Hungry teenagers often indulge in sugary treats.

Is It Bad for Teenagers to Eat a Lot?

by Frank B. Chavez III

The parents of teenagers sometimes feel like they are being eaten out of house and home. Typically teenagers eat a lot as response to their bodies' craving large amounts of fuel for the processes that control their growth and development. Unfortunately, some teens may suffer emotional problems that trigger overeating.

1. Fueling Growing Bodies

Teenagers are in the middle of a period of rapid development called puberty. During puberty, the body releases hormones that cause the development of mature sexual characteristics such as breasts in girls and larger testicles in boys. Children also experience rapid growth and weight gain as they develop adult bodies. For example, the average pubescent child grows about 10 inches. All these changes require a lot of fuel. Feed your teenagers carbohydrates such a bread, potatoes, rice and pasta; fruit and vegetables; dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt; and protein such as meat, fish, eggs and beans.

2. Boys Pack It Away

A 2010 study by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development supports what parents have always known: teenage boys eat a lot. The study examined the lunchtime eating habits of 204 children between eight and 17. Early to mid-puberty is when girls grow the most. Ten to 13 year-old girls ate about 1,300 calories while girls in late puberty ate slightly more. Boys grow the most between 14 and 17. Boys in this age range ate about 2,000 calories, or almost all of their daily energy needs, in one meal. Give your boy high energy lunches and snacks such as toast with peanut butter, cereal bars, cheese and crackers, fruit and rice cakes.

3. Binge Eating

Eating a lot may be the sign of an eating disorder called binge eating. Binge eaters regularly eat more than normal when they feel stressed or upset. When they start eating, they feel calm and happy but they soon feel guilty or out of control. Look for signs such as food missing from the kitchen, children eating a lot of food quickly, children eating during times of stress or conflict and irregular eating patterns such as eating late at night or skipping meals. Binge eating can lead to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

4. Encourage Healthy Habits

A 2007 study by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia examined the eating habits and physical activity of 434 teenagers and then examined them with magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, for fat associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Researchers discovered that boys who eat a lot and participate in physical activities such as sports are the leanest teens while the girls with the highest percentage of body fat often are girls who eat little, but rarely exercise. Encourage your teens to participate in at least one hour of vigorous physical activity a day. Improve their eating habits by modeling good behavior. Learn about healthier cooking techniques such as stir-frying, grilling, baking and boiling. Offer water, sugar-free drink mixes and flavored water instead of sodas and juice. Serve more high fiber foods such as whole grain, vegetables and fruit.

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