Dear Cassey: Are meal plans and workouts safe for teens?

Dear Cassey,

I’m a teenager, and I don’t know what workouts are appropriate for my age and which ones are not. I want to start working out, but it’s all confusing, and I don’t know where to start. Also, my mom won’t let me do the meal plans, but I want to start eating healthier. Help!

Thank you!

Motivated But Confused

two white daisies

Hey Motivated!

First, can we talk about how amazing it is to have a community with so many young women who want to take care of their bodies?! I get questions alllll the time about eating healthy and working out from people around your age. It makes me so happy because I know how much better I would have felt if I had a healthy relationship with food and fitness in my life at that age. At the same time, I know how easily working out and eating healthy can take an UNhealthy turn. I’ve experienced it, and I want to do everything I can to help you and everyone else in this community avoid it.

I loooove being able to help others with what I know now and I think your question is going to help a lot of people!

So, is working out safe for teens? Yes! But here’s how to do it safely.

Activity is great at any age, but don’t take it too seriously.

Exercise is great for your physical and mental health, but the most important thing is to HAVE FUN.

I don’t want anyone at any age to treat working out as a punishment or a job.

The CDC recommends that teens get at least an hour of moderate exercise daily, and more strenuous exercise at least a few days a week. But “exercise” can mean a lot of things. It can mean anything from organized sports, working out in a gym, going on a walk, or even just playing outside.

Overall, most workouts are safe for teens. Some parents worry that strength training is risky for this age group, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the key is to do these workouts appropriately. In other words, don’t overdo it, and make sure you learn proper form.

I would recommend starting out with bodyweight exercises. Adding weights before you perfect your form only puts you at risk for injury. And honestly, bodyweight workouts are AMAZING. Once you feel like you’re ready to add some weight, do it gradually.

Give everything a try! Don’t be afraid to branch out and try new forms of exercise! I love switching up my workouts every now and then. It keeps it fun, works different muscle groups, and you never know what you’ll fall in love with.

REST. Start slow and remember that everyone needs rest. If you don’t, you’ll risk injury and burnout.

Hydrate and refuel. We’ll talk nutrition in a sec, but food and water are sooo important to workout safely.

Thoughts on nutrition.

I’m with your mom here on the meal plan. But let me tell you why!

Your nutrition needs are not the same as an adult. Your body is still growing and developing, which

A. Means your needs are constantly changing

B. Can require extra calories and other nutrients

If you were to follow a meal plan with set calorie and macro goals, you’d be taking a huge risk of not giving your body what it actually needs.

Speaking of needs, did you know that we’re born with a natural sense of appetite? What that means is, babies and kids will eat as much as they need – no meal plan required. As we get older, we lose some of that natural sense to regulate our needs because of certain “interruptions” like emotions and pressure from things like diet culture. It gets harder to stay in tune with our bodies.

In your teen years, your inner sense of hunger is still sooooo important to follow. Your appetite will ebb and flow as you grow and your nutrition needs ebb and flow. I think a meal plan could interrupt the process.

But I do have some tips if you want to incorporate more healthy foods! I asked my dietitian for her input too 😉

VARIETY. Be open to trying new foods, and expand your menu. Even if you stick to the same rotating meals or don’t have much control over the entreé because you’re not always cooking for yourself, try to switch up your sides and your snacks.

Although I don’t recommend following a meal plan at this age, the plan could help you brainstorm some healthy recipes to try. I also post super simple recipes here on the blog, and on my Instagram, and TikTok!

Next! Think about what you can ADD to your diet, not what you need to restrict. Cutting out your favorite foods isn’t cool, okay?! Instead, see how you can add nutrition to your meals! Add a side of fruit to your breakfast, or a side salad to lunch or dinner. Swap packaged snacks for something protein and/or fiber-packed like hard boiled eggs, toast with nut butter, or veggies and hummus.

So to sum this up – add foods to increase nutrition and follow your appetite. 

Prioritize these things first.

