Is it Easy to Lose Weight as a Teenager?


For teens, weight talk is popular and prevalent. New fad diets pop up from month-to-month, making it hard to find balance as an adolescent. It’s no wonder many teens and even adults are asking, “Is it easy to lose weight as a teenager?”

While weight regularly fluctuates during the teen years, younger bodies seem to be more resilient to changes, making it easier to lose weight. If a teen needs to lose weight, their body will likely be more responsive to changes than if they were trying to make the same set of changes as an adult. This is true because teenagers are often more active than adults, have fast metabolisms, are less “set in their ways”, and still hit growth spurts.

There are several factors that influence weight in the teen years, and they can cause weight to fluctuate. Regardless of the number on the scale, the teen years are an important time to develop healthy habits. Learning positive weight management skills as a teen can make eating patterns in adulthood much easier to maintain. 

Keep reading for the best weight loss tips and information for teenagers, including why it’s easier to lose weight as a teenager.

Image courtesy of Diana Polekhina (https://unsplash.com/photos/ZSpkUThb7qk)

Is it Easier or Harder to Lose Weight as a Teenager?

The teen years are marked by major growth and developmental milestones. Weight gain is normal and expected, and often occurs before a growth spurt. Weight loss is not necessarily normal or recommended, but teens fluctuate in weight, especially before, during, and after a growth spurt.

As a dietitian, I work with many adult clients who set a goal to get back to their high school weight. For many reasons, it’s a popular belief that it’s easier to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight in your teen years than as an adult. This is true because teenagers are often more active than adults, have fast metabolisms, and still hit growth spurts.

Factors that make losing weight easier as a teenager than as an adult:

  • Teens are typically more active
  • Teens have faster metabolisms and are still growing
  • Adults lose muscle mass as they age, less muscle equals a slower metabolism and less calories burned
  • Differences in hormone levels
  • Adults may face more health challenges
  • Adults have more aches and pains, causing them to be sedentary
  • Adults have routine set-in-stone habits

Plus more concerns which make weight loss slow and difficult for adults. Weight loss should be easier in the teen years, whether it is intended or not, however, anyone can successfully lose weight with the right approach.

As a teenager, weight fluctuations are common. The following factors are just a few that can affect weight:

  • Metabolism
  • Growth
  • Hormones
  • Puberty

It’s important to develop healthy eating and exercise habits and maintain a healthy weight in the teen years so that you will never have to diet for the rest of your life.

At What Age Is It Easiest to Lose Weight?

While there is no exact age when losing weight is easiest, experts suggest the aging process makes it more difficult to lose weight. The teen years are an important time to develop healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy weight before adulthood.

Excessive weight gain leading to obesity in the teen years contributes to many potential problems: 

  • Health problems during adolescence
  • Increased risk of adulthood obesity
  • Lifetime risk for illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes

While weight fluctuates during the teen years, younger bodies seem to be more resilient to changes. If a teen needs to lose weight, their body will likely be more responsive to changes than if they were trying to make the same set of changes as an adult. 

Social and Psychological Factors Affecting a Teen’s Weight

In addition to the many physical changes occurring during the teen years, mental and emotional skills are being developed as well. Teenagers, as well as their parents, are often concerned with weight. 

Teens who are under- or over- weight may be teased about their size. Additionally, teens at an unhealthy weight are at higher risk for: 

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Lower overall quality of life
  • Eating disorders 
  • Unhealthy eating habits (i.e. skipping meals, binge eating, starvation and self-induced vomiting)

These are some of the reasons why it’s important to focus on healthy weight and healthy habits in the teen years. Dietitians can work with any teenager who may need to lose weight and offer guidance on how to get back to maintaining a healthy weight.

See also:

Is it Easy to Lose Weight as a Teen?

It’s not “easy” for anyone to lose weight. Weight loss involves lots of changing routines, patterns, habits, and goal-setting, which is difficult for most humans. Adopting healthy habits and changing lifestyles is worth it, but it takes dedication and commitment to get to a healthier weight.

How Can a Teenager Lose Weight Fast?

Research and nutrition experts promote two positive strategies for weight loss in teens: 

  1. Healthy eating habits
  2. Healthy activities

Developing these habits make all the difference in the teen years. Having a healthy relationship with food and getting lifelong exercise is crucial for lifelong health. See below for healthy habits to start today.

See also: What is the Best Diet Plan for a 16 Year-Old? From a Dietitian

The Risks of Dieting to Lose Weight

There is a big difference between dietary patterns (a collection of healthy nutritional habits) and dieting (restriction of calories resulting in rapid weight loss). Did you know dieting actually increases the risk of obesity? It also is linked with eating disorders. 

The following list contains more harmful side effects of teenage dieting: 

  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Skipping meals
  • Starvation
  • Binge eating 
  • Self-induced vomiting 
  • High-risk eating habits
  • Weight loss pills 
  • Laxatives

While the risks may seem worth it in the short-term perspective, long-term health problems can result. Serious complications such as dehydration or permanent damage can occur from these side effects. 

There is a better way for teenagers to lose weight than through unhealthy dieting practices, restricting calories, and limiting food groups.

