MyFitnessPal vs Cronometer

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About a month ago I decided I’d start logging my food so I could make sure I was getting enough protein for my goals and keep my sodium in check. If you remember my past blog, I talked a little bit about how a family member is on a sodium-restricted diet and I wanted to see how I do where sodium is concerned.

So I have a long, complicated relationship with MyFitnessPal. It was once my worst enemy, telling me what I could and couldn’t eat, and the glaring red numbers if I went over my targets made me feel shame rather than a sense of ‘that’s interesting!’

Lots of blame, lots of ish, lots of bad headspace eventually built up so I stopped tracking for a while- and I caught myself in this mindset again at camp, so I stopped tracking until now.

After a lot of time to develop a healthy relationship with food, I can say that I use tracking a lot differently than I have in the past. Instead of a scorecard of my worth, it’s a tool for me to make sure I’m getting the micronutrients I need (my friend Emily, who I went to high school with and is now an RD, made an AWESOME comment on my IG post– and I’ll talk more about blood tests next week!) and that I’m paying attention to my nutrition as an athlete.

Not to mention that because of my ADHD, tracking helps me make sure I am actually eating what I need and when I need to rather than forgetting to eat, or over eating and hurting my stomach!

I had heard of Cronometer from Unnatural Vegan and wanted to give it a shot since I knew it tracked lots of trace micronutrients and vitamins/minerals that MyFitnessPal missed. I want to outline the pros and cons for you of both apps, both of which I’ve used, so if you want to check your intake, you can make a choice based on your interests.

I’m covering just the apps, since using it on my phone is much quicker and I often just quick add all my food in the morning and go about my day.

MyFitnessPal

Pros:

This app, to me, is much easier to use. I find the interface to be friendlier for me- and not just because I’ve been using it for a while, but with my executive functioning I’ve found the cleaner an app, the more I use it.

MFP lets you separate your intake by meals and snacks which immediately makes it easy to see what my intake is going to be for the day. It lets me easily see what I need to eat and when so I can just look at it and go.

Ads are kept to banners or you scroll past them on your feed- they don’t pop up while I enter food in, so way less invasive.

Cons:

It does have a social media aspect to it with statuses, feeds, and friending options. While it’s not necessarily a downfall of the app, this could be a negative for some people. I find it to be neutral-leaning-towards-con just because I would rather just use it for tracking and not socializing.

It’s not as in-depth as Cronometer but enough to get the job done. MFP tracks protein, calories, fat, and important micronutrients: potassium, calcium, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins a&c, and iron.

While these are all crucial to keep an eye on, as a vegan, I wish they tracked B vitamins as well.

Cronometer

Pros:

Cronometer is a nutrition nerds dream. It tracks nearly every micronutrient, down to SELENIUM! And is also a little bit more generous with calories than MFP is.

I love that they use the circles to show the percentage you have left in the day, and that the intake of macros is on the home page, so I don’t have to switch back and forth like I do with MFP.

Their database is a bit more accurate than MFP since Cronometer taps into government databases and websites rather than allowing anyone to enter nutrition information and have it show up in the search function. It removes the step of double checking if restaurant items or coffees are correct.

Cons:

Cronometer lists all your food in one big list, so it can be difficult for me to read through when I’m going about my day and need to remember what I’m having for lunch. While for some people this might not be a problem, it can be frustrating as a feature when I need to quickly check the app.

The ads…good Lord, y’all. The ads are pop-up style and often videos that play audio so picture me, half asleep, entering data in at 7am having the fear of God struck into me as a meditation ad starts playing! There will also be times where I’m entering something in and an ad plays directly after, making me forget where I was in my ‘entering my daily foods’ process.

Overall, I’ve decided to use chronometer more as a diagnostic tool than an everyday tracker. After this week I’ll take note of all the micro nutrients I’ve been consistently low on and incorporate more foods high in that nutrient to help get my diet more balanced.

