In our society and diet-obsessed culture, weight loss is generally considered a good thing. The reality is that there is a big difference between healthy weight loss and unhealthy weight loss, especially in teens.
Unless your teen is overweight or obese, there is no reason they should be focusing on weight loss as it can often be unhealthy for them, stunting their growth and development. Teens also need to understand that we are all built differently, with different bone lengths & densities, lean muscle mass, and other factors – so it is unrealistic to be comparing their own weight with others.
Here are a few differences between healthy and unhealthy weight loss that you should look out for in your teenager.
The teen years are a big growth phase. As your child moves through growth spurts and gains muscle throughout puberty, they will naturally gain weight to reach a healthy, adult range. If your teenager begins to lose a substantial amount of weight quickly, this is not generally considered normal and should be considered a red flag.
Even if your teen is overweight to start, a slow and gradual weight loss program is more likely to benefit them in the long run. Sudden weight loss is usually the result of unsustainable weight loss methods or illness. If your teen is dropping weight fast, consider reevaluating their diet or consulting your doctor.
Unless your teen has an allergy or intolerance to certain foods, a restrictive diet is not usually beneficial. Restricting certain food groups can create negative attitudes around food which can lead to eating disorders and an unbalanced diet.
Instead of trying to cut out certain foods from your teen’s diet, focus on eating healthy, whole foods. This will create a positive relationship with food while automatically ensuring your teen is eating less sugary and processed foods as they are filling up on the good stuff.
If your teen is overweight and wants to lose fat through exercise, running for hours on the treadmill is not the way to go. While cardiovascular health is important, when it comes to weight (fat) loss, they will benefit greatly from focusing on gaining muscle with strength training.
This may seem counterintuitive due to the fact that muscle weighs a lot more than fat, meaning that your teen could start gaining more weight before they begin to lose it. What’s important to keep in mind is that a body with more muscle takes more energy to run. Over time, having stronger muscles through strength training will mean that your teen will be able to burn more energy and ultimately fat much easier than if they don’t prioritise strength.
Lastly, the most important factor when it comes to weight loss is mental health. Losing weight for overweight teens is extremely beneficial for their mental health. Losing weight through frequent exercise and eating well allows their natural hormones to rebalance, reduces stress and anxiety, and allows them to be physically capable of being included in activities.
On the other hand, unhealthy weight loss can be extremely dangerous for teens. If your teen is at a healthy weight and wishes to lose more, open up the discussion around why that is. When it starts to become competitive with peers, a result of bullying, or based in not feeling confident and secure in your body, it can become a mental health issue.
Weight loss is not always healthy, and when it comes to children and teenagers, reasonable weight gain is perfectly natural and normal. Encourage teens to focus on maintaining healthy habits and being happy in their own skin. If you’re concerned your teen is experiencing unhealthy weight loss, take a look at their diet, exercise habits, self-esteem, and consider consulting your doctor. To promote positive mental health in your teen, check out our blog about the relationship between exercise and mental health.