5 Positive Practices for Healthy Eating Habits

Teens should focus on fueling their bodies with nutrient-rich foods as they grow. Many “lose weight quick” diets cut out whole food groups or types of nutrients, which isn’t healthy for teens or beneficial in the long run. Wholesome protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats should not be cut out of the diet. 

The following practices can help make maintaining a healthy weight and a balanced diet a reality for teenagers: 

  1. Eat a balanced breakfast. Breakfast has the power to improve behavior, increase school performance, and is linked to healthy weight. 
  2. Make healthy eating a family affair. From planning to cooking to eating together, frequent family meals are linked with the following: 
  • A better dietary pattern, composed of nutrient-rich foods
  • Increased intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Decreased occurrence of poor eating habits (i.e. skipping meals, binge eating)
  1. Keep healthy snacks and drinks on hand. Some recommendations for quick snacks for busy teens on-the-go include:
  • Cut up fruits and vegetables
  • Hummus
  • Air-popped popcorn (my favorite is Smartfood)
  • Low-fat cheese sticks or wedges
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit
  • Applesauce pouches
  • Greek yogurt
  • Sparkling water or water
  • Healthy energy bars (my favorite are Larabars, made from dried fruit and nuts)
  1. Agree on a healthy limit for screen time. Excessive snacking has been associated with eating while in front of a television or computer. Need ideas for new activities? Try a cooking class, learning how to bake something new, looking up new recipes to try in a cookbook, or making a list of new kitchen skills you want to master. 
  2. Practice picking healthy portion sizes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a website called MyPlate that can help teens learn about appropriate, healthy, and balanced portion sizes without feeling the weight restrictive eating imposes. It’s also important to learn to listen to hunger cues.

4 Tips for Healthy Activities

Teenagers require roughly one hour of physical activity per day. Remember, that doesn’t have to be 60 minutes in one go. Start small, and keep trying a new sport or activity each week until you find the right one for you or your teen. 

The best type of exercise is the type that your teen enjoys and will do regularly!

The following helpful tips are encouraging for teens and parents wanting to reach health goals through physical activity: 

  1. Value activity over exercise. Structured and specific workout programs can often promote restrictive habits and lead to poor health outcomes in the long-term. Any type of movement counts! Unconventional activities can burn calories, too:
  • Dancing
  • Biking
  • Walking the dog
  • Gardening
  • Hiking
  • Jump rope
  • Swimming
  • Skateboarding
  • Ice skating
  • Badminton
  1. Prioritize your preferences. Exercise and physical activity tend to stick long-term when teens like the activity they engage in. If you are artistically inclined, walk to the nearest art store. If you love to read, ride your bike to the library instead of taking a car. Physical activity in the teen years should be enjoyable, even if organized sports aren’t your thing. 
  2. Encourage parents to set a good example. If you treat exercise like a chore, it should be no surprise when your teen doesn’t enjoy exercise either. Establishing and prioritizing activity and involving the whole family in the fun can create lasting healthy habits alongside precious memories. 
  3. Keep track of your progress. Skills such as self-monitoring, fitness watches, and written goals can help teens keep track of their progress. Each teen is unique, so it is important to set an overall plan with individualized progress points. 

Discussing Teenage Weight Changes

The term “weight talk” refers to the following: 

  • Parents talking about their own need to lose weight
  • Parents talking about their child’s weight
  • Teasing or joking about weight within the family
  • Encouraging weight loss 

While these types of conversations can be started with good intentions, research shows that even the best intentions can be perceived by a teen as negative, hurtful, or judgemental. Well-intentioned weight talk has been associated with continuing weight problems, an increase in weight, unhealthy habits, dieting, and the risk of eating disorders. 

When in doubt, teens and parents are encouraged to involve a dietitian in weight talk conversations. Dietitians can introduce helpful strategies and vocabulary for discussing sensitive topics like weight. Dietitians are also familiar with teen nutrition needs and can help to assess if the strategies employed are working successfully. 

See also: Should I Tell My Teen They Need to Lose Weight? Tips from a Dietitian

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has several excellent articles if you want to explore more of this topic, including Emphasizing Health vs. Weight for Body-Positive Thinking and How to Talk to Kids about Weight and Obesity. Another article that can help teens and their parents navigate weight changes and decide if trends are concerning is Your Pre-Teen’s Weight

Do You Lose Weight When You Hit Puberty?

Puberty can cause all sorts of physical changes as a result of hormone cascades in the body. During puberty, the body basically begins a series of processes that influence nearly all the body’s systems. While puberty has a clear sequence to its stages, its effect on weight can create some confusion among teenagers and their parents.  

Girls experience puberty between ages 7-11, which is earlier than the typical age for boys. Extra adipose (fat) tissue can accumulate in the belly area. This is often referred to as “baby fat”, but as mentioned above, weight talk should be treated with sensitivity. Weight gain is a cause of anxiety for many teenage girls. 

Boys usually between 9-13 years old, start experiencing a wealth of changes as well. In their teenage years, boys often experience dramatic weight and height changes. Before muscle mass builds, some boys may have a “chubby” appearance as they grow into their weight. 

