calikatie

teen eating junk food when out with friends

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I am at a loss with how to stop my teen daughter from eating junk food when she is out with friends. At home, we have always had a very healthy diet - no sodas or junk food, lots of fish and greens, etc. I'm also not super strict - ice cream and cake for celebrations, or desserts when out at fancy restaurants, pizza and lemonade with the basketball team, even the occasional 'what the hell' doughnut (twice a year). And my daughter's weight and energy was fine until middle school. But as soon as she was old enough to go with her friends to Starbucks or fast food after school, and go to sleepovers where the parents are in bed hours before the kids, her sugar consumption went nuts. She is athletic, but she is a carb addict. I have tried EVERYTHING to get her not to indulge on a daily basis in muffins, brownies, chicken nuggets, and chips. I've spent a fortune on "healthy" bars to keep in her backpack, and delivered everything from sushi to brown rice and chicken to her after school before she goes off with her friends. It's a losing battle. She might skip a day of treats, but the very next day, she is sharing a bag of cookies with them on the walk home from school. Weekends are the worst as she comes home from sleepovers having a) gone to bed really late and b) binged on sweets, so it's a double whammy of fatigue and crankiness the entire next day where she struggles to do homework or chores. I have tried cutting off her spending money so she can't buy treats, but her friends will cover her, and their parents take them for ice cream and give them access to a pantry full of junk food. My question is, should I just let this go, and feed her well when she is home and not worry about the thousands of calories in sugar she's getting everywhere else? She cares about her weight and complains that her clothes don't fit her (I'd say she's easily 15 pounds overweight now - she weighs as much as I do and she is 14 and 3 inches shorter). My other hope is that if I can string together a few consecutive weeks this summer where she is Whole30 or at least Paleo, she'll see that the sugar is an addiction and try to control it herself. But I'm already dreading that as I know the second she goes out with a friend, they'll be eating junk. How do I help her set up good habits without constant nagging and even fighting about the frequent sugar binges? 

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This really may be outside the scope of what we can really help you with here. Hopefully you'll get some good suggestions, but you might also consider speaking to your doctor or even maybe a trusted therapist if you have access to one to get a professional opinion about the best way to approach this without causing more stress for both you and your daughter. 

If this is her way of asserting authority over her own decisions, it's unlikely that anything you do or say to convince her is going to change her mind. She may also feel like the only way to fit in is to eat what her friends eat and do what they do, and she might not have the confidence to speak up for herself even if she'd prefer to eat healthier around them. (I hope that's not the case, but I can remember times when I was younger when that's how I felt, so I'm throwing it out there for consideration.) 

For now, maybe focus on having healthy food at home. Invite her friends over for meals or to hang out at your home if that's possible, and have healthy food options that they'd still enjoy. Let her help plan what to eat, with some guidelines -- maybe ask her to pick mostly recipes from certain cookbooks or from certain websites, with maybe one or two options that are not as healthy. Offer to make her food to take with her, or offer to bring her food if she wants, but don't force it and don't be upset if she chooses not to take you up on it. When you talk about food or diet, try not to focus on weight, hers or your own or anyone else's. Make it about feeling good, having energy to do the things you like to do, not being moody. If she says she's experiencing some symptom, and you have also experienced something similar and found relief from it by changing your eating, you could mention that, not in a nagging way, just present the information and let her do with it what she will. If you have any of the whole30 books or other books on healthy eating, make sure they're someplace accessible so she can pick them up and read them if she wants to. She may not, and that's okay, the point is to let her figure things out at her own pace, which may not be as fast as you'd like.

Obviously, if she's having other health problems, if her doctor is wanting to put her on meds for things that could be changed with dietary changes, then you'd have reason to be much more insistent that she make changes.  That's not what it seems like you're describing here, though.

 

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Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, Shannon! We have discussed it together with her pediatrician twice - she also was was concerned that my daughter gained 15 pounds over a year of middle school without adding much height, and has fainted from low blood sugar!  (My daughter also started complaining of ADD symptoms over the past year and asked the doctor if she could be tested, and I'm pretty sure it is the brain fog she is in from her food choices.)  I think you're right about doing it because her friends do (her new best friend's diet consists of little more than chicken, white rice, pasta, and smoothies). And I think she has a sugar/carb addiction. (My mom told me that what we eat during pregnancy influences our children's food preferences, and I had a lot of broccoli but a lot of ice cream and pizza bc of morning sickness - lol and thanks, mom!) I tried for a long time to provide healthy snacks for when she goes to friends' houses, like air-popped popcorn and kombucha and LaCroix, but she turned them down (I'm sure in favor of more enticing snacks at their houses).

I get that part of the thrill of being a young teen is finally having the autonomy to spend your own money to indulge in Doritos and muffins and frappucinos. I'm going to agree with you that it is partially the confidence to make her own decisions in spite of what her friends are doing - try grabbing an apple and nuts when your three besties are eating oversize pretzels and Jamba juice at the mall - I can imagine it is hard!

