The Best Ways For a Teen to Stay at a Healthy Weight

Teenagers are constantly being bombarded by messages about their body from friends, social media, television and many other platforms. It is important to teach teens that weight is not the best indicator of health and when taking proper care of your body, it will settle into a healthy weight for you.

Following healthy eating and exercise habits are the best ways to take care of your body and stay at a healthy weight. These habits should always be the focus of determining health status rather than weight alone. Additionally, developing good stress management skills, getting adequate sleep, and practicing body respect are other essential aspects of maintaining a healthy weight.

Read on to find out what a healthy weight is for you, what factors influence weight, and what you can do to be at a healthy weight!

What is a Healthy Weight for a Teenager?

The first step to maintaining a healthy weight is to be aware of what is actually healthy for your body. Take a step back and evaluate what you want for your body. Often, the desire to look a certain way can cloud your view of what is actually healthy.

A healthy weight looks different on everyone. Body frame size, body composition, gender, and height all influence what weight is appropriate for you. To make things even more complicated, teenagers are at a huge point of growth, so their body is continuing to change and develop. 

Ultimately, a healthy weight is one where you feel your best and can function at your full capacity. A healthy weight should not take intensive measures to maintain. As long as you are consistently doing the simple things to take care of your body, you will settle into a healthy weight. Teenagers should be taught to connect with their body and listen to what it needs rather than fixating on weight and changing their body.

Using and Interpreting Growth Charts for Teens

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a “healthy” weight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) that falls between the 5th and 85 percentiles on the growth charts. 

Again, teens should focus less on weight and more on how they feel. However, BMI and growth charts can be good screening tools for healthcare professionals to gather baseline information. Neither should be used as the ultimate judge of someone’s health. 

Growth charts should be used to look at trends in weight over time during times of growth and development. Below are the steps to understanding growth charts and how to interpret them:

  1. Calculate BMI. This can be calculated by hand but the CDC has created an online calculator that will do it for you! 
  1. BMI-for-age then gets plotted on one of two graphs as shown below (One is for girls, and the other for boys).
  1. To the right of the growth chart you will see percentiles. The growth charts shown below are color coded to make them easy to read. The red area is classified as obese, yellow is overweight, green is normal weight, and blue is underweight.
  1. Work with a dietitian if you are concerned about how your weight is classified on the growth charts. They can help determine true health status based on other factors and encourage healthy habits that will be helpful in maintaining a healthy weight in the long-term.

What Factors Influence Weight?

There is much more at play in determining weight than eating and exercise habits alone. While they do play a big role, listed below are a few of the other important factors:

  • Genetics is usually the biggest factor in determining your weight and body size. Your genetic makeup is entirely out of your control and is something that cannot be changed. 
  • Medical Conditions and medications can lead to weight gain or loss, appetite changes, increases or decreases in energy (calorie) needs, and more! These are often also out of your control. 
  • Mental Health is a key player in weight, which may seem surprising. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all alter appetite and affect hunger and fullness signals. Additionally, high cortisol levels that usually correlate with high stress can actually change the way the body stores fat.
  • Sleep is a time for the body to rest, recover, reset, and regulate hormones. Teenagers typically need between 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Make sleep a priority for your health and overall well-being!

Be kind to yourself and recognize the many factors that are at play in determining your weight. Since so much about your weight is out of your control, focus on the things you can control and look for outcomes such as improved quality of life, higher energy levels, decreased stress, etc. 

Healthy Eating Habits for Teenagers

The foods that you put into your body are one of the most important things you have full control over. This does not mean eating only fruits and vegetables all day, every day. A healthy diet is one that is full of balance, variety, and satisfaction. This means eating foods from all of the food groups:

  • Grains
  • Protein
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Oils

Now, that might seem oversimplified to just say “go eat all the food groups.” While it really doesn’t have to be difficult and confusing to eat healthy, here are some tips for making it just a little bit easier!

  1. Eat regularly throughout the day. Get in some food at least every 4-6 hours. Listen to your body to tell you when it is hungry and honor that! Avoid going long periods of time without eating. Eating something is better than eating nothing!
  1. Get a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat every time you eat. Carbohydrates are what give your body energy, while protein and fat help sustain that energy along with performing other essential functions.
  1. Choose foods that you enjoy eating! If you don’t like broccoli, choose vegetables that you do enjoy! On the other hand, if you don’t like chocolate ice cream, you don’t have to eat that either. Instead, choose something that will really bring you joy and satisfaction.
  1. Take breaks while you eat and evaluate how your body is feeling. As you practice this, it will get easier to recognize when you are feeling satisfied and no longer hungry.
  1. Get rid of distractions while you eat. It is so challenging to be mindful when you have homework or screens taking your attention. Set them aside and really be in the present moment while you eat.
  1. Aim to get a fruit or vegetable at every eating occasion. You won’t always be perfect at this, but it will help you get in more of the nutrients that your body loves!

Healthy Exercise Habits for Teenagers

Your body was designed to move. Movement strengthens your heart, bones, lungs, and muscles and can be protective against chronic diseases. Below are some tips for developing healthy exercise habits. 

  1. Aim for an hour of movement each day! It doesn’t have to be all at once- it can be divided up during the day.
  1. Find physical activity you actually enjoy doing. If you hate running, you don’t have to run! Exercise is not meant to be a punishment for your body.
  1. Incorporate cardio and strength exercises into your week. Both are important for overall health!

Should a Teenager Go on a Diet?

NOPE. That’s all there is to it! Dieting is not appropriate for any age, but especially for teenagers. Many “diets” restrict certain food groups which could lead to missing out on key nutrients that your body needs during this critical time of growth and development!

While dieting might lead to quick changes in weight, they are unsustainable and not ideal. Dieting can also lead to a damaged relationship with food, disordered eating, and increased anxiety, stress and depression. Dieting is not worth it and can cause more harm than good. Luckily, there are easier ways to maintain a healthy weight than going on a restrictive diet.

Body Image Tips for Teens

If you want to make changes for your health, it must come from a place of love and respect for your body. Dieting and over-exercising are not coming from a kind place, but eating mindfully, eating a variety of balanced foods regularly throughout the day, and exercising in a fun way can be done out of love for your body.  

If you struggle with loving and respecting your body, try out some of these thoughts:

  • My body is strong
  • My body keeps me alive
  • My body is resilient
  • My body changes to adapt to whatever life throws at it
  • My body helps me do the things that I love doing

You don’t have to always love how your body looks, but you can always respect it and love the amazing things it does for you!

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

You can maintain a healthy weight without going to any extremes. Choosing a variety of foods from all food groups, eating regularly and balanced, practicing mindful eating behaviors, and exercising regularly in a fun way are the best ways to maintain a healthy weight. These can and should be done consistently throughout your entire life!

Remember that weight is not the best indicator of health. Your worth does NOT depend on your weight or body size. Appreciate and love your body just the way it is, and find simple ways to take better care of it!


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Child and Teen BMI. Published March 17, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep in Middle and High School Students. Published September 10, 2020.  

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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