A healthy lifestyle is about so much more than exercise and food. Ultimately, you have to include these things too, and now is a great time to start.

Body positivity: If I’m being honest, I did not love my body when I was your age. I wish I could go back and tell young Cassey how important this is! The comparison game will never get you where you want to be. How do you make this happen? Set goals for YOU. Work on being your best self. Celebrate the small stuff.

Self-care: Learning how to practice self-care and nurture mental health is one of the most important skills you can learn. Start NOW! Yes, exercise might be part of this, but so is staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. If you make self-care a priority and practice these skills now, they’ll stay with you even in adulthood.

FUN: I’m gonna say it again because I am VERY passionate about this.

Check in with your doctor before ANYTHING ELSE!

Although I think falling in love with fitness at a young age is great, safety is SOOO IMPORTANT. So the first thing I want you to do is talk to your doctor. They know a lot more about your body and health than I do, so they’ll give you the best advice!

PS – If you have a burning question you want to ask me, leave your questions below! I may answer it in an upcoming Dear Cassey post!

19 thoughts on “Dear Cassey: Are meal plans and workouts safe for teens?”

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  1. J says:

    Dear Cassey,
    I want my 50 year old mom to work out along with me. She has had back ache and is currently slightly overweight. Is it safe for her to practice your pilates?

  2. Amelia says:

    I’m 11 by the way

  3. Amelia says:

    Hey Cassey, recently I have been substituting my breakfast with protein drinks from the supermarket. My dad then started telling me about protein powder. I showed him your one which I was very interested in. He said sure but he needs to know if a can use it as a substitute for a meal. ( I don’t have a problem with a diet or exercise, I just prefer a protein shake in the morning)

  4. Hareem says:

    I liked your content. It is worth reading.

  5. Jenn says:

    When I was a pre-teen and teenager, I had an eating disorder and was addicted to exercise. It really was insane, how much I exercised, and I used to split grapes in half and only eat half of a grape for a meal. My body fat percentage was so low that I didn’t start my period until I was 15, when my growth spurts finally forced me to start eating, I was incredibly hungry all the time. Anyway, I think that diet and exercise can be an extremely slippery slope for kids, and the horrible effects follow them into adulthood. Even in my twenties, I did two hours of cardio per day and absolutely hated my body; and even now in my mid-to-late thirties, I still have body dysmorphia and struggle with my relationship with food. The entire pandemic up until recently, I ate close to nothing, less than 1,000 calories per day, trying desperately to lose weight. It didn’t work, fyi. High prolactin. And because it didn’t work, people were very judgmental, because there is this very set opinion about calories in/calories out. Interestingly, when I started eating more normally, I quickly lost ten pounds. Anyway. Honestly in my opinion, for teens exercise shouldn’t be focused on as exercise, and a diet should never be encouraged. I wish that I had never started eating salads at age 12 to keep from reaching the 100 lb mark. I’m tall, so at my height now, I can weigh up to 169 pounds and not be overweight. I would have died imagining that number when I was a kid. I weighed 115 pounds in my early twenties, and I was very underweight, looked like a skeleton. My waist was 20”. Anyway. Life as an adult is much more difficult when you focus on exercise and diet as a kid, I have found. Just avoid it entirely and eat the ice cream, eat the French fries, and don’t obsess over working out. Just live your childhood as carefree as you can.

  6. Jane says:

    Hey Cassey, I am a 13 year old girl struggling with loving my body. Every time I eat an extra snack, i become fixated on that. Every time I look at the beautiful girls on YouTube with visible abs and slim bodies, I compare myself to them. I keep trying to be “that girl” with my nutrition, but I feel like it isn’t right for me. All of the “What I Eat In a Day: Realistic” videos make me wonder if I am eating too much, and I just can’t live my life eating bland oatmeal and chia pudding for breakfast. I used to limit my food, but now that I am recovered, I eat a lot more, and that makes me wonder if I am going to become a binge eater. I don’t want to be skinny: I want to be strong. I want to be a cheerleader, but I’m worried I am going to be the “big one” if I ever join a team. Do you have any advice?