What do you think? Which one do you prefer, or do you prefer not to track at all? Let me know here, on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

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It’s OK if your teen wants to be vegan

Teens can be vegan

Veganism, the diet (eating-kind, not weight loss kind) that excludes all animal products has been on the rise since 2014. According to Live Kindly’s recap of Veganism in the past year, there are huge increases in demands for animal-product free foods.

One quick search on YouTube for veganism shows recent uploads of what I eat in a day, suggestion videos, ‘why I went vegan’ videos, and vegan vlogs.

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Click here to be taken to the newest ‘vegan’ youtube uploads!

Why the increase? I think that in the digital age, where information can be transferred quicker than we can blink, we’re seeing a lot of other vegans blogging, vlogging, podcasting, and just tweeting about their ideas and beliefs. As with all discussions, people are seeing other’s point of view and changing.

We also see more vegan celebrities and athletes paving the way and spreading the message of the benefits of eating a plant-heavy diet.

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I personally went vegan because of Beagle Freedom Project, a nonprofit that rescues animals from animal testing. After a while I realized that if I’m against animals being tested on, why do I eat them?

Of course, there are people against animal testing but might feel differently about eating them. And that’s okay!

But what if your teen wants to be vegan?

The common definition of veganism, the one I shared earlier, can be a red flag. It focuses on the exclusion of things rather than the inclusion- so let’s change our focus!

What do we add when someone goes vegan?

Since vegans don’t eat cheese, meat, milk, or eggs, they include more legumes, beans, plant milks, whole grains and other forms of protein like nuts, seeds, and tofu.

Veganism can be focused on junk food (there’s a whole list of accidentally vegan junk food), but ultimately a balanced vegan diet includes lots of colors of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources.

It’s totally okay if your teen wants to be vegan

Puberty and adolescence is the time where teens are going to experiment with their independence, which can look like a bunch of different things: eating more fast food than normal, not wanting to go to religious services with you, cutting their hair/growing it out, and going vegan.

There are a lot of different ways you can support your teen if they decide they want to go plant-based. I wrote an article for Athlegan on how to transition to a vegan diet that will be helpful for you to read. I break down a typical transition into four steps.

  1. Decide the reason
  2. Accept that mistakes happen
  3. Start small
  4. Find Vegan friends

Ask your teen why they want to be vegan. If it’s because they saw videos of factory farms, or because they just don’t like meat, then you have a way to discuss with them about their meal options.

Have them help cook dinner and decide their lunches. This is a big shift if you and your family normally eat animal products- especially if your teen is using this as an excuse to be extra picky. Help your teen figure out what they like and don’t like by having them pick out recipes with you.

Even if it’s just a new spin on beans and rice, your teen getting a say in recipes and learning to cook them not only helps you but helps them learn an important skill: cooking!

One of the things that I wish I had learned before I left for school was different cooking skills. I could do the basics and even now I’m not too bad, but I wish I would have had a couple handful of recipes before I went away for college.

Vegan diets can be extremely healthy. Vegan Health.org goes over some things to keep track of for your teen, and here are some things to consider:

  • Vegan diets emphasize a lot of fruits and vegetables
  • The main protein sources are whole foods: beans, legumes, etc
    • They’re high in fiber which help keep you regular
    • They’re extremely versatile when it comes to dishes (look at my Pinterest for inspo!)
  • For burgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets, there are meat substitutes you can buy for cookouts with your teen (yes, I know it’s March, but I’m just optimistic for those warmer days!)

Other tips and tricks are available through One Green Planet’s article on Feeding Vegan Teens.

Some key takeaways from that article are:

Eat or drink something high in Vitamin C to help your body absorb iron (this can look like a glass of calcium fortified orange juice and some cereal, or oatmeal).

Remember: A vegan diet isn’t a deprivation diet. You can be extremely healthy on a vegan diet. You can even veganize some of your teens favorite recipes, like pizza, smoothies, and desserts.

We’ll go into how to spot if your teen’s veganism is covering an eating disorder in a later post!

