Our dietitians Sylvia and Sam have got down to answering some of your burning questions about food and health.
How can I lose weight safely?
Dear Jane, please tell me how I can lose weight safely?
Dear “needing to lose weight safely”
We are all capable of losing weight: but not all of us need to. If you are still growing, it can be harmful to restrict your food intake too much. Rather than “going on a diet” try making some small changes to your activity and eating habits that you can keep up each day.
A lot of people find they maintain a healthy shape and weight by:
- Eating regular and planned meals and snacks – starting with breakfast.
- Keeping a check on portion sizes.
- Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and choosing foods and drinks that are low in fat and sugar (most of the time).
- Including foods from each of the 4 main food groups: bread, potatoes, breakfast and other cereals, fruit and vegetables, milk and dairy foods, meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts – this also helps to ensure you get all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need to stay healthy.
- Being more active – aim for about an hour a day of walking or other activities that get you a little out of breath.
Do I need to give up fast foods?
Dear John, I’m 17 and like hanging out with my mates at lunchtimes. Usually we grab lunch at the chippie and have some chocolate and a coke. Do I have to give this up to be healthy? I don’t want to lose my friends by being different.
Dear “wanting to be more healthy”
It’s not the individual foods or drinks that make you unhealthy or make you put on too much weight. It’s the overall combination. Many of the foods you describe contain lots of sugar or fat and not many vitamins and minerals. Eating too many of these foods and not getting the balance with other foods, like fruit and vegetables, can mean you end up gaining too much weight.
Of course it’s not just what you eat that can cause weight gain, but also how many calories you use up through exercise and physical activity. Being more active and eating well is the best way to keep healthy. But this doesn’t mean you have to cut out all the high fat and sugar foods you like altogether – it’s a question of balance.
Why not limit the number of times you eat at the chippie and perhaps take up a lunchtime activity or club on the other days. You might find your friends think this a great idea and join in.
Do I need to take more exercise?
Dear Jane, my mum says I watch too much TV and play too many computer games. She says I need to get out of the house more. Any advice?
Dear “Do I need to get out more”
Research has shown that teenagers who spend more than 2 hours a day in front of a TV or computer screen (outside of school or college hours) are more likely to be overweight than those that are more active. So your mum could be right!
Sitting in front of a “screen” burns up very little energy compared with messing around with your mates outside. Check out our energy calculator to find out how much more energy you could be burning up by being more active.
I’m bullied for being overweight, what can I do?
Dear John, since starting at my new school I have started to put on weight. I’m starting to get bullied and don’t feel very happy. What can I do?
Dear “bullied and unhappy”
For some people, changing schools can be very difficult. If you are being bullied you should talk to someone about this. Try talking to a friendly teacher or the school nurse, a neighbour or a relative. If you share the problem it might not seem so bad. Most schools have policies that crack down on bullies very quickly. But they can’t do this unless they know about the problem.
You might be gaining weight because of a change in routine linked to your new school. For instance if you used to walk to school and now get the bus, used to have a packed lunch but now have a cooked meal or if you have just given up an active hobby. It is also quite common for people to eat for comfort if they are unhappy or being bullied, which makes things even harder for them. All of these might mean you are taking in more energy than you are burning up which may be why you’re gaining weight. Small amounts of weight gain can even themselves out as you grow. If this doesn’t work for you, try taking up a new activity. This could help you feel more confident and help you make some new friends. Check out our Being Active page for some cool ideas.
How can I stop binge eating?
Dear John, I just eat when I am bored, mainly all the things that I shouldn’t: cakes, crisps, sweets. How can I train myself not to binge?
Dear “wanting not to binge”
Here’s a five-point plan for getting you on track:
- Set yourself a realistic target – this might be to eat more pieces of fruit and drink more water every day and not so many crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.
- Tell all your friends, family and relatives about your plan and get them to help you. They might want to join in.
- Make a list of all the things you could do when you are bored. Use this list when you are tempted to keep snacking.
- Try sticking to your plan for a month. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you sometimes have a bad day. This is perfectly normal when you are trying to make new habits. If you do have a bad day try to think about what went wrong and then develop a plan to overcome this next time.
- Mark all your successes on the calendar and celebrate when you pass 20. How about a visit to the cinema, ten-pin bowling, a sleep-over or just treating yourself to a new download.
How can I help my friend lose weight?
Dear Jane, my friend is very overweight but doesn’t seem to want to lose weight. How do I help?
Dear “concerned about your friend”
It’s great that you are worried for your friend, but he or she needs to want to be more active and improve their diet if they are to succeed. At the moment he or she may not be ready to tackle their problems areas.
Perhaps it is worth doing something together, such as a new activity to give them some added support or suggesting that you both walk to and from school together instead of going by car or bus. Over time this extra activity should help you both to tone up a little and feel fitter as well as boost your friendship.
How can I lose weight quickly?
Dear Jane, help! My older sister is getting married in three months time and I need to lose weight to get into my bridesmaid dress. I don’t want to look gross at her wedding. What can I do?
Dear “want to look good for the wedding”
Sounds like this wedding is a great motivation for getting fit, toning up and looking good. Eating healthily and doing plenty of exercise will also help to keep your skin looking fresh and healthy.
Start with the basics. Spend a week writing down what you eat every day and how often you are active. Buy a pedometer and measure the number of steps you do everyday.
Then write down what changes you intend to make, such as eating at least 5 fruit and vegetables every day or walking an extra 2000 steps a day. It may be as simple as having smaller portion sizes, always eating breakfast, having fewer takeaways or using less spreading fat and oil or eating fewer foods with hidden fats and sugar in them.
Over three months you are bound to get into better habits as well as achieve that healthier shape and radiance you are looking for. Make sure these positive changes become new habits and try not to slip back into your old ways after the wedding.
Who can I talk to about my weight?
Dear John, I can’t talk to anyone about my weight. How do I get advice from a dietitian?
Dear “can’t talk to anyone about my weight”
There are a number of things that you could do. Firstly you could ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian who works in the NHS. But there may be a long waiting list and it might be easier and quicker to get some advice from a practice nurse at your GP clinic or a school nurse.
Some dietitians also allow you to refer yourself to the department. Take a look on your local hospital website to see if this is available.
Try to write down a list of your questions before you see any health professional, as this will help you to get the answers and information you are looking for. Try also writing down what you are eating for a week or so before you go. This will help them, to show you, how to make changes.
Don’t forget there’s also lots of practical information on this website about healthy eating.
What diets are there for boys?
Dear John, You see lots of diets for girls in magazines but what about us boys. What can we do to get a better shape? I really want to ask a girl to go out with me but am scared she’ll think I’m fat.
Dear “sacred she’ll think I’m fat”
If you are worried about your weight or your shape, you’re not alone. Lots of teenagers worry about this, boys as well as girls. Dietitians don’t usually advise you to go on a special diet to improve your weight or shape. We find that just by making some small changes to what you are eating now and how much you are exercising can make a big different to your weight and shape over time. Especially if you are still growing!
If you want to start making changes check out the other pages on this website. Start by looking at the Food Groups, Being Active or Making Changes pages. Make a plan and write it down. Get help from those around you who you feel you can trust. And most of all find a mentor – someone you can sit down with regularly and discuss how things are progressing. Looking good and feeling good is all about developing healthier attitudes and lifetime habits. My guess is that once you have made some positive changes your confidence will soar and you’ll soon have lots of girl friends.