How Can Teens Gain Weight? Facts And Tips

✔ Research-backed

How much weight a teen gains is quite variable. Some gain weight after eating just a few calories, while others stay lean and skinny regardless of how much they eat. Since healthy weight gain is vital for optimum health, knowing how teens can gain weight is essential to avoid complications that poor weight gain may cause.

Generally, poor eating habits, metabolism issues, and genetics are the common reasons a teen doesn’t gain weight. But in some cases, some underlying medical conditions may be the reason. Read on as we tell you more about the ideal weight for teenagers, the implications of being underweight, and tips to help teens gain healthy weight.

In This Article

Healthy Weight Vs Body Fat

Healthy weight gain and accumulating body fat are completely different things. If your teenage girl or boy is skinny, you would want them to gain weight, not become obese. So what is the difference between accumulating body fat and healthy weight gain?

Body fat is collected when you eat foods that have sugar, carbohydrates, and trans fats. Fried foods, ice creams, baked foods, and soda, are a few examples of such foods. These foods help you accumulate body fat. On the other hand, healthy weight gain is about eating healthy foods such as complex carbohydrates like vegetables and grains and proteins like lean meat, fish, and eggs that give your body the balanced nutrition, energy, and calories it needs for weight gain.

Healthy weight gain enables you to build muscle mass and strength, while body fat just occupies space and if anything, makes physical activity difficult. Also, muscle mass is dense and gives your body a lean look, while body fat makes it seem bloated.

Understand that weight gain is not just about the number. Healthy weight gain should also make your teen feel healthier, fitter, stronger, and energetic.

What Is The Ideal Weight For Teenagers?

The weight of a teenager should be propotional to their height

Image: Shutterstock

The appropriate weight of your teenager should be in proportion to the height. The BMI or body mass index calculates the ideal body weight of a person using the formula – body mass/ height in meter square. The BMI gives the weight for age and length to determine the BMI percentile the teen falls in. The BMI percentile tells us if a person is of healthy weight, underweight, or overweight on average.

Through the teen years, your child will gain and lose weight due to certain reasons. Care should be taken to maintain your teen’s ideal or healthy weight and to prevent excess weight gain or loss. Maintaining the ideal weight is important for an individual’s overall well-being. The right kind of nutrition with exercise can help your teenager stay fit and healthy to fight illnesses associated with excess weight gain or loss. People with excess weight, especially fat around their belly, are at risk of type-2 diabetes, heart diseases, and stroke. Likewise, individuals who are underweight have fragile bones, fertility issues, and anemia.

Medical Implications Of Being Underweight

Weight loss is as much of a problem as weight gain. According to US National Health Statistics Reports and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, in the US, an estimated 4.1% of children and adolescents aged between two to 19 years of age deal with the issues of being underweight, and 19.7% deal with the issue of obesity.

  • Fatigue and weakness: Underweight teens lack energy and are almost always tired. Also, they have a weak immune system that puts them at risk of illness and disease more often.
  • Poor immune system: Underweight teenagers have a poor or weak immune system and are more likely to get infections. For example, your skinny teenager is most likely to get the flu as compared to her healthier friends.
  • Fragile bones: People who are underweight may lack the necessary vitamins and minerals, especially calcium which adds to the bone mass. Calcium deficiency makes the bones weak and fragile, which means a fall or slip is likely to result in broken bones.
protip_icon Did you know?
Celiac diseaseiAn autoimmune disorder that damages the intestine, typically occurring due to gluten consumption and anorexiaiAn eating disorder characterized by a loss of appetite and unhealthy weight loss can also make teenagers underweight (7) (8).
  • Anemia: If your teen is underweight, she or he may also have an iron deficiency which reduces the red blood cell count, resulting in anemia. When you’re anemic, your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen causing suffocation and palpitations. Prolonged anemia can also lead to stroke.
Being underweight can cause anemia in teenagers

Image: Shutterstock

  • Fertility Issues: Being underweight also affects your teenage girl’s menstrual cycle, and eventually fertility. Women who are underweight find it difficult to get pregnant.

In addition to the above, underweight teenagers are also at the risk of osteoporosisiA condition that makes the bones brittle and weak and more prone to fractures , asthma, emotional and intestinal disordersiA group of digestive ailments that affect the assimilation and absorption of nutrients in the gut (1).

