Teen Dilemna: Losing Weight to Please Others

teendilemnaMy name is Sarah, and I am seventeen years old. I feel like I’ve been getting more and more depressed over the last few months, mostly because I don’t feel happy with my body. I try to lose weight, but I never feel like I’m skinny enough. All the guys seem to like the girls who are really skinny, and I’m not. I have played sports all through my growing up, but I’m still big. Sometimes I try to go all day without eating, but then I get so hungry by the end of the day that I eat everything in sight. Then I feel so hopeless. I don’t know what to do. Do you have any suggestions for how I could lose weight?

Nan’s Perspective: 

I know you want to hear about how to get “skinny,” but first I’d like to talk about why you want to get “skinny” and, for that matter, what “skinny” really means.

It’s easy, especially at thirteen, to be influenced by the media images around you and the words or actions of your peers. Adolescence is a time of self-discovery, and with that process comes some uncertainty about who you are and who you’re supposed to be.

The good news is, it’s normal to have these doubts. No one escapes periods of insecurity, especially going through their teens. But remember, you will always come out on top if you maintain as your primary goal learning to love and accept yourself for who you are right now.

“Skinny” is not the same as beautiful or healthy. People come in all shapes and sizes. This may sound cliché, but it’s the truth. There is beauty in each and every person. “Healthy” is the result of a set of actions; it has nothing to do with the way you look.

You mentioned in your letter that you’ve been athletic. When you say that you’re not “skinny,” could it simply be that you’re muscular? Playing sports is so good for your mind and body, and will go a long way toward keeping your body at a healthful weight.

When it comes to your emotional health and your feelings about your body image, it’s important to remember to take care of your body for your health rather than beating yourself up for not looking like other people. There’s so much more to you than your body—you have talents and dreams, and I’d be willing to bet you have relationships with people who love you as well. Enjoying fun with friends and exploring all that life has to offer is so much more fulfilling than worrying about whether or not you’re “skinny.”

Some of the behaviors you described in your letter are destructive, especially the cycle of not eating all day and binging at night. It is also emotionally destructive to beat yourself up for not living up to an idealized standard. If you feel that you’re struggling with more than you can handle or may have an eating disorder, talk to someone who can help—a counselor at school, your big sister, or your parents. Eating disorders often develop over time, so working out your feelings about your body now will help prevent problems later on.

Dan Perspective:

Great points, Nan! Now, Sarah, if you’ve considered all of the emotional aspects of this issue and still feel you want to lose weight, I can give you a few tips to help you slim down in a healthful way. You might find yourself thinking, “I don’t care about health—I just want to lose weight fast!” But methods such as starving yourself actually disrupt and slow your metabolism over time.

In fact, when you want to lose weight, it’s very important that you eat regularly. It might sound a little strange, but skipping breakfast or any other meal causes (as you well know) intense hunger later on, during which you’re far more likely to make poor food choices like sugary snacks or filling carbohydrates.

It will be a lot easier to take on minor changes than perform a complete lifestyle overhaul, for instance, substituting skim milk for whole milk! Constrictive diets that ask you to cut out food groups completely or only eat one type of food all the time are impossible to stick with long-term. Diets don’t work because, at some point, you stop dieting, and everything starts over again. Instead, it’s better to make overall lifestyle changes.

The best way to begin is to look at your current habits and see what you’d be willing to alter:

  • Eat breakfast. This is the meal that jump starts your metabolism. When you make breakfast a regular meal, you keep your body running on a steady cycle, burning fat at a regular rate.
  • Decrease your portions. Your stomach is only about the size of a closed fist. If you’re eating three times that, you can stretch the stomach. Slowly decreasing your portions is a great way to lose weight, but you must be sure that you are eating at least 3 meals a day, from a variety of food groups.
  • Begin your meal with a low-fat salad or soup and a glass of water. You can take up some room in your meal with low-calorie options, plus the water will hydrate you and take care of thirst masquerading as hunger pangs.
  • If you drink multiple sodas a day, replace at least one of them with water or 100% fruit juice. Sugar from sodas can be deceptive because they’re so fizzy and easy to drink, but those extra calories add up and turn into fat.
  • Add more vegetables and whole grains to each meal. These are easily forgotten staples that will replace other, less nutritious options.
  • Begin to examine which food choices you can remove from your diet, such as: cookies, cakes, pastries, chips, butter, cheese, fried food, hot dogs, ice cream, and soda. The absence of these empty calories adds up significantly over time.

If you’re getting regular exercise, that’s terrific. It will keep your mood elevated as well as burn off excess calories. Your primary concern should be developing a healthful lifestyle for yourself. Only when you’re healthy and good to your body will your body return the favor by looking its best, and that’s a beautiful thing.

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