It might seem hard making changes to what you eat and how often you’re active. But if you’re eager to succeed, check out our advice below. With some planning, support from those around you and a clear idea of what changes you want to make – it could be easier than you think!
Before You Make Any Changes
Making changes to what you eat and how active you are isn’t always easy. But you don’t have to make loads of changes. Start by making just one or two small changes. It’s important to set these up as new habits before you move on.
Do I really want to change?
Only you can decide this. Try listing the reasons you want to make changes. Are there also reasons for not making changes? Which is the longer list? If you have more reasons for not making changes then this might not be a good time to start. You can always check out how you feel again in a few months time.
Before you start to make any changes, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I know what I want to change and why?
Make sure you have clear goals. By knowing what it is you want to change you stand a better chance of success. For example you might want to:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables.
- Start eating a healthy breakfast.
- Eat more regularly.
- Plan more activity into your day.
- Take up a new sport.
- Snack on chocolate, crisps and biscuits less often.
Then ask youself why you want to make these changes, for example you might want to change in order to:
- Look and feel better.
- Have more energy.
- Look better in the clothes you buy.
- Have healthier skin.
- Have a healthier shape.
How am I going to change, who can help me?
Once you have decided what you want to change and why, you then need to decide how you are going to achieve the goals you’ve set. For example:
- Try planning changes into your day over the next month.
- Choose a date to start.
- Work out how you might remind yourself.
- Who do you need to talk to for help – parent, guardian, teacher, health worker, friend, neighbour, relative, youth worker, mentor.
- Plan to reward yourself when you succeed e.g. new clothes, trip to cinema, new magazine, CD or DVD.
- Think carefully about how you might break old habits.
- Write down any thoughts you have about making changes.
Balancing Energy In & Energy Out
It’s All About Energy Balance
Your body needs energy every day in order to work, be active and grow normally. It gets this energy from the foods in your diet. All foods provide energy although some provide more than others.
The trick is to balance the energy you take in with the energy you use up. Some teenagers might find this easy because they are growing rapidly and are always on the go but for others it might not be so easy.
Why Do Some People Store More Energy Than Others?
If you take in more energy than your body burns up, your body will start to store this extra energy as excess fat.
How Can People Burn More Energy?
- By being more active.
- By generally spending more time up and about.
- By growing rapidly.
- By limiting time spent sitting watching TV and playing computer games.
Ways To Reduce Food Energy
- By limiting foods which are very high in energy e.g. butter, margarine, oil, cream, pastry.
- By eating foods that are more filling, such as high fibre foods.
- By having larger portions of foods which are low in energy – fruits and vegetables, low fat yoghurts and non creamy soups.
- By planning healthy snacking.
Get Your Energy Levels Back On Track
If you want to get your energy balance back on track there are some simple things that you can start to do which should help you:
Eat Three Regular Meals Every Day
By doing this you are more likely to have a healthier body shape than those who eat on the run, miss meals and rely on regular snacking. Base your meals around the main food groups.
Start By Having A Breakfast
Let’s face it your body has gone all night without food. You need to “refuel” ready for the day. Despite scientists having proved that eating a healthy breakfast helps us concentrate at school, at least 1 in 5 teenagers still skips breakfast. For ideas on healthy breakfasts check out our recipes.
Plan To Snack Sensibly
Yes it’s OK to snack provided you plan your snacks and don’t just eat the first thing you can grab. For ideas on healthy snacks check out our recipes.
Worried about your shape? You’re not alone. Many other people worry too. But as a teenager you have to factor in growth. So although your shape might not be ideal today, growing a few inches might even things out.
Setting Some Goals
If you plan to make changes it’s important to decide on some real goals. Otherwise how do you know where you want to get to? And how do you know when you have got there? But don’t make it difficult for yourself, remember to set goals that you know you can achieve and are realistic. It could be as simple as eating an extra piece of fruit every day, or walking to school or college each day.
Now it’s time for some fun. Ever had a pack of cards for lunch with a box of matches and a bunch of fives. Blimey!
We’re serious! Just a few tricks of the trade can help you to identify what the average portion of food might look like. By limiting some portion sizes this will help you to balance your energy intake.
Of course we’re all different and we all need different amounts of food and energy to fuel our bodies so remember this is only a guide.
Believe it or not the following can act as great reminders of healthy portion sizes:
The size of 3 dominoes or a small box of matches
Cheese can be high in fat but also contains a lot of calcium which is good for healthy bones. Limit portion sizes by choosing a chunk the size of three dominoes or a small box of matches. Find out more about dairy foods.
The size of your own fist
A great measure for fruit and vegetables. We are always being told to eat five portions a day, but what’s a portion? Well for most fruits and vegetables it’s about the size that would comfortably fit into your hand.
