Weight loss can benefit people of all ages — even teens.
Losing excess body fat can improve health and boost self-esteem and confidence.
However, it’s important for teens to lose weight the healthy way by making diet and lifestyle changes that nourish growing bodies and can be followed long term.
Here are 16 healthy weight loss tips for teens.
Losing excess body fat is a great way to get healthy. However, it’s important to have realistic weight and body-image goals.
While losing excess body fat is important for overweight teens, the focus should always be on improving health, not body weight.
Having a realistic weight goal can be helpful for some teens, but improving diet and increasing physical activity can be much more effective overall.
It’s critical for teens to have healthy role models and to understand that everyone has a different body type.
Family support and education at home and at school are associated with teen weight loss success and can help reinforce positive lifestyle changes (1).
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to lose excess weight is to cut back on sweetened beverages.
Sodas, energy drinks, sweet teas, and fruit drinks are loaded with added sugars.
Studies show that high added sugar consumption can lead to weight gain in teens and may also increase their risk of certain health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, acne, and cavities (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
Research indicates that teens are more likely to consume sugary beverages if their parents do, so it’s beneficial to cut back on these unhealthy drinks as a family (8).
You don’t have to join a sports team or a gym to become physically fit. Simply sitting less and moving more is an excellent way to shed excess body fat.
Increasing your overall daily activity can also increase muscle mass, which can help your body burn calories more efficiently (9).
The key to getting — and staying — physically fit is to find an activity that you truly enjoy, which may take some time.
Try a new sport or activity every week until you find one that works for you. Hiking, biking, walking, soccer, yoga, swimming, and dancing are just some things you can try.
Getting involved in active hobbies like gardening or social causes like park or beach clean-ups are other excellent ways to increase activity levels.
What’s more, being active can help boost your mood and has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms in teens (10, 11).
Rather than focusing on calorie content, choose foods based on their nutrient density, which refers to the amount of nutrients — including vitamins, minerals, and fiber — that a food contains (12).
Because teens are still growing, they have higher needs for certain nutrients — such as phosphorus and calcium — than adults (13).
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and wholesome protein sources are not only nutritious but may also encourage weight loss.
For example, the fiber found in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, as well as the protein found in sources like eggs, chicken, beans, and nuts can help keep you full between meals and may prevent overeating (14, 15).
Plus, research shows that many teens fall short of the recommendations for nutrient-rich foods — making it all the more important to include these healthy foods in your diet (16).
Because their bodies are still developing, children and teens need more fat than adults (17).
When trying to lose weight, it’s common to cut out sources of dietary fat due to their calorie content. However, cutting out too much fat can negatively impact growth and development.
Rather than drastically reducing your fat intake, focus on swapping unhealthy fat sources for healthy ones.
Replacing unhealthy fats, such as deep-fried foods and sugary baked goods, with nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish can promote healthy weight loss (18).
Not only do healthy fats fuel your body, but they’re also critical for proper brain development and overall growth (19).
Teens tend to eat foods high in added sugars, such as candy, cookies, sugary cereals, and other sweetened processed foods.
When trying to improve health and lose excess body weight, cutting back on added sugars is essential.
This is because most foods that are high in added sugars are low in protein and fiber, which can cause your appetite to fluctuate and may lead to overeating throughout the day.
A study in 16 young women found that those who drank a high-sugar beverage in the morning reported greater feelings of hunger and consumed more food at lunch than those who consumed a lower-sugar breakfast drink (20).
High-sugar foods not only drive hunger but may negatively impact academic performance, sleep, and mood in teens (21, 22, 23).
The pressure to lose weight quickly can cause teens to try fad dieting. There are countless fad diets — some promoted by popular celebrities.
It’s important to understand that diets — especially restrictive fad diets — rarely work long term and can even be harmful to health.
Overly restrictive diets are hard to stick to and seldom deliver all of the nutrients your body needs to function at an optimal level.
Plus, eating too few calories can slow weight loss as your body adapts in response to limited food intake (24).
Instead of focusing on short-term weight loss, teens should concentrate on achieving slow, consistent, healthy weight loss over time.
Vegetables are packed with important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
They also contain powerful compounds called antioxidants, which protect your cells from unstable molecules (free radicals) that can cause damage (25).
Aside from being highly nutritious, research has shown that consuming veggies can help teens reach and maintain a healthy body weight (26).
Vegetables are packed with fiber and water, which can help you feel full and more satisfied after meals. This decreases the chances of overeating by keeping your appetite stable throughout the day.
Although skipping meals may seem like it would help you lose weight, it may actually cause you to eat more throughout the day due to hunger.
Studies show that teens who skip breakfast are more likely to be obese than those who regularly consume breakfast (27).
Instead of skipping breakfast or reaching for a quick, high-sugar snack bar, teens should make eating a balanced meal a priority.
Additionally, choosing a balanced breakfast higher in protein can help keep you fueled and satisfied until your next meal.