    1. Go for it says:

      I know this is really late and I don’t know if you ever got the advice you wanted. I’m almost 14, and I can see the same content you described on my feeds. I think that, at this age, we really shouldn’t worry about the amount we eat, just that we’re eating a balanced diet and that we ENJOY what we put in our tummies. That means that if the chia pudding doesn’t do it for you, don’t have it (I personally love chia).
      And about the cheerleading thing – it’s been a year since you posted this so I really hope you joined. But if you still haven’t, remember that what other people think isn’t important. Think about how you’d feel when you’re older and looking back on your teen days – wouldn’t you remember how much fun you had doing something you enjoy?

  7. Amy says:

    Hey, Cassey.
    I just started working out. I didnt really work out before except a few runs and walks here or there and my motivation went up because of wanting to improve my body image and a show I watched about bodybuilding. I knew you from your comics on Insta so I gave your 28 workout beginner calender a try.
    Yesterday was day 1 and I felt unsure because while it was hard, I didnt feel exhausted immediately and wondered if I did it right or if I needed to do more. My abs did feel sore after my shower, during work and now.
    Today was day 2 and right now I feel like a complete loser. Today was extremely hard, I was behind, and I did not of the forms and poses right. My sister watched me and gave me a few pointers but even with her help I couldnt do it. I was in too much pain and I gave up on the 9 minute mark of the warmup video. A warm up! If I can’t do a warm up how am I supposed to do any of this?
    My sister said I was still a beginner and over time I can do it. However I feel like none of this is normal, from my motivation to my forms to my pain. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
    Any advice? What can I do?
    Hopeless Fan

    1. Nic says:

      Hi! I’m not Cassey but I wanted to give you some advice. I’m in part with your sister: if you are a beginner to pilates in general, it’s a learning curve! Keep trying, and if you aren’t able to complete everything, that’s ok. If a certain workout is too hard, sit it out and try the next one. The important thing is that you try and improve!

      The other, important thing I’m going to bring up is work on proper form. If you don’t have the right form, the workouts will either be a) ineffective, or b) way harder than they should be. My advice here would be that while you are learning, don’t try to keep up with Cassey’s speed. Work on getting your form right slowly, and then increase speed. It will feel like you aren’t working hard enough at first. But it is easier to learn it the right way than to unlearn the wrong way later. Good luck in your journey!

    2. Bella says:

      Don’t give up! I have been doing yoga for years and think of myself as reasonably fit, but I also found that warm-up video REALLY challenging, I think it really is a tough one! I ended up pausing it and having a rest in the middle, then coming back to it later. The other beginner workouts I have done have felt easier than that one! My theory is that even the tiniest bit of exercise is better than none, so well done to you for doing those nine minutes! Even if you only do half a video a day, you’re still growing stronger!

  8. Alva says:

    Dear Cassey,

    I’m an 18 year old who’s recovering from an eating disorder. Lately I’ve been struggling with my body image of myself and I feel that I can’t work out in a healthy way since it’s only with the intention of changing my body’s appearance and my liking of it. I’m terribly afraid of falling down the spiral again of an ED and was wondering if you have any advice on how I can go back to working out in a healthy way and to separate my daily exercise from my bad view of myself.

    Thank you in advance <3

  9. This is one of the most impressive items I’ve ever seen. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. Continue to make things like these.

  10. Ellie Ivankovic says:

    This was very interesting and informative! I love how you are so educated and know what being healthy really means. So many people in today’s society create meal plans and post stupid ‘what I in a day’ videos and have absolutely no knowledge about what others should be eating. You are definitely the best fitness YouTuber, with REAL info

  11. Gwen says:

    Thank you so much for this advice! I am a teenager, and I have always been skinny but my goal is to gain some muscle. And what you said was really helpful!

