Helping a teen keep weight loss momentum going...
July 10, 2014 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Help me support my teen daughter with her health efforts...

My 14 yr old daughter is about to come home from a 2 week fitness camp. She has learned some great things about exercise and nutrition, lost some weight, started the beginnings of some habits that I would like to help her continue at home. I need some resources for easy, fast, great tasting, nutritious meals that we can do to keep the train on the tracks. We need easy dinners, easy, take to school lunches and breakfasts, money is no object but time, flavor and simplicity is. She is a great cook (me, not so much but I try), a huge techie so blogs and apps about cooking healthy and exercise would also be appreciated. She really enjoyed pilates at camp so maybe that would be a good start? I'm so proud of her and want to really work to change the family habits and dynamics...Any advice toward doing that is welcome. Additional info....we have a 7 yr old little bro, not too picky about trying new things. Again, the focus is on simple, healthy and great tasting. Thanks so much!
posted by pearlybob to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are they sending her home with an after plan? A food plan? Is there a plan for follow up?

Unless there's a studio in walking distance, you might think about giving her a budget for Pilates workout videos. That would give her some flexibility in continuing a workout she likes without needing rides etc. It depends what she liked about it. I really like the quiet of the studio, which obviously she wouldn't get from a video.
posted by 26.2 at 1:57 PM on July 10, 2014

Sorry to answer a question with a question, but it would be helpful to know how you all are defining "healthy"--in particular whether she is leaning more toward the traditional low fat approach or is more interested in moving in a low-carb direction.
posted by drlith at 2:02 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

AskMefi is rife with healthy recipes. Just search for healthy recipes and you'll get more great ideas than you can handle. If she likes cooking, she might enjoy the Food Matters cookbook or VB6, both by Mark Bittmann. He also blogs in various places.

As for pilates etc., why don't you ask her how she would like to pursue it? There are probably local classes, plus you can get videos on Netflix/Amazon Prime etc. Teens generally appreciate having choices.
posted by wintersweet at 2:02 PM on July 10, 2014

If she wants to get technical, there are a number of good calorie-counting apps out there. I've used myfitnesspal and myfooddiary ($9/month but with more detailed tracking) with some success before.

There are also some apps out there that track your behavior during individual meals--I used one called "80 bites" or something like that. HMMV, but that app made me super neurotic and un-motivated to continue eating healthfully.
posted by magdalemon at 2:04 PM on July 10, 2014

Best answer: She may enjoy having her fitness gamified with something like HabitRPG! She can make daily tasks to tick off for different kinds of exercise, proper bedtime, etc, and little habits like drinking water and taking breaks from sedentary tasks. I'd suggest that she stay away from things like Fitocracy, as fun as they are, because I'm not sure a 14-year-old girl needs a ton more help judging her body against others'. I could be wrong about that and she might really enjoy it.

I see you're in Atlanta? You have a wealth of fitness opportunities both in and out of classes. Y'all can even do exotic things like aerial yoga if she gets deeper into Pilates and the like (I'd check to make sure they'll allow under-18s, of course). There are good bike trails, and lovely day hike opportunities. Try some martial arts! Try to make her a little space at home to do her thing, with a mat and a ball and so on.

As for food, excellent-quality fresh produce will make a huge difference in the appeal of healthy food, and can be wonderful with minimal prep. A truly good salad with a homemade vinaigrette is a thing of beauty. A reasonable size serving of a good cut of beef just needs a few moments of searing with very little seasoning. If she likes sweet potatoes, baking a week's worth at a time couldn't be easier. If she likes yogurt, good cheese, or butter, get the real, full-fat stuff and watch portions at least until she gets a feel for what a "normal" serving is (magdalemon's calorie-counting apps will help). I have this lunchbox and it is the most delightful thing in the world. She can include a variety of items in plenty of volume to satisfy. It's expensive, but has been totally worth it for me.