Are you vegan? Why, or why not? Let me know and join the #centerstageensemble by telling me your reason on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

4 things I learned recording my first podcast

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This week was exciting for two reasons:

One, I did my first presentation and it went pretty well.

Two, I started a podcast and while it has yet to have a name, I’m pretty darn proud of how I’m doing so far. I like writing the scripts and getting to chat- though I can understand the pressure people talk about when they mention that working solo can get daunting- it’s tough not having someone to play off of.

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This is me after 3 hours of recording

Both of these events taught me a lot, as far as the presentation goes I’ve already written about that. So here are 4 things I learned by starting a podcast:

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  1. Script it out

Now I’m a pretty thorough planner. I already have a content calendar getting me through May for this blog with lots of ideas for after that! But for some reason, the podcast came to me at random.

I had felt a bit like I was floundering with the blog and because I’m having a road block when it comes to vlogging, I began to feel like this blog wasn’t going to get anywhere. So a few nights ago, after publishing Nutrition Education and Teen Girls I thought about how I could dive deeper.

Then it hit me…Anchor! (And before you ask, I’m not sponsored, I found them a while back when I played around with the idea of a podcast a few months ago but tabled it due to time).

Thinking that it would be fun to give it a shot, I didn’t realize how recording, re-recording, and just writing an outline would still leave me up ish’s creek.

I needed a script.

By the time I realized I should script what I wanted to say, I was lucky enough to have already been recording for a while so I could just type up the bits I remembered that I said and liked, then flesh those out a bit more.

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  1. Check beforehand

Notice a bit of a pattern here?

I was looking forward to doing something similar to a live radio show, which Anchor used to offer, but their redesign made it so that it was solely focused on podcasting.

So, when it was T-minus one hour when I said I’d go live and noticed that wasn’t an option, I was scrambling to record so I would have something at the time I said.

I ended up being unable to make the deadline but now I know, right?

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  1. Patience

Despite a theatre and improv background, I still would stumble over my words and talk fast. I had to remind myself that the message would make more sense if I spoke slower and really tried to enunciate rather than just chatted into the mic.

I want there to be that casual ‘chat’ feel, but you still need to understand me to have that conversation!

Working hard to speak slowly, think about my opinions and feelings on the topic, and being patient when I made a mistake was something I learned the hard way.

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  1. Trying new things is fun!

I read The Healthy Maven’s post ‘Is Blogging Dead?”  and felt so comforted about my own doubts regarding my own blog. I had been feeling a little nervous that this wouldn’t pan out, and while I don’t do it for a job, shouting into a void only gets you so far.

It was Davida’s post that encouraged me to try new things, and to start living more so I have more to write about. And her advice about trying different avenues to reach different kinds of people gave me a bit of needed courage to try the podcast!

While these four things deal more with the podcast I created, they have a lot of weight as life lessons as well. Especially the whole ‘trying new things is fun’ and ‘patience’ one, amiright?

One of the coolest things about growing up is the ability to learn from mistakes and go on to make new ones to learn from. I know that as Center Stage grows and changes there’s going to be a lot of learning curves, and it’s more important to look at them with excitement like I did with the podcast rather than nervousness!

Mistakes happen, we just need to accept them and learn from them.

Leave a comment below to let me know what you learned this week!

Do your homework, eat a vegetable, and smile at someone if you can. Bye!

 

Teens need us to be body positive

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Let’s chat about body positivity, shall we?

A movement that has gained prominence over the past few years, body positivity is the belief that all bodies are good bodies. It’s the removal of shame, embracing differences, and ultimately honoring your own uniqueness.

There are lots of different versions of this movement, from Health at Every Size, to dismantling Photoshop beauty ideals, and trying to make media more inclusive.

Not only is it a movement, it’s an important tool in building confidence in your teen.

Why’s that?

As your teen grows and matures, their appetite is going to increase. Since puberty means maturation and growth that rivals infancy, an increased need for energy comes with the package. Like we discussed last week, it’s inadvisable to encourage weight loss in your teens. Rather, we want to encourage healthy habits and emphasize the importance of respecting your body.

