Much media emphasis has been placed on teenagers who are overweight, but not as much emphasis has been placed on teens who are underweight. Underweight teenagers can be concerned about their physical appearance, too. In some cases, underweight teens do not have enough energy to keep up with their growing bodies, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health. Combine that with an active lifestyle, and teens can likely burn more calories than they consume. With the help of their parents, teenagers can get to a healthier weight. Eating disorders, however, are an entirely different issue that you should address with your doctor.
For Their Health
Some teenagers have a high metabolism. Combine that with growth and sports activities and your teenager may be underweight. When a teenager is underweight, she may not be getting the proper nutrition, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health. To be healthy, teenagers need to get enough vitamins, minerals, protein and dietary fat. For strong bones, girls need calcium and Vitamin D. In addition, girls may not have regular periods if they are underweight, usually because of low estrogen levels that can lead to osteoporosis.
Underweight boys often want to bulk up. Their increased testosterone levels make it possible for teenage boys to begin weight training. Weight training prior to puberty will not be effective since testosterone levels are too low. Building muscles will help teenage boys feel better about their appearance and can help prevent sports injuries, according to the Mass General Hospital for Children, a primary pediatric teaching site for the Harvard Medical School.
When boys are weight training, they need more protein to repair and build their muscles. A normal protein amount is 0.40 grams (g) per pound of body weight daily. For weight lifters, this increases to 0.60 to 0.75g protein per pound per day, according to the Mass General Hospital for Children. Good protein sources are 8 oz. skim milk, at 8g protein; 3 oz. chicken or fish, 21g protein; and one large egg, which provides 7g protein.
Girls who need to gain some weight can add butter to food. Spreading a generous amount of butter on a bagel, English muffin, toast or on an egg sandwich for breakfast can help. She can put butter on vegetables at dinnertime, too. Buy whole milk for your teenage daughter and have her drink that with meals and use for her cereal. Also, she can eat cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese, all of them full fat, no reduced fat or low fat versions. You can also add cheese or sour cream to potatoes at dinnertime; sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on pasta dinners or on vegetables. Go out for ice cream, and encourage your teen to order regular ice cream, not sorbet or frozen yogurt. You can also encourage your teen to add extras to her food, such as Carnation instant breakfast powder to milk, granola to yogurt or cashews to salad. Also, see if she can increase the size of her meal portions.
Boys who weight train are often tempted to take protein supplements to enhance their bodybuilding. The Mass General Hospital for Children does not recommend that teens take these supplements. Creatine is a popular supplement, but teens who use it may be prone to muscle strain, muscle cramping, rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, nervousness and fatigue, according to the Mass General Hospital for Children. Most teens who eat a high protein diet will not need to take protein supplements to see results.
A safe weight gain is about 1 to 2 lbs. per week, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health. This is just a guideline. It’s best to wait several weeks to see if what you are doing is working. Check with your doctor if you think your teen is not making enough progress. Don’t get obsessed with checking weight all the time; this can just lead to stress and frustration. If need be, don’t check the weight at home at all. Make regular appointments with your health care provider and do it there. Just make the new diet part of your teen’s day. Eating three meals a day on a regular schedule is important and cuts down on skipped meals. You also can give your teen a multivitamin. Don’t resort to supplements designed to help people gain weight until you have tried altering the diet first, recommends the Center for Young Women’s Health.