Is It Bad To Diet At Fourteen?

A fourteen year old faces pressure with academics, peers, family, work, sports, etc. and with these pressures, teens may feel the need to obtain a certain body or to eat in a specific manner. Attempting to meet some of these expectations may cause teens to look into the world of dieting.

Does dieting work? Is it bad to diet at fourteen? These are just some of the questions a fourteen year old may have at this time and will be answered in the following article.

It is bad to diet at fourteen, and at anytime in the teenage years. Teenagers should avoid following any restrictive or extreme diet, which includes the vast majority of diets. These restrictions and behaviors may cause malnutrition, low energy, stunted growth, poor development and other serious health consequences. If a fourteen year old feels the need to make dietary changes, they should speak to a professional, such as their doctor or a registered dietitian.

According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics —  “Maintaining a healthy eating pattern throughout adolescence doesn’t require dieting or complicated meal plans.” Instead, a fourteen year old should look to adopt lasting dietary choices as part of a healthy lifestyle.

The following article will provide more information about dieting as a teenager, the consequences, what a healthy meal pattern actually looks like and more. Continue reading to discover science based information and recommendations.

Should 14 Year Olds Go On Diets?

New diets with tantalizing promises of improved health and appearance seem to pop up every day. With the changes of puberty, many teens may feel the need to go on a diet in order to access those promises. In reality, diets rarely lead to long lasting results of a healthy weight, feelings of well-being or desired appearance.

Instead, a restrictive diet may result in rapid weight loss of muscle and water, not fat. This unsustainable way of  living tends to eventually result in weight re-gain to a higher point, slowed metabolism and an unhealthy relationship with food.

This weight re-gain may lead to another diet, starting the same cycle over again. Chronic dieting is associated with poorer health outcomes than those who never dieted. Dieting may also lead to disordered eating.

As a teenager continues through stages of growth and development, adequate nutrition is necessary. When teenagers restrict calories or other nutrients, the body cannot support these healthy changes. Other consequences of inadequate nutrition through dieting include:

  • Easily tired
  • Brain fog
  • Binge Eating
  • Irritability 
  • Insomnia
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Missed social opportunities
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies 
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Disordered eating
  • Stunted growth
  • Poor development

Teens should speak to a healthcare professional or registered dietitian if they continue to feel the need to diet in order to obtain a desired weight or treat a  certain health condition.

Recommendations For Healthy Weight for a Fourteen Year Old

Diets usually consist of extreme and unsustainable changes to an eating pattern. These changes can cause harm and rarely lead to long lasting health. So, how can a teenager maintain a healthy weight, if not through dieting?

1. Eat a balanced and varied meal pattern

A teenager should strive to eat a variety of foods from each food group. The different foods provides the body with all the nutrients necessary for growth. A healthy meal pattern is more about inclusion rather than exclusion.

The ChooseMyPlate diagram provides a basic example of how to make a meal balanced. 

MyPlate Plan | MyPlate

Fruits and vegetables

Half the plate should be made up of fruits and vegetables. These fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals essential to health and well-being. Failure to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day can result in nutrient deficiencies that negatively impact health. 

They also boast of antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber, which combat inflammation and chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.


Grains provide a great source of energy through carbohydrates. When choosing grains, adolescents should try to make at least half their grains whole. 

Whole grains contain more nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that are stripped away when grains are processed into refined grains. The fiber in whole grains aids digestive health, helps regulate blood sugar and provides satiety. Whole grains include 100% whole grain breads and pasta, brown, black and wild rice, popcorn and oatmeal. Refined grains include white, wheat and multi grain breads and pasta, white rice, creamy wheat and many snack foods.


Protein foods not only give the body the nutrient protein, but also contain minerals such as iron and zinc. These minerals help with energy, the immune system and brain health. Different protein foods offer various beneficial components and adolescents should look to eat a variety, including plant based protein foods.

Meat tends to provide easily absorbed and good quality protein, but often contain higher amounts of saturated fats. This type of fat can contribute to poor health when eaten in excess. Processed meats (hot dogs, deli meats, bacon) and red meats (beef, pork, veal, lamb) may increase risk of chronic disease and should be limited. Lean poultry often contains less fat and should be chosen more often.

Plant based protein such as beans, soybeans, nuts, tofu, etc. will also provide fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. This type of protein not only boosts individual health, but the health of the planet as well.

