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Ever hear the expression, "you are what you eat"? It's kinda funny but so true. Your body is under constant construction and needs the right foods, vitamins and exercise every day. It's tough, we know. There's junk food on every corner. Tons of pressure about unrealistic body image portrayed in the media. And who has the time to eat right all the time? Well, without the right fuel now, your health, your body, even your mind will suffer in the long run. And what kind of image is that? So c'mon. Stop. Think. Eat right. Live healthy.
Stop. Think. Live Healthy.
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Healthy Now. Healthy Later

If you're a typical teenager with parents who always nag you about what you eat, how you eat, when you eat or don't eat, and the amount of junk food you consume, these comments will sound familiar to you. Give your parents a break, they are just doing their job. They want you to eat properly so you'll develop, be healthy, and keep your moods balanced.

By the time a child reaches the teen years, he or she has a major influence on food choices. Compared to when they were in their childhood years, teens are probably eating away from home more often than just at school.

Teens understand the basics of good nutrition, but many stray due to peer pressure, work and school schedules, the need to test independence, lack of discipline, lack of a good example at home, or obsessions with an unrealistic body weight.

Because of an increased need for calories, teens need to increase their number of food group servings to meet their nutritional needs. Teenage boys from ages eleven to fourteen need about 2,500 calories per day, and boys ages fifteen to eighteen need about 2,800 calories. Refer to the table below to find the appropriate number of servings for this caloric range. If you are not active, you may need to eat fewer calories.

Number of Servings for Teenage Boys

  • Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, 10-11 servings
  • Vegetables, 4-5 servings
  • Fruit, 3-4 servings
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese, 3 servings
  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts, 2-3 servings (about 6-7 ounces)

On average, teenage girls need 2,200 calories per day from ages eleven to eighteen. See the table below for the number of servings from each group that girls in this category require.

Number of Servings for Teenage Girls

  • Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, 9 servings
  • Vegetables, 4 servings
  • Fruit, 3 servings
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese, 3 servings
  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts, 2 servings (about 6 ounces)

Healthy eating is a great way to:

  • Have energy all day long
  • Get the vitamins and minerals your body need
  • Stay strong for sports or other activities
  • Reach your maximum height (if you are still growing)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent unhealthy eating habits, like skipping meals and feeling overly hungry at the next meal
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What is "healthy eating?"

  • Aiming for regular meals (usually 3 meals per day in the morning, afternoon, and evening) and snacks (when you are hungry or need extra energy)
  • Eating foods from the different food groups (grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy proteins, and healthy fats) each day to meet your nutritional needs
  • Balancing nutrient-rich foods with moderate amounts of other foods like sweets or fast foods
  • Eating when hungry and stopping when full
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Tips for Healthy Eating

Don't skip meals - plan meals and snacks ahead of time.

  • Believe it or not, eating 3 meals with snacks in between is the best way to maintain both energy levels and a healthy weight. You are more likely to choose foods that are not as healthy when you skip meals and are over-hungry.
  • Eating away from home? Don't leave yourself stranded--take foods with you or know where you can go to buy something healthy and satisfying.

Learn about simple, healthy ways to prepare foods.

  • Try grilling, stir-frying, microwaving, baking, and boiling as healthy ways to cook foods instead of deep frying.
  • Try fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, parsley) and spices (lemon pepper, chili powder, garlic powder) to flavor your food instead of adding less healthy toppings such as butter, margarine, or gravy.
  • Trim the skin and fat off your meat--you'll still get plenty of flavor and it's more nutritious.

Be mindful when eating

  • Slow down when you eat. Try to relax and pace yourself so that your meals last at least 20 minutes, since it takes 20 minutes for you to feel full.
  • Listen to your body. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full will help your body balance its energy needs and stay comfortable. Ask yourself: Am I eating because I'm hungry, or because I'm stressed or bored?
  • Try fiber rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits to increase your feeling of comfortable fullness.

Avoid "diet thinking."

  • There are no good foods or bad foods. All foods can be part of healthy eating, when eaten in moderation.
  • You do not need to buy low carb, fat-free, or diet foods. These foods are not necessarily lower in calories--they usually have lots of other added ingredients to replace the carbs or fat.
  • YOU are more important than your weight or body size--believe it! Your health and happiness can be hurt by drastic weight loss plans. If you have not yet reached your adult height, too much weight loss could interfere with your growth, even if you are overweight. For younger teens who are overweight but still growing, it may be important to keep your weight steady as you continue to grow, instead of focusing on weight loss.
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Teens' Special Needs

Two nutrients typically come up short in a teen's diet: calcium and iron. This usually happens due to poor eating habits, poor food choices, or not eating enough.