The size of a grapefruit
If you’re picking carbohydrate foods – think grapefruit. A portion of potatoes, rice, pasta, green banana, yam, or any kind of bread should sort of resemble the size of one of these!
Size of a pack of cards
Most of us like meat, but what you might not know is that meat can have fat marbled between the muscle fibres. It’s important to have some meat or other protein type foods at least twice a day, especially if you are still growing. Use a pack of cards to visualise your portion size.
Perfect Portions? Take The Meal Portions Challenge
When eating a meal do you:
Cover at least 1/3 of your plate with vegetables?
If you can answer yes to this well done so far, you’re on the right track.
Know when you have had enough to eat at mealtimes?
Knowing when your body has had enough to eat is an important part of getting the balance right.
Feel uncomfortably full after a meal?
If you do, and you’re not ill, it probably means you are eating too much or your portion sizes are too big.
Safe Weight Loss
For most teenagers actively losing weight isn’t needed. Why? Because just keeping your weight the same as you grow should be enough to even things up over a longer period of time.
Just by being more active, eating healthy meals and limiting snacking you’ll improve your fitness and help tone up muscle. And what’s more this should help you feel better overall and achieve a better body shape.
Get Help From A Dietitian Or Other Health Professional
Before you start, it’s important that you get some help with a plan for any weight you need to lose. Ask an adult or your family doctor about seeing a dietitian for more support. A dietitian will spend some time getting to know you, and with your help, will suggest some changes, which over time will help you to lose weight. These changes are likely to involve what you eat and how active you are.
Don’t expect changes overnight. It doesn’t work like that. Just a small amount of weight loss every week or so adds up especially if you are still growing.
For most people losing weight isn’t about making temporary changes but about making life-long changes that will keep you looking healthy and fitter as you get older.
If you can’t get to see a dietitian immediately or your doctor won’t or can’t refer you, then try speaking to a practice nurse, school nurse or health visitor.
Before you see a dietitian or health professional complete a food diary of what you are eating at the moment – remember to be honest with yourself. Are there some changes you can make? Use this as a basis for discussion with the dietitian or other health professional.
It might take a little time to set up a meeting so in the meantime get the low down on our advice on before you start and barriers to making changes.
Growing Teenage Years
Being a teenager can be a tricky time. It’s all about becoming more independent, finding yourself and working out want you want to do or become. It can also be stressful.
As a teenager you have to cope with changes in body shape and size, changes in sexual maturity, relationships with family, friends and the opposite sex. You have to take on more responsibility, deal with exams and finding a career path and becoming more independent.
How Can All This Change Affect What You Eat?
Most teenagers have their highest energy and protein needs between the ages of 14 and 18. This the time when you are rapidly growing. It’s also the time when your body starts to mature.
At the same time many teenagers start to experiment more with food. Maybe you have started to help prepare family meals or maybe you’re “going it alone” with the food you eat or have decided to become a vegetarian.
Tastes for different foods also develop and you might find yourself eating foods you disliked when you were younger.
Taking on a part-time job or becoming fully employed or moving away from home for the first time perhaps to college, can all mean more independence and starting to fend for yourself. It could include shopping, choosing, preparing and cooking your own foods.
And as you reach 18 you’ll be legally able to drink. It’s normal to experiment with alcohol but take care as drinking too much can be dangerous especially if you are not used to the effects of alcohol.
Worried About Your Body Shape?
If you are worried about your body shape then you’re not alone. Many other people your age worry too. If you are already on the slim side, it’s important not to lose too much weight. Although it may be trendy to be slim, keeping yourself too skinny can be bad for your health.
Growing more and high energy needs do however provide a great opportunity for overweight teenagers to “slim down” a little. Regular exercise alongside regular healthy meals will help:
- Improve your fitness.
- Tone up your muscle.
- Help you achieve a healthier shape.
- Make you feel more confident and better overall.
Whether you feel you need to gain or lose weight, get advice from those around you including parents, guardians, tutors, trainers or your family doctor. If you are working you might have access to an occupational nurse who could also offer advice. Whatever you decide to do, support really helps.
You’ll also find lots of advice, tips and support on this website.
Barriers to Making Changes
Can’t Change? Won’t Change?
Barriers are things that get in the way. Stopping us doing what we really want to do.
Sometimes the solution is easy, sometimes not.
Check out the possible solutions to the barriers below, or work out your own:
I’ve always done it like this
Try setting up new healthier habits. Do something different every day for 4 weeks, it should become much easier to do after that.
I’m too tired to bother
If you really wanted to do something you would make the time and the effort. Is this telling you that now is not the right time?
I don’t know how to do things
Sounds like you need some support – talk to an adult, friend, relative or health professional* about how they might help. It’s good to have a regular chat with someone who is supporting you. They can help you to evaluate how things are going and help you work through changes that might seem very difficult on your own.