At home, we are all good - she loves to cook and has surprisingly no complaints about our crazy healthy Paleo and Whole30 meals and snacks. And we do have the Whole30 cookbooks that she likes to look through! 

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I think you need to tone it back a couple notches with your daughter. 

Does your daughter ever talk to her pediatrician without you there? Her doc might be able to have that conversation about better food choices and keeping an eye on how clothes are fitting (because strictly focusing on weight with growing teens sets them up for a future life of being obsessed with the number on the scale) without sounding like a nagging mom. 

If she thinks she needs to be tested for ADD, don't push off a potential mental disorder as "she's just eating poorly". Maybe the symptoms are related to her food choices, but maybe they're not. Mental illness has enough of a stigma that she doesn't need her mom downplaying it. And if the test comes back and she doesn't have ADD, then maybe that doctor can approach the topic of how food affects focus and whatnot. 

I don't know if you're exaggerating that ice cream is limited to only celebrations or that there is a strict 2 doughnut per year cutoff that you mentioned, but maybe you just need to chill a bit. Teens love to do the things that drive their parents up a wall right? Well, if you're not on her case as much about what she's eating, maybe it'll be less of a big deal. 

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I would like to chill, laura_juggles, but when the pediatrician says she is concerned about a 15-pound weight gain in one year and passing out from blood sugar fluctuations, and I observe her eating junk food every day and all weekend, it is a problem, which is why I posted here. To be clear, I'm looking for suggestions on how to help a teen who is in sugar addiction make better choices when she has the autonomy to purchase her own food. I'm not pushing off a mental disorder, but the first line of treatment for ADD (in addition to or instead of medication) is cutting back on carbs and sugar, and exercise. (I know because I went through that myself. After five years of medication for ADD that barely touched it, meditation, exercise and a low sugar diet made a huge difference.) I don't think the issue is 2 doughnuts or 25, it's how she can make good choices when she has free reign outside the house.

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36 minutes ago, calikatie said:

I would like to chill, laura_juggles, but when the pediatrician says she is concerned about a 15-pound weight gain in one year and passing out from blood sugar fluctuations, and I observe her eating junk food every day and all weekend, it is a problem, which is why I posted here. To be clear, I'm looking for suggestions on how to help a teen who is in sugar addiction make better choices when she has the autonomy to purchase her own food. I'm not pushing off a mental disorder, but the first line of treatment for ADD (in addition to or instead of medication) is cutting back on carbs and sugar, and exercise. (I know because I went through that myself. After five years of medication for ADD that barely touched it, meditation, exercise and a low sugar diet made a huge difference.) I don't think the issue is 2 doughnuts or 25, it's how she can make good choices when she has free reign outside the house.

I think the only thing that's going to help her make better choices is when she finally gets to the point that she feels terrible and you can mirror good eating habits to her which she'll pick up hopefully.  It's difficult for people to give parenting advice on the internet because it's an extremely touchy/personal subject but this conversation has been had quite a few times so if you poke around this subthread a bit, you might find a kernel of truth or wisdom that you feel might help.  Perhaps sitting down with her away from food and talking out some strategies so that she has both autonomy in this formative time AND a good foundation/framework with which to exercise that autonomy.  It does sound like it's good that she's eating well at home and this is just a social thing... maybe a bit of exercise as part of the 'good home habits' would be helpful?  Walks after dinner?

As far as fighting binge urges, maybe have her read (or you can read it and parse it for her) Gretchin Rubin's article about moderators vs abstainers and see which one she is... that will be wildly helpful for determining what the plan is for going forward.

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If she is in agreement that she's feeling poorly and her clothes don't fit and she doesn't like the brain fog, then maybe sit down with her in an environment not already charged about the issue (go for a walk, make a pot of tea) and ask her if she would be willing to try the Whole30 for 30 days. "What if we give it a shot, really put our effort in for 30 days and do it together and then at the end, let's add those favourite treats back one at a time and see how you feel. You might find that your brain feels less foggy and you have more energy when you avoid certain things. Then you can make better choices when it's treat-time that won't affect you so much."

She's 14 - 4 more years and that kid is off to start a much more independent life. She's a child, sure, but she's also a burgeoning adult. Might be worth trying to treat her more like the young adult she is rather than just cutting off her money and restricting donuts to twice a year. Help guide her but leave the decision making up to her. Because sure, for the next 4 years or so you can Battle Royale it out over this but that's not your energy best spent.  Help her learn how to determine what is and is not worth it here surrounding food - but that also plays out in other aspects of her growing life. What is and is not worth her money, what is and is not worth her time, what is and is not worth her emotional energy. You have an awesome learning/teaching opportunity here.................

Disclaimer: I don't have kids.

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22 hours ago, calikatie said:

I get that part of the thrill of being a young teen is finally having the autonomy to spend your own money to indulge in Doritos and muffins and frappucinos. I'm going to agree with you that it is partially the confidence to make her own decisions in spite of what her friends are doing - try grabbing an apple and nuts when your three besties are eating oversize pretzels and Jamba juice at the mall - I can imagine it is hard!