Your teen is also beginning to recognize media and comparing themselves to the bodies they see in the media. Since there’s a pressure from mainstream society to look a certain way, body positivity is one of those healthy traits that’s worth discussing with your teen.
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Their friends, as they grow and mature, are going to look a lot different from them. It’s important to start encouraging inclusivity not just for the sake of your teen’s friends, but because that sends the message to your teen that it’s okay if they don’t look like the actors they see on TV. You’re giving them the tools to deal with a society that wants them to conform to a different size, to try and change who they are- you’re building their confidence before they leave for college or the working world.

If you’ve been following the Weight Watchers controversy, you can follow the research about teens and dieting. By introducing the idea that food is only for fuel, can be shameful if you have too much, you’re introducing a mental pattern that can be hard to break.

Instead of dieting, encourage your teen to listen to their body by:

  • Learning their hunger cues
  • Respecting their appetite
  • Not pushing themselves too hard with exercise

The best way to encourage this is to lead by example. By not dieting, expressing distaste for your body, or talking about good/bad foods, you’re helping teach your teen that food isn’t a moral issue. While your teen might feel like they’re pushing away, they still need you for guidance and mentoring.

By being proud of who you are, doing what you can to be healthy, and being proud of your body, you’re helping your teen develop these patterns as well.

Robyn Nohling, who writes a lot about Intuitive Eating, is a great resource on the benefits of intuitive eating.

Rebecca Stritchfield is also a resource I enjoy.

 

How do I talk to my teen about body image?

Raising Children has a great article on where to begin with body image. Here you can read more about what contributes to body image, and I encourage you to start with this factor:

Honesty.

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Tell them all about media, how body image can be influence by that, and talk about the effects of an unhealthy body image. Let them know about your struggles- let them realize they’re not alone.

In Sandra Susan Friedman’s When Girls Feel Fat she discusses the fact that saying you feel “Fat” often is a cover for a stronger underlying emotion. Our society (unfortunately) codes feeling ‘fat’ as negative, and because we feel like we can’t express ourselves, we turn these feelings inward and express it as ‘fat’.

What do we do with this knowledge?

  • Dissect the feelings with your teen
    • Ask them:
      • What’s going on in their personal life?
      • Is there something big coming up that’s causing anxiety?
    • Encourage journaling with your teen
      • Art journaling has an emotional benefit
      • It offers your teen a zone free of judgement to express their feelings
      • Gives you a chance to bond with your teen- both of you are creating!
      • Need ideas? Here’s my pinterest board for art journaling!

What are some resources I can show my teen?

Nutrition education and teen girls

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For the first time in a long while I had a really week last week.

I had a job interview for a diet clerk job at a hospital some ways away in the morning, I volunteered at my old middle school in the afternoon, and I attended an orientation on human trafficking and how to spot it in the evening.

Not only did I get some good old highway driving in (#suburbiaproblems), but I also biked somewhere for the first time since November. And it wasn’t like my campus biking- this was about 20 minutes of biking through an upper-middle class town while dodging guys in small cars, with darkened windows, wearing HEADPHONES.

Come on, y’all. Please don’t tell me you’re wearing those while you drive. Think of the children.  (And me…please)

That’s why I didn’t write this post on last week- I was out and about for a while. My dogs didn’t like it one bit. Friday was another weird day for me- Grandma came over, and I even went to a theatre performance based off of the stories of male prostitutes in Chicago.

But I did want to address this article, because I was so so happy to see it show up on my Google alerts.

Malnutrition Deeply, an offset of the website News Deeply, published an article the other day titled “Nutrition Community ‘Leaving Adolescent Girls Behind’.”  It’s an interview with Dr. Marie T. Ruel, who is the director of Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division for the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Her main philosophy is that women are often left behind once past what’s called their first 1,000 days, which is the period in which health practitioners work to protect newborns and infants against malnutrition while they grow.