Aneesa, a blogger who suffered from being underweight during her childhood, says, “ I had friends and even some family making comments on my weight constantly ‘Ewww, you’re so skinny’ ‘Ugh, you have no curves’ ‘You need to eat more’ were some of the most common (please bare in mind I ate more than some men I know). Sure, I was ALWAYS the type to tell them to shut their mouth, but inside, it did get to me; I felt ugly. I knew I wasn’t ugly, but I FELT like I shouldn’t be looking the way I do because I was being told left, right, and center that I was too skinny (i).”

11 Tips On How To Gain Weight For Teens

If you want your teenager to be healthy, you have to ensure that they maintain the ideal body weight, based on the BMI table. Here are a few things you can do to help your teen gain weight.

  • Increase calorie intake

The foods your teen eats play an important role in their weight. Eating high-calorie foods is important to increase body mass. Your teen will be able to gain weight when they have a calorie surplus, which means she should take in more calories than she burns.

  • Build muscle with protein-rich foods

Protein helps build muscle mass, which is denser and healthier than body fat. Increase your teen’s intake of protein-rich foods like eggs, lean meat, fish, cheese, tofu, yogurt, soy products, beans, nuts, and seeds to boost muscle growth. Restrict eating sugary foods and carbonated drinks that fill your body with empty calories (2).

  • Increase portion size

Your children may not be able to increase the amount of food they eat overnight. Start by increasing their portion sizes little by little. If they eat two pieces of toast and one glass of juice, increase it to three pieces of toast at first. Eventually, you can increase the quantity to four or increase the amount of juice or cereal they eat. You can adjust the portion sizes for lunch and dinner in the same way.

  • Always eat breakfast

Teenagers tend to skip breakfast for many reasons. That can be detrimental to their health. When you skip breakfast, you are depriving your body of the energy it needs. Fewer calories in the body lead to further weight loss and also affect your body’s metabolismiChemical and physical processes in the body that convert energy to carry out various functions . To gain weight, your teen should have nutrient-dense foods like eggs, oatmeal, fruit, toast with peanut butter, fruit or fruit juice, or a healthy smoothie with many calories. Make sure you include nutritious food in the kid’s breakfast to prevent accumulation of empty calories.

  • Eat more, eat often
Eat more and often to gain weight

Image: IStock

For healthy weight gain, your teenager should have at least three meals every day. Skipping meals reduces the number of calories your body can get every day, which will deter the weight gain process. In addition to the three basic meals, your kid should have at least two calorie-rich snacks.

The meals should be well balanced and contain the essential nutrients that your teen needs to grow. Have a full course meal, so that they get to eat more. You can also include a healthy dessert made from fruit, yogurt or milk, like a pudding (3).

Include more fruits and vegetables in the meal. Teenagers who eat more vegetables gain weight in a healthy way when compared to those who eat foods with sugar and saturated fats.

  • Include starchy foods In your meal

Starchy foods give the body the energy and extra calories it needs for weight gain as they are rich in carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables and fruits also have a high fiber content that the body needs for proper metabolism. For healthy weight gain, pick foods like yams, potatoes, rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, quinoa, and other grains like rye, finger millet (ragi) and barley that have minerals like iron, folate and calcium, and vitamin B6.

Eat whole wheat and grain instead of refined grains which only have carbs. Whole wheat foods also have the essential nutrients and protein.

protip_icon Quick tip
While cooking for your teen, bake or broil rather than fry. Also, include more chicken, fish and lean meats and limit the use of red meat (9).
  • Consume whole fat milk or dairy products

Whole fat dairy products are healthier than low-fat or skimmed products if you want to gain weight. Have full milk with cereal for breakfast, a cup of whole milk yogurt for lunch and rice pudding or cream and boiled veggies with whole milk for dinner. Include cottage cheese or any other variant of cheese in your daily meals. Use American mozzarella or cheddar cheeses made from full-fat milk to prepare snacks like pizzas and burgers at home.

Whole milk has just one percent fat, but it is also rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B-12.

  • Eat a snack before bed

Eating before bedtime may be a bad idea if you are trying to lose weight. Eating a bedtime snack can boost your attempts to gain weight. The body burns calories when you sleep. Also, the cell regeneration process is most active at night, when your body is at rest. Adding calories to your body before calling it a night can retain the calories you have added during the day, thus enabling weight gain.

