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Teen: How Many Calories to Gain to a Healthier Weight?

By November 7, 2012

Hi, I’m 15 and I’ve recently struggled with anorexia for maybe half a year. During that time, I restricted myself to around 1000 calories per day. I know that doesn’t sound all that bad, but nonetheless, I still consider it as anorexia. I am now 5′ 2″ and around ** lbs. I would like to achieve a healthier weight, but I’m not exactly sure how to go about it. I’m also concerned about my growth; do you think I might have stunted my growth a little bit? During the past half a year, I also stopped menstruating and still haven’t gotten my period back. Can you perhaps advise me on how much to eat (calorie-wise etc.) per day in order to have a safe recovery? I know I haven’t really restricted my diet for that long of a time, but I really want to get out of this habit. Oh yeah, should I have snacks throughout the day as well? Thank you so much. – J.

Dear J.,

Thank you for your question. It does sound by your current weight and height that you are definitely in an underweight category. It is extremely dangerous to maintain your current weight or reduce your weight further and could lead to numerous health problems which can affect multiple organs in your body and cause electrolyte disturbances. 1000 calories per day is restrictive and not likely to help you reach your ideal body weight.

Typically speaking, a 500 calorie per day surplus (in excess of what your body burns in one day) is a good goal to set which would lead to approximately one pound of weight gain per week. This should ideally be done under the direct supervision of a nutritionist, physician, and therapist.

For information about finding therapists in your area, please visit the “Finding Treatment” article here at our site.

Thank you and I hope the best in your recovery.

Tom Scales, MD

Dear J.,

First, I want to say that you should be proud of yourself for recognizing your disordered eating, and for knowing that you need to take steps to be healthier. It sounds like you are turning things around at a critical point, and will avoid a lot of struggles and heartache down the road. Good for you!

Your lack of menstrual periods is definitely a sign that you need to gain weight and I’m glad that it was a wake up call for you. Although under eating was harmful to your body—things like your immune system, heart, digestion, and hair and bone health—the fact that you are breaking the cycle after a half year is very positive. Your body can recover with better nutrition, and your growth and development should resume. But I would agree with Dr. Scales that it’s important that you see a doctor for a check up.

Since you were eating in a restrictive way for months, you’ve probably lost sensitivity to knowing when you are hungry and when you are full. As Dr. Scales said, in general, adding 500 calories per day above your needs will result in a gradual, healthy weight gain (but you are eating far below your body’s needs considering your age). A registered dietitian can do a full nutritional assessment, and come up with a plan that is just right for you. More than likely, especially given your age, she will encourage you to include some healthy snacks. Eventually, you will get to a point at which you can listen to your body and meet its needs, without counting calories. In the meantime, read some of the articles in the “Eat Well, Live Well” section of our site, starting with “What Is Healthy Eating?

An exciting life is in your near future—free of obsessing about your body, eating and your weight! Please follow through on getting professional help.

Warmly,

Ann Capper, RD, CDN