Other points about the interview include agriculture, value chains, and how to urge government intervention. It’s a great read and you should spend some time with it.

Adolescent Nutrition

I think the reason Dr. Ruel discusses nutrition intervention for adolescents designated female at birth/capable of child-bearing because of a few things:

  • Society’s outlook on how teen girls eat
  • The importance of pre-conception nutrition for a healthy pregnancy
  • Nutrition intervention in general towards teens

When talking about this article with people, I noted something my Dad mentioned: when someone mentions they have two teen boys, the joke is ‘How do you keep food in the house’, whereas with girls…you can’t really say that.

Even though all teens are growing at the same rate, it’s only okay for boys to eat to fuel growth spurts. Girls, both through peer and media influence, are already being told they need to eat less and that “fat” is a bad thing.

Using nutrition intervention for teen girls, letting them know it’s OKAY to eat, and that they must eat, already puts us on the right path for helping teenagers have a healthy puberty and adjust to being body positive, intuitively eating adults.

In general, nutrition intervention in teens seems to fall by the wayside compared to adult and child nutrition. Think of the nutrition education you had in school- was it one unit, maybe two in health class? What resources did you have?

Compared to childhood nutrition, where there are a lot of books and resources and TV shows for kids, and adults, who have blogs, dietitians, books geared toward them- teens don’t get much.

And we could save them a lot of stress in adulthood by teaching them now.

What do you guys think? Do you think we need more nutrition education at home, or should the school be more active?

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Getting Salty

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Judging from the WordPress stats, you guys really like it when I write posts like Advice from a New Graduate and Observing Grief more than the more educational posts that I write.

It’s like you guys want me to be human…or something.

I decided after seeing the stats and reading some of my favorite blogs that I was doing you guys a disservice just writing dry informational posts (though I like to believe my writing has improved since I started this blog, thus making the topics dry but the writing witty- at least, my mom says so). I’ll be trying to update my blogs with more posts like Grief, Graduate, and this one so you get a sense of the ‘(wo)man behind the curtain’ so to speak.

My very first post-graduate “big girl presentation” is coming up a week from today and I’ve been hammering away at it since the first week of January. I knew that my first post-grad job (or lack thereof) would be a huge learning curve, since a lot of what I’m learning is currently on the job and without an RD around.

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Not to say that I can’t email my professors questions- of course I can- but it’s difficult to not have an RD mentor in person to ask questions in real time.

The presentation is on how to reduce sodium in your diet. It hits close to home.

My family has been watching our sodium since a health scare a little over the year ago. I want to be transparent with you guys but realize this isn’t my story to tell- at least not for now. One of the prescriptions was to lower sodium to 2,300mg or less my whole family has been sticking to it.

Since I have that experience, making this presentation has been a daily learning experience of taking what I know, putting it in an educational context, and then paring it down to what other people want to learn.

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It’s not that I’m preparing a huge biochemistry lecture for them, but there’s a lot of information out there about nutrition that it can be hard to sort through it all and just grab the Cliff Notes.

That’s something that often goes out the window when talking about nutrition. There’s always been this underlying assumption that studying nutrition is easy, because it’s just telling people what to eat, right?

Not really. There’s science behind the recommendations and formulas and treatment plans and and and…

It’s using the science we’ve learned and studied to turn them into the recommendations you see everywhere. In an effort to make them more accessible, messages can get lost in translation, but the idea of eating fruits, vegetables, fiber, and keeping up with your protein forms the pyramid that becomes nutrition. It’s the personal aspect that makes nutrition education so important.

Working on how to convey that is something  I’ll never stop learning about.

What’s something you feel like you’ll always be learning? Let me know and join the #centerstageensemble by telling me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

Should my teen lose weight?

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No.

Phew! What a post. That’s all from me. See you guys next week for more funny anecdotes, stock photos, and hard-hitting research!

Seriously?

…Alright, there’s more to the story than just a ‘no’.

Diet culture is so invasive that we see messages everywhere about how to slim down, tone up, and look great while ignoring health and what it feels like to be as healthy as possible.

