What Teens Should Know About Healthy Eating, Diets and Weight Loss

May 06, 2024

Healthy Teenager Denver Health Adolescent Bariatric Surgery

In May, we celebrate National Adolescent Health Month.

Adolescent Health is a broad term that includes many parts of health and well-being – from physical health to behavioral health to sexual and reproductive health. Healthy eating, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are at the heart of all of these things.

To give us some perspective on healthy living for teens, we spoke with some experts from the Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center, which works with adolescents beginning at age 16 to determine if weight loss surgery is the right treatment for them.


Eat Three Times a Day, Exercise and Sleep Right

"We only get one body; we don't get to trade it in for a new version like we can with our cell phones," said Kathy Love-Osborne, MD, an adolescent medicine physician who works with teenagers at the Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center.

Dr. Osborne Denver Health
Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center adolescent medicine physician Kathy Love-Osborne, MD.

Dr. Love-Osborne's goal is to help support teens' efforts to be healthy.

"It is important to take care of our bodies as well as we can, and appreciate what our bodies allow us to do. This includes eating healthy foods; we recommend following the plate method where half of your plate is fruits and veggies, ¼ protein and ¼ carbs. It also means eating three times a day. I often hear from my patients that they aren't hungry in the morning. It's fine to eat a small snack if you aren't hungry, something like a cereal bar, cereal with milk, yogurt, peanut butter with fruit. As long as it's real food and not something like hot Cheetos and soda, it's better than skipping a meal and can make it easier to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

"It's also important to exercise. We are all supposed to aim for an hour of exercise every day, and the closer we get to that the healthier we can all be. This can include walking, dance, sports or even helping with chores like cleaning. Getting enough sleep is important too; if you aren't sleeping well, you may be more hungry and tend to overeat. 

"For teens interested in losing weight, it is especially important not to skip meals and to be sure your body is getting everything it needs to feel strong."


Be Wary When Watching Your Weight

Teenagers should also be wary of reliance on the bathroom scale. "You shouldn't weigh yourself too often; our weight can vary a lot during the day," Dr. Love-Osborne said. "If you do weigh yourself once or twice a month, check first thing in the morning. Usually with eating healthier and exercising, teens can lose one to two pounds a month, which can really add up over time.


Avoiding Restrictive Diets for Teens

"I see firsthand the positive impact that a healthy diet and regular physical activity can have on weight loss and overall well-being for teenagers," said Tara Gray, a registered dietitian for both adolescents and adults (ages 16-65) at the Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center. "This includes increased energy levels, improved mood, stronger bones and muscles, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease."

Tara Gray Denver Health RD
Denver Health registered dietitian Tara Gray working with a patient.

Gray's specialty is working with bariatric surgery patients on their daily eating habits, which has huge impacts on their overall health.

"A well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and calcium provides the necessary nutrients teenagers need for healthy growth and development," Gray added. "It is important that teens eat three regular and well-balanced meals per day and include healthy, low-calorie snacks between meals as needed. Eating a well balanced diet will keep teens feeling energized, support a healthy metabolism and avoid unhealthy snacking. Teens should avoid restrictive, or 'fad' diets as they can lead to nutrient deficiencies, slow metabolism and possibly harm their overall health. By focusing on healthy habits rather than restrictive diets, teenagers are more likely to lose weight gradually and keep it off in the long run."


Avoiding Sugary Drinks

"It is very important that teens avoid all sugary beverages as they contribute to weight gain and increased risk for chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes," Gray continued. "Sugar-free water water enhancers and fresh lemon juice added to water are great substitutes for soda and juice. For adequate hydration, teens should drink at least 64 ounces of fluid per day from low calorie, low fat and sugar-free beverages. Examples include water, low-fat or reduced-fat milk, sugar-free sports drinks, decaf coffee and decaf teas."

Dr. Love-Osborne agreed, adding that sweet drinks like juice, soda, sports drinks and coffee should ideally only be for special occasions rather than a regular thing.


Weight-Loss Surgery For Teens

"Weight loss medications can help if people are struggling with their appetite, and can increase the amount of weight loss to around five pounds a month," Dr. Love-Osborne said. "For teens that have a body mass index (BMI) higher than 40 (or 35 with serious health problems), bariatric surgery may be an option and can lead to much higher weight loss.  With medications or surgery, it is important to establish healthy habits over time so you don't gain the weight back."

Bariatric surgery (or weight-loss surgery) for adolescents beginning at age 16 and for adults as old as 65 can be an effective treatment for many weight-related health issues even when medical and behavioral weight loss programs have failed. We focus on supporting our patients and their families/support team through the process of bariatric surgery and beyond to promote entering adulthood as healthy as possible. To get started on your weight loss journey at Denver Health and determine if surgery is right for you, please watch the informational video and answer the questions below it.