When you want to reach a healthy weight, trimmimg body fat is preferable to losing valuable muscle mass. An overweight teenager burns fat just like an adult, by making smart dietary choices and moving more. Skipping meals and exercising too much can lead to the loss of muscle as well as nutrient deficiencies that can have dire consequences for a growing body.
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If your doctor wants you to lose weight, a sound eating plan of whole, unprocessed foods coupled with increased exercise can help you slim down. Don't fall for a fad diet or gimmicky supplement that promises fast fat loss because you'll lose mostly water weight, not fat. It takes time for your body to burn body fat. Your level of body fat varies throughout your teenage years, however, depending on your gender, age and developmental stage -- so be patient with your body, and always value your health over some ideal image.
Fat, Gender and Puberty
Changes in fat distribution during your teenage years can be blamed partly on your gender and puberty. Up until adolescence, both boys and girls carry about 18 percent body fat. After age 13, however, boys drop around 2 to 3 percent of their body fat and girls gain 8 to 10 percent more fat. This happens due to sex hormones, as girls store more body fat to support another for a future pregnancy. Puberty happens at different ages -- boys usually begin the process anywhere from age 9 to 15 and girls start between ages 8 and 13. The process of puberty takes several years to complete, too, and you may experience vast changes in your body size and fat levels during this time.
If you're a girl, you may get curvier as you grow into adolescence -- but that's part of the process of becoming a woman. A boy who hasn't quite reached puberty can't expect the same lower fat levels and muscle development of peers who have. Your level of fat may be completely normal for you, which is why you should check with your doctor to see if your weight and body fat are normal before embarking on a program for fat loss.
Dietary Choices to Promote Fat Loss
At your last checkup, your doctor probably figured out your body mass index, or BMI, a number that estimates if your body fat is at a healthy level. If your BMI, which is a calculation based on your weight and height, falls into the 85th to 95th percentile or higher, your doctor may advise you to lose fat to improve your health. Such a ranking means you're overweight or obese compared to the majority of other teens your age and height. Teens who are overweight or obese are at greater risk of having weight problems as adults. They're also subject to the same health concerns as overweight and obese adults, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, type-2 diabetes, joint pain, sleep apnea, asthma and low self-esteem.
Discourage your body from storing fat by eating a diet composed mostly of whole, unprocessed foods. Too many calories from extra sugar, refined grains and saturated fats encourages your body to store fat. When you eat nutritious foods, including those with lots of fiber, you'll feel more satisfied and energized.
Stick to lower-fat proteins -- such as grilled chicken or lean steak, broiled fish and ground turkey -- along with whole grains, such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread, and plenty of fresh vegetables. Snack on fruits, low-fat yogurt or cheese, whole-grain crackers, nuts and cut-up veggies instead of processed junk foods such as cereal bars, chips, snack mixes and pizza. Take one of these healthy snacks in your backpack to eat before band practice or play rehearsal so you're not tempted to grab a candy bar and soda from a convenience store.
Pay attention to your drink choices, too. Soda, energy drinks and fancy coffees contain extra calories and sugar that encourage your body to pack on pounds, without providing you with feelings of satisfaction or solid nutritional benefits.
Teens Can Move More to Burn Fat
Help your body reach a healthier fat level by getting at least an hour of physical activity daily. Most of this exercise can be cardiovascular work, which moves your body's biggest muscle groups to raise your heart rate for an extended period of time. A combination of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, or vigorous-intensity efforts, such as running, gives you the most benefits.
Sports or dance practice helps you achieve this minimum amount of movement, but it's not only your focused exercise that burns fat. Other physical activity counts, too. So, take a walk instead of watching television or playing video games, volunteer to mow the lawn or wash the car or take your dog for an extra walk.
Resistance training also helps a teen shed fat and build stronger muscles and bones. More muscle improves your body tone, boosts your metabolism and betters the ratio of lean mass to fat. Participate in body-weight exercises such as pushups and pullups or more specific weight-training exercises that use free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells. Seek guidance from a fitness professional or coach to design a program and hone your form.
Adjust Your Lifestyle to Burn Fat
Adequate sleep helps you manage your weight, especially in your teen years. A 2015 edition of the journal Sleep showed that as teens went to bed later and subsequently lost hours of sleep, they steadily gained weight over about six years, so their overall BMIs increased. Get the requisite eight to 10 hours per night, which helps promote a healthy body weight. A good sleep helps you feel upbeat and energetic, and it helps you concentrate better in school, too.
Eating less and moving more is a way to burn fat, but these strategies can be taken to extremes -- especially if you're in a hurry to reach certain goals. If you starve yourself by skipping meals or eating skimpy portions, you'll do your body more harm than good. Not only might you find yourself so hungry at your next meal that you binge and undo any calorie savings, but you'll also deprive your growing body of essential nutrients and end up without enough energy to enjoy an active life.
Be patient with the results you'll get from making quality food choices, eating only until you're full and getting your family on board with your efforts. These lifestyle changes will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight for the long run.
- UCSB Science Lab: What Is an Acceptable Body Fat Range for Teenage Boys and Girls ...?
- Kids Health: All About Puberty
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?
- Teens Health: How Can I Lose Weight Safely?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About Child & Teen BMI
- Sleep: Evidence for a Possible Link Between Bedtime and Change in Body Mass Index
- National Sleep Foundation: Sleep for Teenagers