Nutrition education and teen girls

Nutrition EducationandTeen Girls

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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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!

 

 

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!