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Unintended Weight Loss in Teenagers

by Eliza Martinez, studioD

Teens struggle with many issues during their years in high school, including self-image. As a parent, you might fear an eating disorder, which can strike both boys and girls, though prevalence is higher in girls. If your teen has lost some weight but swears she didn't do it on purpose, some further evaluation is necessary. If she doesn't have an eating disorder, some other cause exists and should be addressed.


Unintended weight loss occurs when your teen hasn't done anything to cause it. This means she isn't aiming to lose weight by cutting calories, increasing exercise or using weight-loss products. It can be a symptom of a medical condition and should not be ignored. Unintentional weight loss, as described by internist and professor Glen E. Hastings M.D. on the University of Kansas School of Medicine's website, is a 5 percent loss in one month or a 10 percent loss over a six-month period. Several causes are possible for unintentional weight loss, and your teen's doctor is likely to do some testing to rule out serious issues.


Since an eating disorder produces intentional weight loss, you can likely rule it out as the root of your teen's problem. However, some scary health conditions can cause her to drop pounds. Depression is one such issue. If your teen begins withdrawing from social activities, seems sad or weepy, or exhibits a change in eating patterns, she might be depressed. Malabsorption conditions, such as celiac disease, are another possibility. If this is the case, your teen's body isn't absorbing nutrients from her food, which can interfere with weight. Cancer, heart problems, thyroid disorders and pain from braces or dental work are other things that could be causing your teen to lose weight.


If your teen's unintentional weight loss is due to an underlying health condition, treating the issue can often resolve the weight-loss problem at the same time. For example, if your teen has celiac disease, keeping her on a gluten-free diet allows her body to heal, and she'll start putting the weight back on. Stick with a well-rounded meal plan that includes a variety of foods from each food group. This helps ensure that your teen is getting the nutrients she needs for normal growth and weight maintenance.

Regaining Lost Pounds

Sometimes treatment of a health problem can help your teen get back to a healthy weight. In other cases, she might have difficulty doing so. Her doctor is likely to offer a diet plan that can help in this situation. In general, however, increasing her calorie intake with quality foods is the best way to get her to a healthy number on the scale. Serve whole-milk products, which are higher in calories than skim versions. Cook vegetables and meats in canola or olive oil and sprinkle cheese on baked potatoes and cooked vegetables. Let your teen snack between meals on cheese, nuts and fruit smoothies. These are examples of healthy ways to put on weight, rather than relying on processed snacks and junk food.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

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