Chris Aman


My teenage daughter is obsessed with counting calories. She's at a healthy weight--a little chubby, but by no means in a "danger zone". She counts every little thing she eats, and will go without food for the rest of the day if she reaches her 1000-calorie limit. How can I help her understand that she's going about weight loss the wrong way?

Eating disorders among teen girls are scary! One of the best ways to work with your daughter on this is to first of all encourage fitness, not weight management. Begin by talking about nutrition. When caloric intake is significantly restricted, yes, you do lose some weight. That stated, it is not healthy weight loss. It is important to let your daughter know that with such strict caloric intake her body will go into starvation mode at some point (often sooner than later) and begin to store everything that goes in as fat for fuel later. This will lead to long term weight and body image issues. Our bodies are incredible machines. If it feels like it is being starved it will protect itself at all costs.

Another part of this is hormones -- yes, I said that horrible word! Hormones play a huge role in weight at this age. Very often, this is the period of time when we gain weight; but as the hormones settle in and regulate themselves weight loss will occur naturally (provided eating habits are healthy). Nutrition is extremely important during this developmental stage. Second, the type of calories taken in should be healthy food choices. We've all heard this -- fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, minimal carbohydrates and good fats (yes, I did say fats -- they are incredibly important).

Your best bet with any of this is to have her visit with a dietician or other healthcare provider to discuss a healthy way of eating and to help prevent bigger problems down the road. You could also consider a membership to the gym. These can be fairly inexpensive and there are trainers there who could help her to become fit and healthy in an appropriate manner. There are also several websites out there that provide fantastic information regarding fitness in teens. One of my favorites is This site provides a great deal of information for teens and states it in a manner that makes sense to them.

Be cautious of the words you use around her. If you complain about your weight in front of her, she will begin to make comparisons. If she sees you as being "smaller than her" and you have a problem with your own body, she is going to believe that she is completely worthless in comparison.

Another thing you can do is join her in her healthy eating and exercise program. The only thing that can happen here is that you both benefit physically and your relationship is strengthened dramatically. What more could a mother ask for?

The two things you can't do much about are comments from peers and how she compares herself to them. This is where your relationship with her is important so that the two of you can talk about her feelings, and you can let her know that she is loved no matter what others say. The motto I like to use is "What others think of me is none of my damn business". For teens, this is a very difficult concept as they are desperately seeking where they fit in socially. Counseling can be helpful in this area if needed.

The most important thing that you can do as a mother is to help her realize her value outside of her weight. She needs to be confident from the inside out, and no amount of weight loss will help her with that. She is a valuable being no matter how much she weighs, and she needs to know this from others -- but more importantly from herself.

Chris Aman, MBA, MSN, APRN, NP-C, is the co-owner of Inspired Life Wellness Clinic, where she is a psychiatric provider for teens and adults. She and her husband, Jason, have six children and live in Bismarck. They enjoy outdoor activities in the summer and hibernating in the winter.