I’m always hungry
Make sure you have regular meals and planned snacks like yogurt, fruit and cereal bars. Try to have meals that are one third protein, one third carbohydrate and one third fruit and vegetables. If possible include foods high in natural fibre as these should fill you up e.g. wholemeal bread, brown rice, brown pasta, lentils, beans and peas.
I don’t like sport
You don’t need to be sporty to be active. Try fitting in some daily activity into your normal routines e.g. walking or cycling to and from school, even walking some of the journey is a start. Find out how much energy walking to and from school could burn up.
I don’t have control over what food is in the house
Talk to the adult who buys the food. In fact involve all the family in supporting you to make changes. They might also benefit from the changes you want to make.
What about canteen dinners – it’s too tempting to eat foods I shouldn’t
If the food that is served in the canteen isn’t suitable or you find it hard to choose suitable foods, then consider talking a packed lunch – this gives you control over what you eat and you don’t have to go near the food counter.
I feel like it’s only me trying
Why not get the help of a Mentor**. This is someone you can sit down with on a regular planned basis. It’s someone who you can talk to about what has gone well, what could have gone better and what you are going to try to do differently over the coming days.
My friends don’t help
Good friends will always support you if they know what you are trying to do and how important it is to you. Some will even join in.
I’m bored so I just eat
Try making a list of 10 or more things you can do when you feel like this. Keep the list handy so that next time you feel this way you can do something different e.g. pamper yourself by taking a long hot bath, kick a ball about, phone a friend for a long chat, paint your nails, play a board game, pick up a Sudoku.
If there are other barriers that stop you changing, talk these over with your supporter or mentor. Between you, come up with a plan to move forward.
* Your can access a health professional (dietitian, practice nurse, health visitor or GP through your local GP surgery). You can access a school nurse through school. If you are working you might have access to an occupational health nurse.
** A mentor or a supporter is someone who’s opinion you respect. Try choosing someone who can spend a regular amount of time with you each week and someone you feel you can talk openly with. It could be a neighbour, your form tutor, school nurse, or a close friend.
Setting S.M.A.R.T. Targets
If you want to look and feel different it’s time to make a plan. It’s a bit like setting smart goals and targets at school, college or in a work interview. You know that if you set yourself a target and write it down you are more likely to reach it. Ask yourself the questions below:
1. What do I want to achieve?
You need to set goals, and keep it simple, for example ‘I will drink water instead of fizzy drinks everyday for a month’.
Make sure the goals are S.M.A.R.T, in other words they are:
Specific: e.g. ‘I will drink water instead of fizzy drinks’
Measurable: measurable goals help you to see what progress you’re making. So, to use the example above, you can measure this at the end of the month to see if you have achieved it.
Achievable: you’re much more likely to keep to goals that are achievable. Small goals equal progress, and, once achieved, you can gradually build up to a main goal e.g. to eat less fat might involve lots of ‘mini-goals’ on the way, such as switching to semi-skimmed milk, or to limit chocolate to just one small serving a day.
Relevant: goals should be relevant to you. You’re the expert on what you like, need and want, so choose goals that work for you.
Time-specific: set yourself a time scale for achieving your goal. If you’re changing habits of a lifetime, this will take time, so allow yourself weeks, rather than days to achieve goals.
2. What do I need to do to achieve my goal/target?
Break it down into small steps. For example:
I will drink water instead of fizzy drinks:
- Buy a funky water bottle.
- Remember to take it to school with me everyday.
- Avoid the drinks machine.
- Ask adults not to buy fizzy drinks.
- Ask mates not to tempt me.
3. How will I know when I have succeeded?
If you have set a SMART goal it will be easy to tell when you have achieved it e.g. you will have avoided fizzy drinks for a month. Remember if you slipped up a few times – try not to get hung up on this – the important thing is have you succeeded overall?
4. How will I reward myself when I have succeeded?
It’s important to recognise and reward your successes. For example use saved money from not buying fizzy drinks to buy a new T shirt or a new baseball cap.
5. What could go wrong? What will I do if it does?
If you plan for this then you should be more able to deal with it. For example what happens if I forget my water bottle? After a little thought you might decide to keep a spare in your locker or find out where the water fountain is.
6. Should I set more than one goal?
You might want to set both food and activity goals as these are more likely to work together to help you achieve a better body shape.
Remember to find your support team. These are people who can help you along the way. Will they be family, friends, trainers, health professionals, tutors or a combination?
Monitor your progress. Keep a food and activity diary to see how you’re doing. This means writing down what you eat each day and how much activity like walking to school or riding a bike you do and for how long. Making a note of what you eat and how active you are right at the start will help you to decide what changes you could make.