How 104 Teens Lost and Kept Weight Off
Teens' 10 Keys To Eating Success
Nearly 21% of America's youth aged 12 - 19 years old are obese (have a BMI ≥ 95% of the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts). Adolescent obesity is a serious problem in the United States putting adolescents at risk for poor health now and in their future. The probability of adolescents with obesity becoming adults with obesity is approximately 80% (1).
Prevalence of obesity among youth aged 2–19 years, by sex and age:
United States, 2015–2016
The statistics are dreary, but some teens do successfully lose weight and keep it off. How do they do it?
Registered Dietitian Anne M. Fletcher documented the successful weight loss and weight maintenance of 104 preteens and teens in her book Weight Loss Confidential. Fifty-six of the adolescents lost 50 or more pounds, 26 lost 75 or more pounds, and 14 lost an astounding 100 or more pounds. More importantly, they did it sensibly and were able to keep the weight off.
When surveyed, the teens revealed ten strategies that helped them lose weight, and maintain the loss (2).
The Teens' 10 Keys To Eating Success
1. They changed what they drink
Eighty percent of the teens drink more water than before. Sixty-five percent drink less regular soda. Most said they drink less juice. They significantly reduced their daily caloric intake just by eliminating or reducing their consumption of sugary drinks.
2. They cut the fat
Fat has more than twice the calories per gram than carbs and protein. Strategies used by the teens to reduce fat consumption include using mustard instead of mayo, using less dressing on salads, avoiding fried foods, and cutting back on fatty meats.
3. They eat smaller portions
Reading nutrition labels on packaged foods to understand what a serving size is; using smaller cups, plates, and bowls; preparing smaller amounts of food; not eating out of bags and containers; and measuring and weighing food are ways the teens keep portion sizes under control.
4. They eat more fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have a lot of volume without a lot of calories because of their high water and fiber content. They fill you up and provide important vitamins and minerals, too.
5. They eat regular meals
Instead of grazing throughout the day, or skipping meals and then eating large meals when famished, the teens are eating regular meals and snacks. While breakfast is the meal most commonly skipped by teens, about 75% of the teens in Fletcher's study eat breakfast regularly. Skipping breakfast often leads to teens overeating later in the day, preventing weight loss and even causing weight gain (3). Teens who skip breakfast tend to eat more snacks between meals, have lower micronutrient content and consume more alcohol and sugar compared to those who eat breakfast regularly. (4).
6. They still eat carbs, but from different sources
The teens avoid the simple sugars in snacks and sodas, and instead eat healthy foods high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
7. They don't deprive themselves
Many of the teens say they have a "treat" at least once a week, and some do every day. They keep portions under control and eat lower-calorie versions to avoid consuming too many calories.
8. They snack smarter
Some pick lower-fat snacks, others make sure their snacks include fiber and protein to prolong feeling satisfied. In general, they incorporate healthier snack choices into their day.
9. They changed their restaurant habits
They go to restaurants with healthier choices, they pick lighter items from the menu, substitute vegetables for fries, eat smaller portions, and eat less fast food. Some have half of their meal boxed before it is brought to the table.
10. They party wisely
They move away from the food and focus on connecting with people. They plan ahead by surveying the food available and mindfully deciding what and how much they will eat, or by eating less during the day before the party. Others eat before the party and arrive full. They provide healthy foods at their own parties, and bring them to other's parties.
The teens used a variety of strategies to lose weight and keep the weight off without resorting to "dieting." Their approaches can be used by teens as well as adults to get to and maintain a healthy weight.
1. Guo SS, Chumlea WC. Tracking of body mass index in children in relation to overweight in adulthood. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(suppl): 145S-148S https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/70/1/145S/4714908
2. Fletcher A M. WEIGHT LOSS CONFIDENTIAL. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin; 2006:136-154.
3. Hearst MO, Shanafelt A, Wang Q, Leduc R, Nanney MS. Barriers, Benefits, and Behaviors Related to Breakfast Consumption Among Rural Adolescents. J Sch Health. 2016;86(3):187–194. doi:10.1111/josh.12367 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4825869/
4. Sjoberg A, Hallberg L, Hoglund D, Hoglund D, Hulthen L. Meal pattern, food choice, nutrient intake and lifestyle factors in The Goteborg Adolescence Study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003;57(12):1569–78. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14647222