The weight is over: need to lose weight? Here are the healthiest strategies

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When Emily W. was 12, she hated going to school.

As a sixth grader in Glasgow, Mo., she was teased constantly for being overweight. “Most days I came home crying,” Emily told Current Health. Worse, her weight was affecting her health–she had high blood pressure.

Emily is not alone. More than 17 percent of children and teens in this country are overweight–more than three times the percentage in 1980, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But that doesn’t mean teens should all look as skinny as Hollywood stars. “Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and everybody has a weight that’s right for [him or her],” says Lorraine Mulvihill, a dietitian at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Center for Adolescent Health in Mountain View, Calif.

Nevertheless, if you think you might be medically overweight, talk to your doctor. “Make sure your physician is agreeable to your losing weight,” says Dr. Robert Pretlow, a0 Seattle-based pediatrician and director of, a resource for overweight children, teens, and parents. Doctors can help set healthy and realistic weight loss goals.


Smart Eating

Emily was unhappy and knew it was time to change. She persuaded her mom to go with her to Weight Watchers, a program that helps overweight people learn healthy eating habits. (A young person over the age of 10 can join with a note from a doctor.)

As Emily learned, there is no magic pill or wonder diet for dropping pounds. A study of the National Weight Control Registry, a database of people who’ve lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year, found that daily exercise as well as changes in diet were key. “The way to lose weight is simple: Burn more calories than you take in,” Pretlow says. Here’s how:

Avoid diet crazes. Diets that force you to cut out certain foods leave you feeling deprived and are almost guaranteed to fail. A recent study found that teens who dieted were three times more likely to be overweight five years later. “Diets don’t work, period,” says Mulvihill.

Eat a balanced regimen of food. All bodies–especially growing ones–need balanced nutrition to function well. A balanced diet includes carbohydrates, protein, and some fats. “Cutting out food groups is not an option,” stresses Mulvihill.

Eat only when you’re hungry. Learn to listen to your body, Mulvihill says. It will tell you when it’s hungry and when it’s full.

Enjoy your favorite treats … within reason. You can still eat chocolate or fries–just not every day. If you can’t resist a temptation, avoid it.

Beyond the Plate

Exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight. Physical activity burns calories, speeds up metabolism, and helps the body process food more efficiently. Aim for at least 60 minutes of activity most days, but don’t overdo it. “Exercise shouldn’t be a punishment,” Mulvihill says.

Staying active can help you deal with food cravings too. When the munchies hit, distract yourself by playing with the dog, taking a walk, or practicing the drums. After a week or two, your busy body won’t miss that extra food.

Be sure to get enough food to fuel your body, though. If you eat too little, your body will think it’s starving and will hang on to every last calorie you swallow. Losing weight gradually is the most effective way to reach a healthy weight and stay there. Aim to lose no more than 1 to 3 pounds a week.

A New, Healthy You

Emily lost 70 pounds and has maintained her weight for four years. Today, at age 16, smart choices are just part of her routine. In fact, she can hardly remember the junk foods she used to snack on. “I was really determined, and I knew I wanted out of that lifestyle,” Emily says.

Anyone can be as successful as Emily by making a commitment to be healthy. “You have to want to do it for yourself,” she says. By modifying your choices and behavior, you’ll look great and, most important, feel even better.

LOSING IT: Success Story #1

Name, age: Andrea N., 15

Location: Houston

Weight lost: 35 pounds


Andrea started grocery shopping with her mom and reading nutrition labels to he more aware of the foods she was eating. Today she eats more fruits and vegetables, with treats now and then so she doesn’t feel deprived. For exercise, she runs, swims, and loves playing Dance Dance Revolution.


Andrea’s biggest challenge was overcoming the urge to snack. She admits it wasn’t always easy–but the adjustments she made have been worth it. Andrea’s best advice to others seeking to lose weight:

‘Fad diets don’t work long term. There are absolutely no shortcuts.’


Success Story #2

Name, age: Liz M., 16

Location: Jacksonville, Ra.

Weight lost: 35 pounds


Liz was active as a soccer player but was also an “avid snacker,” she says. She cut out sweets and junk foods and took up dancing. “I thought giving up soda would be the hardest thing;’ she says, but it turned out to be an easy way of cutting calories.


Liz says she couldn’t have done it without her family’s help. They agreed to keep junk foods out of the house. Now Liz goes out for an occasional milk shake but doesn’t snack on sweets every day. Her advice:

‘It was two to three weeks before I started seeing results. Stay motivated, and don’t give up.’


Success Story #3

Name, age: Trevor N., 17

Location: Pittsburgh

Weight lost: 40 pounds


Trevor got diet and exercise advice in a program at the Weight Management and Wellness Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Before, Trevor spent a lot of time sitting in front of the TV, and he ate fast food three times a week. Now he runs, lifts weights, and plays basketball. He keeps his portion sizes in check, eats more vegetables, and avoids fast foods.



Start slow, Trevor says. He began by walking for the first two weeks and then upgraded to a jog. Now Trevor enjoys exercise. “It’s hard at the beginning. But when you lose weight, it’s a good feeling, and you want to keep losing more until you’re where you want to be,” he says. Trevor adds:

‘You’ve got to make it an everyday routine’

Small Changes,


Whether you want to lose a lot of weight or just a couple of pounds, these healthy common-sense tips are easy to fit into your everyday routine.

[check] Cut out sodas, juices, and sugary sports drinks, which are full of calories. Replacing one soft drink per day with low-fat milk or water can help you lose 15 pounds in a year!

[check] Watch food portions. When eating out, cut your food servings in half, and save the rest for another meal. For the 411 on portion sizes, visit

[check] Try to make healthy choices, such as fruits. vegetables, pretzels, and granola bars instead of ice cream, chips, and cookies.

[check] Stay on track with your family’s support. Ask them to stock the cupboards with healthy fare.

[check] A healthy, fiber-filled breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal with fruit, will fill you up and keep you satisfied until lunch.

[check] Spend less time sitting. Clean your room or walk the dog to burn more calories.

[check] You don’t have to hit the gym to get exercise. Dance, swim, run, hike, go rock climbing-find activities you enjoy.

[check] Team up with a friend to lose weight. You can help each other choose healthy foods and find fun ways of being active together.


* According to the National Weight Control Registry, what two practices help people maintain weight loss? (exercising daily and making permanent adjustments to eating habits)

* What strategies did Emily and other teens mentioned in the article use to lose weight healthily? (joining a weight-loss program, cutting back on junk food, getting more exercise, watching portion sizes, eating healthier foods, reading nutrition labels, allowing occasional treats)

* What other ideas do you have for teens who want to lose weight in healthy ways? (Answers will vary.)


What’s the difference between a weightloss diet and a healthy way of eating? Success, according to nutrition experts. Have students bring in advertisements for various diet plans and products. In a class discussion, show them how to dissect the ads’ claims. In addition, have them compare the diets’ methods with the tips and strategies mentioned in the article. Based on those comparisons, do the students believe that the diets will produce safe and lasting weight loss ?


Students can get tips and advice and chat with other teens about losing weight at

The National Weight Control Registry ( enrolls only people age 18 and older. It is, however, a good source of ideas and information for students.

The TeensHealth Web site has further advice for losing weight in a healthy way: fitness/dieting/lose_weight_safely.html.