If she has trouble drinking water over caloric beverages, maybe try to get her into tea! In any case, I'd make this about positive incremental change and discovering the good stuff, rather than any crazy turnaround that might leave her missing her less-healthy habits. And don't forget to have some treats once in a while. Emphasize that she doesn't ever need to play through the pain if she's injured, and that little slipups don't mean that she's failed.
posted by hollyholly at 2:13 PM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Just some additional info....Not sure about send home info but they should, for what it costs....partly why I'm asking for good resources case they DON'T provide her with any. Probably going with more low sugar....balanced fats and carbs. High exercise. That has been her downside. She is a very sedentary chid....needs to move more, making the family effort toward a balanced diet. We are in town Atlanta. Lots of exercise options available.....just need suggestions....what is similar to pilates? She liked yoga, what else is out there?
posted by pearlybob at 2:17 PM on July 10, 2014

Do you have a wii or wii u? A wii u with wii fit and the fitness board is great and fun. It also tracks your progress and goals. Plus she can password protect her profile if she wants.

Another thing I've heard is to not keep unhealthy items in the house. It has to be a whole family thing. If the rest of the fam wants treats you can eat them outside of the house.

My fitness pal is also great.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:19 PM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think the best way to support her is to take a big step back and let her take the lead. Listen to what she has to say, and don't be so quick to jump in with what you think she should eat and how you think she should work out. You can help her by making space and time to do her thing. So she can have that experience of having been listened to and followed. If she doesn't know what that means yet, ask her about ways you can help her figure that out. Basically I'm saying you should empty your mind, not approach this like you typically might start a project. I hope you're not offended, but you sounded so enthusiastic it felt like it needed to be said.

That being said there are services out there like Blue Apron that are like little cooking classes in a box. I highly recommend it.

Also I think a focus on positivity (tasty wholesome meals, enjoyable activity) is better, healthier and more sustainable than negativity (counting calories, "working out") for a 14 year old.
posted by bleep at 2:20 PM on July 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

The best exercise slots neatly into the day: cycling or walking from here to there. I know the climate can work against you: get a buddy to reinforce the daily part. Help with locating showers at the ends of the journey, as well as appropriate clothing in a light carry-it.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:24 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Similar to yoga and pilates? Maybe she'd enjoy some circus/flow arts? I know there's a loose group that does flow jam stuff in Atlanta a lot (it's the sort of crowd that goes to Burning Man, which might or might not influence your desire to have her participate) that she might be interested in checking out with your supervision. Very body-positive and art-focused, but naturally a movement-intensive activity.

Of course regular dance stuff or tai chi might be her bag, too. See what she'd like to try, and be willing to let her try the first session or two before she settles on something for the time being.
posted by hollyholly at 2:24 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eat together as a family and then go for a walk as a family after dinner.

This is good for a lot of reasons...cuts down on grazing around mealtimes, the regular exercise is also social/bonding time, group effort, actually a lifestyle change, etc. If the little one is a slow walker, he can ride his bike with you.
posted by phunniemee at 2:24 PM on July 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you thought about taking a healthy cooking class for yourself? Realistically, the kids are going to be eating your cooking (or her other parent's) more often than not, so maybe your own habits would be worth an investment. Especially if you can work as a family on portion sizes, reducing pre-made/packaged meals, and working on simpler plant-heavy but tasty options.
posted by Think_Long at 2:26 PM on July 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

It is good to be active, but it needs to be as a family, what are you willing/able to do? What behavior can you model, like going for a walk after dinner, which she can join if she wants, but you are doing it because it is something YOU want to do.

It is boring advice, but just eating the correct number of calories is what you all need to focus on. Hopefully she will come home with some resources that help with that. I really dislike the emphasis at 14 years of age, so it is with reluctance that I suggest a good electronic scale (to be had for under $50) and some time figuring out how many calories are being consumed in a day and then see if you all are basically on track (with maybe a basic weekly goal). I am concerned about counting every calorie and the pressure put on young women. I know, I know, she also needs to lead a healthy lifestyle and figuring out calorie consumption needs to happen sometime, but I encourage you to stay alert to any over-emphasis on her eating or body shaming. It isn't that I felt that was indicated in your question, just a general concern.
posted by dawg-proud at 2:34 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you can't find an under-18 pilates/yoga/whatever class place nearby you can always go for the option of having an instructor come to the house.
posted by elizardbits at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2014

I sort of feel I did not exactly answer the question, so to be more specific - quick, easy, healthy ideas for snacks and lunches tend to be raw fruits and vegetables. It is super simple and can be paired with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, hummus, or maybe even a yogurt dip made with plain 2% yogurt and a bit of flavoring stirred in to make it more interesting. Try to keep the crackers and chips as a supplement rather than the focus of the dip delivery. Black beans and salsa heated up with a little cheese sprinkled on top is tasty and is just as good with raw bell pepper as your "chip." There a ton of resources out there, but I realize it can be overwhelming, but it's difficult to know without knowing if you all are up for things like quinoa and raw veggies. I mean roasted vegetables can be fabulous, but I was thinking of packing for lunch.
posted by dawg-proud at 2:42 PM on July 10, 2014

Appetite for Reduction is a great cookbook - really delicious, easy recipes. It's vegan, which may or may not be appealing for your family, but it's really a great book for anyone and has very accessible recipes with a focus on filling up with lots of veggies.