Eat a banana that is rich in calories or opt for a handful of pitted dates. You can also eat a dairy snack like yogurt, ice cream, or a fruit bowl. Have sliced veggies (carrots, beets or celery sticks) with a yogurt dip, cottage cheese chunks with fruit, oatmeal or pita bread with hummus, simply a glass of warm milk with dates.

According to Mary Sabat, a nutritionist and ACE-certified personal trainer from Alpharetta, Georgia, “Bananas can be a good food choice for gaining weight, as they are high in calories and vitamins. Nuts and nut butter are also high in calories and low in density, so it is easier to eat more calories without feeling stuffed. Adding nut butter to the banana would also be a great way to add additional calories.”

  • Exercise right

One way to gain weight is to increase muscle mass. Exercise is the most effective way to build muscles, in addition to eating protein-rich foods. When you exercise, your body burns calories, which is energy, and makes you hungry. The right amount of exercise will increase your hunger and allow you to eat more than usual, which helps in gaining weight.

Strength training exercises like bench presses, lifts, chin-ups, crunches, and squats that build muscles are good for weight gain. Be careful not to exercise more than you need to, because that will lead burning more calories. The more calories you burn, the more you will have to consume to gain weight (4).

  • Include good fats in your teenager’s meal
Include good fats in the meals your teen eats

Image: Shutterstock

Saturated and trans fats are not healthy, but good fats are essential for weight gain. Use cooking oils like olive, coconut, mustard, rice bran or sunflower, butter, and margarine when you cook to give your teenager the needed fatty acids for weight gain. You can also give them butter and clarified butter (ghee) in moderation during breakfast.

  • Don’t give up

Just as it’s hard for some people to lose weight, it can be difficult for your teenager to gain weight. Healthy weight gain takes time and needs discipline. Your teenager will not gain weight overnight, and may require a few months to put on weight gradually in a healthy and safe way.

According to theory, your teen will gain one pound of weight by consuming around 3,500 calories (5). On an average, your teenage girl needs 1,600 to 1,800 calories per day, while your boy will need between 2,000 and 2,400 calories per day if they mostly have a sedentary lifestyle (6). Roughly, one to two pounds per week is an ideal number for healthy weight gain in teens. A realistic number for muscle build up is a ½ pound per week.

The calorie requirements change based on the amount of physical activity they get. If your teenager has an active lifestyle, he or she will burn more calories and needs to eat more to balance the body’s energy requirements.

Gaining Weight Fast For Teenagers – Is It Safe?

Weight gain is healthy and safe when it is gradual. Quick or rapid weight gain is not natural and is usually a result of using protein powders and pills. Taking vitamins to gain weight is a bad idea unless it is a standard over-the-counter vitamin pill recommended by the doctor. The following health problems are also associated with rapid weight gain.

  • Muscle accumulation takes time – on an average, your teen may be able to build less than half-a-pound of muscle in a week. If weight gain is fast, it is because of body fat accumulation, which can lead to obesity.
  • Rapid weight gain is made possible with empty calories, which are high in sugary foods and sodas. It may also indicate a lack of essential nutrients in the body.
  • Gaining weight fast may also cause your blood pressure to shoot up, resulting in dizziness, nausea, and headaches.
  • Rapid weight gain in adolescents can also leave stretch marks on their body.
  • When you push your body to gain weight, you are putting it under a lot of stress. Also, teenagers may not be able to sustain their ideal weight if they gain weight fast.
  • Avoid eating too much protein foods – teenagers, especially boys, think that the best way to bulk up is to take in more protein.
Underweight teenagers should avoid eating too much protein

Image: Shutterstock

While it may be tempting to use weight gain powders to bulk up the body, weight gain with the help of supplements has its added side effects. Always consult your doctor if you want to use protein powders or other weight gain supplements.

What To Avoid For Healthy Weight Gain

To gain and maintain the ideal or recommended body weight, teenagers should avoid the following:

  • Sugary foods and carbonated drinks that bloat the body – empty calories do not add real weight to the body and may slowly lead to obesity, which is not the goal.
  • Cardiovascular exercises like aerobics and running that will burn more calories than you need for weight gain. Avoid these fat burning exercises, as they are apt for weight loss.
  • Caffeine and alcohol – teenagers may indulge in caffeinated or alcoholic beverages without your knowledge. If they do, they will lose weight faster than they gain it.
  • Low-fat or diet sodas – your teen should have at least eight ounces of liquids filled with calories but not fizzy drinks.
  • Energy drinks like Red Bull
  • Low-carb foods are better for weight loss, and not weight gain.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much weight gain is safe for my teenage girl in a year?

