Help teens with diet, weight and self image issues


In a society where images of perfect bodies are constantly bombarding teenagers, many become obsessed with their diet, physique, and weight. Teenagers are prone to fads and quick fixes and often make poor choices in a quest for perfection and weight control. School health curriculums and programs tend to focus on weight references, height/weight charts, weigh-ins, skin fold measurements and BMI calculations and provide few recreational sports or physical activity opportunities.

There are many forces within society that have a lot of influence over how teenagers feel about themselves including the media, friends, family, teachers and coaches. Adults can use the empowerment model and nondiet techniques to successfully address lifestyle issues unique to teens ages 12 to 17. Strategies from the facilitated empower model can improve effectiveness in preventing adolescent preoccupation with food and weight.

Facilitated empowerment techniques for teen groups
Teens like their independence. The traditional authoritarian approach is unlikely to be as effective as an empowerment, let’s consider the options, compromise type of approach. Part of working with teens involves letting go of control and enabling them to make the decisions. Comments like, “That’s a very interesting point of view. Could you tell me more about that?” let the teen express his or her own perspective.

Help teens to develop the skills to consider their options, to communicate clearly and politely, and to be assertive in stating their opinion regarding food and body image issues. This engages teens to design a nondiet lifestyle in which food doesn’t rule them.

Empowerment techniques are ideally suited for helping young people take responsibility for their own lifestyles. Application of this approach promotes interactive listening through acknowledgment and feedback on the part of both the facilitator and the teen. Teens learn to appreciate the positives about their personal abilities, appearance and perspective.

Here’s how it works
Let’s contrast preaching versus using the empowerment technique of interactive listening. The following example illustrates the use of the empowerment model in response to a teen who is focused on her appearance.

When the teen comes to you and says, “I hate my skinny legs,” try a comment such as, “That’s your natural, genetic body shape. Look at your broad shoulders. You must look fabulous in a halter top.” This allows the teen to broaden her thinking pattern. She begins to realize that there are reasons for the way things are, that some things can’t be changed and these things should be accepted. This empowerment technique creates consistent discovery and emphasizes the positives, which counteracts the teen’s self-absorption with imperfect body parts and perceived negatives about personal appearance.

Moving through each empowerment technique in this way will help you to promote nondiet, assertive decisions for teens. Making examples relevant to teens’ lifestyles allows them to relate to the situations and practice decision-making. They will become aware of their own beliefs, attitudes and expectations while exploring these issues. An appreciation of the process of change and relevant personal indicators of success is fostered. A new system of teen-powered decisions emerges from the process.

Throwing out the diet myth activity
Here’s an except from the program materials that demonstrates the integration of teen language, teen issues and teen activities underscored with the sense of casual fun necessary to maintain attention and interest.

The challenge in any learning situation is to present information that is retained and can be used for personal decisions. The traditional style of educative counseling is to tell teens that diets don’t work, are dangers to their health and so they “should” eat healthier, but don’t do any extreme dieting. Teens want to be responsible for their own decisions, so this kind of teaching may cause teens to rebel and start dieting for this very reason. See how this activity captures the essence of letting go and gets the messages across in a nonpreaching manner.

Props: Ten 4″ colorful balls are each labeled with these dieting statements:

Diets make you happier and healthier.
Diets give you energy.
Diets make eating fun.
Diets never become eating disorders.
Diets are sexy.
Diets make you beautiful.
Diets improve your health.
Diets are exciting.
Diets are inexpensive.
Diets work.
Script for facilitator

Tell teens that we are going to see if some common beliefs about dieting are right or wrong. Describe how these beliefs are each printed on one of the plastic balls that will be thrown out to them. When someone catches a ball, they are to read out the statement and give their opinion: right, wrong & why. Emphasize that if someone is unsure of how to respond they can toss the ball to another teen until someone responds with the correct answer. Describe how balls with false statements should be pitched into a waste basket!!! Go with the lively & interactive fun and ensure that the following points come out in the conversation. Bring their real world experiences into the class.

Join international lecturer and registered dietician Linda Omichinski as she provides time-tested and proven strategies for counseling teens on weight management and building a healthy body through proper nutrition in her CE course Weight Management for Teens.

Linda will address the body image continuum, the diet /binge cycle, negative and positive self talk, how to promote self care and self acceptance, mind versus body hunger, the role of will power and confrontation, 10 reasons to give up diets, diet versus non diet thinking, and conscious eating. She will provide specific strategies using the nondiet approach to weight management and facilitated empowerment techniques for teens.

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