  12. Rhegan says:

    Dear, Cassey…

    I’m eighteen years old and I’m nearing the end of Orthorexia/Anorexia/Exercise Addiction recovery (though I believe it won’t ever FULLY leave, which is a fact that I have made peace with). I was quite unhealthy—due to the ED— for about 5-6 years, but even though I am now at a healthy weight (and I have been for about a year and a half now), I am still struggling: I haven’t had a menstrual cycle in about six years; I had to have four surgeries last year for one digestive issue; I have extremely low iron levels; my anxiety is really bad; and I can’t seem to lose weight/adipose tissue. I know that “lose weight” might sound like a red flag, but I promise that I am at a healthier place in regards to training and fuelling. I got my personal training certification last year, so I’ve learned a lot about the proper ways to get/stay lean and healthy. In fact, I am still considered “fit”, so I am not aiming for a drastic change. It’s just that I have certain physique goals that I hope to attain, and I am scared that my body will either be stuck where it is or get worse. I watched your video on metabolic damage, which was encouraging in the sense that I could relate and I didn’t feel so alone in this. However, I am hoping to find an answer to why I am still facing physique issues so long after recovery. My TSH and estrogen levels appear to be fine, so I don’t know if the low iron might be causing issues…? I also researched about female body builders / bikini competitors, and how they find it much harder to lose weight after losing their menstrual cycles in their first competition seasons. Is this a common issue, and is there a way to fix it that doesn’t take several years?


    Frustrated, but Determined

    1. Unnie says:

      You do not want to lose any fat tissue if you haven’t had a menstrual cycle since age 12. Women should have a fat% of 20-25. Going any lower is safe only occasionally, like for athletes during competition season. A bit higher, like 25-30% is totally safe if you are active. If you have a history with ED, it’s not safe to start tweaking the body composition. Bikini fitness, for example, is not a healthy activity, and the super shredded condition is just for a few hours on stage. It’s not sustainable to stay ripped. Your body needs fat to maintain normal organ function, bone mass and even most of the nervous system consists of fat. If your body starts burning the myelin lipids for energy, you could get serious cognitive issues.
      At 18, you might shrug about fertility, but keep in mind that you have more than 20 fertile years ahead, and one day you might want to have a baby. It’s not going to happen without a menstrual cycle.

      Seriously, watch Cassies “Losing My Period” video where she explains how not having a cycle is a massive red flag about health.

  13. Magdalyn Watson says:

    thanks cassey!!! i’ve really needed an answer about this for a long time now, i’m a 15 year old and i wanted to do your meal plan. thanks for the tips!!

  14. Peyton Linnéa says:

    Dear Cassey,

    Hi! I’ve been doing your workouts for a while now, since I’m in my teenage years I decided to start the first month off slow, do the workouts about 3 days a week, and drink lots of water and take breaks during the videos when I need to, which I thought was a good idea.
    It worked out! (Pun entirely intended, lol) I moved up the next month to doing one video a day, and started doing your 30 min split stretches a day, and I got into my right spilts in a week! (WHAAA??) now 4 months into it, I’m comfortable in my splits, and I decided to print out the August calendar and now I felt great the first 3 days, today, I’m doing the 21 Minute Cardio Burn ‘n Tone Workout and I’m taking breaks constantly, and I feel tired, I’m drinking water, but it feels harder than it normally does, I’m using the mods cause I wanna listen to my body, but it still feels like I’m doing a level 3 abs workout. Is my body deciding just not to get into it? Is it Ok? Should I take a break, or can I wait until Friday? I really want to check off every single workout and stretch this month. But my body comes first. Please help!

    Sincerest, Peyton Linnéa

    1. Lisa says:

      I am also a teenager and I feel like the monthly calendar are too difficult for me (at least for now), so I wanted to share you my advice, first I think that it is okay to take breaks when needed and I think it is great that you listen to your body, and second you should try the beginner’s calendar! it is easier to follow, it gets harder every weeks and you still get to check off every single workouts! Right now I am on day 20 and I love it I hope this help, and I hope my english is good since I am french.
      Lisa 🙂