Ask a parent of a teenage boy and they will tell you that teens eat a lot. One minute the fridge is fully stocked and the next it is barren. If the teen is a girl, the story may be quite different. Many parents worry about what their teenagers are eating. Are they eating enough? Too much?
Growing Bodies Need Fuel
Teenagers may look almost grown, but their bodies are in a constant state of change. Hormones are raging and growth spurts are common. It takes a good, healthy diet rich in nutrients to properly fuel all of this growth and change. This is not the time to skimp on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Many teenagers worry about their appearance and dieting is common at this age. For most teenagers, however, altering the diet for the purpose of weight gain or loss should be discouraged. Teens need to be encouraged to focus on feeding their bodies for optimal health rather than for matters of appearance.
Cut Out the Junk
While teens often worry about gaining weight, they tend to consume a diet that is high is trans fats and empty calories. Pizza, burgers, chips, sweets, and soft drinks are favoured by teenagers, but these foods tend to provide little or no nutritional benefits. Even worse is that by filling up on these foods, teens often eat very little of the most nutrient dense foods, such as deeply coloured vegetables and fruits. Most people enjoy junk food, but even teens should indulge in these foods only occasionally.
Quality over Quantity
As each teenager is different, so is the amount of food that they need for growth and good health. Many factors come into play when determining a healthy diet. Frame size, gender, activity level, and overall health status must all be considered. More important than the quantity of food eaten is the quality of that food. Teens tend to be hungry frequently and snack often. Unlike adults, most teenagers, especially those that are active, can get away with eating a fairly large quantity of food. Since they are establishing lifelong eating habits, though, they need to pay attention to the types of foods that they choose.
Most times, teens can tell if they are eating enough (or too much) by taking a look at two things – how they look and how they feel. Although perfectly healthy teenagers will often go through stages of looking a little thin or a little round, their bodies stay somewhere near normal. Either extreme is unhealthy and should be corrected with the help of a doctor or nutritionist.
Sometimes, teens who are not eating properly will feel bad. Fatigue, sluggishness, dizziness, lethargy, and weakness can all result from poor eating habits. The body needs fuel; when it doesn’t get what it needs, it will tell you.
Sometimes, concern about food and body issues goes too far. Eating disorders are becoming more and more prevalent, and boys are at risk as well as girls. Anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive eating are treatable conditions, but need to be recognised. If you suspect that your teenager is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help.