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Parents, never says this one word to your teenager

By Donna Aston |

You should never, ever say the F-word to your teen. This is, of course, the word FAT.

I was an overweight teen (20kgs heavier than I am now) and strongly believe that parents should never shame a teen. Instead, we need to teach them to understand their body and their health.

Young, impressionable kids are heavily invested in the fictitious, airbrushed world of social media. As adults, it's our job to help them decipher fact from fiction.

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Shaming teens does not work (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I've had many desperate parents bring their teen to a consultation with me. Mum is worried sick her child is developing an unhealthy relationship with food, and the teen is tired of listening to mum harp on about it.

We've all been a teenager, so you'll remember the dismissive eyeroll is the standard response to an inquisitive parent. I know that if my mum ever told me my hair looked nice, it was my cue to change it, immediately!

One example of this phenomenon was a mother and her daughter (let's call her Sam) who came to see me for a consultation. Her mum phoned ahead of the appointment and was very distressed about Sam's behaviour around food, obsessive use of the bathroom scales and resistance to discussing this topic with anyone at home.

Sam came into my office with her mum after school. She was only 15, but almost 180cm tall.

Knowledge is power and the best way to help your teenager navigate those tricky, hormone-filled years?

I asked her what she was trying to achieve, and her primary focus was to weigh 50kgs. Why? Because her girlfriends all weighed 50kgs.

As we know, teens are often trying to fit in with their peers C wearing the same clothes, sporting the same hairstyles and following the same social media influencers. In many cases, having a similar physical appearance is also part of this quest, despite vast differences in height and development at this age.

I simply listened to what Sam had to say and didn't interject with advice or judgement. I acknowledged her plight, as it was important for her to feel heard. I then suggested we did a body composition analysis to help us to work out a goal for her. This machine accurately measures 'lean weight' (everything other than body fat) and our body fat. A healthy range for females is somewhere between 18 and 28 per cent fat.

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Teenagers want to be like their friends. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sam was 65kgs and only 18 per cent body fat. I explained that, due to her height, her skeleton and organs weighed more than 50kgs, so I'd have to amputate her legs from the knee down to make her weigh the same as her friends!

This non-judgmental feedback was coming from a place of understanding and facts C not opinion. I also explained that we have until our mid-twenties to reach our peak bone mass, after which time our bone density deteriorates. Restricting nutrients now may mean you don't reach your peak and risk developing brittle bones later in life. A similar explanation was given in relation to hormone production and fertility.

As it turns out, Sam was just misinformed. Once she had the facts in front of her, you could see she was feeling quite proud of her body and her weight. She was 'normal'.

Her mother phoned me after the appointment and was ecstatic. Sam was now talking openly about food and was far less concerned about the scales.

This was 10 years ago, and I still bump into her mum from time to time, who always says: "This is the woman who saved Sam from an eating disorder."

Knowledge is power; and it's the best way to help your teenager navigate those tricky, hormone-filled years.

Donna Aston is one of Australia's top nutritionists and is passionate about improving the health of Australians. She developed the online program AstonRX, which focuses on improving metabolic function and gut health. See Donna at AstonRX.com.?

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