DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from a girl named "Mary in Hull, Mass.," who said she was 12 years old, 5 feet tall and about 130 pounds. She didn't like the way she looked and asked you for a diet. I am concerned for her, and for the many other adolescents who have difficulty accepting their bodies. Too much emphasis is placed on physical perfection these days.
I am a seventh- and eighth-grade middle-school health and fitness teacher and coach. Here is what I would like to tell Mary:
(1) Muscle weighs more than fat tissue. Each time you exercise and gain strength, endurance and flexibility, you increase your well-being and develop muscle. Busy kids are happier kids. Stop checking the scale and keep an activity log instead. It's more positive reinforcement.
(2) Please don't compare your body with that of other kids your age. Middle-schoolers (adolescents) range from 4-foot-tall boys to 6-foot-tall girls -- round in sixth grade, tall and lean in eighth grade. Your body is doing some very important development at this time. Check out videos on nutrition from the library. Check out one on anorexia and see how some people deprive their bodies of fuel and important nutrients attempting to achieve "perfection." The result can be bone diseases and problems with the reproductive organs.
Be grateful that you enjoy activities. Do them to have fun, and not specifically to lose weight. Once you decide that you love staying active and that it makes you happy, your body imperfections won't be so important to you. Dwell on the positive. Speak to people -- and yourself -- about positive things.
(3) Don't order "super-size" fast food. (One serving of fries is 150 calories; a super-size is 800.) "Just say no" to doughnuts. Eat more fruits and veggies and less bread. Learn more about nutrition and vitamin sources such as wheat germ. Get videos from the library on yoga, tae bo, aerobics -- and perhaps join the cross-country team at your school. No "cuts" and no bench-warming. Everyone participates -- and you're measured by your personal improvement.
(4) This last one is not about your body or nutrition. VOLUNTEER! Do something special for someone else. This builds self-confidence, and you'll begin to see that there are much more important issues out there to put your energies into.
(5) Make a list of 10 things you would like to do or learn, and then begin.
I'll be thinking of you, Mary! -- TERRIE FROM FRUITPORT, MICH.
DEAR TERRIE: You are a caring educator. Your letter contains a banquet of information not only for Mary, but also for any young person who is interested in health and fitness.
P.S. I have long been a proponent of volunteerism and continuing education. And keeping an activity log is a great idea. Watching one's stamina increase from week to week and month to month provides an incentive to persevere.