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KidsHealth - Teens
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"I want to play hockey, like I did in middle school, but now that I'm in high school, the other guys have bulked up and I haven't. What can I do?"

"All of my friends have broad shoulders and look like they lift weights. No matter what I do, I just look scrawny. What can I do?"

"It's not like I want to gain a lot of weight, but I'd like to look like I have some curves, like the girls I see on TV. What can I do?"

A lot of teens think that they're too skinny, and wonder if they should do something about it.

Why Do People Want to Gain Weight?

Some of the reasons people give for wanting to gain weight are:

I'm worried that there's something wrong with me. If you want to gain weight because you think you have a medical problem, talk to your doctor. Although certain health conditions can cause a person to be underweight, most of them have symptoms other than skinniness, like stomach pain or diarrhea. So it's likely that if some kind of medical problem is making you skinny, you probably wouldn't feel well.

I'm worried because all of my friends have filled out and I haven't. Many guys and girls are skinny until they start to go through puberty. The changes that come with puberty include weight gain and, in guys, broader shoulders and increased muscle mass.

Because everyone is on a different schedule, some of your friends may have started to fill out when they were as young as 8 (if they're girls) or 9 (if they're guys). But for some normal kids, puberty may not start until 12 or later for girls and 14 or later for guys. And whenever you start puberty, it may take 3 or 4 years for you to fully develop and gain all of the weight and muscle mass you will have as an adult.

Some people experience what's called delayed puberty. If you are one of these "late bloomers," you may find that some relatives of yours developed late, too. Most teens who have delayed puberty don't need to do anything; they'll eventually develop normally — and that includes gaining weight and muscle. If you are concerned about delayed puberty, though, talk to your doctor.

I've always wanted to play a certain sport; now I don't know if I can. Lots of people come to love a sport in grade school or middle school — and then find themselves on the bench later when their teammates develop faster. If you've always envisioned yourself playing football, it can be tough when your body doesn't seem to want to measure up. You may need to wait until your body goes through puberty before you can play football on the varsity squad.

Another option to consider is switching your ambitions to another sport. If you were the fastest defensive player on your middle school football team but now it seems that your body type is long and lean, maybe track and field is for you. Many adults find that the sports they love the most are those that fit their body types the best.

I just hate the way I look! Developing can be tough enough without the pressure to be perfect. Your body changes (or doesn't change), your friends' bodies change (or don't), and you all spend a lot of time noticing. It's easy to judge both yourself and others based on appearances. Sometimes, it can feel like life is some kind of beauty contest!

Your body is your own, and as frustrating as it may seem to begin with, there are certain things you can't speed up or change. But there is one thing you can do to help: Work to keep your body healthy so that you can grow and develop properly. Self-esteem can play a part here, too. People who learn to love their bodies and accept them for what they are carry themselves well and project a type of self-confidence that helps them look attractive.

If you're having trouble with your body image, talk about how you feel with someone you like and trust who's been through it — maybe a parent, doctor, counselor, coach, or teacher.

It's the Growth, Not the Gain

No matter what your reason is for wanting to gain weight, here's a simple fact: The majority of teens have no reason — medical or otherwise — to try to gain weight. An effort like this will at best simply not work and at worst increase your body fat, putting you at risk for health problems.

So focus on growing strong, not gaining weight. Keeping your body healthy and fit so that it grows well is an important part of your job as a teen. Here are some things you can do to help this happen:

Make nutrition your mission. Your friends who want to slim down are eating more salads and fruit. Here's a surprise: So should you. You can do more for your body by eating a variety of healthier foods instead of trying to pack on weight by forcing yourself to eat a lot of unhealthy high-fat, high-sugar foods. Chances are, trying to force-feed yourself won't help you gain weight anyway, and if you do, you'll mostly just be gaining excess body fat.

Eating a variety of healthy foods, making time for regular meals and snacks, and eating only until you are full will give your body its best chance to stay healthy as it gets the fuel and nutrients it needs.

Good nutrition doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some simple tips:

  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose whole grains.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Eat healthy snacks.
  • Limit less nutritious foods, like chips and soda.

Eating well at this point in your life is important for many reasons. Good nutrition is a key part of normal growth and development. It's also wise to learn good eating habits now — they'll become second nature, which will help you stay healthy and fit without even thinking about it.

Healthy Habits Matter

Keep on moving. Another way to keep your body healthy is to incorporate exercise into your routine. This can include walking to school, playing Frisbee with your friends, or helping out with some household chores. Or you might choose to work out at a gym or with a sports team.

A good rule of thumb for exercise amounts during the teen years: Try to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

Strength training, when done safely, is a healthy way to exercise, but it won't necessarily bulk you up. Guys especially get more muscular during puberty, but puberty is no guarantee that you'll turn into a cover model for Muscle & Fitness in a couple of years — some people just don't have the kind of body type for this to happen. Our genes play an important role in determining our body type. Adult bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and some people stay lean their entire lives, no matter what they do.

If you've hit puberty, the right amount of strength training will help your muscles become stronger and have more endurance. And, once a boy has reached puberty, proper weight training can help him bulk up, if that's the goal. Girls can benefit from strength training, too, but they won't bulk up like boys.

Be sure to work with a certified trainer or other qualified adult who can show you how to do it without injuring yourself.

Get the skinny on supplements. Thinking about drinking something from a can or taking a pill to turn you buff overnight? Guess what: Supplements or pills that make promises like this are at best a waste of money and at worst potentially harmful to your health.

The best way to get the fuel you need to build muscle is by eating well. Before you take any kind of supplement at all, even if it's just a vitamin pill, talk to your doctor.

Sleep your way to stunning. Sleep is an important component of normal growth and development. If you get enough, you'll have the energy to fuel your growth. Your body is at work while it sleeps — oxygen moves to the brain, growth hormones are released, and your bones keep on developing, even while you're resting.

Focus on feeling good. It can help to know that your body is likely to change in the months and years ahead. Few of us look like we did at 15 when we're 25. But it's also important to realize that feeling good about yourself can make you more attractive to others, too.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2012

 
Other Related KidsHealth Articles:
Growth Problems
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Your body's changing - and if you've ever felt out of step with it, you're not alone. Find out how to deal with body changes and feelings in this article.
Smart Snacking
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What's the Right Weight for My Height?
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When Will I Start Developing?
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Related Resources:
ChooseMyPlate.gov
ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.
National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics
Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
Vegetarian Resource Group
This site offers recipes, nutrition information, and lots more for vegetarians and anyone looking to eat less meat.