Weight and body image issues


Feet on scalesIs there a teenager who's ever lived who hasn't worried about how they looked? Adolescent hormones programme teens to be aware of their body image - ultimately, it's all about netting a mate, as it has been since the dawn of time.

But these days there are extra pressures on our kids, not least of all the the media images that show celebrities and models who are a size 6 at every turn. Looking good, when you're 16, has never been so pressurised.

The trick for us as parents is to turn an OK concern about appearance into a spur for healthy eating and sensible exercise, rather than a recipe for insecurity about weight and shape, and an unhealthy interest in dieting and calorie restriction.

What's the best way to get teenagers into good eating habits?

Role models are crucial - and the media as a whole isn't delivering for us on that front. But research shows that the real-life adults around our kids are more important than the ones they read about in magazines and see on the telly.

So lesson one is to make sure they see us eating healthily ourselves, and taking regular exercise. What we say and how we behave around our children is very important for their confidence about how they look. 

This Mumsnetter suggests: "How about some random quick compliments? Don't make a big deal out of it, don't gush over her, or she'll think you're just doing it for the sake of her feelings. Just maybe glance at her before she goes out the door and go 'Oh! you look really nice in that top darling... when will you be back?'"

Healthy eating

Getting teenagers to eat well is tough. Now they're getting to and from school independently, they have plenty of opportunities to eat junk food if they want to. Don't stress over this too much: better to put your energy into what you can positively do, which is to offer a range of healthy food at home.

Chat to other parents in our Talk forums

Steer clear of filling the house with junk food - your teenager will have no shortage of supplies of this from all sorts of other places - but home is still where he or she will eat mostly, and if you have interesting-looking fruit in the fridge, and offer chilled water with ice rather than fizzy drinks, you'll be doing the best you can.

Family meals, as with younger children, are important too. If it's difficult to get together every evening - and for most families, it is - then at least try to eat together at the weekend. See if your teenager might agree to make a family meal - offer to buy the food if they plan the menu, and make a list of what they need. Being aware of food, and interested in it, will get your teenager into better habits. It just may take a while.

"Teenagers can get into bad habits where they eat very little all day, are ravenous when they get home and eat masses between 5pm and 8pm, and then cannot manage to digest it all before morning. So the cycle starts again." Bonsoir

Breakfast is a bugbear for many parents of teens: if you can't persuade your child to eat before leaving home, suggest he or she takes a cereal bar or a piece of fruit or a bread roll to eat at break. Many secondary schools now have breakfast clubs - find out if your child's school does, and encourage him or her to use it.

According to research, teenage girls have the poorest diet in Britain at the moment - fewer than one in 10 has the recommended five-a-day fruit and vegetables, and two in five don't consume enough iron, magnesium or other key nutrients.

One in 10 teenage boys is iron-deficient, too, and a quarter of teenagers questioned in a recent survey didn't consume enough calcium to keep their bones healthy either.

So what should teens be eating?

Working out what they should be eating isn't rocket science - though getting them to actually eat it, probably is.

Teenagers need:

  • Lots of starchy carbs - bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, potatoes
  • Lots of fruit and vegetables - at least five portions a day
  • Two to three portions of dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, fromage frais or cheese

They need to go easy on fatty foods, and sugary drinks and cakes, and regular drinks of water are important.

As ever, if you have concerns about your teen's weight issues or diet, or need tips for getting teens into healthy eating habits, get over to Talk and share your worries or wisdom. 

Last updated: over 3 years ago