Charge of Your Health; A Guide for Teenagers

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Runner checking her performance on fitness smart watch device

As you get older, you’re able to start making your own decisions about a lot of things that matter most to you. You may choose your own clothes, music, and friends. You also may be ready to make decisions about your body and health.

Making healthy decisions about what you eat and drink, how active you are, and how much sleep you get is a great place to start. Here you’ll learn

  • how your body works—how your body uses the food and drinks you consume and how being active may help your body “burn” calories
  • how to choose healthy foods and drinks
  • how to get moving and stay active
  • how getting enough sleep is important to staying healthy
  • how to ease into healthy habits and keep them up
  • how to plan healthy meals and physical activities that fit your lifestyle

Don’t forget to check out the “Did you know?” boxes for even more helpful tips and ideas.

How does the body use energy?

Your body needs energy to function and grow. Calories from food and drinks give you that energy. Think of food as energy to charge up your battery for the day. Throughout the day, you use energy from the battery to think and move, so you need to eat and drink to stay powered up. Balancing the energy you take in through food and beverages with the energy you use for growth, activity, and daily living is called “energy balance.” Energy balance may help you stay a healthy weight.

Your body needs energy to function. Calories from food and drinks give you that energy.

How many calories does your body need?

Different people need different amounts of calories to be active or stay a healthy weight. The number of calories you need depends on whether you are male or female, your genes, how old you are, your height and weight, whether you are still growing, and how active you are, which may not be the same every day.

How should you manage or control your weight?

Some teens try to lose weight by eating very little; cutting out whole groups of foods like foods with carbohydrates, or “carbs;” skipping meals; or fasting. These approaches to losing weight could be unhealthy because they may leave out important nutrients your body needs. In fact, unhealthy dieting could get in the way of trying to manage your weight because it may lead to a cycle of eating very little and then overeating because you get too hungry. Unhealthy dieting could also affect your mood and how you grow.

Smoking, making yourself vomit, or using diet pills or laxatives to lose weight may also lead to health problems. If you make yourself vomit, or use diet pills or laxatives to control your weight, you could have signs of a serious eating disorder and should talk with your health care professional or another trusted adult right away. If you smoke, which increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other health problems, quit smoking  as soon as possible.

If you think you need to lose weight , talk with a health care professional first. A doctor or dietitian may be able to tell you if you need to lose weight and how to do so in a healthy way.

Choose Healthy Foods and Drinks

Healthy eating involves taking control of how much and what types of food you eat, as well as the beverages you drink. Try to replace foods high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein foods, and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods.

Fruits and Vegetables
Make half of your plate fruits  and vegetables . Dark green, red, and orange vegetables have high levels of the nutrients you need, like vitamin C, calcium, and fiber. Adding tomato and spinach—or any other available greens that you like—to your sandwich is an easy way to get more veggies in your meal.

Grains
Choose whole grains  like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereal, instead of refined-grain cereals, white bread, and white rice.

Choose whole grains, like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereal.

Protein
Power up with low fat or lean meats like turkey or chicken, and other protein-rich foods , such as seafood, egg whites, beans, nuts, and tofu.

Dairy 
Build strong bones  with fat-free or low-fat milk products. If you can’t digest lactose—the sugar in milk that can cause stomach pain or gas—choose lactose-free milk or soy milk with added calcium. Fat-free or low-fat yogurt is also a good source of dairy food.

Fats
Fat is an important part of your diet. Fat helps your body grow and develop, and may even keep your skin and hair healthy. But fats have more calories per gram than protein or carbs, and some are not healthy.

Some fats, such as oils that come from plants and are liquid at room temperature, are better for you than other fats. Foods that contain healthy oils include avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and seafood such as salmon and tuna fish.

Solid fats such as butter, stick margarine, and lard, are solid at room temperature. These fats often contain saturated and trans fats, which are not healthy for you. Other foods with saturated fats include fatty meats, and cheese and other dairy products made from whole milk. Take it easy on foods like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, and fries, which often have a lot of saturated and trans fats. Options to consider include a turkey sandwich with mustard or a lean-meat, turkey, or veggie burger.

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