For Teens, 'Healthy' and 'Diet' Aren't the Same

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Karime Blanco recently became a vegan.

Karime Blanco recently became a vegan. Youth Radio hide caption

toggle caption Youth Radio

I love beets. And tomatoes. And most of all, eggplant. I eat it like it's McDonald's — on the daily.

A few months ago, you wouldn't have caught me filling up my grocery cart with fruits and veggies. But I've made the switch to veganism. It sounds like a disease, but it really means that I don't eat any animal products. I made my decision for purely political reasons.

My 18-year-old brother Carlos used to act like a beast, eating a whole combination pizza in one sitting. Now that he wants to be a singer, he has a different lifestyle. He eats balanced meals, salads and even tries my vegan food.

"In the singing industry you don't see many fat guys, except for Ruben Studdard," he says. "But other than that, to be famous is to be fit."

Like my brother, 23-year-old Reina Gonzales feels societal pressure to be thin. But there are other reasons she switched from drinking a liter of soda per day in her teens to her current routine of eating fruits and vegetables, and taking 40 minutes every morning to boil up a healthy oatmeal breakfast.

"My whole family practically has diabetes or something, health problems, related to that," Reina says. "When I was growing up, I would have all that sugar and I started noticing that I would wake up in the middle of the night and my arm would be all tingly… and I stopped drinking the soda and it went away, and I think I had pre-diabetes."

Reina tries to counter her family's history of food-related health problems by cutting down on processed meals, unlike a lot of teenagers, who do more eating at Mickey D's than they do at home.

My friend Emily wants to save money, and the drastic change in her eating habits was motivated by her budgeting.

"The way I do it is I buy bulk, I cook it, and I live off it for the whole week," she says. "But now that I'm doing it, my body feels a lot better, I feel healthier, and I have more energy."

So while some of my friends have ended up liking healthy food, experts say, in general, a combination of over-consumption and body dissatisfaction is what drives most teenagers — not some sweeping shift toward healthier eating.

Joanne Ikeda is a nutrition counselor at University of California, Berkeley. She says overeating and dieting both are problems. Ikeda says teens who are motivated to change the way they look might think they're making healthy food choices when they're not.

"Instead of adequately nourishing their bodies, they're cutting down on the amount of food in terms of caloric intake," she says. "Low calorie diets don't provide adequate nourishments."

I find that while my friends claim they've changed their diets for health reasons, I often hear them complaining about their weight. "Healthy" is the thing to be these days. Teen magazines offer ideas for a "green meal of the day." Only, those ideas are on the page before chisel-waisted girls and their secret makeup tips. Sometimes, it's hard to know whether we switch to healthy eating to reach a more energized, balanced self or just to look like America's Next Top Model.

Youth Radio's Karime Blanco is a high school junior in Berkeley, Calif.



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