World Diabetes Day 2022: Parenting tips on portion control, mindful eating to avoid diabetes in teenagers

Updated on Nov 13, 2022 12:55 PM IST

Food portioning is one of the important aspects of keeping diabetes at bay. This World Diabetes Day, here's how parents can teach their teenagers to avoid diabetes and eat several small meals during the day as they provide the body with consistent amounts of energy throughout the day

World Diabetes Day 2022: Parenting tips on portion control, mindful eating to avoid diabetes in teenagers (kat wilcox)
World Diabetes Day 2022: Parenting tips on portion control, mindful eating to avoid diabetes in teenagers (kat wilcox)
ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

Teenagers are inclined to eat whatever they find delicious and convenient where they do not spare time on their food habits and what they eat and how much they eat but in today’s world, where diabetes is becoming a menace across all age categories, it is advisable to keep a close watch on the food habits from a very early stage. Food portioning is one of the important aspects of keeping diabetes at bay and teenagers should be taught to eat several small meals during the day as they provide the body with consistent amounts of energy throughout the day.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Harshavardhan S, Co-Founder and CEO of Lil' Goodness, shared, “When we eat carbs, our body turns them into glucose to provide energy but consuming large meals can flood our body system with glucose causing insulin spikes which can lead to a roller coaster of energy levels, hunger cues and sugar cravings. By consuming small meals at regular intervals, the insulin levels can be kept stable and we can get steady energy levels without crashes and cravings.”

He revealed, “Having small meals makes digestion manageable and increases the body’s ability to properly absorb and utilise nutrients in an efficient way. Having less stress on the gastric system at any one time keeps the gut happy which promotes a happy and healthy body overall. Large meals can have a negative impact on weight due to creating fatigue and promoting sugar cravings. Small meals are consumed more frequently, which keeps metabolic action high and efficient all day long. When you’re not weighed down by large meals, you can move around more easily, which burns more calories.”

Harshavardhan added, “Today’s teens are very busy and they often do not pay attention when they are eating. They are not aware of mindful eating. They just gulp down the food while studying or watching TV or having jam sessions with friends. Mindful eating is an approach of an individual towards food that focuses on sensual awareness of the food. It is concentrating on the food alone and not eating in between checking social media or watching TV. Mindful eating involves slowly chewing, eating small portions. Each morsel should be small so that you are not ravenously gulping down food and most importantly, make sure you are appreciating what you are eating.”

Dr Biju KS, Senior Medical Officer at Vieroots Wellness Solutions, highlighted, “It can be tough for teens to stick to a ‘restrictive’ diet. They are growing, their appetites are voracious, and peer pressure can make them want to rebel against anything that feels like a “restriction” but the fact is, a healthy diet which targets diabetes prevention is not a restriction – it’s a tool that can help them better manage their health long-term.” He recommended three tips to help your teen stick to a healthy diet, if you have a strong family history of diabetes:

1. Incorporate Mindful Eating into Their Routine

Mindful eating is all about being present and tuned in to your body’s hunger cues. It involves slowing down, taking time to savor your food, and eating only until you’re satisfied – not stuffed. One way to encourage mindful eating is to have regular family meals where everyone sits down together, turn off electronics and focus on enjoying each other’s company and the food.

2. Help Them Serve Themselves the Right Portions

Portion sizes have increased drastically over the years, both in restaurants and at home. As a result, many of us no longer know what a “normal” portion size looks like. This can be especially tricky for teens, especially with a positive, strong family history of diabetes who need to take extra care to prevent the disease.

A good rule of thumb is to filling half of their plate with vegetables or fruits, one-quarter with lean protein, and one-quarter with whole grains or starchy vegetables. As far as portion sizes go, proteins should be about the size of their palm while carbohydrates should be about the size of their fist.

3. Educate Them on Making Healthy Food Choices

Many teens think that eating healthy means depriving themselves of all their favorite foods. But that doesn’t have to be the case! There are plenty of ways to make unhealthy foods healthier without sacrificing taste.

For example, if they love pizza, you could try making it at home with whole wheat dough and low-fat cheese or toppings like grilled chicken or vegetables. If they want French fries, bake them instead of frying them. And if they want dessert, you could opt for something lighter like fruit salad or yogurt parfait instead of cake or pie.

Anupama Menon, Lead Nutritionist and Life coach, echoed, “Many teenagers today are surrounded by an influx of contradictions. They have an image & fashion statements to keep up with on one hand, while on the other hand they are surrounded by a whirl of highly addictive foods that are easily accessible. These foods are available in the market, are attractive, high on calories, sugar, white flour and ill health. Children need to be taught the importance of eating right in their early years which ideally becomes a practice as they become teenagers. The challenge is that even these fair practices in the primary years do not provide protection against the avalanche of processed food and peer pressure that hits the teenager as she/he steps into those precarious and easily influenced years of his/her life.”

She asserted, “Diabetes in teenagers is a growing epidemic that one needs to watch out for. Aggressive sugar intake, ready welcome of processed food and excessive eating of even a good thing all contribute unequivocally to unflattering blood sugar and HBA1C levels.” She suggested the following tips for parents do:

- Do not stress. When you are stressed, your anxiety reaches your teenager through frowns & harsh remarks every time he/she picks on chips or chocolate. Nothing explains better than a good word, a joking reprimand, or a lead by example. Explain to your teenager the ill effects of poor foods while knowing that they will experiment and need bouts of them. Knowing what it could lead to will help your child make better choices. Equate the right foods to goals your child may want to achieve. Eg: If your child is an athlete, stress on how excess weight could impede results. If your child loves dress-up, explain how white sugar could dog into skin quality. If your child is academic and loves being so, explain how processed food can affect the gut and thus focusing ability. Do not expect them to avoid rich food, help them understand moderation or the 80-20 rule that says if 80% of your intake is healthy, 20% can be made fun!

- Lead by example. Parents who eat healthy & make fair consistent choices in eating right and living mindfully, likely influence their children to mimic their routine & choices. When parents eat right, it is reflected in their backend/kitchen. If poor & processed foods are unavailable easily, they cease to become facile choices when your teen is hungry.

- Parents/guardians must also make interesting foods available at hand, especially snacks or in between hunger managers! Teenagers often reach out to the wrong kinds of foods because they are hungry often (thanks to surging growth hormones). Avocado and hung curd dips can make any salad interesting while Smoothies & homemade health bars go a long way in satisfying sweet cravings.

- Help your teen learn to put together things him/herself. Easy recipes from foods that are available in one’s kitchen. Sandwiches, milkshakes, healthy chats can safely and easily be handled by teenagers. Teach them pride in fending for themselves rather than just using their fingers to order in food that will load packaging waste in the bin & poor habits in the body.

- Portion control is a most useful tool in managing sugar levels and obesity. Eating on smaller plates, at a designated spot, without watching the screen could bring awareness to what one’s eating and how much. When the tummy is no longer hungry, the teen is more likely to stop, rather when he/she is eating mindlessly in front of a screen.

- The fun and company in exercise and sport must be taught at an early age. Exercise is a habit. And its advantages are not restricted to the body. Exercise reserves the right to influence balanced blood sugar levels, mindset, determination, and focus. It also urges the gut to behave right at an early age. With such high perks as accompaniments, parents need to put in effort to exercise themselves and thus extend their circle of influence and encouragement to their teens.

- Last but not the least, consistency in messaging and action is important, highly peppered with patience and the belief that the web you cast will reign in the kind of results you want or desire. Your teens are meant to and will test your patience but that’s exactly what you cannot give up on if you want to help them learn the right habits for life.

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