, breakfast cereal and breakfast drinks for an egg on toast, toasted sandwich or breakfast wrap or Greek yoghurt and fruit. The lower carb load will help to keep them fuller for longer after eating.
2) Get rid of the snacks. Teens can eat many, many snacks and never get full. A better option is to include both a salad and wrap or 2 wraps in the lunchbox so they are full.
3)Pull the plug on all sweet drinks. Juice, soft drink, sports drink and iced tea have no place in the diet of teens.
4) Have a set afternoon tea. Teens will always be very hungry late afternoon so aim for leftovers, a wrap or a protein rich snack such as nuts and Greek yoghurt, cheese and crackers or a sandwich rather than a binge style feed that lasts several hours after school.
5) Keep them busy. If they are not sport, once they are 13 or 14 get them working – baby sitting, dog walking, working in a local café. The less they have to do, the more they will sit around on screens and the more weight they will gain