Other protein foods to eat as part of a healthy diet include seafood, eggs and cottage cheese. Seafood recommendations of at least two servings per week help teens obtain adequate omega 3. This essential fatty acid improves brain and heart health. Eggs and cottage cheese pack in the protein along with being a great source of vitamins and minerals.


Teenagers can take care of their bones and teeth by consuming three servings of dairy daily. Milk, cheese and yogurt boast of calcium and vitamin D along with other nutrients important to skeletal health.

Those who avoid dairy due to allergies, intolerances or dietary preferences can still meet calcium needs through eating a varied diet that includes other high calcium foods such as fortified plant based milks, fortified fruit juice, dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans and almonds. They may also want to speak to a doctor or registered dietitian about possible supplement needs.

2. Drink adequate fluid

Similar to calorie needs, fluid needs can vary person to person and day to day. Thirst already indicates dehydration and should not be the only reason a teenager drinks fluid. Dehydration as low as a 2% loss can negatively affect cognition, alertness and performance.

Instead, fluids should be consumed frequently throughout the day. Urine color makes a helpful tool and teens should strive for pale yellow urine as darker shades indicate dehydration.

Water remains the best choice of fluid for teens. Other good choices include milk and 100% fruit juice in moderation. Sweetened beverages may cause excess sugar and calorie intake and teens should limit soda, energy drinks, sweetened teas and fruit drinks.

3. Stay active

While teenagers don’t need a regime of intense weight lifting or cardio exercises, they should work in at least sixty minutes of physical activity daily. Physical activity should be enjoyable and can include activities as simple as walking the dog, raking leaves, going for a bike ride, jumping rope and more.

Outside of contributing to a healthy weight, physical activity boasts many other benefits. Physical activity decreases stress, increases feelings of happiness, improves brain, heart and skeletal health and even has associations with better sleep and eating habits.

4. Get proper sleep

The busy life of a teen often makes sleep a second thought. However, adequate and good quality sleep, especially as a growing teen, should always be a priority. Sleep is essential to growth, brain development, immune health, feeling good, performance, fighting inflammation, reducing risk of chronic disease, improved eating habits, a healthy weight and overall well-being.

Adolescents should average eight to ten hours of sleep each night. Going to sleep and waking up at similar times, avoiding caffeine and heavy doses of sugar or fat close to bedtime, keeping the room cool, and having a routine will improve quality of sleep.

5. Decrease stress

Among the pressure of school, sports, social and family life, a teen will experience stress. Finding ways to decrease feelings of stress can improve health and help a teenager maintain a healthy weight. 

Teens can decrease stress through:

  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Practicing mindfulness 
  • Taking out time to do enjoyable things
  • Good sleep
  • Eating balanced meals
  • Talking to someone

How Much Should A 14 Year Old Eat?

Calorie needs vary widely due to physical activity, height, weight, sex, genetics and environment. The following table from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gives estimates of calorie needs for age groups and level of physical activity. However, each teen has unique needs and should eat in a way that makes them feel energized and healthy. 

For Boys:

AgeNot ActiveModerately ActiveActive
14-152,000 – 2,2002,400 – 2,6002,800 – 3,000

For Girls:

AgeNot ActiveModerately ActiveActive

Activity Levels:

  • 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.

For overall balanced eating, fourteen year olds should include all macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat). 

Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of the total calories. As the main source of energy for the body, this macronutrient should not be feared.

Protein recommendations are 10-30% of total calories. Protein performs a variety of roles in the body with tissue building and repair, cell communication, hormones, assisting with digestion and the immune system. Protein also helps control blood sugar and provides satiety with meals and snacks.

Fat should fall in the 20-35% range of total calories. This macronutrient not only adds taste and keeps us full, but is also essential to nutrient absorption, organ protection, energy storage and healthy hair and skin.

Should A 14 Year Old Count Calories?

As mentioned previously, calorie needs vary widely and can even change for the same teenager on different days. Furthermore, calorie counts on food labels are allowed to be 20% off the actual number, making calorie counting inaccurate and inefficient. 

On top of these reasons to avoid calorie counting, teenagers who count calories increase their risk for disordered eating. Disordered eating can eventually lead to an eating disorder, which causes severe and lasting negative health consequences. 

As a registered dietitian, I recommend fourteen year olds avoid counting calories. Instead, they should focus on developing healthy eating and lifestyle patterns as mentioned above. 

If a teen or parent feels concern over a teen’s eating habits or obsessions with food, they should seek guidance from a healthcare professional. Eating disorders can affect adolescents of any gender, race, shape or size. 

The following website provides a hotline, screening tool and information for those concerned about a possible eating disorder.

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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