This media trick isn’t missed by your teens. According to this article, ½ of teen girls and ¼ of boys have tried to alter their body shape through dieting. You’ll notice that this article mentions that most of the girls who try to diet are already at a healthy weight.

What if my teen is overweight?

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In adolescence, your teen going through a massive developmental period that rivals when they were infants. It’s important to make sure your teen is getting the nutrients they need for a healthy puberty rather than focusing on their size.

Rather than worrying about their weight, I want to shift the focus to their habits and health instead. This is where my slogan, “putting health back in the spotlight”, comes into play. By encouraging healthy habits in adolescence, your child is more likely to have a healthy puberty and healthy adulthood.

Why shouldn’t they lose weight?

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In Dianne Neumark-Sztainer’s book, “I’m, like, SO fat!” she chronicles two long term studies regarding teens who diet: most of them gain it back, and were more likely to binge in adulthood. Meaning that in the end, these dieters gained weight rather than lost it.

That weight might be used for growth spurts later. If your child was designated female at birth, the weight gain from puberty is also seen as normal. In Sandra Susan Friedman’s book When Girls Feel Fat, Friedman touches on the fact that weight gain is normal. It’s just the pressure of society that stresses children out when their body gains weight to use for puberty.

What can cause a change in appetite in my teen?

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Lots of things! While it could be emotional eating (more on this in a second), it’s more than likely your teen is having a growth spurt.

This awesome blog by Jill Castle, RD explains how to spot a growth spurt. Notice how she mentions a huge uptick in your teens appetite.

My teen isn’t eating well. I don’t want them to develop unhealthy habits. Should I talk to them?

When it comes to your teen’s health, there are lots of ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle for your child.

Talking to them is a slippery slope, as they’re already at an age where they’re becoming more body conscious (both due to puberty and starting to take note of the sex they’re attracted to/an interest in dating), but there are ways you can talk to your teen about their health in a way that doesn’t make them feel self-conscious about their size.

If your teen is the one to bring up their size and mentions dieting, Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer recommends these tips (these tips and more can be seen in “I’m, like, SO Fat!”)

  • Figure out the reason your teen wants to diet. Go beyond the size and see what’s bothering them
  • Talk to your teen about what a diet means. Do they mean cutting back on fast food? Meat? Helping identify what that means to them helps you make sure they’re still getting a healthy balance of food.
  • Focus on behaviors that encompass a healthy lifestyle rather than dieting, and offer to help them adapt these behaviors into their life

Is there anything, besides talking to them that I can do?

Leading by example and showing your teen that you’re in their corner is an amazing step, one that you’ve already started by reading this post!

Other suggestions, again from Dr. Neumark-Sztainer and Jill Castle are:

  • Model healthy behavior

This means that you don’t diet and don’t talk down about yourself around them. For teens, hearing you say positive things about your body that aren’t weight related will help set their mindset that their body is an awesome powerhouse capable of a lot of things that don’t depend on size.

  • Create a supportive environment

Easier said than done- I know that I always buy bananas, thinking I’ll eat them, and then suddenly I have a bunch of brown bananas with nothing to do with them.

This is a great way to help your teen development independence and take charge of their health. Have them come grocery shopping with you and pick out some of their favorite health foods so they have it on hand for snacks and lunches.

Let them help figure out certain recipes they’d like to try and help them learn how to cook it with you.

Find ways to decrease screen time where possible- don’t make screens negative, but offer to go on a walk with your teen after dinner, or another active activity you both like to avoid too much time sitting down.

Have any questions? Suggestions for fun activities to do with your teen? Let me know and join the #centerstageensemble on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

 

 

Processing Grief

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I’ve tried writing this blog post about a million times.

I’m trying to write either a personal post or something covering what’s been going on this past week in the news. Last week, I covered Weight Watchers’ new teen program, and while that (unfortunately) is still going forward, there’s other concerns on my mind.

On Valentine’s Day 2018, 17 innocent people lost their life at their high school.

