How we help teens get healthy in a healthy and enjoyable way
The Teen Xpress program is part of the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families. We offer health care, mental health counseling, case management, and nutrition and dietary services to teens at select schools in Orange County. As the Teen Xpress mental health therapist, I meet with adolescents every day that are interested in changing their lives. Usually, the teens I work with want to make changes behaviorally or emotionally, but they often also express interest in making physical changes as well. It is not unusual to hear teens say that they want to lose weight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17% of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is a serious problem in the United States, putting children and adolescents at risk for a variety of health problems. When we hear a teen say that they want to lose weight, we listen and work with them to determine the best course of action needed.
First things first
The first question we ask is, does the teen really need to lose weight?
All of us- children, adolescents, and adults- face enormous social pressure to look a certain way on the outside. We can’t go anywhere without seeing subtle and not-so-subtle messages about how we should look, whether it’s magazine covers, movies, or social media. For many teens the struggle is more about wanting to wear a certain size or see certain numbers on the scale, rather than being healthy and strong.
Sometimes after talking with and learning about a teen, we learn that their weight is not actually a problem, they just aren’t the size that they want to be. For these teens we work with them to educate them on healthy weight and body types. We help them recognize that we are all built differently; most females are not physically meant to wear a size zero. We empower them and challenge them to love and appreciate themselves the way they are. We provide guidance on ways to exercise safely and eat healthy foods to improve their health but not necessarily to change the scale.
Small changes over time make a big difference
For the adolescents who are overweight or obese and want to make a change, the Teen Xpress team works together to provide comprehensive care to address this issue. Healthy weight loss includes:
- monitoring one’s physical health,
- learning about healthy foods and portion sizes,
- learning safe exercises and activities
- mental health support and encouragement
Over and over again we encourage them and remind them that weight loss will not happen overnight. We work with them to start with small changes, changes they can stick with. Sometimes starting goals are to drink more water and less soda, or to write down five things they like about themselves in a journal every day. We find that when our teens start with (and accomplish) small goals, they are more likely to set and achieve larger goals.
Ultimately, at Teen Xpress, we strive to improve the health of all the teens we see. Obesity affects a large number of our patients, and we have discovered that increasing their knowledge of health and mental health improves their chances of making healthy changes that they can stick with for the long term. Our patients know that models are airbrushed and it takes most people at least twenty tries to get a perfect selfie. They know that strawberries are a better sweet treat than ice cream, but sometimes, you just gotta have some ice cream (we tell them to just throw the strawberries on there, so they are still getting some fruit!).
We feel that being and getting healthy should be enjoyable, not a punishment, and hope that after spending time with us, they feel that way, too.