Center for Young Women's Health
Posted under Parents' Articles Updated 16 March 2017
This guide is intended to help parents of teens who do not suffer from an eating disorder or other medical conditions that are causing significant weight loss If your daughter has been diagnosed with an eating disorder or you suspect that she might have disordered eating, please refer to: Understanding Eating Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Families
What are the medical implications of my teen being underweight?
How often should my teen be eating?
The goal is 3 meals and 3 snacks daily (trying not to go longer than 4 hours without eating) Donât worry about variety initially â the important thing when working on catch-up weight gain is getting in the extra calories and protein Once youâve found things that work for you and your teen, stick with them
What should my teen add to meals and snacks to boost energy and calories?
There are simple and tasty ingredients that can be added to meals and snacks to help with weight gain Here are some ideas:
How quickly should my teen gain weight?
Usually 1-2 pounds per week is a safe and healthy weight gain goal Most people do not gain exactly the same amount of weight per week As long as the overall trend during the course of several weeks to a month is weight gain, your teen is moving in the right direction Her medical team will let you know if the pace is too fast or slow
Should I check my teenâs weight at home?
Itâs usually a better idea to have your teenâs health care provider or dietitian check her weight at clinic appointments Checking weight too frequently at home can be frustrating for everyone, especially if the weight isnât going up By having her weight checked in the office, the same scale is used and accuracy is ensured Her medical team will let you know how often she needs to return for weight checks and if it happens to be necessary to check her weight at home
Can my teen gain weight if she is a vegetarian?
Yes Teens can gain weight if they follow a vegetarian diet Most vegetarian diets are naturally lower in calories, because the focus is on eating more fruits, vegetables, and non-meat protein foods However, by following the tips in this guide, your teen can gain weight and still make healthy vegetarian meal choices There are lots of high-calorie vegetarian ingredients such as cheese, avocado, nuts, and nut butters
Does my teen need special vitamins or mineral supplements?
A standard over-the-counter multivitamin with iron is a good idea for teens; these vitamins often provide the right amount of vitamin D too The generic store brand is usually the same as a name brand, and it is often less expensive If your teen is eating enough calcium-containing foods (3 to 4 servings of dairy/day such as milk, yogurt and cheese), she probably does not need to take a calcium supplement In some cases, her medical team may prescribe a specific supplement based on her individual needsAlso, it is recommended to ingest a fair amount of nutrientrich foodstuffs to help the baby develop and grow properly.
Are nutritional supplements helpful?
Supplements are products that are designed to help people gain weight For example, liquid shakes include Boost®, Boost Plus®, Ensure®, Ensure Plus®, or any generic version of these Supplements may be useful if weight gain is not happening quickly enough after several weeks of increased food portions and adding calorie-rich foods and âextrasâ to meals and snacks Your teenâs health care provider will let you know if she needs to take supplements
What should I do if my teen refuses to eat more?
Try to be patient Sometimes it takes a while for teens to get on board with a new eating routine Look at each addition as an accomplishment You will see progress over time A counselor or dietitian can help your teen if she is struggling with finishing the increased portions or if she is having trouble making dietary changes
What if my teen compares her eating patterns to other family members?
Encourage your teen to avoid comparing her eating style to other family members or to her friendsâ eating habits In order to gain weight, she will likely be eating more frequently and consuming larger portions than others It is important that your teen understand that everyone has different nutritional needs At this time, it is necessary for your teen to eat differently in order to feel her best and reach her full growth potential
Do I need to make special meals for my teen?
Should I worry about reading food labels?
Should my teen meet with any specialists?
A mental health counselor or therapist who specializes in working with teens may be helpful with goal setting and providing help with any anxiety related to food and health
What are the best fluids to drink?
What about protein bars?
Protein bars are another type of supplement They come in many different brands and flavors Bars that have a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat are okay to have as a snack or part of a snack Avoid bars that are extremely high in any one nutrient
Are there any foods or fluids my teen should avoid?
Certain foods and drinks that lessen appetite and those with no nutritional value should be avoided Encourage your teen to omit or decrease her consumption of caffeine and caffeine-containing products
Examples of caffeine-containing products to avoid include:
- Coffee, lattes, and tea
- Caffeinated soda
- Energy drinks such as Red Bull®
- Sugar-free foods
- Calorie-free foods and fluids
- Fat-free foods
- Low-fat foods
- Low-carb foods
How do I make sure my teen doesnât gain too much weight?
- Itâs okay to encourage your teen to finish her meal or snack, but do not force her to eat or to clean her plate Prepare meals with high energy/calorie-dense foods and keep the volume of food normal
- Itâs a great idea to offer a second helping of any food that your teen enjoys For example, if she loves mashed potatoes, an extra scoop is great If she is super thirsty at lunch, itâs fine for her to have another glass of juice, whole milk, or lemonade If she is particularly hungry after school, give her an extra snack or double the snack portion Take advantage of time of day when your teenâs appetite is best
- Eating on a schedule can help Encourage your teen to eat three meals each day and three snacks in the mid-morning, afternoon, and evening before bedtime
- Make an appointment with a dietitian who specializes in working with teens The nutritionist will make an individualized plan for your teen with consideration for the eating habits of other family members Your teen will learn specific ways to get the nutrition she needs to reach a healthier weight
The Center for Young Womenâs Health (CYWH) is a collaboration between the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and the Division of Gynecology at Boston Childrenâs Hospital The Center is an educational entity that exists to provide teen girls and young women with carefully researched health information, health education programs, and conferences
All information is for educational purposes only For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your health care provider
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