You or your doctor believes your teenager may be overweight or obese. I know how concerned you must be. The teenage years are tough enough. I’m happy you reached out to me for help, but I want to make sure you understand how I work with teens.
Here is what I WILL NOT do:
1. I will not put your teen on a strict, calorie-controlled diet and have him or her weigh and measure every single morsel of food. The research has repeatedly shown that diets do not work and actually lead to further weight gain and potential eating disorders. About 95 percent of people who lose weight gain it back1. A diet is not what I do. If that is what you are looking for, find someone else. I’m not your dietitian.
2. I will not prescribe any diet pill, shake, juice regimen or appetite suppressant. These are potentially dangerous and I endorse none of them (not even raspberry ketones or green coffee bean extracts).
Here is what I WILL do:
1. I will teach your teen the principles of intuitive eating and encourage your teen to honor his or her body by eating when hungry and stopping when full. Chances are, somewhere along the way, your teen has begun using food for many reasons other than hunger. We need to fix this. My job will be to expose his or her emotions around food and teach your teen how to properly use food in life. We also will address how important it is to take good care of his or her body and manage likely high stress levels.
2. I will encourage your teen to talk. And I will ask a lot of questions about their held nutrition beliefs. I am almost certain there is misinformation about food and dieting and sadly your teen likely knows a kid or two (or three) with an eating disorder. I want to make sure his or her nutrition facts are straight.
As you have probably noticed, teens are actively working towards independence in their lives. This is a pivotal time and food can become or may already have become a point of contention in your home. I know you want your teenager to be healthy, and in your eyes, and maybe his or hers too, healthy is thinner. You must understand and accept that he or she may never be at a weight that you think is right. If you have a certain number on the scale you want for your teen, forget it.
So what are you suppose to do? You have a job. Your job is to continue to show unconditional love and support. Give your teen time to process what I teach. You concentrate on cooking nutritious and delicious home-based family meals, keeping the family physically active and providing love and support. And keep the food and nutrition comments to yourself. Don’t stand over your teen and say, “Hey sweetie, are you practicing your intuitive eating by having another helping of that high carb rice? I hope you are remembering what Melanie is teaching you.” Let me handle it.
You are going to need ongoing support and understanding of intuitive eating so get a hold of the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reich. You also need Ellyn Satter’s book Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming. Both books do a beautiful job explaining why it’s crucial for all of us to establish a good relationship with food and how to provide support for your teen.
Please know intuitive eating takes time, patience and lots of practice. But moving through the process and making intuitive eating a habit seems to be only surefire way to put food in its proper place so your teen will move into adulthood and be the happiest and healthiest possible.
(this post originally appeared in The Huffington Post)