Looking back, I must say it really was genius. To casually mention, in front of my teenage daughter, how interesting it is that my fitness instructor is doing the Atkins Diet to help lower her cholesterol and is losing weight as a side benefit– and my teen “grabbed it and ran”. “Let’s try it!” she said. She and I have now been following Atkins for about 7 weeks, and doing pretty good. While I had a feeling that Allison would want to try it since she’s always wanting to do something different from the pack (last year she was a vegetarian and this year she bought clip-in hair extensions), and I knew she’d been wanting badly to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight, and I always thought it might be fun to diet together (my mother and I had tried a few diets together in the 70’s), and I definitely knew that if Allison was ever going to diet with me, her motivation would have to come from her and not uncool mom– did I really realize, on that day back in June, all the possible positive outcomes of “lighting the diet fire” so that she could fan the flames? I’m not sure. But what a great decision it’s been, for several reasons:
1. A loud, persistent teen is a pretty good diet motivator. For many years, I’ve been wanting to eat healthier, exercise more, and lose weight, but have always been “too busy”. The energy of a demanding teenager is great energy to put behind starting a diet. Once we decided to try this, I might still be waiting to buy an Atkins how-to book if not for her daily nagging: “Mom, have you bought an Atkins book yet?” “Mom, when are you going to buy the book?” “MOM– GO BUY THE BOOK!!” I bought it, and she read it first, on our road trip to Iowa in June. Talk about having a personal trainer LIVING IN YOUR OWN HOUSE!!! Once she read the book, the next nagging I heard was, “Mom, when are you going grocery shopping?” “Mom, we need to stock up on certain things.” “MOM, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO THE STORE??”
2. When your teen really believes in the idea of a good diet, the junk food goes away and the whole family eats healthier foods. I remember Mom and I trying jicama and brussel sprouts when I was a teen, and fixing some for Dad…this summer, there has been no junk food in the freezer or refined white flour and corn-laden, salty snack foods in our pantry– no chicken nuggets or onion rings, no potato chips, pretzels, or cheese puffs, and I haven’t heard any complaints from Allison…or Emmie and Andy! I make (or buy) a different dip, hummus, or cheese ball every week and keep it in a divided tray in the fridge with plenty of baby carrots and other cut-up veggies, and that seems to be working as a “replacement”.
3. Your teen’s well-being, and your own, improve when progress is made. She’s been getting a lot of compliments from friends and I’ve been getting them from my husband– and I went clothes shopping the other day and discovered I’d gone down a size, for the first time since…I can’t remember when! (The only drawback is that soon I might hear her say, “Mom, I need a whole new wardrobe!!”)
4. Dieting together can be a good bonding experience. I remember my mom and I kvetching together over The Scarsdale Diet, trying to get our mind off the fact that we felt hungry all the time and couldn’t stop thinking about food, and could hardly wait until the next meal. That is definitely not the case with Atkins, but Allison and I do get excited whenever I discover a new lo-carb meal idea or snack food at the grocery store, and one day we spent a long time at Central Market together looking at all the vegetables, marveling at the names we never see in other stores, buying a few to try. Also, I’ve started going to exercise classes three times a week (remember that “destination walking” I was trying to do? The summer heat sapped my enthusiasm for that even before the thermometer reached the 100s) and so far Allison has joined me a couple times for a Zumba class (what a hoot). Our teamwork and bonding can also be felt when we eat with others who aren’t doing Atkins– it would be much harder to watch Andy and Emmie get pasta, rice or potatoes with their meal if we were the only one not getting it. It would have been harder to be at the wedding reception last week or the BBQ on the 4th of July and be the only one not piling their plate with tortilla chips or potato salad. “Mom, what can we eat?” she’ll ask me in those kinds of situations, and I’ll let her know. And, I think it’s good to have a diet buddy as we go through the phases and transition into “maintenance”– for me, it’s not so much of a “diet” any more as much as it’s a way of eating healthier (basically, no refined starches or sugars, high fructose corn syrup is BAD and don’t be afraid of good fats), and I hope as school starts and life gets back to old routines that I can help her remember this new one.
So much media air time and print space is often devoted to being uber-cautious about “teens and diets”, telling us again and again on how moms better not push their girls to diet or harp on their weight or they’re going to send their daughters straight into the throes of poor self image and anorexia. While I whole-heartedly agree (I have never once pushed or harped on this issue and do not believe that magazine model sizes are the epitome of beauty), I do think a lot of teens’ eating habits, lifestyles, and waistlines could use some help, and I think all the anorexia press has made some parents scared to even talk about nutrition with their teens or pre-teens. More voices need to be heard about how to do this in a non-threatening way– like letting kids help with the cooking or grocery shopping, putting interesting nutrition articles on the fridge for everyone to see, or even, heaven forbid, talking about the latest healthy diet plan, and then agreeing to try it with them. Or, maybe just making healthy changes on our own, in the hopes that other family members will follow. Enthusiasm (and good results) can be contagious.