Healthy weight loss for teens with obesity aims at losing weight without affecting a teen’s nutritional needs for growth and development. Obesity is a complex health problem that affects one’s appearance and health. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that 20% of children between 12 and 19 years are obese (1).
A healthy body weight helps avert long-term health problems, such as type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Besides, it can also enhance appearance, boosting a teen’s self-esteem and confidence.
Read to know the practical weight loss tips for teens to follow for effective and sustainable weight loss.
Weight Loss Tips For Teens
Losing and maintaining weight within the desired range is vital for optimal health. Here are practical weight loss tips for teens that they can follow with your support and guidance (1).
1. Know the ideal weight and BMI
Before planning your teen’s weight loss journey, check their weight and determine their BMI. Body mass index (BMI) is a number derived by dividing weight in kilograms with height in meter square (kg/m2) (2). BMI is an estimation of body fat and overall health.
Plot the BMI on the CDC’s growth chart to determine the percentile. A percentile in the growth chart reflects the weight category of the teen and helps know if a teen is overweight or obese (3). Here’s a link you can visit to calculate your teens’ ideal BMI for their gender and age.
2. Consult a weight loss expert
Weight loss is often achieved through eating less and exercising. However, effective and sustainable weight loss is vital. The weight loss should be persistent yet gradual. Therefore, it is good to consult a nutritionist or weight loss professional. An expert will work with your teen to:
- Set a weight loss target that can cause weight loss without compromising the teen’s nutritional intake.
- Plan a daily calorie intake limit for the teen to avoid excess calorie intake.
The number of calories needed by a teen will depend on their age, height, weight, and overall health.
3. Set realistic goals
Several children and teens indulge in extreme eating patterns to lose weight quicker. It may cause a teen to set unrealistic goals, which often jeopardize their health. So, motivate your teen to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) weight loss goals for themselves in consultation with an expert. Also, provide them with ample support and guidance at home and school to make positive and healthy lifestyle changes.
4. Make meals nutrient-dense
A teen should consume three main meals and at least one snack every day (4). Across these mealtimes, offer your teens nutrient-dense foods rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and dietary fiber. Include various foods from different food groups, such as whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meat, oily fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. Additionally, pay special attention to nutrients, such as calcium, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, which teenagers require for healthy growth and development.
5. Pick healthy calorie sources
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are macronutrients that provide the energy or calories to carry out daily functions. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, teenagers between 14 and 18 years should get 45 to 65 percent of the total calories from carbs, 10 to 30 percent of the total calories from proteins, and 25 to 35 percent of the total calories from fats (5). One can get these macronutrients from several foods, but to get energy from healthy foods:
- Ditch refined grains and instead serve your teen whole grains and millets, such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, whole wheat, bulgur, and barley.
- Pick high protein foods low in saturated fat, such as lean meat, fish, legumes, beans, and low-fat dairy.
- Avoid or limit foods high in saturated fat and instead serve foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), such as oily fish, nuts, and seeds.
6. Select snacks wisely
Snacks are mini-meals eaten between main meals to curb hunger pangs. Generally, teenagers opt for convenient snacks, such as chips, French fries, or candy bars for quick satiety. But these snacks load their system with empty calories that cause weight gain. Hence, introduce your teen to healthy snacks, such as unsweetened granola bar, whole-grain crackers, low-fat Greek yogurt, mixed fruit salad, and whole wheat nachos with hummus.
7. Practice portion control
A portion is the amount of food or beverage one chooses to consume at a time that’s just enough to satiate. Most ready-to-eat, packaged foods provide larger portions, resulting in overeating. So, whether it’s a main meal or snack, teach your teen to practice portion control at all times. Since even healthy foods contain calories, a person must practice portion control even while eating healthy foods.
8. Fight micronutrient deficiencies
Micronutrients, such as vitamin B, D, and C, help in energy metabolism. Recent research shows that micronutrient deficiency is associated with obesity (6). Therefore, ensure your teen eats a well-balanced diet containing foods from different food groups, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It’s essential because foods from these food groups can offer plenty of micronutrients, minimizing the risk of deficiencies and promoting weight loss.
9. Restrict sweetened beverages
Removing sweetened coffee and tea, fruit juices, and energy drinks from a teen’s diet can help reduce their calorie intake. Experts highlight that such beverages have a poor nutritional value and don’t offer satiety (7). It results in overeating, which causes unhealthy weight gain, affecting long-term health. Sweetened beverages may also increase the risk of other health conditions such as dental caries, type-2 diabetes, and acne.
10. Stay active
Walking, cycling, jogging, swimming, and hiking are examples of physical activities teens can enjoy (8). Motivate your teen to pick a moderate to vigorous intensity activity that they could do for 60 minutes each day. Ensure these activities are a mix of aerobic and strength training activities that can build muscles, burn fat, and enhance flexibility and strength. If picking any specific activity is confusing, encourage your teen to take up hobbies, such as gardening, which may help burn more calories than usual.
