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Teen Corner: Healthy Tips to Last a Lifetime

happy-teens-photo

The diet that really works is simple. Eat normal food, mostly fruits and vegetables and avoid fad diets. Have a cookie or two but not every day.

Don’t eat processed food. If it didn’t live, or come from something that did (eg: milk or cheese) don’t eat it.

Control the portion sizes of what you eat. If you eat out, share the meal with 1-2 people. Serving sizes in most restaurants have doubled or tripled in the last 20 years so if you eat your meal, you are eating what two people ate for dinner when your parents were young. Many of the cookies you can buy are easily the size of 3 cookies put together when your parents were young.

Wait 10-15 minutes before reaching for seconds. Your body must process your meal for the glucose and other nutrients to get to your brain to tell it that you are no longer hungry. This takes some time. If you eat fast, you will eat more than your body needs. Stop between bites and talk about something that happened during your day. Secret: Healthy weight people eat slowly, just watch them.

Never eat while looking at a screen. Whether it be an iPad, computer, tv or phone. If you are distracted while eating you will not enjoy the food as much, you will eat more than you need, and you will not realize when you are full. If you have to snack while doing homework, fill a small bowl with the treat, don’t eat straight from the bag. No refills! Distracted eating is a big reason for people winding up on The Biggest Loser show.

Don’t eat fast food. It is full of unhealthy fat that can damage your arteries and is loaded with way too many calories.

Avoid sugary drinks. Even one soda a day increases your risk of getting the adult type of diabetes someday by quite a bit. Not a fun thing to have. It is too easy to add too many calories by drinking them. Water and lowfat milk are the best options by far.

Bring your lunch to school. Make it the night before if necessary and make sure it does not contain food made in a factory. Again, if it didn’t live, don’t eat it.

Get your calcium and vitamin D. Your body gets no vitamin D for almost half of the year because you live in the northeast and not in Hawaii. We need sunlight to make vitamin D. Vitamin D can prevent certain types of cancer, help your bones grow, and may prevent a host of other medical problems down the line. Calcium is critical to your growing bones in your teen years. It cannot be added later. What you get now will affect your bone health (and your height) for the rest of your life. If you cannot drink milk or eat yogurt then drink soy milk or some other substitute at least 3-4 times per day. You are lucky, you still have time, sadly the adults around you do not.

Avoid simple carbohydrates like white bread. Fiber fills you up and is more satisfying because it takes longer to digest. This prevents your blood sugar and insulin from yo-yo ing up and down. Learn to love the whole grains.

Don’t let yourself get too hungry. It is best to eat your meals on a regular basis and not skip any. If you skip meals you wreak havoc with your metabolism and basically teach your body to go into starvation mode which causes it to hold onto calories. Secret: Healthy weight people east small meals and frequently, like birds.

Turn your phone off 1 hour before bedtime and keep it someplace like the kitchen. your brain needs to unplug and the blue screens of computers and phones inhibit the release of melatonin which makes it even harder to fall asleep on time than it already is. Being on media just before bed also gets your mind wound up especially if you are having an issue with a friend. Best to read a book and relax.

Get 9 1/2- 10 1/2 hours of sleep a night. Yes you can do this! All science tells us that this is the amount of sleep a teen needs to be healthy, learn well, avoid car accidents, perform better in sports, avoid anxiety and depression etc. Why did your parents get more sleep than you do when they were teens? Well yes, they did have less homework, but actually it is the time on electronics that is stealing most of your rest. Consider this: every study done proves that you will do much better on any test if you sleep than if you stay up cramming. Even NBA players have been tested on their free throw accuracy and if they had only 6 hours of sleep it went down by 30%. If something as simple as successful free throws go down 30% when a person doesn’t get enough sleep, what about performing well on a physics test or some other challenging thing??

More sleep prevents weight gain. If you get enough sleep you will be less likely to put on extra pounds. We feel worse when we sleep less. When we feel bad, we try to make ourselves feel better. Food makes us feel better. Science has shown that sleep deprivation leads to weight gain.

Your body was meant to get exercise for a few hours every day. We live during the only time in human history when life was so easy. We rarely walk, let alone run, we don’t have to hike to a stream for water, kill an animal or grow a garden or hunt for plants to eat, and certainly we don’t have to collect wood to burn to keep ourselves warm. Our bodies have no idea how to handle this easy life. Even your parents 30 years ago mostly walked to school and at least had to get up to change the channel on the tv. Your body was meant to move…..a lot. Get it out there and get your heart rate up each and every single day. In one study, 3 year olds were made to sit still on a beanbag chair for several hours and watch an iPad. With even one session their arteries were measurably less flexible. This was corrected when they got up and moved around. Believe me, you don’t want stiff arteries.

Wear your seatbelt….always. Car accidents kill and injure more teens than any of the other causes combined and by a lot. If you are driving, make everyone buckle up. The most dangerous hours to be on the road are between 10 PM and 2 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. Try not to be on the road then.

Your cell phone should be kept on the back seat of the car. If your phone is out of reach you will be much less likely to succumb to the temptation of answering it while you are driving. Enough said.

Take the stairs whenever possible. If you are going only a few flights this is easily doable and is a way to incorporate exercise into your everyday life. Work up to 3-4 flights at a time. You will feel better at the end of your day.

If you feel too stressed out get some help. Life is very stressful for teens today and sometimes it gets the better of them. This is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork, parental expectations, troubles with friends etc, seek out some help. The truth is, it is a sign of mental wellness to seek help if feeling anxious or blue.

Any change you undertake should be gradual and in line with your lifestyle. One or two small moves can make a big difference. Just dropping soda from your diet will have lifelong positive effects. Notice none of these things involve eliminating dessert, living on grapefruit for weeks, or becoming a triathlete. Our society has changed so much that our bodies have not kept up. What worked to keep us health before still works: healthy food in moderation, exercise, and good sleep. You can do this! Good luck.

Katherine Frederick MD FAAP

River Valley Pediatrics

River Valley Pediatrics