Working walking into her daily routine would be a good thing to do if at all logistically feasible where you live. I'd say 45 minutes to an hour minimum. If you have a dog, making her responsible for a nice long walk each day could be a good way to make it fun and a habit.

Is there a nice gym in walking or biking distance from your house that offers a variety of classes? Buying her a membership would be the easiest way to ensure her access to the sorts of classes she already likes and will give her the option to branch out into new types of exercise if she gets bored with her current favorite. Otherwise, is there a local pilates/yoga studio or something similar she could join? If not, a good way to be supportive would be to set up a regular schedule where you drive her to a class x times per week - and you could take the class too. My mom and I used to do yoga together (back when yoga classes were only offered in the basements of crystal & incense shops) and it's a fun memory.
posted by snaw at 2:55 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would get some Pilates videos, a couple mats and do it with her. Agree on some sort of schedule and do it together 3 or 4 times a week.

If money is no object, then really get Blue Apron for 3-6 months and then see if you can do it on your own. Or maybe even a food delivery service. There are some pretty amazing ones out there if you are willing to pay.

I would start planning physical activities on the weekend for the whole family. Hikes or maybe even just something that will require a lot of walking.

Also maybe get her a fitbit (or for the whole family and you can compete). It really is a good way to gauge you activity and compete with yourself.

Get rid of all the soda and juice. Everyone in the famiy drinks water now.

As someone who used to be very sedentary and Pilates/ yoga was my gateway to being active, I'd recommend workout videos in addition to Pilates and yoga. I'm terrible at sports so they aren't fun for me, but I can do a video in the privacy of my living room without worrying about how uncoordinated I am or how I'm not keeping up as well as everyone else. Amazon Prime has a ton a good workout videos that you can stream. I've recommended Jillian Michaels 30 day shred on here so many times on here people probably thinks she pays me, but I like it because it's only 25 minutes as opposed to an hour and there is a tangible goal to complete all three levels in 30 days which keeps me on track. There are other similar programs like P90x that also have set schedules, which I think is really good for someone that is trying to become active and doesn't know where to start or what exactly you need to do to get into shape.
posted by whoaali at 3:43 PM on July 10, 2014

To piggyback off what Jesse the K said, I am the most consistent about exercise when I make it a part of my day. When I get myself to walk to/from work, for instance, I not only feel better from that physical activity, but I'm also more able to get myself to go running later on that same day. Something about getting out and moving makes my brain go "oh, that's kinda fun" and makes it feel like less of a chore than I was thinking.

You mention living in downtown Atlanta - are you in walking distance from restaurants, parks, interesting shops? You could try setting a goal of walking to one new restaurant a week as a family, or walking over to a park regularly for a picnic with your daughter. Just getting out and walking to things I might normally drive to (we sold our car about two years ago) has really helped me feel better in my body over the last couple years. Walking TO something, especially something really fun and rewarding, helps make the walking part feel like less of a chore and more of a way to get to do awesome things.

On the food end, I've found that I am REALLY picky about eating things like salads and, to that end, a good salad dressing can have a huge effect on getting myself to eat more green stuff. I hate most commercial salad dressings (often too sweet, too thick, too vinegar-y, too mayo-y) but making really simple dressings for myself has been a revelation. A few weeks ago I tried a mix of toasted sesame oil, tahini, and a tiny bit of rice vinegar blended up, and I am loving it. It's light, savory, and filling and avoids all my salad dressing issues. I made up a salad mix from Boston lettuce, radicchio, bean sprouts, and grated rainbow carrots, which give the salad more of a "crunch" than "I'm eating a pile of leaves" feeling, and put it in a bag in the fridge to use over 3-4 days. Today for lunch I mixed some salad with the dressing, plus some slivered almonds and squeezed lemon wedges.

