Teenage Weight Gain
I’ve seen it time and time again: teenage weight gain that accelerates and concerns parents. Teens start to pack on weight—around the mid-section, in the hip and rear area, or just start looking pudgy all over.
For some teens this will be a normal part of their development—that awkward, pudgy appearance that precedes an epic leap in height.
For others, though, the appearance of extra weight—wherever it decides to settle on the body—is a sign that eating and activity is getting off track.
As a parent, there’s a fine line to walk when your teen, who is fairly independent with eating, starts to show signs of gaining too much weight.
What should you do?
Or should you do anything at all?
Stats on Teenage Weight Gain
According to Robert Malina, an expert and researcher on childhood growth, adolescents gain weight and height in a predictable pattern, with height growth occurring first, followed by weight gain, or what I like to call “filling out.”
In girls, the peak height gain occurs between ages 11-13 years; and in boys, at 13-15 years, on average.
The lean tissue (read: muscle and bone) weight gain during this time is about 15 pounds for girls and twice that for boys (~30#).
Girls gain more fat (~6#) on average than boys (~3#) at this time.
Given these “norms” for adolescent growth (and the signs that go along with it), you can begin to see that an important transformation happens for teens, and much of it is to be expected.
A 15-30# weight gain in a couple of years can be shocking, especially if you’re used to looking at a lean child, but it is normal.
What may not be normal is weight gain that exceeds these norms.
In 2012, 21% of teens aged 12-19 were obese (carrying too much body fat), according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and over a third of all children and teens were either overweight or obese.
Be Careful with Your Words
If you have concerns about your teen’s weight gain, tread lightly, particularly with what you say. Starting on a tirade of what’s healthy to eat and what’s not, extolling the virtues of exercise, nagging your teen to exercise, or commenting on their appearance does more harm than good, and is unlikely to motivate your teen to eat better or exercise more.
In fact, it can make eating worse and turn off your teen to exercise!
Many teens will be aware, and self-conscious of, their changing body. They may ask you, “Do you think I’m fat?” They may look for your guidance, but they may not respond to lectures or an appointment with a dietitian or other health provider. They may try to take things into their own hands.
What You Can Do to Help
Most parents can’t stand to watch their teen overeat, or sit around and be lazy. They want to act!
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do.
Create a Healthy Food Environment
Clean up your kitchen pantry and refrigerator and make your home a healthy haven for eating. Because teens are growing rapidly, they have a voracious appetite and will often eat what’s available.
Make sure nutritious foods are front and center. Nix the unhealthy snack foods, and stock up on healthy snacks, such as yogurt, cut up fruit, vegetables, whole grain cereals and breads, nuts, seeds, popcorn and more.
Stick with regularly timed meals and snacks, so overeating due to hunger isn’t likely to happen.
Be a Good Role Model
Show your teen what it means to eat healthy and exercise. Lead by example, not by talking about the virtues of being healthy. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Be what you want your teen to be: a healthy eater and a regular exerciser yourself.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Be non-judgmental and open to discussing your teen’s body and weight concerns. Maybe your teen tells you that he is frustrated with his lack of muscle, or the appearance of his belly, or that she is uncomfortable in her clothing.
That’s your lead in for a productive conversation. Your intention should be to help: “Is there something I can do to help with that?” is a good response to these concerns.
Just being available to listen without unsolicited suggestions can work wonders.
Invite Your Teen to Do Something
Often, teens are leading an independent life, hanging out with friends, studying on their own, and hardly around the house. When you can, invite your teen to go for a walk, to a movie, to the grocery store, to a local event, or to the gym.
An invitation to your teen is a sign you’re still interested in spending time together, which can go a long way in keeping the relationship strong and opportunities for communication and your influence alive.
For almost all who experience teenage weight gain, the motivation to change eating habits or exercise comes from within. Being told what to do, or what to eat may fall on deaf ears, or be met with resentment.
Seemingly innocent put-downs can backfire and even damage your teen’s self-esteem and worthiness.
Be ‘chill’ with your teen on the topics of weight and exercise, but be ready and open to help when you’re called to do so.
Have you had an experience with this? How did you handle it?
If you want the input of a nutrition professional’s opinion and guidance on the food, feeding and habits that lead to a healthy weight, check out The Kids Healthy Weight Project, an online nutrition course detailing what it takes to set up the best home environment so that children of all ages grow up eating and growing well.