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Should I Gain Weight?

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

People come in all shapes and sizes. Some teens think that they're too skinny, and wonder if they should do something about it. It’s normal to gain weight during the teen years, but trying to put on extra pounds may not be the way to go.

Why Do People Want to Gain Weight?

Teens might say they want to gain weight for different reasons, such as:

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. Some health conditions can cause a person to be underweight, but most 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 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 puberty when they were as young as 8 (if they're girls) or 9 (if they're guys). But for some kids, puberty may not start until 12 or later for girls and 14 or later for guys. Whenever you start puberty, it may take 3 or 4 years for you to fully develop and gain all the weight and muscle you will have as an adult.

For some teens, puberty may be delayed. 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 catch up eventually — and that includes gaining weight and muscle. If you’re concerned about the timing of your puberty, 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 seen yourself playing football, it can be tough when your body doesn't seem to measure up. You may need to wait until your body goes through puberty before you can play football on the varsity squad.

You also might consider switching to another sport. If you were the fastest defensive player on your middle school football team but now 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.

Your body is your own, and as frustrating as it may seem, there are some 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.

If you feel bad about yourself or are having trouble with how you look, talk about it 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: Most teens have no reason to try to gain extra weight. Extra weight may increase your body fat, putting you at risk for health problems.

So focus on being healthy and strong. 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 goal. 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 healthy foods instead of trying to pack on weight by eating a lot of unhealthy high calorie, high-fat, and sugary foods. Chances are you'll mostly gain extra body fat.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods and make time for regular meals and snacks. Eat only until you feel full, not stuffed.
  • 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 for normal growth. Learn good eating habits now, and they'll become second nature. This will help you stay healthy and fit without even thinking about it.

Healthy Habits Matter

Keep moving. Another way to keep your body healthy is to make exercise part of 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.

During the teen years: Try to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Be sure to include cardio (like running, biking, and swimming), flexibility (like stretching or yoga), and strength training.

To build strength, you can try body weight exercises (like push-ups and crunches), resistance bands, or weights. Strength training will help your muscles get stronger, but not necessarily bigger. Once a guy hits puberty, weight training can help him bulk up, if that's the goal. Girls benefit from strength training too, but they won't get big muscles like guys.

Be sure to work with a certified trainer or other qualified adult who can show you how to train without getting hurt.

Know the facts about 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 may be 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 on it. Sleep is an important component of normal growth and development. When you get enough, you're fueling your growth. Your body is at work while it sleeps — oxygen moves to the brain, growth hormones are released, and your bones get stronger, even while you're resting.

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021