Teens and Dieting: Diets Don't Make Sense for Teens

Teenagers require a healthful, balanced diet in order to continue to grow. Many studies report that frequent dieting by adolescents not only inhibits growth, but also appears to result in weight gain over the long term.

Why is this so? First, with respect to growth, teenagers require a balanced diet consisting of all food groups, as well as vitamins and minerals. Diets that promote one food group over another, or that exclude key vitamins and minerals, can do more harm than good in young people.

With respect to weight gain, one study from Harvard Medical School reported that dieting – which is essentially imposing restrictions on eating – tends to result in overeating between diets, which can lead to weight gain. Other research supports that new fat cells are more likely to be created through intensive overeating, than by eating at a consistent level. The evidence in the study was clear: equalizing for other factors such as growth and exercise, girls who dieted frequently gained an average of 1.7 pounds a year more than girls who did not diet. Girls who dieted sometimes gained 1.3 pounds more than girls who did not diet. For boys, frequent dieters gained 2.2 pounds a year more than boys who did not diet. The Harvard research noted the fact that dieters are more likely to binge eat than non-dieters as providing support for their conclusion.

However, the lead researcher on the study was careful to distinguish casual dieting from diets overseen by trained clinicians: “Although for children and adolescents who are overweight, diets carefully supervised by a clinician may be beneficial and appropriate, our results suggest that casual dieting to control weight loss in the long term is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain.”

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