The Unhealthy Truth About Women and Teens

As a health coach, you get to work with people every day to help guide and educate them on healthy emotional and physical behaviors. With this experience brings some eye-opening insight into the lifestyle similarities between certain individuals. So what is one of the most common observations in health coaching? It’s the alarming, frequent connection between women and teens in regards to nutrition and healthy living. For both groups, there seems to be many similar perceptions about food guilt, body image, calorie deficit and self-worth.

No doubt, many of our hang ups and harsh criticisms of ourselves appear to be deeply rooted in our past. So how do we change our adult perceptions, and is it too late to change teen perceptions so they don’t grow up carrying the same baggage? In order to create a healthy body, we have to shift our thinking toward healthier pursuits. Often, we set ourselves up with false expectations and misinformation. Take a look below at five common misperceptions and beliefs women share with teenagers regarding nutrition and healthy living.


Both groups fall into the social media trap of believing that there is a perfect diet for a perfect body, such as the “Whole 30” or “Keto” diets you see all over Instagram. But more often than not, these diets fail us miserably. This leads us to believe that it’s our fault, or that we have no will power, when in fact, maybe the diet is at fault. Furthermore, warped expectations of what a “body of our dreams” should look like is a common thread.


Do you wake up critically examining your body? Does it continue throughout your day as you get dressed or pass a mirror? The obsessive nature we feel about our flaws truly inhibits us from living in our personal and best moments. Social media can make us weary with seemingly perfect bodies, not to mention transformation pictures that often times make us feel like we can’t live up to expectations. Rather than be inspired by someone else’s progress, we conversely feel deflated.


Client food journals repeatedly reveal women eating less than 1,200 calories. Most are frustrated that they aren’t losing weight, especially when they don’t eat breakfast or they skip a meal during the day in order to decrease calorie consumption. Similarly, in the teen world, it’s not uncommon to see them replacing a standard, balanced meal with a large, sugary 600-calorie drink from Starbucks to hold them over until dinnertime. Calorie restriction does not equal weight loss. In fact, it can only inhibit weight loss as the brain slows the metabolism to conserve energy, sending the body into starvation mode.


A pendulum swings back and forth going from one extreme to the other. Pendulum dieting starts from a place of deep, dissatisfaction with one’s body and becomes a negative, ongoing pattern. It begins with full resolve, along with a new dietary plan. And while the motivation is high at first, it usually goes awry toward the end of the first week, when the body and brain rebel. No longer can one keep to such restrictions because the body does not like to support cutting carbs or eating packaged food filled with chemicals, and thus a binge ensues. After the binge, we experience food guilt and even more disregard for ourselves, causing the pendulum process to repeat itself.


Working as a health coach, you see a lot of smart, creative, funny and successful women, yet all of these amazing qualities seem insignificant to them when they step on the scale. A three-pound gain or a zero-pound loss seems to dictate their entire self-worth. Similarly, smart, active, competitive and savvy teenagers feel like failures when they can’t reach their beauty ideal either, especially when comparing themselves to other peers online.


So, how do we incorporate change? Start by slowly adhering to the three-prong process, which includes the physical (nutrition and fitness), the emotional/spiritual and finally, the social — because true health and wellness require the sum of these three parts. Obsessing over one prong creates imbalance, setting us up for a lifetime of frustration. We aren’t    just made up of our bodies, but our spirit, thoughts, community and the people we hold dear. Teens and adults alike need to fortify themselves in these areas in order to truly live their best life.

If you find yourself or your teen struggling with any of these issues, follow the exercises below, and try practicing them on a regular basis.

Nutrition/Fitness: Start with whole foods that make you feel good. Don’t worry about carb or calories, and don’t eat anything you don’t like just because it’s deemed healthy. Enjoy the sensations of real food. Ditch anything that has too many ingredients in it you can’t pronounce. As for fitness, don’t kill yourself. Overexertion can lead to burnout, not to mention injuries and inflammation. For starters, find something you like. Just get out and move every day. Start by turning off your phone for 10 minutes and practice some kind of movement instead: run, walk, stretch, squat, jump — anything to get your heart rate up, which is important for your general health.

Emotional/Spiritual: Take 5-10 minutes in a quiet spot where you can hear your thoughts and just breathe. Try practicing gratitude for the small things which gives us a better perspective on our lives in general. Finally, create a “small happy.” A small happy is something that brings joy to you every day and connects you to something other than your diet, like buying fresh flowers for your house or reading a few chapters from your favorite book.

Social: Assess who your real friends are, the ones who bring positivity into your life, and make a coffee, dinner or walking date with them. This kind of connection is integral, as good friends heighten our happiness and bolster our self-worth. If you are truly pressed for time, then schedule a time to talk with a friend on the phone, but don’t text.

As teens and adults, we are works in progress, growing, stretching and developing all the time. While it is definitely difficult to banish the old voices and criticisms from our past, a whole new approach is well worth the effort. And it’s a crucial and positive example to set for your teen. When taking this leap, it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself in order for these small actions to take root, ultimately creating a healthier body and mind.

Rachel Ornstein Packer is a health coach/writer and owner of MatzoBall Fitness. She can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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