Most teenagers learn to be self-conscious of their bodies. Instead of harmful name-calling, nicknames, teasing, or bullying, it’s important to refer to these changes with sensitivity. Similar to teenage girls, teenage boys need to hear that the changes they are experiencing are a normal part of maturing and developing. 

What is Abnormal During Puberty?

Few occurrences in puberty are cause for concern. However, it is important to be aware that the following can happen and is not considered “normal”:

  • Development that does not follow typical patterns and medical problems have been ruled out
  • Girls experiencing puberty before age 8 
  • Girls not experiencing puberty changes after age 13
  • No menstruation in girls by age 16 or 17
  • Girls experiencing abdominal pain or sudden changes in periods (menstruation)
  • Boys entering puberty before age 9
  • Boys not experiencing changes by age 14
  • Weight loss of more than 5 pounds
  • Weight gain of more than 15 pounds in a year

While nutrition may not seem directly related to these changes, diet is a key part to wellness. Malnutrition can create a lack of nourishment in the body, and nutrition for growing bodies is critical to teen health. Healthy eating habits can add an element of stability and energy to a time when teens are experiencing a wealth of changes. 

How Parents Can Support Healthy Eating Habits During Puberty

  • Talk to your teen in advance. Helping your teen understand what to expect during puberty can ease a lot of common concerns. It also encourages them and lets them know you are a resource of information and someone who is supporting them during a time of instability. 
  • Emphasize long-term health and empathize with short-term concerns. Remind your teen that while it can feel like everyone in the world knows you are going through puberty, everyone in the world has also had to experience the exact same process. Have empathy when they feel embarrassed or ashamed, but be sure to explain that the changes they experience are normal even though it may not feel that way. Weight changes will regulate as they grow.
  • Prepare for periods. Teen girls can feel prepared for periods if parents, particularly female guardians, explain what they can expect to experience. Remind her it is a normal body process and have a few feminine products stashed in convenient locations in case of emergency. 
  • Treat topics with sensitivity. As mentioned above, changes happen during puberty that affect nearly every body system. This means that while physical changes may be the most noticeable, emotional cascades and fragile feelings are also common in many cases. Teens may need to be reassured, especially from medical professionals or healthcare providers like doctors and dietitians, that they are developing normally and have a strong support system and resources to rely on. 

The Bottom Line 

Losing weight is easier as a teen than as an adult. This is due to fast metabolisms and changing, growing bodies. It’s important to take advantage of this time in a teen’s life by building healthy habits for long term health.

Body image concerns are common as teens experience physical changes in their adolescent years. Parents can help set a positive example by creating healthy eating habits and encouraging physical activity. While popular diets, weight talk, and skipping meals can seem like popular practices, long-term and lasting weight loss comes down to healthy habits and positive health practices. Getting teenagers involved in the eating process now can be a crucial investment for future health and wellness.

Related Questions

Do Teenagers Lose Weight More Quickly Than Adults? Yes, teenagers who need to lose weight can often do so more quickly and easily than adults. This is due to faster metabolisms, more muscle mass, increased activity, hormone levels, and growth changes. Adults may also have more health problems, aches and pains that cause a sedentary lifestyle, and set-in-stone routine “unhealthy” habits. Of course, anyone can lose weight with the right habits and changes. It’s never too late to start a healthy habit.

Is It Bad to Diet as a Teenager? It can be bad for teens to follow fad diets and detoxes to try to lose weight quickly. Following restrictive diets as a teen can cause nutrient deficiencies, disordered eating habits, and health problems. If you learn healthy habits as a teenager, you won’t have to

At What Age Is It Easiest to Lose Weight? It’s typically easier to lose weight the younger you are. Changing habits at age 40, when you are already set in your ways, is a lot harder than when you are 15. Weight loss is possible for anyone, but should be monitored by healthcare professionals especially during the teen years.

Is it Hard to Lose Weight as a Teenager? It is easier to lose weight in the teen years than the adult years. It’s even more important to develop healthy habits in the teen years so you’ll never need to diet and lose weight. To lose weight as a teen, it’s absolutely crucial to do so with the help of your healthcare team. Unhealthy weight loss in the teen years can have negative health consequences. Most teens can grow into their weight by adopting healthy eating strategies and regular physical activity. Always check in with a doctor and dietitian before attempting to lose weight.

Should a 13 Year-Old Count Calories? Teenagers should not count calories regularly. Counting calories as a teen creates a fixation on food and amounts and can lead to disordered eating habits. Teenagers are still learning about nutrition, healthy eating, and their bodies. The best thing parents can do is to encourage a variety of healthy foods, regular physical activity, scheduled meals and snacks, and never restrict food.

Should a Teenager Count Calories? Ask a Dietitian

See Also

References

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 6 Tips for Better Breakfasts. Eatright.org. Published September 2, 2020.

Muneer U. Puberty: What’s normal, what’s not? Eehealth.org. Published February 15, 2018. 

Weintraub K. Is It Harder to Lose Weight When You’re Older? Nytimes.com. Published March 31, 2017. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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