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Teen Weight Loss Secrets

Successful teen dieters reveal their weight loss strategies.
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

With over 12.5 million of our nation’s children overweight, we need to find creative ways to encourage young people to adopt healthy habits. But it's hard enough to get adults to take responsibility for their weight and health. How do you inspire kids who are also dealing with the tumultuous nature of being a teen to succeed at weight loss?

Overweight teens bear a heavy burden. They must cope with the teasing, social isolation, verbal abuse, and emotional torture that often result from being overweight, as well as their own negative self-images. 

Wes Gilbert, son of registered dietitian Anne Fletcher and one of the teens who is profiled in Fletcher’s book Weight Loss Confidential, describes his anxiety and guilt about being overweight.

"I worried about whether clothes made me look fat, what others thought of me, and especially when old friends gave me the look when they noticed how much weight I’d put on," he says.  When Wes finally lost weight, he says, "a huge metaphorical burden was lifted."

"Kids who are overweight have a quality of life similar to kids with chronic diseases like cancer," says Kerri Boutelle, PhD, LP, an adolescence and obesity expert at the University of Minnesota.

At her STAR (Service for At-Risk Teens) Clinic, she finds that overweight kids tend to have, or are at risk for, depression, poor self-image, and social isolation. They are also perceived as lazy and less attractive than normal-weight teens.

Teen Weight Loss Woes

For Fletcher, her desire to help her overweight son became a passion for finding solutions to help overweight teens. She interviewed 104 kids to learn what life was like when they were overweight, and what helped them lose the weight and keep it off. The results were published in Weight Loss Confidential: How Teens Lose Weight and Keep it Off and What They Wish Parents Knew

 "Their stories broke my heart. Being overweight affected their popularity, self-esteem, ability to get dates -- everything that is important to a teenager," says Fletcher, who also wrote the Thin for Life series on weight control in adults.

One of the teenage girls in the book described boys groping her as if it were acceptable because she was overweight.

"The pain and suffering of being an overweight teen was what finally led most of these teens to embrace serious weight loss," says Fletcher.

How Parents Can Help Teens With Weight Loss

Teens cannot succeed at weight loss alone. They need supportive parents who create healthy home environments -- and who serve as good role models. When parents succeed at losing weight, their children are more likely to succeed as well. But when a teen has overweight parents, it's often very difficult for that teen to lose weight.

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