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Ask The Nutritionist: teenage weightloss

Q. Dear Naomi, I am worried about my 13 year old daughter who is becoming increasingly preoccupied with her weight. She has put on a bit of weight which I keep trying to tell her is puppy fat, but I know that she is self-conscious amongst her friends. She now keeps telling me that she is on a 'diet'. I am happy to support her, but don't want to encourage unhealthy eating habits. What would you recommend?

A. Weight gain is completely normal in young girls during their early teenage years and is more often than not nothing to worry about. During puberty, both the amount and distribution of fat, muscle and bone changes quickly, as girls make the transition into womanhood. Gaining up to 15 lbs, and sometimes more over this period is necessary for proper growth and development.

Some girls may feel awkward and self-conscious if they become curvier sooner than their friends and peers. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits such as skipping meals and extreme calorie restriction. Teenage girls should be supported and educated to understand that weight gain is an inevitable part of their development, and that fad diets are not the answer. Rather, a focus should be put on the importance of good nutrition. 

    • Replace junk with nutrient rich food - healthy foods that include lean meats, fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.

    • 'Good' fats are important - Fat is often thought of as the enemy. It is important that teenagers understand the importance of 'good' fats as part of their diet, needed to help our bodies to burn fat and boost the metabolism. They are also essential for glowing hair, nails and skin... a definite incentive! Try and get these into your daughter's diet, in the form of oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocado.

    • Avoid 'low fat' branded products - whilst seemingly the healthier option they are more often than not packed with sugar and additives. Full of rubbish and no more likely to help healthy weight loss!

    • Good carbs are important - It is likely that your daughter may say that she wants to cut out carbs. I hear this increasingly amongst teens, and it does concern me. Whilst refine 'white' carbs provide very little nutritional value, there is a very important place for 'complex' carbs in a teenager's diet. They are needed for energy, growth, hormone production, brain function...essentially everything! Brown rice, wholegrain bread, quinoa, lentils, beans, oats are all good options and should form a daily part of your daughter's diet.

    • Regular exercise can also help keep girls from becoming overweight. Encouraging your daughter to participate in sports and other forms of exercise can also boost self -esteem and improve body image. Any sort of movement can help...even just going for a half hour brisk walk together in the evenings would be a fantastic start, and a good opportunity to spend a bit of time together too.


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