Calories often take on a negative meaning due to the society’s obsession with dieting. However, another term for calorie is energy. Calories are the energy the body uses for all its vital functions and allows a girl to perform tasks and hobbies. Taking in more calories than the energy needed for daily activities leads to weight gain. Yet, too few calories contributes to fatigue and poor health. A teenage girl who wants to lose weight should take care not to restrict calories more than necessary. So, how many calories should a teenage girl eat to lose weight?
First, a teenage girl should talk to a doctor or registered dietitian before attempting any weight loss. These health professionals will help a teenager set realistic goals and decide whether weight loss is appropriate. Inappropriate weight loss during teen years causes lasting harm. Depending on several factors, 1,800 calories per day is typically appropriate for a teenage girl recommended to lose weight.
Calorie needs differ according to a variety of factors. Due to the unique needs of each girl, no one calorie target works for all teenagers. If a health expert does recommend weight loss, teenage girls can reduce calories by 300-500 to see weight loss. However, extreme calorie restriction or rapid weight loss rarely results in a lasting healthy weight. Experts recommend weight loss should result in no more than 1-2 pounds per week for effective outcomes.
Continue reading to discover more about appropriate weight loss, calorie intake and healthy eating for a teenage girl.
How Many Calories do Teenagers Need?
As previously mentioned, no one calorie amount can answer the question of how many calories a teenager needs per day. Calorie requirements differ based on gender, height, weight, body composition, health, medications, physical activity, genetics and more. Additionally, calorie needs can change for the same person on different days.
Some calorie calculators or equations give baseline estimates, but should not be used as an exact representation of what a teenager needs. Instead, teenagers can use these rough estimates as a starting point to then personalize to their unique needs. Teenagers should pay attention to fullness and hunger cues, growth patterns and energy to more appropriately meet dietary needs.
The charts below provide estimates of teen calorie needs. These calorie estimations are from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Teenagers can also use the calculator on this website https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan to gain a rough idea of their basic calorie needs.
Below is a detailed list of calorie needs for teens by age, sex and activity level.
|Age||Not Active||Moderately Active||Active|
|14-15||2,000 – 2,200||2,400 – 2,600||2,800 – 3,000|
|Age||Not Active||Moderately Active||Active|
- 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.
How Much Should Teenagers Eat to Lose Weight?
Most health experts recommend decreasing calories by 300-500 per day to see weight loss. Cutting calories more than this will not result in healthy weight loss and can even cause eventual weight gain. Teenagers should always reach out to a healthcare professional when deciding about weight loss. Most teenagers do not need to lose weight, but instead need to “grow into their weight” when hitting growth spurts. Eating smarter, not necessarily less will help a teenager maintain a healthy weight.
Hyper focus on calories and weight may lead to the development of disordered eating and decreased well-being. In fact, weight is just a small, incomplete indicator of health. Rather than focusing on a certain number on the scale or a number of calories to restrict, teenage girls should prioritize development of healthy lifestyle behaviors.
These behaviors include eating more fruits and vegetables, choosing more nutrient dense foods, hydrating with unsweetened beverages, increasing movement throughout the day, getting adequate sleep and taking care of emotional and mental health.
Are 1200 Calories Enough Per Day for a Teenager?
No, 1200 calories are not enough for a teenager. Too few calories in a day results in not enough energy or nutrients for teenagers and can have devastating longterm consequences. The reason healthcare professionals are so reluctant to encourage weight loss among teenagers comes from their knowledge of the devastating health consequences of chronic undernutrition.
Teenage girls usually need anywhere from 1800 to 3000 calories, depending on a variety of factors. The body converts calories to energy as fuel for the heart, brain and other vital organs of the body. When a teenage girl consistently eats less than what her body needs her body ceases to function at its best.
Consequences of Chronically Under-Eating:
- Loss of interest in activities
- Decreased mental capability
- Brittle hair, skin, nails
- GI distress (constipation, bloating, gut distress)
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Poor bone health
- Hormone disruption
- Lack of menstruation
- Poor immune health
- Decreased organ health
- Increased mortality
Teenage girls should eat enough to where they feel satisfied and energized throughout the day. If a teenager feels excessively tired, hungry or preoccupied with food, she may need to increase her calorie intake.
Does Choosing to Eat Less Calories Mean a Teenage Girl Has an Eating Disorder?
Only a healthcare professional can diagnose an eating disorder. They use established criteria for a diagnosis that involves more than just calorie restriction. However, reducing calorie intake can lead to the development of an eating disorder.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), “Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.”