For me, I've found that seeking out healthy and nutritious foods that satisfy my own tastes is much, much easier to sustain than trying to get myself to like specific "healthy" foods that just aren't good to me. One blog I LOVE for everyday cooking ideas is Budget Bytes - I think with your daughter's interests, she would have lots of fun trying out recipes and ideas from that blog. It focuses on simple and tasty meals and ways to portion out and use leftovers for lunches in a thrifty way. It's a staple read anytime I find myself getting lazy about cooking my own food.
posted by augustimagination at 3:47 PM on July 10, 2014

If you're near a YMCA, a family membership might be a good investment. Check with your local branch to see what their age policy is on things like use of cardio equipment, pool, exercise classes, etc. You can work out together if she finds that encouraging, and there should be a variety of different classes and activities that she can try out. Your son may also enjoy some of the kid's programs.

I have a teenage niece who has struggled with weight and diet-related health issues, and she likes the the Eat This, Not That series. The format is very colorful and zippy. There's several books, a smartphone app, etc. I may not necessarily agree with everything in them, but I do like their overall approach--no forbidden foods, that if you do want Pizza Hut or McDonalds there are still choices that are better or worse, that what seems healthier may not always be healthier, etc.
posted by drlith at 4:22 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Would your daughter be willing or interested in joining a sports team, either for her school (which would probably practice every weekday starting in early August for the fall season, and possibly on Saturday mornings) or for a local rec league (which would probably have one or two practices and a game day each week)?

I was a bookish little kid, but started playing sports -- both for my school and and for rec -- at 13/freshman year of high school, and it vastly improved my fitness and was really a great part of my education altogether. This would be the year to start, since she'd be able to join the freshman or JV team, or the 14-and-under league, which is usually not all that competitive and is more about having fun. If she's worried that she's uncoordinated, she might want to try track (fall is usually cross-country) -- she doesn't have to go in as a "good runner," effort is usually the name of the game in my experience, and there aren't really "cuts" like on other teams. Sports that aren't big in rec leagues or popular with younger kids might be a good option in general, because then lots of kids coming out for the team won't have played them before, either -- for the fall, field hockey or volleyball are both sports that I had a lot of fun with and that many kids don't start playing until they're teens. There are usually short (week-long) private day camps for kids who want to try out or learn sports before the season starts -- I went to one for field hockey, and it was very helpful.

As your daughter gets more fit (and as she grows in general!) and her exercise becomes more and more intense, she might experience an increase in her appetite -- and she might need to increase how much she's eating in order to keep up with her body's demands. I'm not sure how she should handle that, to be honest, but it's something she might actually want to discuss with her camp counselors now. If she does decide to try out for a team at her school, the athletic trainer(s) on staff might also be good resources in regard to that issue.
posted by rue72 at 7:09 PM on July 10, 2014

The Epicurean Bodybuilder has great, healthy recipes. They're not meant to "bulk you up" or anything like that, they're simply healthy, good-tasting recipes for people focused on fitness.
posted by schroedinger at 7:42 PM on July 10, 2014

Best answer: BBC Good Food! We bought a stack of the small recipe books and cook from them more than our other cookbooks because the layout - one page is the recipe, the other a great mouthwatering photo - and size make them feel very friendly, the recipes are simple but good (we have not had one recipe fail yet), list of ingredients are short and there's a big variety. Our 14 year old will browse them and pick a recipe to try on his own. They have several healthy type titles and ones for lunches etc.

Maybe have a cooking routine where on Sunday, you guys make ahead salads and soups or whatever for the week's lunches, and then take turns cooking healthy dinners.

And definitely find a fun family weekend activity outside like gentle hiking, picnic and walk in the park, swimming etc. I'd suggest getting an exercise class that she can do with her dad - at that age, him spending time with her doing sport is going to be a huge bonding time and encourage her (if he's not body-shaming her but is encouraging about this as fitness). It's good if she feels like she's helping the family get healthy - my sons will go running to keep their dad company, but very rarely on their own.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:59 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It will sound counterintuitive, but: other things. Other things are still important. Find out what ELSE she wants to be doing to give herself pleasure and relieve stress. Don't assume she wants everything to be about this, and remember that she still needs to have a whole identity that isn't this. Support all these new habits, but also support her the writer or pianist or collector or reader or whatever, because she needs to value that person enough to engage in meaningful self-care.

