Tweens & Teens: Weight Issues

“You can never, ever, use weight loss to solve problems that are not related to your weight. At your goal weight or not, you still have to live with yourself and deal with your problems. You will still have the same husband, the same job, the same kids, and the same life. Losing weight is not a cure for life.”  ~Phillip McGraw (we know him as Dr. Phil)

Welcome to the April edition of Teens and Tweens. Spring weather is here, though honestly, I don’t feel like we really got any winter weather. Here’s a question sent to Gwen and Shannon from you, the readers of this column. By the way, thank-you to all who read this column and especially to those who make comments.  It’s very much appreciated.  🙂

“I’m really worried about my 14-year-old daughter. She isn’t built like a Barbie doll and has always struggled with weight issues. She is certainly not obese and is only about 15 to 20 pounds higher than her target weight, but she acts as if she looks hideous because she is not a size 6. She puts so much pressure on herself to lose weight. I watch closely for signs of an eating disorder and I don’t see any at this time. But I don’t want her growing up hating herself or her body. What can I do to help her see that “beautiful” is about more than skinny thighs and toned abs?”

This is, unfortunately, an issue facing so many tweens and teens these days. From the pressure put on them by their peers, to the media glamorizing beauty, the need to look “perfect” is quite prevalent.

When considering the enormous pressure of having the Barbie figure (or Ken figure, for that matter), there are several areas of concern. What causes kids to want the Barbie or Ken look?  What are kids up against? There are many reasons, but if you take them all together, these are the main four:

  • Pressure from society – Seeing movie stars on television and magazine covers can oftentimes drive teens to obsess over having the perfect body. This may also lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.  Just a side note…I once dated a girl with bulimia.  She thought she had to have the perfect body, and I never knew (until after we broke up) that she was bulimic. She would eat and then excuse herself to the bathroom to purge.
  • Low self-esteem – Teens with low self-esteem are certainly at a higher risk for developing eating disorders and being obsessed with weight. They believe they can become accepted if they’re skinnier. Many, however, become emotional eaters, which only makes things more difficult for them. Remember, stressed spelled backwards is desserts.
  • Family pressure – Many times, families are striving for perfection and will do almost anything to keep the appearance that everything is fine and dandy at their house. No problems at all.  As such, parents may inadvertently put pressure on their children to dress and look a certain way to maintain this appearance. Reality check…we all have imperfect families.
  • Genetics – If we take an honest look at our children, we see that they resemble…well…us.  They may have our eyes, hair color (or previous hair color before ours went gray), and yes…body type. If we have a larger frame, we can expect our children to genetically have the same build. This is not a guarantee, but it does happen more times than not.

Poor eating habits can lead to serious health issues including cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity. In fact, the rate of obesity in Arkansas has tripled over the past 20 years and is at a staggering 30.6%.

But at the other end of the spectrum, extreme dieting also has serious health issues including poor muscle tone, cardiovascular concerns, seizures, digestive problems, absence of menstrual cycles, and bone loss.

When you talk to your teen about the dangers of extreme dieting, remember to emphasize healthy eating choices and talk honestly about the media pressure of television and magazine ads. Make sure she knows the dangers associated with what essentially amounts to starving yourself.

On average, you can lose about 2 pounds per week and still maintain a healthy diet. A pound is 3,500 calories so you would need to decrease your food intake by 1,000 calories per day to lose 2 pounds a week. If you do the math, that equals 8 pounds per month and 48 pounds over a 6 month period. Exercising helps to burn extra calories and develops stronger, healthier muscles. In real people talk, your body looks firmer if you exercise. Exercise also helps burn calories faster even when you’re resting.

It’s fine for a tween or teen to work toward a healthy weight. Just make sure she understands that her weight does not define who she is, her potential in life and — as the quote at the top illustrates — it’s not the ultimate predictor of happiness.

See you next month,


Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones, a child psychologist for Mercy Health? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.