Teenage boys might feel pressure to change the way their body looks. This pressure sometimes comes from concerned friends, parents, teammates, coaches, media, or somewhere else! You might wonder if reducing body fat would be a good goal for you to have.
It is not generally recommended for teenagers to lose weight, even if they are targeting fat. This is because purposeful attempts at fat loss can actually result in teens not eating enough, not getting the nutrients that their body needs, and even stunting growth and development and harming their body longterm. Instead of restricting foods, I encourage anyone that wants to be healthier to focus on what they can add to their diet- more fruits and veggies, more whole grains, more dairy products or even just more mindfulness at mealtimes!
Read on for more information about the purpose of body fat, how much is appropriate, if teens should diet and count calories, and general healthy tips for eating and exercise.
Is Body Fat Bad for Teenage Boys?
Our culture always talks about how to lose body fat, which teaches teenagers that body fat is “bad.” In reality, that is not true! Body fat is essential for your body to function and without enough body fat, your body could have some serious trouble.
Your body’s essential fat is found in nerve tissue, the cell membranes of all your organs, and even in bone marrow! Additionally, your body likes to hang on to some extra storage fat so that your body has access to energy even on days where you might not eat enough or you have to go a long time without food. Having some body fat is also important to hormonal balance and function.
Generally speaking, a healthy body fat level for most teenagers is somewhere between 5-20%, but be aware of different methods that claim to measure your body fat percentage! Many are inaccurate and none can really look at other factors that contribute to your overall health.
Having too much body fat is also not the greatest. High levels of body fat have been associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and others.
Should Teenage Boys Lose Body Fat?
Ok, so what if your body fat is too high? Or what if you want to lower your body fat for athletic performance or for appearance?
In general, it is not recommended that teenage boys purposefully try to lose weight, even if they are specifically trying to target body fat. Many attempts include cutting out certain foods, or food groups, cutting down on calories, skipping meals, or doing crazy diets to decrease body fat. These are all especially dangerous for teen boys that are still developing.
Attempting to lose body fat can lead to hormonal issues, and can even stunt growth and development!
Instead of trying to decrease your body fat, teenagers should learn what nutrients their body needs and how much energy it needs. They should focus on establishing healthy eating and exercise patterns rather than trying to lose weight or lose body fat.
Should Teenagers Diet?
Diets can be super restrictive and ultimately they are not sustainable. Some of the popular diets you might have heard of are keto, Weight Watchers, intermittent fasting, paleo, 1200 calorie diets, etc.
I encourage teenage boys (and really everyone) to stay away from these diets. Dieting often leads to disordered eating, obsessive thoughts about food, and weight gain. So steer clear of diets and just work on creating a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.
Should Teenage Boys Count Calories?
Counting calories is not always a bad thing, but it is usually associated with dieting. Focusing too much on counting calories can sometimes lead teenagers to listen to their calorie tracking over their own body!
Plus, calorie needs are going to be different day-to-day. It is much easier to just listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues rather than trying to guess exactly how many calories your body needs.
Best Tips for How a Teen Boy Can Be Healthier and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Rather than trying to lose weight or lose body fat, teen boys should focus on establishing healthy habits. When you consistently take care of your body and nourish it appropriately, you will get to a weight and body fat percentage that is healthy for you.
Most dietitians help overweight and obese teens to slow the rate of weight gain so that they can “grow into their weight” during growth spurts. Only occasionally is weight loss appropriate for teenagers. Don’t make any big diet changes without recommendations from your doctor and dietitian.
Here are some basic tips if you have a goal to be healthier:
- Don’t try and change up everything at once. This can be overwhelming and discouraging. Instead, start small and make a few simple changes at a time.
- Focus on how you feel when you establish healthier habits. Notice if your mood improves, or your energy levels are better. Maybe you notice that you are better able to concentrate or you do better in sports! These are all great motivating factors to be aware of that will keep you wanting to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Remember that health is more than just eating healthy and exercising. Getting enough sleep is extremely important, and so is managing stress levels.
- Recognize and celebrate the small wins. Maybe not everything went according to plan during the day but what did go well? Take time to focus on those wins rather than beating yourself up for not being “perfect.” There really is no perfectly healthy way to eat, exercise, or live anyways!
- Love your body and respect it just the way it is. If you struggle with that or feel guilt and shame for eating certain foods or skipping a workout, reach out for some help from a dietitian and therapist! These are totally normal feelings that many people have, but you can live your life so much more fully when you deal with those thoughts and feelings in a healthy way and work through them with help.
See also some related posts to help parents with overweight teens:
- What is Overweight for a 15-Year Old?
- How Can I Tell if my Teen is Overweight? Advice from a Dietitian
- What to do if a Teenager is Gaining Weight too Fast
- Should I Tell My Teen They Need to Lose Weight? Tips from a Dietitian
- What is the Best Diet Plan for a 15 Year-Old? Tips from a Dietitian
Healthy Eating Tips for Teenage Boys
Obviously, eating healthy plays an important role in feeling good, maintaining a healthy weight, and having a healthy level of body fat. Here are some tips for how teen boys can eat healthier:
- Don’t go long periods without eating. Your body needs fuel at least every 4-6 hours but maybe even more frequently than that! Going too long without eating often leads to overeating and choosing less nutrient-rich foods.
- Eat a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each meal and snack. Each of these macronutrients do different, important things for the body and you will feel much better when you are eating balanced meals and snacks!
- Honor your hunger and fullness cues. It is so important that teenagers learn how to listen to their body. Develop a relationship with your body where you listen to it and give it what it needs when it needs it.
- Include a fruit or vegetable at every meal. You can even try to include more with snacks too! Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals that help your body function at its very best.
- Eat a variety of foods from each food group. Include grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, oils, and dairy every day and try different foods within each food group. Each food has a unique nutrient profile that can provide something unique and helpful to your body.
Exercise Tips for Teenage Boys
Your body gets so much benefit from moving every day. Your heart and other muscles become stronger, you strengthen your immune system, your bones are strengthened, mood and stress levels are improved- there’s a lot of good things that come from exercising regularly. Here are a few tips for including exercise in your routine:
- Find exercise that is fun for you. Find a new hobby or take a class that gets you up and moving by doing something that you really enjoy.
- Aim for an hour of physical activity each day- that doesn’t mean you have to run every day, and the hour doesn’t even need to be all at once. Just remember to get movement in throughout the day and you will likely meet your exercise needs!
- Take time to rest from intense exercise. Sports practices, weight lifting, and other activities can sometimes put a lot of stress on the body. It is ok to take some time off and go on a stroll through the park or do some yoga and stretching at home to let your body recover.
- Include cardio activities as well as strength training exercises during the week. Both are important for your overall health and there are actually many activities you can do that encompass both!
- Warm up and warm down from intensive physical activity. This will help you stay healthy and injury free!
Ultimately the best type of exercise is the type that you enjoy and can commit to doing regularly.
Trying to lose body fat is really not necessary and not recommended for teenage boys. When fat loss or weight loss is the focus, many unhealthy behaviors can emerge that can do much more harm than good.
Instead, teen boys should focus on developing a healthy relationship with food, respecting their body, including a variety of foods from each of the food groups daily, getting in regular fun physical activity, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. As they focus on those things, body weight and body fat tend to fall into a healthy range!
Sports Nutrition, 2nd Edition. Normal ranges of body weight and body fat. Us.humankinetics.com.
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