For those far away, spectating the event and media whirlwind following, it’s hard to know what to say or do in the event of a tragedy. I felt compelled to write something to help you guys speak to your teens about what happened in Parkland.

For coverage of the event and discussion about where to go from here, I recommend Philip DeFranco’s video on the shooting. If you are against cursing, just a heads up that he does curse- in regard to the Mark Dice tweet- but his argument is sound and he never discusses the shooter’s name, background, or shows his photo.

Using this video as a backdrop, you can use Fuller Youth’s blog on processing school shootings to talk about the event. The first tip includes prompts for questions to ask, to help dissect the incident, and process what this means for us going forward.

Fuller also has a blog post called Good Grief that discusses the process of grief. If your teen, or you, are struggling to process grief, this article can help you. For a nonreligious article, check out the Dougy centers post on grief and teens. Debroah Kenney also has an infographic that will help you plan this discussion with your teen.

It feels so confusing, so painful, to have to talk about this again. Gun control is a public health issue and should be addressed. Talking to your teen about this gives them a safe space to air their feelings, to feel validated, and to speak with you about what happened. And, God forbid, what to do in the event of their school being attacked.

In the end, you know what’s best for you and your family after this. I wish you peace, healing, and comfort in this awful aftermath. I send all of you my love.

Teens & Sleep: What you need to know

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Fighting the battle of Teen vs. Sleep is a tough hill to conquer. There are many kinds of brave tactics to use, and here were the ones my parents used on me:

Dad:

  • Open the door and let light flood into the room under the guise of letting the dogs out
  • Use sing-songy characters to embarrass us awake (surprisingly effective)

Mom:

  • Check on us once, twice, three times before we finally felt bad enough to wake up
  • Cook pancakes. Allow pancake smell to waft through house. Cue teenaged children zombie walking to kitchen.

You surely have a lot of techniques to get your kids out of bed. But what causes such a fuss when it comes time to get up?

The Melatonin Equation

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Melatonin is the hormone released by our brains when the sun starts to go down. I talked about this last week, about how it helps to have screen-dimming apps downloaded on your screens.

In puberty, the brain’s ability to release melatonin is pushed back by a couple of hours. While we’re able to wake up feeling great at 6am because our brain’s levels of melatonin have gone down, teens aren’t so lucky.

They’re still in the throes of high melatonin, making it difficult for them to feel anything but groggy. Coupled with early start times for high school and late nights studying or playing video games, sleep deprivation seems to be a common concern among teenagers.

This also explains why teens take longer to fall asleep. When your baby was a baby, they had enough melatonin to help them fall asleep immediately. Now in adolescence, with melatonin levels lower, they tend to take a while to fall asleep because of this change.

Well, that makes sense. How much sleep does my teen need?

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According to the CDC, the golden numbers are:

  • 9-12 hours for children aged 6-12
  • 8-10 hours for teens 13-18

What happens if my teen doesn’t get enough sleep?

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Clicking this photo leads you to the artist!

If it’s just one or two nights out of a week, or a couple days a month, it won’t harm your teen too much. Nights like that are just part of the equation of being a human.

However, chronic lack of sleep can have negative impacts on adolescent health.

In a study on anxiety and short sleep duration, there’s a link between the development of anxiety and chronic short sleep (characterized as less than six hours a night) . Other studies link psychological distress and sleep deprivation in athletes.

The CDC also talks about how chronic lack of sleep can put them at risk for diseases like diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries. Mental affects also include poor performance in school and shorter attention spans.

How can I make sure my teen gets enough sleep?

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There are a lot of studies talking about screen use and it’s effect on sleep , including how screen regulation can help athletes perform better on athletic tests.

The common denominator here is that reducing screen time, or the brightness of your teen’s screen, already goes a long way in making sure your teen gets to bed at a better time. Let them know about the benefits of sleep, which you can read more about on Fatigue Science’s post.

