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Fast food equals fast weight for teens

10 tips for healthier eating

At this age, teens are soaring into young adulthood, with as much independence as they can get their hands on. This goes for food, too. Spending lots of time in fast food restaurants, eating out with friends more and less with the family, countless parties, consumption of alcohol, and potential rebellion are all pieces of the teenage puzzle.

Tragically, this is also a prime time for developing eating disorders. Starvation, under-eating, overeating, lots of high fat fast foods, weight training, use of supplements and steroids, and of course, mega-dieting appear to have become part of the teenage landscape.

Striving for a healthy body and body image is an amazing concept for a teenager, especially with the overwhelming media and peer pressure of today. Pressure also comes if a child is faced with being overweight or obese. Whether they are at one end of the spectrum, facing an eating disorder, constantly "dieting", or they struggle with an existing weight issue, both teenager and the entire family will go through a very difficult time.

The new teen craze: eating healthy? what a concept!

READ MORE: Raise your teen with a healthy body image

Nutritionist, registered dietitian, author and parent Ronni Litz Julien, MS, RD/LDN has been teaching parents and children healthy eating habits for over 20 years. Julien offers the following advice for parents wanting to help their kids develop healthily and happily throughout the teen years and into adulthood:

1. Encourage breakfast every morning. This is not new news. It is the first meal of the day, it gets their metabolism started. Studies indicate that just by eating breakfast, math grades can be increased by one letter grade. It can be something quick, even if it has to be eaten in the car (like a breakfast bar and a low fat yogurt, or a piece of fruit and a low-fat string cheese).

2. Protein, Protein, Protein.
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and tissue in the body. Every meal should contain lean sources of protein (i.e. low fat milk and dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, poultry, lean beef, pork, veal, soy, and fish). Keep an eye on this.

3. Best source of fuel? Complex carbohydrates. So many diet-conscious teenagers want to pull out this food group first. But, active teens need fuel! The most efficient source of fuel is the carbs (i.e. whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, and pasta, brown rice, potatoes, corn, fruits and veggies).

4. Fat is not the enemy. There are healthy forms of fat, and teenagers need to know that. Growing bodies still need some fat and the vitamins that go along with fat in food. But like anything, striking a balance is necessary. Excess fat can build up in their arteries, too.

5. Teenagers are not quite yet adults, nor should they eat like them. Three meals a day are mandatory, and even a healthy snack somewhere during the day.

6. What do they need a lot of? WATER! The most essential nutrient that does not get enough attention ? water. The goal is 6-8 glasses per day for hydration and strong healthy kidneys. Young water drinkers usually continue this throughout their lives.

7. Just Say No to Useless Liquid Calories.
It is so easy to drink 400 calories a day ? it equates to a large glass of orange juice (180 calories) and 16 ounces of regular soda (200 calories). The occasional sugar-free drink mix is a better choice (i.e. Crystal Lite), or a flavored sugar-free water (Fruit Two-0). However, the best choice? water. Hint: Do not bring the high calorie liquids into your house, it won't be so accessible.

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8. Rehydrate. Any time your teenager is playing a sport in the hot sun, they must rehydrate. Water is essential during and after exercise. Water bottles on the field, on the track, and even in the stands are necessary. Goal: 8 ounces of fluid for every 20-30 minutes outside in the heat.

9. Take Note. Pay close attention to the changes in your teenager's body and weight. Watch for excessive weight gain or weight loss. If you are presented with either of these, please make an appointment with your child's doctor.

10. Families that dine together thrive together. Try to have a family meal together, even if it is once a week. Everyone can remember they are one family, and get reacquainted from busy schedules. In 2004, a survey was conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Abuse. Twelve- to 17-year-olds who reported eating two or fewer dinners a week with family members were more than 1? times as likely to smoke, drink or use illegal substances, than were teens who dined with family five to seven times per week.

The simple truth is, if teens are eating healthfully, without restricting, they are most likely getting exactly what they need, even for that "fit" or "six pack" physique. Combined with an active lifestyle, i.e., more exercise and less time in front of the computer and TV, parents are equipping their teens with self-esteem and self-confidence. And what parent doesn't want that?

Nutritionist, registered dietitian, author and parent, Ronni Litz Julien, MS, RD/LDN has dedicated her professional life to teaching healthy eating habits to all ages.