Introduction: Why Healthy Eating Matters
Nutrition Info
Tips for Healthy Eating
Learning to Cook
What Are Eating Disorders?

In the past two decades, the percentage of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese has almost tripled. Rates of Type 2 diabetes--a disease related to poor eating habits over time, which was previously seen mostly in adults--have also exploded among teens. And teens who are overweight have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults, which puts them at risk for a number of other health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.

At the same time, roughly 1 in 100 teen girls (and some teen boys as well) suffer from anorexia, an eating disorder in which someone eats so little they begin to starve to death. Bulimia, an eating disorder in which someone binges on food, then uses drastic measures (such as throwing up, using laxatives, fasting, or exercising excessively) to compensate, also affects teens. Eating disorders are considered a mental health issue, and when left untreated, they can be fatal.

Even if you’re not facing any major health problems, knowing how to eat well can make you feel better. Eating too much food, or not enough, or eating lots of sugar, fat, and junk food, can leave you feeling sluggish, irritable, or depressed. Healthy eating—including eating a healthy breakfast—can make you feel better and even do better in school.

Of course, figuring out what it means to eat healthy, and trying to change some bad habits (like that McDonald’s addiction) isn’t easy. This section offers some resources that can help you get started.

Nutrition Info: What You Need to Know

If you want to be healthy, what should you eat, and how much? When you're trying to change your daily habits, it can be hard to know where to begin. These websites can help:

Teen Health

A great resource specifically for teens with articles, how-to's, and Q & As on healthy eating and exercise. Includes a breakfast planner and tips on things like smart supermarket shopping and how to make healthy choices when you’re eating out.

The Nutrition Source

How much protein do I need? Do low-carb diets work? Are some kinds of fat better than others? This site, from the Harvard Department of Public Health, can fill you in on the basics of nutrition and help you sort out some of the confusing diet messages out there. Includes healthy recipes and easy tips on what to eat and how to stay active.

Go Ask Alice!

This website provides straightforward answers to real questions about health and sexuality. The link will take you directly to questions on fitness and nutrition.

In Your Neighborhood: The Eat Well Guide

Type in your zip code to find farmer's markets, healthy food stores, and food and nutrition programs in your neighborhood.

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Tips for Healthy Eating

From nutritionist Kristen Mancinelli:

Wait Out the Cravings
Whenever you’re craving that sugary snack, stop and wait 15 minutes. Cravings will often pass with time.

Slow Down!
Don’t serve yourself more food than you actually need just because it’s tasty. It takes a while for your stomach to register fullness, so eat slowly. Have a second helping only if you still feel hungry after about 20 minutes.

Combine When You Dine
The combination of protein, fiber, and a little fat will satisfy your belly the best. For a filling snack, try a piece of whole wheat toast (fiber) with a smear of peanut butter (fat and protein), or a piece of cheese (fat and protein) with an apple (fiber).

Skipping Meals Is Not Ideal

It’s important to eat something healthy at regular mealtimes (especially in the morning), even if you’re not very hungry. This way you have the strength to make it through the day without resorting to vending machines or fast food.

If You're Able, Read the Label
Know what’s in your food. If the list of ingredients is long and contains lots of things you can’t pronounce, look for something else.

Soda Is a No, Duh
Soda is liquid sugar. Many health experts say an increase in soda consumption is a big contributor to the obesity epidemic. Trade in soda and other sugary drinks for seltzer or water. (Note that “Vitamin Water” is not water—it has almost as much sugar as soda.)

Reduce the Juice
You should get your calories from food, not drinks--so trade in orange juice for a filling, fiber-rich, low-calorie orange.

Local is So Cool
Local fruits and vegetables from farmer’s markets are fresher and usually taste better than produce shipped to your supermarket from halfway across the world. Plus, if you get food stamps, you can get Health Bucks coupons—a $2 voucher for every $5 you spend at the farmer’s market using food stamps.
Click here to find a farmer’s market near you.

Can the Confusion
Confused by conflicting health advice? Stick to this mantra from author Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (“Food” meaning natural whole foods like fruits and vegetables, grains, milk, beans, nuts, and meat, instead of highly processed “food-like substances,” such as Doritos or Twizzlers.)

Learning to Cook

Cooking is an important skill to have, especially if you’re getting ready to live on your own. When you know how to cook good food, you don’t need to depend on other people to cook for you, and you can save tons of money by eating meals at home instead of going out to eat or relying on takeout. And cooking for yourself makes it much easier to eat healthy. Restaurant meals, especially fast food, are often loaded with hidden fat, salt, and sugar.

If you don’t know how to cook and want to learn, ask your agency if cooking classes are offered as part of the agency’s independent living skills training. And look for free or low-cost classes at your local settlement house, community center, after-school program or YMCA.

Ready to try something out at home? Here are some links to recipes to get you started:

Teen-friendly recipes from the website Kids Health

Recipes from The Children’s Aid Society’s Go Healthy! Program:

Culinary Training Programs

If you think you might be interested in cooking as a career, check out of one of these training programs:

FedCap Culinary Arts/Food Service program
A three-month program where you’ll train in a working cafeteria and learn the skills you need for an entry-level position in the food service industry.

