During adolescence and growing through stages of independence, many teenagers and their parents worry about weight management. Common questions range from “is it just baby fat” to “how can my teenager lose weight fast”? Most parents want their teens to be healthy but struggle when it comes to ways to accomplish weight-related goals.
With the perspective of long-term wellness in mind, the recommended way for a 16-year old to maintain an appropriate weight comes down to two words: healthy habits. It’s easy to downplay the importance of simple, day-to-day actions, but maintaining a healthy weight or managing a healthy weight loss often comes down to sticking to the small steps to accomplish bigger goals. Healthy habits like not skipping meals, eating the appropriate amount of calories, staying hydrated, having an awareness of portion sizes, and choosing a balanced meal from a variety of nutrient-rich foods can truly make 16 the sweetest age.
Read on to learn more about the best and healthiest ways for 16-year olds to maintain a healthy weight.
Should a Teenager Lose Weight?
A teenager shouldn’t actively attempt to lose weight unless directed to and closely monitored by a doctor and dietitian. Often, the goal for teens isn’t to lose weight but rather to grow into their weight during growth spurts. Weight fluctuates during different stages of life, so the most important thing to do is focus on developing healthy habits and encouraging your teen to maintain an appropriate weight.
Studies show that those who are focused on long-term goals instead of losing weight fast actually are more successful at keeping weight off. Healthy habits encourage an ongoing lifestyle that is about long-term changes instead of short-term wants or desires. It often requires simple shifts towards healthy eating day to day as well as enforcing good exercise habits.
Teens can lose weight, but should do so under the direction of healthcare professionals. If your teen loses more than 5-10 pounds, it’s time to check in with the pediatrician or dietitian to make sure it’s healthy and appropriate weight loss.
When Should a Teenager Lose Weight?
Weight becomes a concern when the teen’s growth pattern increases beyond the parameters of the growth chart recommended for their age category. The article “How Can I Tell if my Teen is Overweight?” can help you determine if your teen is gaining weight at an unhealthy rate. If your teen is encouraged to lose weight by their health professionals and providers, focus on developing healthy habits like balanced eating and sustainable exercise and movement. Your teen should lose weight steadily and gradually. About 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week is recommended to be successful in the long run at keeping weight off. Losing weight faster than that could be harmful to a teen’s health and can be harder to maintain.
Identifying Harmful Habits for Teens
An important step in knowing whether or not your teenager may need to lose weight is identifying habits that may be causing them harm. Remember, your teen will likely not be open to lasting change unless they recognize these habits by themself. Be ready to be patient. In the meantime, make yourself available and aware to discuss these habits and encourage positive potential changes you and your teen could make to combat unhealthy weight changes.
The following list contains common eating habits that lead to weight gain:
- Eating too fast can alter hunger and fullness cues and make maintaining a healthy weight difficult.
- Always cleaning the plate or telling your teen they have to finish their entire dinner can also alter a teenager’s sense of whether they are truly full. It’s important to provide healthy foods and honor your teen’s intake instead of forcing your teen to eat exactly or all of what you have prepared for a given meal. You provide the food and they decide what and how much to eat.
- Eating environments such as eating in the car, buffets, eating while standing can promote mindless eating, unintentional grazing, overeating, or eating too quickly.
- Always eating dessert instead of focusing on intentional indulgence. An important skill for teens to learn is to be in tune and aware of what will fuel their bodies. It’s important to encourage proper serving sizes and promote teen’s being aware of what they are truly craving instead of always having a dessert available. It’s definitely okay to eat dessert, but be sure you don’t overdo it for your teen. Baking their favorite dessert can be a nice way to show love, but there are certainly other gestures that can be meaningful as well and enforce healthier habits. There are ways to celebrate and reward your teen without food!
- Skipping breakfast or other meals can lead to over- or under- eating through the day. Disordered eating can encourage dangerous habits in teens. Offer nutritious options to your teen and focus on quick and easy, grab-and-go options that are high in vitamins and minerals and low in additives and calories for when your teen is short on time.
Healthy Tips for a Teenager to Lose Weight
Teenagers rarely learn about proper nutrition in school. Often a healthy lifestyle is created by a team effort that includes awareness from other advocates in a teen’s life. Involved parents, coaches, mentors, family, and friends can make a huge difference in supporting a teen through their weight management journey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following 5 steps when getting started on a weight loss goal:
- Make a commitment by starting with a simple promise to yourself. Start small and remember why you or your teen wants to make a change.
- Start where you are. Understand more about your health by keeping a food diary, talking to your dietitian, and honestly examining your current habits.
- Set realistic goals by taking short-term steps that honor long-term health goals. Reward positive efforts. Be specific, realistic, and forgiving in your efforts. Pick the best options, ones that work for you and not just methods that may have helped someone else.
- Identify resources for information and support. Family, friends, and support groups can be great circles of encouragement and may even agree to join in on your teen’s journey. Having an accountability partner can make a significant impact. Don’t forget to reach out to trusted healthcare providers when you or your teen has questions or need help navigating related information such as medications, devices, etc.
