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Teen Diet Makeover

Childhood Obesity Basics


Updated May 01, 2005

During a routine office visit, a parent is frustrated because they are already doing everything they can and their overweight child is still gaining weight...

Does this situation sound familiar?

Do you have an overweight child and are already following your Pediatrician's advice to eat well and exercise more?

Is it working?

If it isn't, you may have to re-think whether or not you are really doing 'everything' you can.

As part of the visit described above, we talked a little more about this teen's daily routine and habits to see where the problem lies.

We started with breakfast...

What was he eating for breakfast? A bowl of cereal with low-fat milk.

That sounds good, but then we found that instead of a regular cereal bowl, he was using a very large soup bowl, which probably could hold three to four individual servings of cereal. With the extra milk, that means that he was probably getting about 500 to 600 calories, instead of the 150 calories that you would expect from a cup of cereal and half cup of low fat milk.

Next, we talked about snacks and found that he was eating at fast food restaurants two or three times a week after school. These after school 'snacks' were really full meals, after which he usually ate a regular dinner.

He was also drinking 20 ounce bottles of regular soda one or two times a day, plus some fruit flavored drinks.

On the plus side, he was exercising regularly on most days and did eat a lot of healthy foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low fat dairy products.

Still, it was obvious that he was in need of a diet makeover. The changes weren't too drastic though, and included:

  • learning more about portion sizes and sticking with single servings of most foods he was eating. Reading food labels can help to make sure that your kids aren't overeating.

  • not drinking too many calories. In the case of the 20 ounce bottles of soda, switching to diet drinks or plain water would eliminate about 500 calories from his diet each day. Overweight children should also generally avoid fruit juice, fruit drinks, and sports' drinks.

  • avoiding fast food. That seems like a no-brainer, but regular meals at fast food restaurants is a big temptation for younger children and teens.

  • eating healthy snacks, like fresh fruit, raw vegetables, or low fat yogurt.

All in all, this teenager was getting an extra 500 to 750 calories each day, which translates into gaining about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds a week. Cutting those extra calories should be able to get you to the point where your child reaches a good first goal of no longer gaining weight. And then once you get to that point, you can find some more calories to cut or encourage more exercise so that your overweight child can start losing weight if necessary.

The food and exercise trackers that are a part of the new food pyramid can help you figure out what your own kids may be doing wrong and causing them to be overweight.

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