At home, we are all good - she loves to cook and has surprisingly no complaints about our crazy healthy Paleo and Whole30 meals and snacks. And we do have the Whole30 cookbooks that she likes to look through! 

I think you have hit the nail on the head with the statement about how hard it is to not eat junk food when all your friends are. Since she loves to eat healthy food at home, it's probably not rebellion as much as wanting to fit in - it's certainly not about being hungry, so your dropping off sushi isn't going to change anything (feel free to drop it off to me though!).

Maybe she's just looking for an excuse to give her friends (one they can't override), like "Oh, if I eat that it will make me feel really rubbish, why don't we get sushi instead?". Try and find some articles about building self-confidence in teens.

Ultimately, it has to be her choice, but if you can pitch an elimination diet to her in such a way that it empowers her, that might be a winner - make it about finding culprits for her brain fog or acne or other physical symptoms that are not related to weight. If she's of a scientific bent, make it a personal experiment for her.

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19 hours ago, SugarcubeOD said:

As far as fighting binge urges, maybe have her read (or you can read it and parse it for her) Gretchin Rubin's article about moderators vs abstainers and see which one she is... that will be wildly helpful for determining what the plan is for going forward.

1

Thank you @GoJo09. I will look for that article. It sounds really helpful.

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19 hours ago, ladyshanny said:

If she is in agreement that she's feeling poorly and her clothes don't fit and she doesn't like the brain fog, then maybe sit down with her in an environment not already charged about the issue (go for a walk, make a pot of tea) and ask her if she would be willing to try the Whole30 for 30 days. "What if we give it a shot, really put our effort in for 30 days and do it together and then at the end, let's add those favourite treats back one at a time and see how you feel. You might find that your brain feels less foggy and you have more energy when you avoid certain things. Then you can make better choices when it's treat-time that won't affect you so much."

She's 14 - 4 more years and that kid is off to start a much more independent life. She's a child, sure, but she's also a burgeoning adult. Might be worth trying to treat her more like the young adult she is rather than just cutting off her money and restricting donuts to twice a year. Help guide her but leave the decision making up to her. Because sure, for the next 4 years or so you can Battle Royale it out over this but that's not your energy best spent.  Help her learn how to determine what is and is not worth it here surrounding food - but that also plays out in other aspects of her growing life. What is and is not worth her money, what is and is not worth her time, what is and is not worth her emotional energy. You have an awesome learning/teaching opportunity here.................

Disclaimer: I don't have kids.

Thanks, @ladyshanny. That kind of talk sounds inspiring. As far as the donuts twice a year, my point was more illustrative. (It's not like I have an alarm on my phone that says "Six months have passed, you can have a second donut." I can't actually remember the last time we had a donut.) I meant to give context that she is not so sugar restricted at home that she might be reacting to too strict a diet - we have the usual chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs, Halloween candy, other treats, etc. that most families do. It's just not a daily thing.

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There is already so great advice in here but I will throw my two pennies in as well. 

#1 Don't make it about weight, young girls are already so self-conscious about this. I completely understand your concern, and that you want to set her up to be healthy not just now but for the rest of her life. I get it and I respect it, that being said you want to make sure that you don't end up with a worse problem with food like anorexia or bulimia. No matter how you help her address it whole 30 or another way recommended by your doctor try being a coach verse a cop. Cheer her on support her and inspire her. 

#2. Rule out anything medical, have your doctor do a basic work up with thyroid, blood sugar, vitamin levels etc. Ask the Dr to do a mental health screen, talk with your daughters' school about the ADD/ADHD testing. Make sure you are not looking at a black and white painted horse that looks a lot like a zebra. 

#3 Try adding in more healthy exercise in a fun way. Find a sport she loves, go to the mall before the stores (and junk food stalls) open just the two of you and window shop while you walk. Hit trampoline parks or a rock climbing gym. This helps physically as exercise regulates blood sugar and release endorphins. If it is craving getting a hit of  "those feel-good chemicals" to your brain will often nix the craving in the moment. It also has many emotional benefits.

#4 Get her to buy in, there a ton of great suggestions on that above the only hong I would add is start by maybe asking open-ended questions that focus on her whole health not just her weight. How do you feel about your body? How do are your energy levels? How are you sleeping? How do you feel about your skin and hair? How do you feel emotionally? How do you feel about your physical stamina? The key part is using active listing here. Really hear her and let her know it. If she pushes back on the conversation step back for a bit and try again. When she is open to it share with her how much better all these things were for you after trying whole 30. Explain to her it is not a diet, it is a food experiment. 

#5 When she ready to do it together. Grab a copy of the journal whole 30 day by day, read it together every night and share and support each other :)

 

Finally, know that you are her mom. You know your daughter better than anyone else, you know what she needs and what works for your family. The is not "one true way" to parent take what works from you here and in all the other comments and leave the rest. You and your daughter's millage will vary. 

~SK

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