Even when childhood is left behind for adolescence, parents continue to want the best for their kids. While you may no longer find yourself in charge of every bite of food or activity, you still worry about your fourteen-year old’s nutrition and health. Parents of larger bodied youth may ask, what should I do if my 14-year old is overweight?
If your 14-year old is overweight you should create healthier habits for the whole family and not single-out one child. You should be an example and talk to your child about overall health, and not size. You should fill the fridge and pantry with easy-to-grab healthy options and limit junk food and restaurant food.
Parents should teach their fourteen year olds how to love and respect their bodies no matter the size. First, parents should exemplify a healthy lifestyle with their own choices of balanced eating, daily movement and proper sleep. They should also create an environment where kids can develop their own healthy habits. For example, creating easy access to balanced snacks and supporting teenagers in their preferred physical activities. Parents can express concerns to a licensed healthcare professional, but should avoid encouraging weight loss measures on their own. Weight loss during such an important period of growth can result in negative physical and mental health outcomes.
Read on to learn more about specific actions parents can take to help children develop healthy habits, when parents should feel concerned about their kid’s weight and what contributes to weight gain.
How to Help a 14-Year Old Build Healthy Weight Habits
1. Make it a Family Effort
Families should all focus on the goal of creating healthy habits for all, regardless of anyone’s weight. Studies consistently show a higher chance of individuals succeeding in their health goals when they work towards them as a family group unit. This manner of developing better habits also avoids unnecessary weight bias or creating feelings of shame in a child. Don’t single out one family member and make them eat differently than everyone else, work on being healthier together.
Furthermore, a family working towards better health means consistent support and easier access to health promoting opportunities.
2. Focus on Behaviors, Not Weight
Doctors use many tools to assess the health of a teenager, not just weight. To emphasize, weight does not specifically or uniquely indicate an adolescent’s health status. In fact, two teenagers of the exact weight can experience vastly different states of health.
Instead, dietary, physical activity, sleep and stress related behaviors make a far more important contribution to health. Behavior based goals are also more realistic than weight based goals and usually create better health outcomes.
For example, instead of making the goal to see a certain number on the scale, help a 14-year old work towards eating an additional serving of fruits and vegetables each day.
3. Practice the Division or Responsibilities During Mealtimes
Ellen Satter, a distinguished registered dietitian, taught The Division of Responsibility in Feeding to help parents nourish an appropriate relationship between themselves, their kids and food. This theory distinguishes what a parent is in charge of and what the kid is in charge of during mealtimes.
Parents choose what food will be offered at meals, when the food is served and where the food will be served. Teenagers and children decide how much and whether they will eat. This principle means avoiding the tendency of pushing kids to completely finish their plates or to eat a certain amount of food. Parents should also not restrict foods or calories, but allow teenagers access to both nutrient dense foods and favorite treats in moderation. Severely limiting a certain food, food group or nutrient can increase cravings, binging and sneakiness in teenagers.
4. Set Screen Time Boundaries
A movie, video game or TV show allows teenagers to relax and entertain themselves. However, excess use of screens results in increased sedentary time, mindless eating and poor sleep habits. These choices in turn contribute to decreased mental and physical health.
Some screen time guidelines include,
- Turning off screens at meals and for sleep
- Keeping media devices in public areas (such as having your kid charge their phone and tablet in your room overnight so they won’t stay up late)
- Treat screen time as a privilege, not a right
- Set up other activities for kids
5. Prioritize Sleep
Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. This sleep protects the crucial growth and development occurring at this time in life. Sleep also lowers the risk for depression and other mental health issues, improves metabolic health, protects the immune system and increases both cognitive and athletic performance. Furthermore, lack of sleep is associated with unhealthy weight gain.
Despite the importance of sleep, many teenagers do not meet the recommended 8-10 hours. Social life, school pressures, athletics, electronics, sleep disorders and mental health all contribute to teenagers not sleeping enough. Parents can help by explaining the importance of sleep, setting time boundaries, limiting screen time before bed, helping kids develop a routine and seeking professional help when necessary.
6. Make Nutrient Dense Foods Accessible
With time constraints, hunger, and the desire for something quick, many fourteen-year olds will grab a bag of chips, bottle of soda or other convenience food, usually of low nutrient quality. A teenager will often not see the value in taking time to prepare a more balanced snack or meal. Keep healthy foods easy to grab instead!
Parents can make nutrient dense foods more accessible by first, buying them. Second, wash and prepare (cut, peel, cook, etc.) the food. Third, make them fun with sauces, dips, yummy combinations. Fourth, make them easy to grab with pre-portioned containers and easy to see locations.