- Continually “check in” with yourself to monitor progress. It’s okay to revise and revisit your teen’s goals. Evaluate progress regularly and be honest about adjustments. Plan according to your goals and don’t forget to recognize and take pride in how far you or your teen has come!
An important part of rewarding your teen during the process of achieving their goals is to encourage non-food rewards. There are many ways to reinforce healthy habits that don’t involve food. For example:
- Share in a fun experience such as bowling, mini golf etc.
- Buy a bouquet of flowers
- Go to a sporting event, concert, or art museum
- Take a relaxing bath
- Buy a new book or family game
Rewards are a wonderful part of the weight loss process, but it’s extremely important that those rewards reinforce good behavior and not distract from the progress.
Stay Focused on the Bigger Picture
Even if losing only 10 or 15 pounds means your teen still falls in the overweight or obese category, that is okay! Losing even just a few pounds can help decrease risk factors for chronic diseases, many of which are related to obesity. Keep the big picture in mind by drawing attention to positive behaviors and gradual progress. Even baby steps are steps in the right direction. It might be helpful to make weight loss goals in 5 pound increments at a time and focus on building 1 healthy habit per week.
Models vs. Healthy Models
Being 16-years-old can be difficult, especially when trends are always changing. Encourage healthy eating behaviors by pointing out and emphasizing healthy habits in those around you. Sometimes teens can look to models for inspiration instead of real role models. Explain and reinforce with your actions that looks can be deceiving and long-term health through balanced eating is more important and will make your teen feel better about themselves than what they see in magazines.
Teens have a hard time seeing the bigger picture and understanding the future consequences and importance of today’s habits. Examples of healthy habits are one of the best things to influence a teen to adopt better lifestyle choices. Who is the best example for your teen? It’s YOU!
Watching Weight & Tracking Physical Activity
The CDC has a helpful tool that can be accessed from almost anywhere. The BMI Calculator for Child and Teen can help track your teen’s weight trajectory and help you measure trends from home between visits with the doctor or dietitian. Check out some of my posts to help you understand this tool a little better:
Identify Common Cues and Triggers
Triggers usually refer to something that prompts an unhealthy behavior, even if the situation normally indicates otherwise. For example, many teens snack while watching television even if they aren’t hungry. Identifying common triggers can help erase mindless habits with mindful behaviors.
The following list contains common triggers and cues for unhealthy eating habits:
- Having nutrient-poor foods (“junk foods”) visible or readily available at home
- Sitting and watching television at home
- Work or school related pressures
- Stressful situations
- Lack of meal planning
- Unclear boundaries with self or others
- Vending machines offering sugary foods/beverages
- Free food
- Nearby drive-thru food
- Budget concerns
- Mood changes
- Changes in family units or friend groups
- Social pressures or changes
- Poor sleep
- Fad/restriction diets
- Detox/cleanse diets
Not Just Weight Loss- Notice Other Benefits
Weight loss benefits won’t only show up on the waistline. Moderate to significant weight loss in an effort to reach a healthy weight can extend beyond physical health to increase energy levels, improve physical mobility, generally uplift the mood, improve sleep and stress, and improve self-confidence. Incorporating healthier habits such as eating well and staying hydrated can have incredible benefits and boost mood and confidence, too.
How Many Calories Does a 16 Year Old Need Per Day?
Teenagers are experiencing a crucial stage of growth during the years they develop. It is important to be aware of calorie recommendations estimated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics so that your teen can get the nutrients they need to sustain healthy growth. Over- or under-estimating calories can lead to more serious health problems down the line. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone! A dietitian and trusted healthcare team can help you navigate healthy weight loss. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your providers.
The chart below contains daily calorie recommendations for 16 year olds.
|Not Active||Moderately Active||Active|
|Girls (14-18 years)||1,800||2,200||2,400|
|Boys (16-18 years)||2,400||2,800||3,200|
- Not Active – Minimal activity, only moving for tasks needed for daily life, such as walking to the mailbox.
- Moderately Active – Engages in activity needed for daily living, plus activity equivalent to walking 1.5 to 3 miles daily, or 30 to 40 minutes.
- Active – Engages in activity needed for daily life, plus activity equivalent to walking 3 or more miles daily, or more than 40 minutes.
Most teens will fall into the moderately active category, meaning that typically 16-year old boys and girls need about 2,200-2,800 calories each day to support proper growth and development. Remember, weight can fluctuate during the teen years as the body experiences significant changes. With persistent concerns, physicians and dietitians can help identify the appropriate areas of change so that you and your teen can incorporate healthy habits.
What Should a 16 Year-Old Eat Daily?
The number one way to help an overweight or obese 16-year old lose weight is to work with a dietitian to develop healthy habits. A dietitian can help your teenager to recognize which habits are healthy and which foods are full of nutrients they need. Throughout the day, it’s also important that your teen learns to recognize when they are comfortably full, and then stop eating at that point. Contrary to traditional and cultural norms, it really is okay to not finish your plate — sometimes it is even in the best interest of your teen’s health to do so.
No one diet or plan is perfect for every 16 year-old, but it can help to have some ideas and inspiration from a credentialed nutrition professional. Here are some easy, quick, and convenient ways to introduce more nutrients from each food group into your teens diet when focused on weight loss. Don’t forget to drink water and stay hydrated as well.