She needs other things to think about, because this will sometimes be boring and a pain in the ass. If she has hobbies, this is a great time to encourage her to put her shoulder into them.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:48 PM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think I'd just ask her, and maybe ask her if there is anyone else she recommends that you ask. She's probably a semi-authority right now.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:02 PM on July 10, 2014

This may or may not be her bag, but one of the things I find helpful when trying to stay motivated to exercise is to have nice exercise clothing. This adds something to exercise that I enjoy (looking nice) and also makes me feel better about the red, sweaty, unfit thing that I feel like when I exercise. It's hard to feel good about it, sometimes, if you are in your old trackies. YDMMV. Good luck!
posted by jojobobo at 11:55 PM on July 10, 2014

I'm so proud of her and want to really work to change the family habits and dynamics

Just speaking as someone who used to be a chubby 14 year old girl, make sure you tell her how proud of her you are and that you want to support her in the progress she's making. Everyone who has ever lost weight has cheated and gained some weight back at one point or another, which is difficult enough without feeling like you are disappointing your parents by doing so.

If she's into cooking and is a techie--would she be interested in taking a cooking class or starting her own healthy food blog? She might be interested in cookbooks like Cooking for Geeks or How to Cook Everything (while not low-calorie focused cookbooks, learning how to cook is a huge benefit to healthy eating).

Also, equip your kitchen with a kitchen scale and plenty of measuring cups and spoons.

If she's got a smart phone, a fitbit or similar device might be neat.

Are any of her friends involved in any sort of yoga, pilates, barre, or dance classes that she could join? If she wants to learn how to rollerskate, the Atlanta Junior Roller Derby is for girls ages 7-17!
posted by inertia at 10:44 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Drat, I can't find it!
I remember a study on weight in teenagers, where they tried various combinations of either the parents talking to their kids about healthy weight loss or not, and/or serving healthy meals or not.

Best result? Parents saying absolutely nothing, and just serving healthier meals!
(If someone else could cite, that would be great).

A 14 year old is living at home, you have most of the control over what they are eating. Make sure she has a healthy breakfast, packed lunch and snacks, and healthy dinner.
Easy ways to cut calories are NO SOFTDRINKS!
Snacks for me, are either fruit, or anything with at least 5 grams of protein, so I actually feel full and stop snacking. A pottle of yohurt, a tiny packet of nuts, cheese on a cracker.

Her calorie needs are somewhere around 2,000 - 2,200.
There are tons of plans which show what 2000 calories a day look like.
Use that as a basis.

My suggestion, is plan out what breakfast, snacks and lunches look like most days. Like, hot oats with a banana, or scrambled eggs.
Lunch & snacks - sandwiches, at least one with a high protein filling (meats, eggs, tuna, cheese, peanut butter, hummus), fruit, a yogurt, a tiny packet of nuts.
Dinner can be more standard, but if you just focus on protein first, then veges, then having carbs and dressings as secondary to that, you'll be good. It's focusing on the carbs as the important part of the meal that throws it off. Desserts - either skip them entirely for your family, or, just get some tiny bowls. I'm not kidding, people fill bowls up, and that's too much dessert. Have icecream, but in a wee little bowl or even an appropriate glass.

For me, I can't really eat sandwiches (it's the wheat), but a standard lunch is dinner leftovers, or rice noodles (the ones shaped like, and that cook like 2 minute noodles), a can of tuna, stirred in with a packet of miso and some frozen asian mixed veges (heated together, obviously) for lunch.
I was accidentally losing weight, because it turns out a whole 185g tin of tuna (a whole one, not even one of those half sized ones) has about 40g protein so is super filling, but only about 200 calories? Something like that. Even with the rice noodles and veges whole meal was filling, but less than what I needed for daily calories.
Note: I've never ever been on a count-my-calories diet. I worry it's a bad mindset to get into, but, understanding calories means you can tweak your 'standard' diet, and having a healthy standard diet, is what you need.

Another thing I do for grab and go breakfast, is bake a quiche on Sunday/Monday night at the same time I'm doing dinner, in a large roasting dish, for me and my housemate. Different veges for variety, sometimes some bacon or sausage in there, and at least a dozen eggs. Cut in 8 slices, and I grab a piece for breakfast, either cold, or microwaved for 30 seconds.
posted by Elysum at 3:02 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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