Come On Girls, Exercise Is Not just For Boys!

Local trainer Jeannie Paul takes a look at healthy diet & exercise for teenage girls

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According to the Centres for Disease Control, adolescent obesity increased from 5 to 18.1% between  1976 to 2008. Teenage girls are particularly seMarch 22, 2012ealth consequences from being overweight. Some teenage girls of normal weight develop disordered eating habits such as skipping meals, starving themselves or binging in an effort to become thin.  A healthy diet for a teenage girl looks much like that for an adult, but because she is still growing, nutritional balance and establishing good habits are even more important. 

The saddest part of the eating disorder epidemic that appears to be on the increase in the Western world is that perfectly healthy, normal young girls who are growing at THEIR rate, are bombarded by a perception that to be attractive, successful, popular they need to be a certain dress size which has shrunk with the decades.

Health Consequences of Poor Eating Habits

Teenage girls need to take in an appropriate number of calories, neither too many nor too few, to provide energy for their daily activities, to obtain important vitamins and nutrients, maximise height potential, and maintain a healthy weight. Being obese in adolescence potentially results in a lifetime of health problems.

Overweight teenagers often develop early onset of chronic conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea. The Centres for Disease Control also point out that being overweight can undermine a youth's self-esteem, setting them up for poor academic and social performance.

At the other extreme, teenage girls who starve themselves or binge and purge do not eat enough calories and risk nutritional deficiencies resulting in anaemia, irregular periods and poor bone development.

A Healthy Diet

A healthy diet for a teenage girl features a balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Do not shy away from healthy fats, like those found in nuts, olive oil and avocados; obtaining about 25 to 35% of your daily calories from these sources helps with vitamin absorption, healthy skin and hair and hormone regulation. Carbohydrates, like whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, provide energy and nutrition. Because they digest slowly, eating about 50 to 60% of your daily calories from these good sources will keep you from getting too hungry during the day. Calcium, available in low fat dairy such as milk, cottage cheese and yogurt and in dark green vegetables, is especially important to support growing bones and prevent weak bones later in life.

Types of Foods to Include

Giving girls the tools to make healthy choices can help them manage their weight and gradually lose pounds; or perhaps prevent them from developing unnatural eating habits that can explode into a full-blown eating disorder. Teenage girls are more likely to skip meals because they are self-conscious eating in front of other people or because they believe it will help them lose weight.

Strive to eat breakfast every day because it fuels your morning and prevents overeating later in the day. Choose whole wheat toast with peanut butter or pour a bowl of whole grain cereal or porridge with low fat milk. If you run out the door, grab a low-fat yogurt and a banana, or blend an all-fruit smoothie to pour into a to-go cup/bottle.

At the lunch line, your choices might be limited but skip the fries and burger or pizza and go for a grilled chicken sandwich with a baked potato instead. Better yet, bring your own lunch that might include a turkey or chicken sandwich on whole wheat, yogurt and fresh fruit. Snack on fruit, small servings of trail mix, air-popped popcorn, or 200 calorie energy bars. Experiment with foods like cut-up vegetables and hummus.

At dinner, a teenage girl can help plan and prepare the meal. Whole grain pasta with marinara or tomato sauce and a side salad can be made by the most novice of cooks.  For the vegetarian, Quorn or soya alternatives are an excellent low-fat alternative – the added bonus being that they are full of protein and low in calories allowing a hungry girl to eat a little more than she might with the animal alternative.

Foods to Avoid

Teenage girls should, as should everyone, limit processed and fast foods to help keep calories in check. Cut back on empty calories first, those found in full sugar fizzy drinks and sweets, to help reduce calories, without sacrificing nutrition. Significantly reduce intake of saturated fats, those found in fatty cuts of meat (like fast food burgers and bacon) and cheese and butter. Try to eliminate trans fats altogether, this man-made fat is found in processed baked goods, snacks and many fried foods.

Let your teenager go shopping with you and choose products without "partially hydrogenated" oils in the ingredient list. Limit intake of refined carbohydrates though as well, like snack crackers, crisps muffins, biscuits and white bread, because these offer limited nutrition and spike blood sugar.

Other Strategies

Too much weight loss too fast can interfere with growth. Do not fall for fad diet claims and indulge in diet pills; these strategies are likely to fail and may be dangerous for still-growing youth. Labelling foods as "off-limits" can backfire and lead to bingeing or secretive eating. Learning to include all foods, but in moderation, helps a teenage girl successfully manage her weight. Keep teenagers active, for at least 30 minutes a day up to 6 days a week.