Fruits and Vegetables
Goal: 5+ servings per day
Serving Size: 1 cup, or about the size of your fist
Quick Tip: Choose a variety of colors, types, and textures.
Fresh Picks for Fueling Teens:
- Melons (inexpensive and easy to pack for on-the-go!)
- Citrus (i.e. oranges, clementines)
- Fruit and veggie smoothies
- 100% Juices
- Applesauce pouches with no added sugar
- Celery Sticks (you can even add peanut butter made with peanuts and low sodium)
- Dried fruit
- Apple or banana
- Leafy green seasonal salad
- Baby carrots
- Cucumber slices
- Broccoli and snacking tomatoes
Goal: 4-7 servings per day
Serving Size: 1 ounce of cooked meat (3-4 ounces is about the size of a deck of cards), 1 egg, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 Tbsp peanut butter, ½ ounce nuts or seeds
Quick Tip: Choose lean meats like turkey or chicken and moderate intake of red meats.
Fresh Picks for Fueling Teens:
- Tuna or chicken salad on whole wheat bread
- Hummus dip
- Homemade granola (great for on-the-go)
- Homemade protein bars (or store-bought options low in added sugar, saturated fat, salt, and artificial ingredients)
- Homemade trail mix
- Raw, plain unsalted nuts
- Nut milk
- Nut butter
- Hard boiled egg (portable + high-protein!)
- Scrambled eggs
- Shrimp bowl with brown or black rice
- Black beans
Whole Grains, Starchy Foods, and Gluten-Free Alternatives
Goal: 6-8 servings per day
Serving Size: 1 slice bread, ½ cup cooked grains
Quick Tip: Make at least half of your grains or more whole wheat.
Fresh Picks for Fueling Teens:
- Sandwich made with whole wheat bread
- Avocado toast for breakfast
- Whole wheat pasta salad
- Whole wheat crackers with hummus or cheese cubes
- Oats or oatmeal
- Oat bars or overnight oats for on-the-go morning meals
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Quinoa or other ancient grains
- Sweet potato
Dairy Products and Plant-based Alternatives
Goal: 2-3 servings per day
Serving Size: 1 cup of dairy or 1 ounce of cheese
Quick Tip: Opt for low-fat products to keep consumption under control.
Fresh Picks for Fueling Teens:
- Skim or 1% milk
- Yogurt parfaits (contains probiotics, too!)
- Cottage cheese with cantaloupe
- Fortified dairy alternatives
Limit the following ingredients and foods since they are high in calories and low in nutrients:
- Highly processed foods (i.e. packaged “junk foods”)
- Foods with too much sugar, salt, or fat
- Desserts, treats, snacks, candy, cakes (these should be “sometimes foods” not the norm)
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Fast food
Making simple switches each day will help your teen to slowly adopt better eating practices to eventually grow into a healthier weight for a healthier life.
Can a 16 Year Old Take Diet Pills? Dieting medications are not typically safe or necessary for teenagers, however the FDA has approved some prescription medications that may help teenagers with weight as part of other health conditions. Speak with your doctor, weight loss pills are not typically the first approach to getting to a healthier weight. Developing healthier habits will be a lot more beneficial for teenage weight loss than relying on medication alone.
Why Am I So Fat as A Teenager? It can be troubling when you don’t seem to grow at the same rate as your friends and other teenagers your age through puberty and growth spurts. Genetics, poor eating habits, and inactivity can contribute to weight gain as a teen. However, your body will change so much during the teenage years, as long as you are doing your best to eat healthy foods and get enough exercise you won’t need to worry, your next growth spurt may be just around the corner.
Will I Get Skinnier After Puberty? A typical sign of puberty is changing body shapes. It’s normal for teenagers, especially girls, to have some fat in the stomach area or other “baby fat” stored on the body. During puberty, fat gets redistributed to other areas such as the hips, butt, and breasts. It can be normal to appear skinnier after puberty, but gaining some weight is also typical during this time of growth. It’s normal for teenagers to grow on average about 2-4 inches per year (but sometimes more!), which might equal 5-15 pounds of weight gain per year. As you go through puberty, the weight gain is normal and you might slim out as you grow taller. Weight loss is not a normal part of puberty and should be discussed with a doctor.
Is It Healthy for Teenage Kids to Lose Weight? Teenagers may need to lose weight for health or growth concerns, but only under the supervision of medical professionals. During a time of high growth, it’s typically better for a teenager to “grow into their weight” instead of trying to drop pounds. If a teen loses weight due to medical or other reasons, it’s time to speak with a doctor to determine a healthy weight for your child.
- How Do I Get My Teen to Eat More?
- What Should a Teenage Girl Eat in a Day?
- How Much Should a 16-Year-Old Boy Eat?
- What is the Best Diet Plan for a 15 Year-Old?
- Best Meal Plan for Teenage Athletes
CDC Staff. Improving Your Eating Habits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/eating_habits.html
CDC Staff. Losing Weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html
Fueling Teens is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We also participate in other affiliate programs which compensate us for referring traffic.