Calcium-rich foods are vital to ensure strong healthy bones. Even as teenagers reach their adult height, bones continue to grow stronger and denser. Almost half of your bone mass as an adult is formed during the teen years.

Besides eating a diet rich in calcium, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and calcium-fortified foods, teens should participate in weight-bearing physical activities. These may include running, tennis, soccer, dancing, volleyball, or inline skating. These types of activities trigger the formation of bone tissue.

Teens should go easy on soft drinks, especially caffeinated ones, and avoid smoking.
It is important for teenagers to eat at least three meals per day to ensure they are consuming all needed nutrients. A meal skipped on occasion is not a concern, but skipping meals on a regular basis can mean missing out on essential nutrients.

Your body needs a daily supply of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to get the fuel it needs for energy and optimum health.

Your body will actually absorb more calcium from the foods you eat during puberty. The increased need for skeletal growth signals your body to "grab" all the calcium it can. The problem is most adolescents simply are not eating enough calcium-rich foods to meet their needs. If you do not meet your calcium needs during this critical time when your bones are growing, you may end up with weaker bones that are more prone to fractures.

Protein is a primary component of our muscles, hair, nails, skin, eyes, and internal organs, especially the heart and brain. Protein is needed for growth, for healthy red blood cells, and much more. Protein foods include eggs, cheese, soy products (soymilk, tofu, miso, tempeh), fish, beans, nuts, seeds, chicken, turkey, beef, and pork. If you are interested in following more of a vegetarian diet, choose soy products, beans, and nuts to satisfy your protein needs.

Fats are a form of energy reserve and insulation in your body, and can be burned to make energy when you don't get enough from your diet. Fats transport nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K through your body and fatty tissue protects your vital organs from trauma and temperature change.

Simply put, there are "good" fats and "bad" fats. The "bad" fats are called saturated fats and are found in animal products, meats, and dairy foods; they should be eaten in limited amounts. These fats solidify at room temperature.

Hydrogenated fats, sometimes called "transfatty acids" are also bad fats that are known to lead to heart disease and cancer. These hydrogenated fats are used in many packaged baked goods and margarines.

The "good" fats include the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Deficiencies of Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to decreased learning ability, ADHD, depression, and dyslexia. These fats need to be obtained from your food. -Good sources of the Omega-3's are flax oil, ground flaxseed, cold water fish like salmon and fresh tuna, canola oil, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. Other "good" fats to include in your diet are found in olive oil, avocados, and grapeseed oil.

Make an effort to eat foods that don't come prepackaged or prepared. Read the nutrition labels on the packaged foods you do eat so you can learn more about the food's sodium and fat content, as well as the many ingredients that are contained in the packaged foods. If you can't pronounce the ingredients on the label, chances are the food is not your best choice nutritionally.

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Drink Smart

If you constantly quench your thirst with sugar-laden soft drinks, fruit punch or sweetened drinks, you will end up consuming a lot of extra calories. Diet drinks are less in calories but may also contain caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, it causes you to lose water. Quench your thirst with water and limit your soda consumption, but don't skimp on milk. Remember you have only a limited time to make those calcium deposits to your bones. An 8 oz glass of skim milk contains only about 90 calories while providing about 300 mg of bone-building calcium!

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Make Choices

You do not have to give up burgers and fries to be healthy, but practice moderation. Don't order the big burger with 'super-sized' fries. Order a smaller burger and split the fries with a friend. There are not any 'bad' foods, just go easy on the portion sizes for foods high in fat or sugar. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, lower fat foods, lean meat and poultry when you make your food selections. Also talk to your parents about providing healthier foods and stocking your pantry with foods that will benefit the health of your entire family.
Remember: If you feel you are overweight and want to make some changes in your food intake, it's a good idea to contact your health care provider. You may also want to ask your health care provider for a referral to see a nutritionist (a person who has studied nutrition and knows all about food and healthy ways to lose weight). Learning about nutrition can help you make healthier choices, but it is important to keep food as just one important part of your life.