Eating Plan for Teenage Girls

Good eating habits begin during adolescence. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 17% of children and adolescents are obese. Creating an eating plan for teenage girls not only helps prevent obesity, but it also ensures that they receive vital nutrients for optimal growth and development. Speak with a registered dietician to create a personalised eating plan to meet your daughter's specific health needs.

Balanced Meals

Adolescent girls who are sedentary, moderately active and active need at least 1,800, 2,000 and 2,400 calories per day, respectively. These calories should come from a balanced diet that contains lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables. My Plate, offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (, helps determine specific portion sizes because requirements vary by age, weight and activity level. Another important aspect of creating balanced meals includes making sure that your daughter eats breakfast, which is the most important meal of the day, and limits her snacks to fruits, vegetables and other foods low in salt, sugar and fat.


Any eating plan for teenage girls must include adequate amounts of calcium. During adolescence, calcium builds strong bones and protects against bone loss or osteoporosis, which may occur later in life. However, as suggested by Healthy Children (, two-thirds of adolescent girls in the United States and UK do not meet the daily requirement of 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Good sources of calcium include dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and turnip greens, broccoli, milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified cereals.


Teenage girls have an increased need for iron as a result of menstruation. Iron deficiency causes anaemia, which limits oxygen flow throughout the body. Girls who have iron-deficiency anaemia may experience fatigue, weakness and decreased immunity. The daily recommended intake of iron, which is found in plant and animal food sources, is 15 mg per day. Healthy options include lean meats, eggs, fortified cereals and oatmeal, legumes, spinach and raisins.

Zinc and Fibre
Zinc and fibre are also important nutrients to include in a teenage girl's eating plan. Zinc is an important part of sexual development and maintaining a strong immune system, and fibre aids digestion and prevents constipation. According to Healthy Children, three out of four girls do not eat the required amount of 12 mg of zinc per day. Chicken, fish, lean red meat, oysters, seeds and nuts are good sources of zinc. Girls ages 14 to 18 need 25g of fibre per day from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Teenage years are very important for starting healthy habits that will last a lifetime and help boost confidence. Here are some tips for teenage girls who want to start and stay healthy.

1. Start off right away with drinking more water.  Teens are notorious for not wanting to drink water.  Keeping your body hydrated with several glasses of water a day will help regulate metabolism and purify your body. A good rule of thumb is to take your weight and divide in half to find out how much water you should be drinking daily. i.e. If you weigh 100 pounds, you need to drink half that weight in ounces (50 ounces) of water every day. This will also help you to urinate, which helps you lose weight and flush your digestive system of any foreign substances. Plus, it can improve your skin and boost your immune system.

2. Maintain a regular sleep pattern. With projects, extra-curricular, tests, and friends or IM, you might not get to bed until after midnight every night, but don't get in the habit of staying up late and skipping out on valuable sleeping time! This can lead to the development of insomnia. The average teen needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep is a major factor contributing to how healthy you are. Getting enough sleep raises your alertness during the day, and minimises anxiety.

3. Eat breakfast every day. Breakfast is the most important meal, because it provides your body with its first fuel of the day. Good breakfast foods include fruit, eggs, milk, wholewheat, oatmeal, or toast. Starting with a good breakfast will also keep you concentrated during the day, and you will have fewer cravings.

4. Avoid junk food. This isn't limited to just the foods served at fast food restaurants, all foods with limited to no nutritional value qualifies as junk food. Think of it as littering your body; your body can't do anything productive with junk food. Stick to healthy foods that are high in protein, vitamins and minerals; your body will be able to use these things much better than junk food.

5. Replace unhealthy foods with healthy foods. You can replace white bread with wheat bread. You can even replace salt with kosher salt. Kosher salt is healthier, but it is bigger. White pasta with wholewheat pasta – fusilli and spaghetti  are generally the most palatable until you get used to the change in texture and slight change taste.

6. Eat meals slowly, and stop eating when you are full – it takes up to 20 minutes for the stomach to signal ‘full’ to the brain – overriding this can lead to overeating.  This is the most basic principle of good eating habits, yet many people feel they must finish what is on their plate – quickly.  Hunger is your body’s way of letting you know that it needs fuel. Fullness, or satiety, is your body's way of letting you know it doesn't need any more food. If you stop eating when you are full, you will get hungry every couple of hours, which is a good thing, this means your body is using what you give it.

