I received an e-mail from Phan Anh Thu, a student at the International School Ho Chi Minh, in Vietnam. She asks: “I am currently working on a project about healthy eating habits for teenagers. My goal for the project is to create a website that includes information about healthy eating, how to adopt healthy eating habits, and include some recipes. To make my research more accurate and various in terms of searching methods I read your book Healthy Living Means Living Healthy, therefore, can you please answer some questions below related to the topic since I need it for the primary research section.”
The teenage years can be difficult, and at the same time exciting. This is the time that people begin to form a sense of self and an understanding about their capabilities. The questions that were sent to me from Phan Anh Thu are surely thought-provoking. My hope is that teens around the globe will use these suggestions as a guide to eradicate peer pressure and conquer healthy eating.
Here are my answers for teens to use as a guide to peer pressure and healthy eating:
1) What do you think is the biggest eating problem of teenagers?
I think the biggest problem during teen years is body-image and the desire to be accepted into a specific clique. In order to be included among them, one must look, think, and act just as everyone else. This affects the teen’s body image and eating style. As a teen, one may not have the insight that each body reacts very differently to eating styles, so they may develop unhealthy methods to achieve the same perceived image as their friends. This may include starving themselves for a period of time or binging and purging. Teens may also be rebellious to the healthy eating styles they have learned at home and adopt the poor eating behaviors of friends in an effort to ‘fit in’.
2) Can you think about any small action can be used to stop/prevent that problem?
Individuality is success. Each teen offers their circle of friends a unique set of qualities. If teens rely on their own beliefs, and do not give in to peer pressure they will develop leadership skills that can last a lifetime.
3) Do you have any recommended food portion size for teenagers? Please justify the answer if possible.
As I mentioned above each teen is different. They have different genetics, metabolisms, body shapes, and activity levels, so it would stand to reason that portion sizes for food would vary among them. I refer to my Five-Finger Food Guide:
- Eat your larger portion of food from fruits and vegetables.
- The second largest portions should consist of lean proteins, similar to chicken, fish, or beans.
- Your next larger portion should be from smart carbohydrates, like potatoes, starchy vegetables, and grains.
- The smallest portions should be healthy fats. You can choose avocados, nuts, oils, or olives.
- A sure way to know when to stop eating is to pay attention to your breathing. You will begin to breathe a bit heavier or sigh when you’ve had enough to eat. You don’t feel stuffed, but just stop eating. Give it a few minutes, and you will feel very satisfied with the quantity you have consumed.
4) What does one need to consider as they begin to eat healthily (such as which kind of food they focus on, and the recommended time to eat)? What do you think is the most important thing to consider? It is time for the teen to evaluate his/her eating patterns, and start to make small changes that lead to big impacts. When a teen decides to start eating healthy, the first thing they must consider is when and how often they succumb to peer pressure causing them to eat items that are unhealthy and quantities that are too large. A teen should have a plan in place so they can either make another food choice that is available for them, or use a powerful automatic response to others that will forestall sabotage. This should be practiced over and over. Each time the new behavior will become stronger and comments from friends will no longer matter. In time, others will accept their friend’s new healthier ways. Change takes strength and perseverance.
5) Do you have any tips for the teenager on choosing healthy food when eating out (ex: school lunch, breakfast-on-the-go)? It is unfortunate but while eating out or eating on-the-go, the majority of food choices are unhealthy. The good news is there are healthier options to look for and once it becomes your pattern to look for the healthier choices, they will always appear and you’ll find yourself neglecting the unhealthy ones.
You can look for:
- Fruits and nuts
- ½ sandwich with protein as a snack
- Unsweetened cereal and milk
- Healthy smoothies made with real fruit
- Pretzels and hummus
- Hard boiled eggs and toast with jam
- Fruits and cheese
- Fresh vegetables with protein (slice of chicken or cheese)
Good eating habits begin when we are young and can follow us throughout our adult years. Good eating habits increase our odds to prevent illnesses that are mostly caused by poor eating behaviors such as heart disease, type 2diabetes, or obesity. As a teen, it’s time to take control of your eating and be the leader.
You’ll never know who else you inspire.