It is normal for teenage girls to gain some extra inches during puberty. Their body demands more calories during this phase of their life. Teenage girls require an average of 2200 calories per day. It is safe for them to gain one to two pounds in a week (10) (11).

2. What causes weight gain among teens?

Teenagers may experience weight gain due to genetic factors and changes in hormones, less accessibility to healthy foods, slow metabolism, excessive and unhealthy eating, and an inactive lifestyle (12).

3. At what age do people start gaining weight?

A child between the age group of two and ten grows at a steady pace. However, a final growth spurt begins during puberty between nine and 15 years. The amount of body fat increases steadily after the age of around 30. Men often gain weight until they reach 55, while women gain weight until 65 (13) (14).

4. Is rice the best food for weight gain?

Rice may be a healthy option for increasing your weight, as it contains carbohydrates and nutrients which facilitate weight gain.

The answer to how to gain weight for a teenage girl has multiple factors involved. Healthy weight gain is a disciplined and persistent process. You should not rush into achieving dream results overnight. Meal planning can help a lot, and you can try creating a healthy diet plan for gradual and natural weight gain for a teenage girl or boy. You may achieve natural weight gain by consuming natural foods rather than supplements. Lastly, remember that it takes consistency and is a lifelong process to make weight management a habit.

Infographic: Tips On How To Gain Weight For Teens

Gaining weight can be challenging for teens, especially if they are naturally thin or have a fast metabolism. However, with the right approach and dedication, it is possible to increase weight and build healthy muscle mass. This infographic sheds light on how teens can gain weight in a safe and sustainable way.

healthy weight gain for your teen (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Proper nutritional diet is important for healthy weight gain as it increases muscle mass and resists fat gain.
  • High calorie diet in proper portions is critical for teens to gain an ideal weight proportionate to their height.
  • Diet rich in good proteins including eggs, fish, poultry, and lean meat aid in building muscle mass.
  • Healthy fats, dairy products, nutritious snacks, and frequent meals accompanied by proper exercise are the key to weight gain in teens.
  • Slow and steady weight gain is healthy and recommended as it does not affect the body adversely.
how to gain weight for teenage girl_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Elisabeth Luder and Irene Alton; (2005); The underweight adolescent.
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265189620_The_underweight_adolescent
  2. Empty Calories: What Are They & Which Foods Are They Hiding In?
    https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2021/jan/empty-calories-what-are-they-and-which-foods-are-they-hiding-in/
  3. Tips to Support Healthy Routines for Children and Teens.
    https://www.cdc.gov/healthy-weight-growth/tips-parents-caregivers/?CDC_AAref_Val=https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/
  4. Resistance training – health benefits.
    https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits
  5. How many calories does it take to lose one pound?
    https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/how-many-calories-does-it-take-lose-one-pound/
  6. Calories Needed Each Day.
    https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/downloads/calreqtips.pdf
  7. Underweight teen boys.
    https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/managing-your-weight/healthy-ways-to-gain-weight/
  8. Eating disorders.
    https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/eat-disorder.html
  9. Healthy Eating During Adolescence.
    https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/healthy-eating-during-adolescence
  10. Promoting healthy weight gain parent.
    https://youngwomenshealth.org/parents/promoting-healthy-weight-gain-parent/
  11. A teenager’s nutritional needs.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/nutrition/Pages/A-Teenagers-Nutritional-Needs.aspx
  12. Obesity in teens.
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=90&contentid=P01627#:~:text=Overeating%20and%20an%20inactive%20lifestyle
  13. Normal growth and development.
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002456.htm#:~:text=Between%20ages%201%20and%202
  14. Aging changes in body shape.
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003998.htm
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Celebrity nutrition advisor Dr. Shikha Sharma has founded Dr. Shikha’s Nutrihealth in 1998. Dr. Shikha has done her MBBS from Maulana Azad Medical College and holds 21 years of experience in the field of health and nutrition.

Read full bio of Dr. Shikha Sharma