Have a conversation with your teen about their sleep. Ask them these questions:

  • How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
  • What’s the hardest part of getting to bed at night?
  • How can we improve your room in a way that helps you fall asleep better?
  • Do you feel like you can’t sleep until you finish all your homework? Do we need to fix your schedule, so you have more time to study?

Go easy on your teens- if they tell you they have too many afterschool activities, they’re telling you the truth. Teaching your teen to advocate for themselves and know what they can and can’t handle helps them in college, where they can set their own schedule and study on their own time.

Other tips I really like from this article include:

  • Educate your teens on the affect light has on sleep
  • Let them decide what they want their bedtime to be- give them the info they need to make the decision, and then let them listen to their body to learn what kind of sleep your teens need
  • Like I said last week, keep them on a constant sleep/wake schedule to help their circadian rhythm smooth out

Any questions? Any tips you’d like to share? #jointheensemble on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and let me know your thoughts!

Opinion: Weight Watchers…get with the program.

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Recently some news came out about Weight Watchers piloting a free program for teenagers. Rebecca Stritchfield wrote an amazing piece on it, and the circles I inhabit have come forward explaining why, exactly, this is a bad idea.

Teens are a vulnerable population as their bodies are beginning to change and rather than helping them celebrate this step into adulthood, weight watchers seems keen to make it easier to shame girls, and some boys, that their body is bad.

They’re not even an adult yet. Let them grow, learn, and enjoy their lives without the stress of ‘points’ or whatever garbage you decide to shove down their throats because you’re unwilling to change your mentality as to the idea of what healthy looks like.

This news in conjunction with the fact that I’m currently reading When Girls Feel Fat: Helping Girls Through Adolescence by Sandra Susan Friedman has me thinking a lot about my own journey through body positivity.

The journey includes: being metaphorically dragged by my heels down a gravel road, laying by the side of the road refusing to move forward, and somethings rolling backward. There are occasions where I march forward, talk with people on the same journey, and stop and smell the roses of what it feels like to like my body and what it can do.

I don’t identify with girls who only started hating their size and body in high school or middle school. I remember teasing about my weight starting as early as elementary school and using food to cope with the fact that I had very few friends. I read and wrote a lot, liked a lot of non-mainstream nerdy things, and it wasn’t really until middle school that my social circle expanded.

Even then, food was my enemy. Because I was taller and heavier than my peers, and going through puberty sooner, my body felt less of a vessel to be celebrated and more of a neon sign to my faults. I couldn’t tell you when I started my first diet because I don’t remember.

What I do remember is my freshman year diet of five ritz crackers for breakfast, a 140-calorie bar for lunch, and a big dinner after I worked out because I ‘earned it’. Nowadays I know much better than that. It took years of learning, of dieting, and of wondering what was wrong with me to only realize that it wasn’t me.  Even this past summer I found myself thinking thoughts like that which I had in high school at the peak of my Eating Disorder-like behavior.

I don’t agree with weight loss for teens. I feel like now more than ever I can say that, after having a whole summer to come to this conclusion plus years of nutrition schooling.

I believe in healthy lifestyles for teens. But healthy lifestyles don’t include counting points or calories, excluding “”unclean”” food, or avoiding carbs just because some doctor without a nutrition degree said so.

I’ll talk about this more in my ‘should teens lose weight’ post, but teens don’t need a point system to tell them how to eat. They need patience, guidance, and occasionally therapy to help them through this time of intense change. They need adults helping them establish healthy habits (which yes, includes treats every now and again), and to learn that their bodies deserve to be hungry and to grow.

For the sake of girls and boys who, like me, weren’t small enough for society’s liking- don’t sign your child up for weight watchers. Talk to them. Teach them what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Find role models similar to your child’s height and weight and show them that success doesn’t come in pounds. Books such as “I’m, like, SO Fat!” and “When Girls Feel Fat” are excellent resources in helping teens who are having issues with body positivity and healthy living.

Remind them, like Clarence the Angel reminds George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, that “no man is a failure who has friends”.

Let me know what you think about this. You can comment, reach me on Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram.