(Long Island, N.Y.) Prom season is around the corner and it’s the time many teen girls get obsessive over body issues. Long Island mom Linda Frankenbach created fitsmi.com, the first website offering community, expert advice, behavior modification tools and coaching to teen girls struggling with weight. As a teen growing up in West Islip, Linda struggled with her weight and her mom tried to help her but lacked the information and the tools. Finally a neighbor was able to help Linda, so this issue is close to her heart.
Linda, who now lives in Bridgehampton, was a pioneer in cable television and part of the leadership teams that launched Cablevision, HBO, Comedy Central and Court TV. Her original idea was to create a weight loss TV network but as she researched the media resources available for weight loss, she discovered that teen girls were an undeserved population. She realized the best way to reach this age group was online so Linda enlisted an A team of television executives in collaboration with medical experts to create fitsmi.
The website is free and offers a wealth of invaluable information that is not included in school health classes. Medical consultants include obesity doctors, registered dieticians, certified physical trainers and adolescent psychologists. There is also a companion site fitsmiformoms.com offering expert guidance for moms on how they can best support their children battle obesity and live healthier.
Linda stresses that it is not about dieting, but about making lifestyle changes that can be continued throughout a lifetime. Teens are still developing and can’t be treated as adults, but also the approach is very different than with younger children where the parents still exert a lot of control.
If your teen wants to get healthier and slim down, here are 10 inspiring tips from the Fitsmi coaches:
1) MODEL HEALTHY HABITS. Actions speak louder than words (and Dads listen up, apparently your eating and exercise habits have more influence on teens than mom’s). Don’t keep nutritionally bankrupt foods in the house. Remember, you are a role model at all times. Are you eating a healthy dinner? Eating slowly and mindfully? Appreciating your food instead of wolfing it down? Drinking water instead of soda or other sugary beverages?
2) DON’T NAG; DON’T TIPTOE: Be honest with your child if you or your pediatrician is concerned about your child’s weight. Don’t be afraid to talk about it or bring it up, but then you have to let go and not nag. Tell them you’d like to help them make changes in their life IF that is what they would like to do. Your role is to be their cheerleader and strategic supporter (i.e. providing rides, $, or opportunities if they want to get fit, learn about nutrition, etc.) when they are ready to move forward. Be prepared to seal your lips if, after your empathic and carefully worded discourse that you’ve sweated over for days, they then proceed to lie on the couch and eat a whole pizza in front of you.
3) MAKE HEALTHY EATING CONVENIENT AND TEMPTING. Do what you can to make eating healthy easy to do around your house. For example, buy Attractive Containers and Fill Them Full of Bite-Sized Colorful Fruits and Vegetables. Looks count! When your kid opens up the fridge, they should see bright colors, chunks of ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables in easy-to-grab, transparent containers.
4) ORGANIZE ACTIVE FAMILY ACTIVITIES– Modeling positive habits includes exercise so suggest spontaneous or planned active and fun family activities such as Frisbee in the backyard, dancing together in the living room, playing Wipe Out on the Xbox, riding bikes to the movies, ice skating or a Fall outing to climb a mountain together!
5) EAT HEALTHY TOGETHER. Don’t single out the child with the issue. Make changes in the way the entire family is eating. Try to have as many family meals together as you can. There was one study that reported eating at least 3 meals per week as a family is the minimum to help build a teen’s self esteem as well as a starting goal for healthy meals.
6) COOK TOGETHER. Get teens in the kitchen too and prep healthy meals together at least once a week.
7) BE AWARE OF YOUR CHILD’S TOTAL WELLBEING. Be mindful of how your child is doing holistically, not just in terms of his/her weight. Be sure to address issues of anger, depression, anxiety and loneliness, with a therapist if necessary. Working on other issues to make their lives better can take some of the pressure off of comfort/emotional eating and can also improve your child’s self esteem. You can help your child feel better about herself by cultivating her talents and strengths. Children with higher self-esteem are more inclined to take care of themselves. So encourage your teen to follow his/her passions and support them. Beat boxing? Rap? Painting and shredding t-shirts into seemingly unwearable forms? Go for it!
8) MONITOR HOW OFTEN YOU CRITICIZE YOUR CHILD. Remember to love your child unconditionally, especially when you feel like saying a gazillion critical things about them. Your love matters, it really does.
9) DON’T REWARD WITH FOOD. Find ” treats” that aren’t food such as a long-awaited ski trip. Have celebrations that aren’t centered on food.
10) REMEMBER IT’S NOT ABOUT DIETING. Deprivation only works in the short term. The goal is to change how your child thinks about food and create healthy eating practices for a lifetime.
So, don’t measure your teen’s success merely on how much weight she loses. Other things you can look at may be the amount of time she spent being physically active and not watching television, an increase in endurance (for example, biking for a longer distance or jogging for a longer period of time), or a week of making nutritious snack choices instead of cookies and a soda.