Balanced meals and snacks usually include carbohydrates with healthy fats, protein and/or fiber. Some examples of snacks include:
- Dried fruit and nut trail mix
- Hummus with cut vegetables
- Guacamole and pita chips
- Peanut butter on toast
- Cheese and whole grain crackers
- Stove top poppers popcorn
- Fruit leather
- Lowfat yogurt pouches
- Applesauce pouches or cups
- Homemade smoothie popsicles
- Homemade oat protein balls or granola bars
- Greek yogurt
- Tuna packets and whole grain crackers
- Veggie chips and salsa
A good guideline for balanced meals comes from the MyPlate model. This pattern suggest making half the plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter grains. Creating meals with this idea in mind helps teenagers consume adequate nutrients and feel full between eating occasions.
See also: The Best Protein Snacks for Teenagers
7. Eat Dinner as a Family
Creating the time and space for family dinner, especially with teenagers, is not an easy feat. However, family dinners are well worth the effort. Studies demonstrate an association between teenagers who eat dinner with their families and higher academic performance, reduced risky behaviors, stronger familial bonds, improved mental health and better nutrition.
8. Support Teenagers in their Preferred Choice of Physical Activity
Fourteen year olds should participate in sixty minutes of physical activity every day. This activity does not need to be just sports or running either. Walking, dancing, yard work, swimming, biking and other ways to move offer similar benefits. Teenagers should choose what brings them enjoyment.
Outside of helping teenagers maintain a healthy weight, daily movement offers several physical, mental and emotional advantages as well.
- Reduced risk of chronic disease
- Reduced risk of depression and anxiety
- Increased energy
- Increased muscle strength
- Increased bone strength
- Increased heart health
- Increased positive mindset
9. Avoid Talking About a Child’s Weight
Weight related comments, no matter the intention, can negatively affect a teenager’s self confidence and mental health. Body related comments can create feelings of shame or guilt that result in harmful choices such as disordered eating. A parent should also avoid commenting negatively about their own body. Children internalize the words and examples of their parents. Talk about your child’s overall health when you need to make suggestions and goals, don’t talk about the number on the scale.
10. Meet With a Health Care Professional or Registered Dietitian
Parents who continue to feel concerned about the weight of their teenager should discuss their worries with a health care professional. These professionals can better assess the teenager’s health status and offer appropriate measures to take. Any purposeful adolescent weight loss should only occur under the direction of a licensed health expert.
How Much Weight Gain is too Much for Teenagers?
All teenagers gain weight and hit growth spurts at different rates. Sometimes a lot of weight gain is not concerning because a huge growth spurt is coming to help a teenager “grow into their weight”. Typically weight gain of more than 5-8 pounds in a month and 15-20 pounds in a year is concerning and a reason to see a doctor just to check in to make sure everything is normal.
A growth chart helps healthcare professionals determine the appropriateness of a teenager’s growth. They look to see whether a teenager follows their own normal growth curve. Consistent and significant deviations from the curve may indicate unhealthy weight gain. Healthcare professionals will take this observation among other areas of assessment to determine whether weight gain is a cause for concern. Sometimes weight gain does not come from poor nutrition, but may signal an underlying condition such as a thyroid disorder.
However, adolescence is a time of substantial growth and development. Boys and girls will find their bodies changing, often seeing an increase in weight and body fat percentage. These shifts are a part of normal growth patterns. For this reason, parents and teenagers should not feel overly concerned about weight gain. They should always seek advice from a healthcare professional who can provide science based guidance.
What Causes Weight Gain in 14-Year Olds?
A fourteen year old may be right in the middle of or nearing the end of puberty. Through maturation, a teenager will grow taller and see their body composition shift. These changes lead to weight gain. Some teenagers may feel scared or anxious about gaining weight. Parents can offer positive support through this experience by explaining why their teenagers see these changes and affirming the growth as a normal part of growing up.
Teenagers with certain health conditions can also experience unwanted weight gain. These conditions include hypothyroidism, depression, genetic disorders, asthma, lepton resistance or a growth hormone deficiency. These conditions often need medical interventions and professional help for the most effective treatment.
Medications can also increase the risk of weight gain. Consider the side effects of medications when observing weight gain in a teenager. If concerned, a doctor may be able to provide suggestions for alternative medications or provide resources for dealing with undesired side effects.
Finally, decreased physical activity and low quality nutrition lead to weight gain when calorie intake is higher than output. It is important to note that these poor lifestyle choices can also cause weight loss when calorie intake is lower than output. For this reason, parents should encourage healthy habits in teenagers of all shapes and sizes.
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