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Eating Disorders

Adolescent and teenage girls are at particularly high risk for developing eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia (the binge and purge disorder). The desire for a 'perfect' slim body can be so strong that some girls will make themselves sick trying to achieve it. Some young women have an inappropriate body image, believing they are 'fat' even though their weight is in the normal range or below normal range.

Eating disorders are serious; health consequences can be severe, even life threatening. If you think you or one of your friends might have an eating disorder, talk to an adult about it right away; you may save a life. If you are a parent, you should be concerned if your child shows any of the following behaviors:

  • Refuses to eat or eats only small portions of food
  • Loses a lot of weight in a short time or shows great fluctuations in weight
  • Displays an extreme fear of being fat
  • Exercises excessively
  • Thinks she is fat even though she is not
  • Appears depressed, moody, insecure and/or hyperactive
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What Causes Eating Disorders?

No one is really sure what causes eating disorders, although there are many theories about why people develop them. Many people who develop an eating disorder are between 13 and 17 years old. This is a time of emotional and physical changes, academic pressures, and a greater degree of peer pressure. Although there is a sense of greater independence during the teen years, teens might feel that they are not in control of their personal freedom and, sometimes, of their bodies. This can be especially true during puberty.

For girls, even though it's completely normal (and necessary) to gain some additional body fat during puberty, some respond to this change by becoming very fearful of their new weight. They might mistakenly feel compelled to get rid of it any way they can.
When you combine the pressure to be like celebrity role models with the fact that during puberty our bodies change, it's not hard to see why some teens develop a negative view of themselves.

Many people with eating disorders also can be depressed or anxious, or have other mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There is also evidence that eating disorders may run in families. Although part of this may be our in genes, it's also because we learn our values and behaviors from our families.

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Effects of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious medical illnesses. They often go along with other problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use. People with eating disorders also can have serious physical health problems, such as heart conditions or kidney failure. People who weigh at least 15% less than the normal weight for their height may not have enough body fat to keep their organs and other body parts healthy. In severe cases, eating disorders can lead to severe malnutrition and even death.

With anorexia, the body goes into starvation mode, and the lack of nutrition can affect the body in many ways:

  • a drop in blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate
  • hair loss and fingernail breakage
  • loss of periods
  • lanugo hair -- a soft hair that can grow all over the skin
  • lightheadedness and inability to concentrate
  • anemia
  • swollen joints
  • brittle bones

With bulimia, constant vomiting and lack of nutrients can cause these problems:

  • constant stomach pain
  • damage to a person's stomach and kidneys
  • tooth decay (from exposure to stomach acids)
  • "chipmunk cheeks," when the salivary glands permanently expand from throwing up so often
  • loss of periods
  • loss of the mineral potassium (this can contribute to heart problems and even death)

A person with binge eating disorder who gains a lot of weight is at risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and some of the other diseases associated with being overweigh.t

The emotional pain of an eating disorder can take its toll, too. When a person becomes obsessed with weight, it's hard to concentrate on much else. Many people with eating disorders become withdrawn and less social. People with eating disorders might not join in on snacks and meals with their friends or families, and they often don't want to break from their intense exercise routine to have fun.

People with eating disorders often spend a lot of mental energy on planning what they eat, how to avoid food, or their next binge, spend a lot of their money on food, hide in the bathroom for a long time after meals, or make excuses for going on long walks (alone) after a meal.

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Treatment for Eating Disorders

Fortunately, people with eating disorders can get well and gradually learn to eat normally again. Eating disorders involve both the mind and body. So medical doctors, mental health professionals, and dietitians will often be involved in a person's treatment and recovery.

Therapy or counseling is a critical part of treating eating disorders -- in many cases, family therapy is one of the keys to eating healthily again. Parents and other family members are important in helping a person see that his or her normal body shape is perfectly fine and that being excessively thin can be dangerous.

If you want to talk to someone about eating disorders and you don't feel as though you can approach a parent, try talking to a teacher, a neighbor, your doctor, your school nurse or another trusted adult. Remember that you are not alone. Treatment options depend on each person and their families, but many options are available to help you overcome an eating disorder. Therapy can help you feel in charge again and learn to like your body, just as it is.

For more information on eating disorders, go to http://www.womenshealth.gov/bodyimage/eatingdisorders/.