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Intuitive Eating: 10 Tips for Your Teen

Intuitive Eating: 10 Tips for Your Teen

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As a younger child your teen naturally abided internal cues, eating when hungry and stopping when full. But your teen is not a little kid. Not only is she spending more time out of the house and making decisions on her own, she is also likely to experience changes in her eating habits. In the face of external cues – boredom, habit, temptation, and newfound independence – your teen may override hunger signals, eating despite the absence of hunger and stopping when full instead of when satisfied.

Teenage years are a crucial time to cement positive eating habits. Help your teen eat with intuition by practicing the following tips:

  1. Go with the gut. Encourage your teen to recognize natural signals and respect their innate sense of what and how much food her body needs. Respecting internal signals demands patience, and requires your teen to pay close attention to his body and emotions.
  2. Make meals a habit. Skipping meals may lead to overeating and increased snacking, which makes appetite regulation hard. Set a time for when your family can expect regular, satisfying meals, but remember, even though the clock says mealtime, respect that your teen may not be hungry. Trust him to listen to his body and to eat what he needs when he needs it.
  3. Meal times are for meal time. Being distracted when eating can lead to higher caloric intake not only at the meal, but also in later meals. Help your teen resist the urge to multitask while eating and instead make mealtime a time to focus and relax. To practice awareness when eating, pay attention to what is happening at that moment:
    • Take inventory of how your body feels.
    • Identify your emotions.
    • Take note of the flavors, smells, textures, and colors of your food.
    • Avoid watching TV, using cell phones, or doing unfinished work during meals.
  4. Hand over the reins. The independence of being a teenager invites increased responsibility. Allow your teen to take charge by making mindful choices. Encourage them to honor hunger, to respect fullness, and to enjoy the pleasures of eating.
  5. Experiment with flavor. Teens are adventurous. Indulge their desire to explore by helping them experiment with new foods and flavors.
    • Take time to sit with your teen to seek out new recipes that excite them.
    • Invite them to select a new ingredient in the grocery store.
    • Try dedicating one night a week to culinary “travel” by cooking recipes from a new regional cuisine.
    • Discovering new flavors creates an extra incentive to tap into the five senses and appreciate the experience of eating.
    • Check out Melissa’s Healthy Living Recipes or encourage your teen to try making one of these 5 easy meal ideas,  8 easy stove-top dishes, or  these no-cook easy meals.
  6. Balance. Though teenage years are the the beginnings of adulthood, teens still just want to have fun. Help your teen add nutritious foods to their diet instead of eliminating less healthy options. Intuitive eating isn’t about deprivation, but about listening to the body. Remember that everyone gets cravings. Your teen should recognize where those cravings come from before blindly giving in.
  7. Get cooking. Research shows that cooking leads to increased enjoyment, confidence, and appreciation for food,  suggesting that getting your teen in the kitchen could lead to improved dietary habits. Being familiar with the work that goes into meal preparation will likely lead to more thoughtful intake.
  8. Say yes to snacks. Regular meals are the cornerstone of healthy eating, but snacking is crucial to bridge the hunger gap. Help your teen identify between-meal hunger before it becomes extreme. Snacks can range from an apple to a slice of pizza, so encourage your teen to check in with their needs and to eat accordingly.
  9. Bump up flavor. Teens love salty, sweet, and fatty foods for their flavor and ability to satisfy. Help your teen feel satisfied with nutritious flavor by enhancing foods with fresh herbs, citrus, and healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, and olive oil. To further satiate hungry taste buds, offer a diversity of flavors in every meal.
  10. Model behavior. Although at times it may seem that your teen wants nothing to do with you, your actions still matter greatly. Adopt habits of intuitive eating yourself and your teen is likely to follow along.

Test Your Knowledge

  • True or False – Even if my teen is craving cookies, she should resist indulging. Cookies and other sweets aren’t part of intuitive eating.
    • F – We all have cravings. Part of intuitive eating is respecting those cravings and recognizing where they come from.
  • True or False  – Eating time should be for eating only, not for doing other activities such as watching TV or finishing homework.
    • T – Multitasking during mealtime makes it hard to listen to the body’s internal hunger and fullness cues. Reserve mealtimes for eating. Make an effort to pay attention to the meal with all five senses, and to note how the body responds.


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About the Author

Jennifer is a dietetic intern in the New York City area. She received her master’s degree in nutrition and public health from Teachers College of Columbia University.


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