11. Avoid skipping breakfast
About 20 to 30 percent of teenagers skip breakfast habitually (9). While skipping breakfast may help lose weight, it can also cause teens to lose important nutrients. Additionally, it can trigger hunger pangs, resulting in overeating. Research shows that children and adolescents who skip breakfast are at a 43 percent higher risk of becoming obese than those who eat breakfast regularly (10). So, motivate your teen to eat a nutrient-dense breakfast daily to keep their tummies full until the next meal.
12. Abstain from fad diets
Fad diets are diet plans that claim to provide quick weight loss. While these diets may cause weight loss, they aren’t healthy. Experts suggest that fad diets are hard to follow for a long time. Besides, they can lead to nutrient deficiencies that can hamper a teen’s growth and cause health problems. Thus, it’s crucial to educate teens about the hazards of a fad diet and motivate them to try healthy weight loss tips.
13. Limit ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods undergo extensive processing, causing them to have low nutritional value while being high in saturated fat, trans fat, salt, and sugar. Consuming such foods causes excess weight gain, leading to detrimental health effects over time (11). Instruct your teen to read the product label carefully and avoid eating ultra-processed foods. Here’s a list of ultra-processed foods teens should avoid or limit (12).
- Pop and fruit drinks
- Sweetened yogurt
- Sweet or savory packaged snacks, such as donuts, cookies, pastries, and cakes
- Candies and cake mixes
- Margarine and spreads
- Instant soups, sauces, and noodles
- Poultry and fish nuggets, hot dogs
- Ready-to-heat products, such as pre-prepared pies, pasta, and pizza dishes
14. Choose healthy foods
Several adolescents eat some of their meals outside the home. So, besides giving your teen packed lunches and snacks, train them to make healthy choices. Teach them to base their food selection on food’s overall nutritional value rather than solely on calories. For that, guide your teen to opt for the least processed foods with no added sugar and minimum sodium (salt) and saturated fat while eating out.
15. Stay hydrated
Optimum hydration is essential for several body functions, including fat metabolism. Research suggests that staying hydrated may help lose weight by decreasing eating and increasing fat breakdown (lipolysis) (13). Therefore, encourage your teen to drink plenty of water and other healthy fluids, such as coconut water, homemade low-sugar lemonade, soup, buttermilk, and low-fat milk.
16. Practice mindful eating
Teens often eat in haste or eat while staying distracted by television or phone. Eating this way can cause overeating, resulting in unwanted weight gain (14). Encourage your teen to practice mindful eating across meals. Mindful eating refers to attentive, slow-paced chewing of the food that lets you enjoy the food’s texture, taste, aroma, and sight. Studies have shown that chewing slowly and attentively can reduce total calorie intake and steer people away from unhealthy food choices, helping in weight loss eventually (15).
17. Sleep enough and sound
Sleep lets the body relax and rejuvenate. It is why experts advise teenagers between 13 and 18 to have eight to ten hours of sound sleep each day (16). Sound, undisturbed sleep helps in cognitive maturation and growth spurt. Encourage your teen to maintain a sleep and wake schedule and avoid distractions, such as television and smartphone, an hour before bedtime. Here’s a list of some other sleep hygiene tips your teen can follow for undisturbed sleep.
18. Stay stress-free
Stress is inevitable, but one must learn to manage it adequately to avoid its negative effects on health. Research highlights that chronic stress can raise stress hormones, such as cortisol, causing people to overeat and gain excess weight (17). Teach your children effective stress management, such as emotional management, deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. Here’s more on how mindfulness can help a teen manage stress.
19. Participate in meal preparation and planning
While helping your teen develop healthy eating habits, involve them in practical activities such as meal preparation and planning. Doing so will educate a teen about food and its importance for health and well-being. Also, it will give them a practical experience of reading food labels and buying healthier items. Developing these abilities is vital to make a teen independent in making informed food choices.
20. Practice healthy habits as a family
Parents’ eating behavior plays a vital role in shaping a child’s dietary choices. So, follow healthy eating habits as a family and set the right examples for your teen. Since healthy eating habits develop gradually, demonstrate healthy dietary practices to your child from an early age.
Following these tips diligently under the guidance of a nutritionist could help a teen lose weight. However, consult a doctor if your teen doesn’t lose weight even after trying everything. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOD), hypothyroidism, and eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder (BED), might be the possible reasons. Hence, motivate your teen to open up and share the challenges they are facing to detect any underlying problem causing weight gain early.
- Take Charge of Your Health: A Guide for Teenagers.
- Calculate Your Body Mass Index.
- Defining Childhood Weight Status.
- When Should My Kids Snack?
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
- Vanessa Fadanelli Schoenardie Poli et al., (2017); The excessive caloric intake and micronutrient deficiencies related to obesity after a long-term interdisciplinary therapy.
- Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the risk of childhood overweight and obesity.
- Physical activity.
- The Case for Eating Breakfast.
- Edris Ardeshirlarijani et al., (2019); The link between breakfast skipping and overweight/obesity in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis of observational studies.
- Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain.
- Everything in moderation? Focusing on ultra-processed foods.
- Simon N. Thornton, Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss.
- Distracted eating may add to weight gain.
- Mindful eating may help with weight loss.
- Sleep and Health.
- Why stress causes people to overeat.