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Our body shape and size is predominantly determined by genetics. Look at mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, great-grandma and great grandpa, and you will get an idea of what you are going to look like, in part. Your body frame, the way you carry your weight, be it in the hips, thighs, or the tummy, and your predisposition to illness, like cardiac disease, high blood pressure, or cancer, largely come from your genes.

Outside of genetics, our environment plays an impressive role in our body shape and size. Our environment includes the food we eat, how we eat, when and how much we move our bodies, our behaviors around food and eating, and our priorities and methods of taking care of ourselves.

Many people want to change the way they look, especially teenagers. Research indicates that by age 13, about 85% of girls have attempted dieting. The age of dieting onset is getting younger, with 15% of girls trying a diet by age eleven. Even five and six year olds are aware of dieting.

Additionally, research indicates that dieting among teens of all weights (underweight, normal weight, and overweight) corresponds with unhealthy behaviors around food and may be associated with a depressed mood. Furthermore, the risk for eating disorders and weight gain is higher when dieting is involved.

What can we do? We need to help our teens re-align their beliefs and attitudes about their bodies. As parents, we need to play up the positive, including health, physical activity, natural beauty, intelligence, and individuality. We need to filter out the negative messages and the unrealistic images.

How much power do we have to change our body? Sure, we can build muscle and reduce fat stores with exercise and what we choose to eat. But, can we really change our genetic shape and size? Can we really change our fat storage tendencies? Muscle-building capacity? Yes, to the extent our genetic make-up will allow.

So, when your son starts on a rampage to alter his diet or exercise more because they don’t like their body shape or body size, remind them of their genes. Remind them that genes are predetermined and “set in stone.” Remind them that they will be tall, or short, or stocky, or slim, or narrow-hipped or blessed with “birthing hips,” because they come from your family and that’s how your family looks.

Empower your child to make the most of their genetic potential. We all have the genetic potential and the power to be healthy– that comes from eating well and being active. Getting comfortable with your genes is about accepting your body for its natural shape and size, optimizing your genetic health potential through active living and healthy eating.