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The Deal With Diets

Article Translations: (Spanish)

High-protein diets. Low-fat diets. Vegetarian diets. No-carb diets. With all the focus on dieting, how do you figure out what's healthy and what isn't?

People diet for many reasons. Some are at an unhealthy weight and need to pay closer attention to their eating and exercise habits. Some play sports and want to be in top physical condition. Others may think they would look and feel better if they lost a few pounds.

Lots of people feel pressured to lose weight and try different types of diets. But if you really need to lose weight, improving your eating habits and exercising will help you more than any fad diet.

Can Diets Be Unhealthy?

Everyone needs enough calories to keep their bodies running well. Any diet on which you don't eat enough calories and important nutrients can be harmful. Extreme low-fat diets also can be bad for you. Everyone needs some fat in their diet, so no one should eat a completely fat-free diet. About 30% of total calories should come from fat.

Don't fall for diets that restrict food groups, either. A diet that says no carbs — like bread or pasta — or tells you to eat only fruit is unhealthy. You won't get the vitamins and minerals you need. And although you may lose weight at first, these diets don't usually work in the long run.

Some people start dieting because they think all the problems in their lives are because of weight. Others have an area of their lives that they can't control, like an alcoholic parent, so they focus on something they can control — their exercise and what they eat.

Eating too little (anorexia) or eating a lot only to throw up (bulimia) are eating disorders.  Some people may find it hard to control their eating. They may eat tons of food and feel like they can't stop (binge eating disorder). Eating disorders are harmful to a person's health. Someone with an eating disorder needs medical treatment. 

So How Can I Lose Weight Safely?

Teens need to be careful about dieting. Extreme dieting can cause problems if you don't get the right kinds and amounts of nutrients. But eating healthy meals and snacks and exercising can help you lose weight and support normal growth. Regular exercise can help teens feel healthier and better about themselves.

The best way to diet is to eat a variety of healthy food. Aim to eat more fruits and veggies, whole grains, and drink water instead of sugary drinks like sports drinks or sodas. Cut back on meats high in fat (like burgers and hot dogs), fried foods, sweets, and other junk food.

If you are concerned about your weight or think you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. 

Great Ways to Find Good Health

If you are ready to make changes, here are some tried-and-true tips:

  • Exercise! Be active every day. Walk to school, sign up for a fitness class, find a sport you like, or dance in your bedroom. It doesn't matter what you do — just move!
  • Drink fat-free, low-fat milk, or water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Eat at least five servings a day of fruits and veggies.
  • Choose a variety of protein foods, like lean meat and poultry, seafood, beans, soy products, and nuts.
  • Eat whole grains (like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal), which provide fiber to help you feel full.
  • Eat breakfast. Studies show that people who eat breakfast do better in school, tend to eat less throughout the day, and are less likely to be overweight.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes.
  • Limit eating out and choose smaller sizes at fast-food restaurants. Avoid supersizing even if it feels like better value.
  • Don't take diet pills or supplements, even ones you get over-the-counter.

Dieting Danger Signs

How do you know if your diet is out of control? Warning signs include:

  • continuing to diet, even if you're not overweight
  • eating in secret, sneaking food, or feeling out of control when you eat
  • thinking about food all the time
  • restricting activities or avoiding family and friends because of food or need to exercise
  • fear of food
  • wearing baggy clothes as a way to hide thinness
  • vomiting after meals or using laxatives
  • feeling weak, lightheaded, or dizzy from not eating

If you, or someone you know, shows any of these signs, talk to a trusted adult or doctor.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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