An old-fashioned set of scales is an appropriate symbolic representation of the adolescent ego. If your teen is like most, he is constantly weighing academics, sports, relationships and media messages to see how he measures up compared to his peers. Given a tenuous and shifting self-image, it is common for teens to struggle with concern about their body and weight. Your teen may start exercising more, counting calories and refusing seconds at dinner. While an appreciation for nutrition is good, dieting can be detrimental and even deadly for your teen.
Video of the Day
Even if your teen never mentions a diet, she probably knows people who are trying to manage their weight. One-half of teenage girls and one-quarter of adolescent boys in the United States have tried dieting to lose weight. More than one-third of girls who've placed themselves on a diet are actually at a healthy weight, according to the journal "Paediatrics and Child Health."
The Trouble With Dieting
While being overweight or obese during adolescence is a legitimate problem in the United States, dieting is not advised for teenagers. "Paediatrics and Child Health" explains that teens who diet are likely to regain lost weight eventually. Dieting is associated with feelings of sadness and deprivation, which result in overeating. Additionally, teenagers need a steady supply of nutrients and calories to support the growth and development that occurs in adolescence.
For some teenagers, weight becomes an unhealthy obsession. An eating disorder called anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic illness among teenagers, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Teens who succumb to anorexia nervosa are often perfectionist, type-A personalities. An adolescent may have very high academic, athletic and social achievements and still feel inadequate. A teen with anorexia nervosa exerts control over her body by refusing to eat -- essentially starving herself. Another common eating disorder for teenagers is bulimia. Bulimic teens binge eat, then purge through vomiting or laxative use. Bulimics may also try extreme diets and tend to have dramatic swings in weight. Eating disorders constitute a serious medical emergency that requires the attention of a physician and a psychiatrist.
Talking to Your Teen
It's normal for teenagers to worry about weight, and it is important to provide an environment where they feel accepted and loved. If your teen is overweight, bring your concerns to his physician. Don't focus on your teen's appearance, but encourage your whole family to practice healthy eating habits. Make sure the kitchen and pantry are stocked with fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks. Limit the amount of junk and packaged foods in your home. Encourage your teen to eat when he feels hungry and stop when he feels full. Make trips to the park or go for walks together to encourage physical activity. Set a good example -- not only of healthy eating but of positive self-image -- for your teen.