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Genes and Teen Dieting

thoughtful teen

Our body shape and size is predominantly determined by genetics.  Look at mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, great-grandma and great grandpa, and you will get an idea of what you are to look like, in part.  Your body frame, the way you carry your weight, be it in the hips, thighs, or the tummy, and your predisposition to illness, like cardiac disease, high blood pressure, or cancer, largely come from your genes.

Outside of genetics, our environment may play an even more impressive role in our body shape and size.  Our environment includes the food we eat, how we eat, when and how much we move our bodies, our behaviors around food and eating, and our priorities and methods of taking care of ourselves.

Many people want to change the way they look–especially adolescents.  Research indicates that by age 13, about 85% of girls have attempted dieting.  Furthermore, the age of dieting onset is getting younger– 15% of girls diet by age eleven.  Five and six year olds are aware of dieting. Additionally, dieting among teens of ALL weights (underweight, normal weight, and overweight) corresponds with unhealthy behaviors around eating and food and may be associated with a depressed mood.  Risk of disordered eating, eating disorders, and weight gain have been associated with teen dieting.

What can we do?  We need to help our teens re-align their beliefs and attitudes about their bodies.  As parents, we need to play up the positive, including health, physical activity, natural beauty, intelligence, and internal individuality.  We need to filter out the negative messages and the unrealistic images.

How much power do we have to change our body?  Sure, we can build muscle and reduce fat stores with exercise and what we choose to eat.  But, can we really change our genetic shape and size?  Can we really change our fat storage tendencies?  Our muscle building capabilites?  Yes, to the extent our genetic make-up will allow.

So, when your daughter or son starts on a rampage to alter his/her diet, and/or exercise more, because they don’t like their body shape or body size, remind them of their genes.  Remind them that genes are predetermined and “set in stone”.  Remind them that they will be tall, or short, or stocky, or slim, or narrow-hipped or blessed with “birthing hips”, because they come from your family….and that’s how your family looks.

Empower your child to make the most of their genetic potential.  We all have the genetic potential and the power to be healthy– and that comes from eating well and being active.  Getting comfy in your genes is about accepting your body for its natural shape and size, optimizing your genetic health potential through active living and healthy eating …NOT about dieting to fit into those jeans.

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