Yes, you read that right, an eating disorder can affect anyone. This mental illness results in serious health consequences, including death. The following is a non-exhaustive list of signs of an eating disorder. If a teenager feels concerned about their eating habits or suspects an eating disorder, she should reach out for help. The NEDA website provides information, screening tools and a help line. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn
Signs of an Eating Disorder
- Significant weight changes up or down
- Preoccupation or obsession with food/weight
- Rigid food rules
- Food rituals
- Avoidance of eating with people
- Skipping meals
- Frequent dieting
- Avoidance of friends and usual activities
- Mood swings
- Cold intolerance
- Brittle skin, hair, nails
- Poor immune system
- Lack of menstruation
How Can a Teenage Girl Know How Much to Eat?
External cues such as calories do not usually help a teenage girl best meet her unique dietary needs. A teenage girl can develop the ability to follow internal cues through intuitive eating. Incorporating these principles will help a teenager fuel her body appropriately and develop a healthy relationship with food.
Intuitive eating means listening to your body and eating in a way that makes you feel best. A healthy relationship with food and overall well-being, not weight loss, is the purpose of this eating pattern. Sometimes this natural way of eating requires the assistance of a healthcare professional and may not be for everyone, especially those currently suffering with an eating disorder.
Intuitive Eating Focuses on Ten Main Principles:
- Reject the diet mentality– avoid the thought that a certain diet or food will fix all your problems.
- Honor your hunger– pay attention to and attend to hunger cues.
- Make peace with food– Allow yourself access to all foods without guilt
- Challenge the food police– say no to thoughts that place guilt or shame on eating certain foods or in a specific way with specific rules. Food should not have moral power over you.
- Discover the satisfaction factor– try to eat in a pleasant environment, without distraction and taking time to find pleasure in the eating experience.
- Feel your fullness– listen to your body and practice identifying when you are satisfied during an eating occasion.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness– while food can temporarily ease emotions, it never creates a lasting solution. Find ways to manage emotions outside of just food.
- Respect your body– the body is incredible! Learn to respect and care for your body without the need for it to fit a certain society norm.
- Movement/feel the difference– rather than forcing yourself to perform a dreaded exercise regime, find movement you enjoy. Focus on the way movement makes you feel better, not on the calories you burn.
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition– as you eat and move more mindfully, find what lifestyle choices make you feel good. You don’t need to eat perfectly clean to enjoy a healthy diet. Focus on eating more nutrient dense foods along with foods you enjoy.
Find out more about intuitive eating and it’s benefits at https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
What Does Healthy Eating Look Like for a Teenage Girl?
Healthy eating does not mean following a set of rules perfectly and meeting a specific calorie target. Instead, variety and balance play an important role in meeting nutrient needs. Rather than restriction, a healthy diet emphasizes inclusion and compassion.
No one food will “ruin” a healthy diet as no one food will “make” a healthy diet. The body needs a variety of nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein and fat. A balanced plate will offer a mix of these three nutrients. The My Plate model suggests making half the plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein foods and a quarter grains. Enjoying favorite snacks and treats in moderation will help teenagers avoid later binging.
Teenagers often fall short of vitamin, mineral and fiber recommendations due to excessive intake of highly processed foods that contain little nutrition. A teenage girl can increase health by simply adding these nutrient dense foods to her diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
Try to make half the plate fruits and vegetables at meal times. Eating a variety provides important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber. Skipping out on fruits and vegetables will make it harder for a teenage girl to maximize her health and to maintain a healthy weight.
Packaging should say 100% whole grain or whole wheat. Food labeling can confuse a teenager as “wheat” or “multi-grain” does not necessarily mean whole grain. Whole grains use the entire grain while refined grains lack parts of the grain that offer important nutrients, including fiber.
These plant-based powerhouses of fiber and protein make great additions to a meal that keep a teenager feeling full and energized. They can replace half or all of the meat in a dish for added nutrition.
Full of healthy fats, protein and fiber, nuts and seeds help individuals maintain healthy weights and avoid hunger and sugar crashes between eating occasions. Keep portion size in mind (a handful) as nuts and seeds do contain higher calorie amounts.
Lean cuts of meat or poultry offer high quality protein, iron, zinc and other important nutrients with less of the saturated fat.
Omega 3 found in seafood benefits the brain and heart. As an important source of this healthy fat, health experts recommend eating seafood twice weekly.
Current research shows eating an average of one egg a day does not harm health. In fact, eggs boast of nutrients essential to brain health and high-quality protein.
Plant oils, fatty fish, avocados, olives, seeds and nuts provide unsaturated fats. These fats add flavor and satiety to a meal. They also boost heart and brain health, assist with nutrient absorption and play a role in many important body functions.
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