Solving Your Teen's Weight Problem -- with Erika Schwartz, MD

WebMD Live Events Transcript;Event Date: Thursday, September 23, 2004

By Erika Schwartz, MD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

As parents we may not be able to change our teens' tastes in fashion and music, but their health is another matter. On Sept. 23, 2004, we discussed the special concerns of overweight teens and the role of hormones in mood, growth, and energy level, plus how you can help your child avoid the pitfalls of dieting. Our guest was Erika Schwartz, MD, author of The Teen Weight Loss Solution.

Support for this University course is provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Welcome to "Kids, Pounds, and Playgrounds." Your instructor is Erika Schwartz, MD, author of The Teen Weight Loss Solution: The Safe and Effective Path to Health and Self-Confidence. Today we'll be talking about helping your weight-challenged teen. Support for this WebMD University course is provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Teens and weight -- how much is really a weight problem and how much is a body image problem with teens?

A few things to realize about defining weight:

  • We all forget that genetics affect how we look.
  • We have our culture to keep in mind, and what our culture considers "ideal."
  • Then there's reality.

What we want to teach our teens is how to balance those three issues. Our society, unlike the Middle Ages, when being chubby was considered ideal, places a high prize on thin rather than average, but not everybody can be thin.

We need to learn to become aware of what's reasonable and create reasonable expectations for our teens. We will not be able to create reasonable expectations unless we take into consideration our genetics, our way of life, and teach awareness to our teens so they learn to feel good about themselves rather than constantly striving for something that's unrealistic.

For kids who are still growing, does a restricted diet pose problems?

Absolutely. As the kids' bodies grow, the balance of nutrients is extremely important. That balance will tip every time we put in junk or restrict what they're eating, from a standpoint of calorie and amount of food.

Ideally, parents, being able to evaluate the amount of physical activity and the way of life of their teen, should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber. We have to be realistic in our expectation of what happens outside the house. Your teen will eat junk; your teen will drink soda; your teen will drink alcohol.

That doesn't make this a hopeless situation, it only encourages you to set a good example and to take responsibility for providing the best food and the best balance at home. If home is a haven, both emotionally and food-wise, your teen will do well. The commitment is high, but the rewards are even higher.

Are teens more susceptible to ending up with eating disorders when going on a diet?

Yes. Diets don't work. Diets don't work for adults, diets don't work for teens. The rollercoaster a diet sets a human on creates a confusing and unhappy world. The reason diets don't work is because they restrict and they focus on issues that they cannot correct. So when you want your daughter to feel good about herself, restricting her diet will only serve to undermine her own self-esteem.

Food cannot be made the focus of your teen's life and a diet accomplishes just that. Food is a necessity that should be made a part of life, but not the focus. Extremes don't work, and when you do one extreme, which diet represents, you throw your teen into the other extreme, which is eating disorders. So balance is the name of the game.

The whole idea of dieting has to stop, because it will literally kill our teens. It's killed the adults, because that's all we talk about, we go on one fad after another. Food has to be part of the fabric of society, it has to be a cultural thing. You sit at the family table for dinner, it's not about the diet, it's about the conversation, the emotional bonding that goes on between people. That is critical. And dieting, the way of life of dieting, robs ourselves of that.

Studies that have looked at eating habits of cultures where obesity is very minimal have discovered a few important points. In those cultures:

  • people eat smaller portions
  • they do not snack
  • they don't eat fast foods
  • eating is a social bonding experience
  • they don't eat on the run; they don't stuff their faces

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