A study in 20 teen girls demonstrated that those who consumed a higher-protein egg-based breakfast were less hungry and snacked less throughout the day than those who ate a lower-protein, cereal-based breakfast (28).
Foods and drinks marketed as “diet-friendly” can be packed with artificial sweeteners, unhealthy fats, and other ingredients that aren’t good for health.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose have been linked to health issues, including stomach upset, migraines, and even weight gain in some studies (29).
Plus, diet foods and beverages are usually highly processed and rarely contain the nutrients that growing bodies need.
Instead of purchasing diet items, choose whole, unprocessed, filling foods for meals and snacks.
Mindful eating means paying attention to your food in order to develop a better relationship with eating, body awareness, and food regulation (30).
Oftentimes, teens eat meals and snacks on the go or while distracted by television or smartphones, which can lead to overeating.
Mindful eating practices — such as eating slowly, enjoying meals seated at a table, and chewing food thoroughly — can help regulate weight and lead to a better relationship with food.
What’s more, research shows that mindful eating can help teens make less impulsive food choices, which may promote a healthy body weight (31).
Parents and siblings can practice mindful eating as well, to support teens trying to develop healthier eating habits (32).
Drinking enough water is critical for overall health and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Replacing sugary beverages, such as soda and sports drinks, with water reduces excess calorie consumption and encourages healthy weight loss (33).
Plus, drinking water throughout the day can help regulate appetite and decrease the urge to snack when you’re not necessarily hungry (34).
Staying properly hydrated may also improve academic and athletic performance (35).
Feeling pressure to look a certain way can wreak havoc on anyone’s body image — and teens seem to be more susceptible to body image issues than other age groups.
Peer pressure, social media, and celebrity influence can make teens feel dissatisfied with their bodies.
When trying to get healthier by losing excess weight, it’s important to understand that everyone’s body is unique and that people lose weight at different rates.
A weight loss journey should never be triggered by a need to look like someone else. Losing weight should be viewed as a way to become healthier, happier, and more confident in your own skin.
Try not to compare yourself to unrealistic standards. Instead, use self-empowerment and body image positivity to motivate your new healthy lifestyle.
Stress causes hormonal changes — such as elevated levels of the hormone cortisol — that can increase hunger and promote weight gain (36).
Though it’s okay to have some stress in your life, having too much stress can negatively impact weight loss.
Engaging in activities like yoga, meditation, gardening, exercise, and spending time outdoors can help decrease stress and promote feelings of relaxation.
If you’re feeling overly stressed, school therapists or psychologists are a great resource for stress-relieving techniques and can provide support when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Although having a treat now and then is perfectly healthy for teens, consuming too many processed foods can lead to weight gain and may hinder weight loss.
Most processed foods are high in calories yet low in important nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
When trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, meals and snacks should revolve around whole, nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and proteins.
Processed foods like candies, fast food, sugary baked goods, and chips should be enjoyed as an occasional treat and not eaten on a daily basis.
Instead of relying on processed convenience foods, teens can get involved in the kitchen and prepare homemade meals and snacks using whole, healthy foods.
Getting enough sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight.
Studies show that adults who don’t get enough sleep weigh more than those who get the recommended seven to eight hours per night (37).
Teens need even more sleep than adults. In fact, experts recommend that teens get 9–10 hours of sleep every day to function at an optimal level (38).
To get restful sleep, ensure that your bedroom is dark and avoid distractions like television or using your smartphone before bed.
There are some other reasons why teens may have a hard time losing weight, even when they’re following a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Get the Right Diagnosis
Certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and depression may cause sudden weight gain (39, 40, 41).
If you feel that you’re having an especially hard time losing weight, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
They can perform tests or recommend a specialist who can help rule out medical conditions that can cause weight gain.
Disordered Eating Warning Signs
Eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (BED), can impact people of all ages and may develop during the teenage years (42).
If you think you may be struggling with an eating disorder, tell a parent or trusted adult.
Parents who notice symptoms of a possible eating disorder in their teenager should consult their family doctor or pediatrician for information on treatment options.
Signs of eating disorders vary depending on the type. Examples of warning signs to watch for include (43):
- Constant or repetitive dieting
- Avoidance of social situations that involve food
- Evidence of vomiting or laxative abuse
- Excessive exercise
- Obsession with body shape and/or weight
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Frequent avoidance of eating meals or snacks
- Drastic weight loss or gain
Summary Certain medical conditions, such as PCOS and hypothyroidism, can make it hard to lose weight. If an eating disorder is suspected, consult a trusted medical professional for help.
Losing excess body weight can improve health, self-esteem, and overall quality of life in teens.
However, it’s always important to engage in safe, healthy weight loss practices to reach your goals.
Reducing added sugars, getting enough exercise, and eating whole, nutritious foods are simple, effective ways for teens to lose weight.
Teens should remember that having a truly healthy body doesn’t mean hitting a certain weight or fitting into a certain size.
Nourishing your body with nutritious foods and taking care of it with physical activity and self-love are some of the best ways to reach optimal health.