An open house is held on the first Wednesday of every month. To attend an open house or for more information, contact Admissions Coordinator Carmele Roxas at (212) 727-4319 or

The Next Generation Center, a teen drop-in center in the Bronx, offers a catering training program where teens can learn to cook and serve meals for special events. Call the center at (718) 589-4441 for more information.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Our society puts a lot of pressure on young people to look a certain way. When we look at television shows or fashion magazines like Teen Vogue, all we see are beautiful, thin people who are part of a fantasy world that most of us want to join. There are lots of teens out there who want to look just like the supermodels and celebrities, and some will do absolutely anything to accomplish this.

Read about one teen's struggle with eating disorders.

"We're promoting the goal of superwoman or man, and we're not promoting the ordinary person," says Janet David, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders. Dr. Dianne Mickley, founder and director of the American Anorexia/ Bulimia Association, agrees. She said that society sends out the message that "thinness equals happiness."

This obsession with thinness is one of the main reasons why eating disorders, like bulimia and anorexia, are so common among young women. (They also occur among young men, if not as frequently.)

In the following interview, psychologist Katie Gentile, director of the Women’s Center at John Jay College, explains what eating disorders are, how they affect you, and how to get help.

Q: What is anorexia?
Anorexia is an eating disorder in which you quit eating, or eat only minimal amounts of food. People can end up losing 20% of their body weight. If you’re a woman, you typically stop getting your period.

Q: What is bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder in which usually someone eats a lot of food in a short period of time, a lot more than most people. That’s called binging. Then they make up for it. They might throw it up, take diet pills, or take laxatives. That’s called a purge. Maybe they don’t eat for a long period of time or they exercise a lot. Some people have both anorexia and bulimia. There’s also a binge-eating disorder, bulimia without the purging. You binge but you don’t throw up. Perhaps 35% of people who do this are men.

Q: Why do people develop eating disorders?
A: There are lots of reasons. A lot of women in particular who purge, about 70% of them, have a history of trauma—like incest, rape, abuse, molestation—usually sexual trauma.There’s also a cultural component. There are strict, strict requirements for women in our society. And even if a culture doesn’t emphasize thinness, it still says you should look a certain way. For example, even though the Hispanic community has different ideals of women, you’re still not in charge of those ideals. Eating disorders aren’t really about food, they're about control—[wanting to have] control over your body, over your life. The assumption is that the one thing you can control is your body. But that’s not necessarily true.

Q: Who develops eating disorders?
A: The stereotype is that anorexia affects only rich white girls, but that’s not true. And binge eating and bulimia in particular happen in more diverse populations. Eating disorders happen mostly to women, but about 10% of anorexics are men. Up to 30% of bulimics might be men. Most men who are bulimic and anorexic are kind of like women in that they are in an arena—like wrestlers, boxers, horse jockeys—where they have to hit a weight requirement.

Q: What problems can these disorders cause?
A: Anorexia is a form of starvation. You can lose your hair, your skin starts peeling, you grow body hair—like fur—and you’re cold all over, all the time. And even if you begin to gain weight after being anorexic, you can still have problems. It can affect your hormones, your thyroid, your heart. With bulimia, it depends on how you’re purging. If you’re throwing up, you can burn away your esophagus with stomach acid. Your teeth can begin to decay. You can develop stomach and digestive problems. If you take laxatives, you can get hemorrhoids and you can destroy your intestines. This is really dangerous. It’s not just a diet.

Q: What can people do to stop their disorder?
A: A lot of people think they have to deal with it alone. Often people, especially bulimics, are ashamed to tell anyone because they’re afraid of being judged. They can go to a therapist for help. Eating disorders are like an addiction. But when you’re addicted to drugs, you quit them and you might not ever see drugs again. With eating disorders, you have to eat every day, so you have to deal with it.

Q: What can someone do if they think their friend has an eating disorder?
A: If you think someone you know has an eating disorder, it’s important to talk to them—it’s a good first step. Don’t accuse them. Never say, “I know you’re doing this,” or “What’s wrong with you?” Give them support. Say, “I’m concerned about you,” and go from there. If they deny that they have a problem, stay by their side anyway. Being a true friend is the most important thing. Maybe they can call you if they’re stressed. If you’re really worried, tell a trusted adult, like a teacher or a counselor. And tell your friend that you’re thinking of telling someone, so they don’t think you’re going behind their back.

Where to Get Help

The Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia
1841 Broadway, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10023

This organization offers individual and group therapy, medical consultation, and monthly support groups, on a sliding scale (you pay what you can afford).

The Renfrew Center

In New York, the Renfrew Center offers individual, group, and family therapy as well as nutritional assessment and educational workshops. Call for more information on their range of services.
A supportive website created for alumni of the Renfrew Center. Anyone can create an account and access the website to ask questions and get advice from others in recovery.

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