7. Snack healthfully. Eat a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, some celery or carrot, or a match box sized piece of lo-fat cheese.  Anything healthy as a snack will help maintain your energy level throughout the day. Choosing anything low-fat, low-sugar, or low-sodium is better than anything full-fat, full-sugar, or full-sodium but be aware of marketing labels – sometimes “lo-fat” can be full of sugar to replace the taste loss, this can trigger the sugar cravings we can all have – defeating the object!

8. Exercise at least three to five times per week. Each time you should be exercising enough to work up a sweat for at least twenty minutes (preferably more). But don't limit your physical activity to you work outs at the gym: by walking/biking more places you'll get more sunlight, which boosts your mood, and you'll also get some less strenuous physical activity. Go for a run, a bike ride, or a challenging power walk. If you don't like to exercise on your own, join a fitness club, find a friend to work out with,(dogs are great ones!) or join a sports team. Keeping active will make you stronger physically and mentally.

9. Stick to a hygiene regimen. Wash your face in the morning and at night before you go to bed to keep your skin healthy and clean. Brush your teeth two to three times a day for a clean and fresh mouth. Taking care of your appearance will also make you feel better about yourself, which really is the most important thing.

10. Keep good posture. Don't slump during class! Hold yourself straight. There are many exercises that can help. If you have a laptop, work at a desk or with your back propped up.  Stand tall and proud, shoulders back, head up and tummy gently pulled in, the trick of the model and celebrity, it can make you look and feel so much better.

11. Make sure that you believe in yourself. This will help self-esteem -  and stick with whatever you put your mind to.  It’s so hard but try to stop comparing yourself to others.  Ask close older friends and relatives how they felt about themselves at your age, especially your mum, you might be surprised.

How to Recognise Fitness Traps and to Exercise Right


You may think extreme exercise will help you look like a skinny model or celebrity.  It’s hard to comprehend but not only do these people have personal trainers, chefs, beauticians and instructors at hand but the majority are dressed by stylists and airbrushed to perfection by talented editors after the photos have been taken!  Extreme exercise and several other fitness traps, almost always ends in disappointment. Check out these popular fitness traps, and get the lowdown on healthy exercise.

Fitness Trap #1: Exercise to Lose Weight

You may see a bunch of very thin girls walking down the runway, but in real life, girls gain weight in their teens. This is normal. Putting on 40 pounds (just under 2.5 stones) between age 10 and 14 is not unusual or unhealthy.  Does this mean you should just sit around get fat? No! Regular exercise can help you stay healthy as you develop. One study found that girls who don’t exercise gain an average of 10 to 15 pounds more than active girls. Something as simple as five or six 30-minute walks a week is all it takes.


Fitness Trap #2: Talk Yourself Out of Exercise

Maybe you think you look stupid or fat when you exercise. This keeps a lot of girls on the sidelines. Ironically, active girls say they feel better about themselves and their bodies, no matter how much they weigh.

Fitness Trap #3: Plan for Pain, Embarrassment, Boredom

OK, you hate the treadmill and loathe team sports. Then stay away from things that make you feel like a hamster or require hand-eye coordination. You still have options. Some girls stay away from ball fields, only to fall in love with dancing, yoga, and martial arts. Others find their bliss through biking, jogging, swimming, or taking long walks.

Fitness Trap #4: Do Only One Thing

Cross training helps build your overall fitness and helps you to not get injured. It also keeps things interesting. Here are the different kinds of exercise to work into your routine:

Aerobic exercise:  Good for: stronger heart and lungs

Examples: inline skating, dancing, walking briskly, jogging, biking,  swimming

Strength training: Good for: stronger muscles and bones

Examples: lifting weights, working with resistance bands, many kinds of yoga, rock climbing, circuits

Core body exercise: Good for: stronger trunk, pelvis, and lower back, better balance

Examples: well executed sit-ups, plank, swiss ball work, yoga, Pilates


Fitness Trap #5: Don’t Exercise Enough

Remember the study comparing weight gain in active girls to inactive girls? It only takes 30 minutes of activity, five times a week to make a difference. The key is finding things you enjoy and making them part of your life, like brushing your teeth.


Fitness Trap #6: Exercise Too Much

Some girls get obsessed and take exercise too far. Here are some signs of overdoing it:

You don’t take at least one day of rest every week

You feel exhausted all the time

Your periods stop - if this happens or you don’t get your first period by the time you turn 16, talk to your doctor and your  mum about it.

Exercise is not just for boys and doesn’t have to be humiliating. Done right, it’s a great way to get strong and healthy.


March 21, 2012

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