Can boys be ‘Mad Hungry’ but girls have to watch what they eat?

Lately I have been having a lot of discussions with moms about the eating habits of tween and teens. We’ve been talking about food rules in the house and how they apply to boys versus girls – especially when your kids hit puberty.

I was telling a friend that when my oldest started her period, she put on weight quickly and had to really start watching what she eats. The pediatrician was not worried and didn’t want her to lose weight but did want her to maintain what she had gained. So I had to explain to my daughter that she could eat all things in moderation but she couldn’t eat like she did before she had hormones rushing through her body.

I don’t want you to think I am denying my daughter meals. I am just trying to guide her to proper serving sizes and hey you can’t eat three croissants in a row or eat peanut butter from a jar. If you’re hungry, make good choices and eat some Greek yogurt or fruit for a snack.

On the other hand, I am noticing that my 10-year-old son is just hungry all the time now. He gets out of school and is just starving. Chef Lucinda Scala Quinn has a TV show and book devoted to feeding men and boys that she calls “Mad Hungry.” She raised all boys and that is how she describes how hungry they get. I am now seeing this with my son, and I don’t feel like I should tell him he can’t eat if he’s hungry and growing.

One friend says that her middle school son is literally in tears when she picks him up from sports practice because he is so hungry. She takes him food in the car even though their house is only minutes from the school. (She only has boys.)

Another friend who has younger boys and girls says the rules should be same for all the kids in the house. But I’m just don’t think you can let your teen girl eat the same amounts that the teen boy is eating or ask the boy to eat only what the girl is eating.

What do you think: Do your teenage boys and girls eat the same items or amounts? Should boys and girls hitting puberty have different rules as far as eating or should it be standard across the board no matter what the sex of the child? Have you seen this “Mad Hungry” feeling with your boys? Is it growth spurt or are they just always like this?

32 comments Add your comment


October 2nd, 2013
2:07 am

Well, it sounds like you are guiding her properly as far as making good choices on snacks — isn’t Walsh getting the same guidance? As long as one isn’t restricted to carrots and water and the other gets to pig out on ice cream and banana-mayonnaise sandwiches with chocolate sauce, why restrict either one of them? BOTH of them should be aware of portion control vs. exercise vs. quality of snack.

I’m going to challenge your use of “let your teen girl eat the same amounts” vis a vis a teenage boy. What if she’s playing soccer, basketball or swimming every day? She may actually be burning MORE calories than a boy who simply flops down and plays video games after school. Please don’t become one of those moms who watch every bite their teenage girl eats and inadvertently make them self-conscious of their own bodies. We had a babysitter whose mother continually harped at her over being “fat” — uh, no, she wasn’t, but the mother was almost unattractively thin. I can’t think of a better way to encourage bulimia or anorexia. You daughter’s body will catch up with her once it figures out what’s going on. Just continue to offer healthy snacks to everyone, keep the junk food out of the house, encourage reasonable portion control and don’t cringe if she eats two apples instead of one.


October 2nd, 2013
4:40 am

Everything DB just said ^^^.

When you talked about the daughter eating, you did not seem to include (or consider) her level of hunger. When you discussed Walsh, it was all about hunger. Did you ask the daughter if she was hungry, or are we talking mindless snacking.

P. S. You could probably have told the story WITHOUT including that she got her period and subsequently “put on weight quickly”. Both of those could have been phrased a little more mildly and you still would have gotten the point across.

Who let the dogs in

October 2nd, 2013
6:06 am


October 2nd, 2013
6:23 am

If the parents are larding it up, and their exercise amounts to getting up off of the couch to get the remote control, the kids are way more likely to be overweight. These adults are also the ones you see terrorizing Walmart in the cart things, cruising the Little Debbie aisle. Many times they have the next generation Walmart cart people (their already obese kids) tagging along for their indoctrination and to learn how to drive the cart…also which Walmart cashier sells cigarettes.

If on the other hand, the parents are active, fit, and concerned about eating healthy, the kids will have that behavior as an example and be much more likely to also be active, thus able to eat about what they want. Their genetics might still make those kids grow larger, however the odds are much better that the largeness is muscle mass, strong bones, and just the right proportion of fatty tissue. Those kids will have already learned through experience that many foods (especially those with unpronounceable ingredients that sound like a chemistry textbook) work against them being active and having fun.

a reader

October 2nd, 2013
6:52 am

Please don’t differentiate by gender! If the kids have different ages, you can pay attention to that, but really active girls are just as hungry as boys and can even lose weight if you’re not careful. When my daughter entered middle school, she lost weight when she started running xc every day plus club soccer. She still finds it hard to eat enough to gain weight and muscle. It’s activity level, not gender, for the most part, until they’re a whole lot older (we’re talking mid to late high school and college). You’re kids are still really young.


October 2nd, 2013
7:08 am

Weight gain, or loss, is predicated on the number of calories consumed compared to the number of calories burned. True, some people, both male and female alike, have to work at this while others, such as myself, have such a high metabolism that I can literally eat anything I want and as much as I want and never gain or lose any appreciable weight. My wife isn’t quite the same. While I exercise with her with my goal of staying in shape, she has to exercise and, at the same time, watch her caloric intake in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Our son played sports in HS in addition to recreation soccer and, like others, was hungry all the time. He ate, basically, what he wanted although there were certainly items that were off limit but he had no issues with weight gain. The two daughers were not quite the same (although I don’t recall the better half ever mentioning their “periods” being a contributing factor).
We don’t eat as “healthy” as someone who is totally obsessed with such, but we don’t eat totally unhealthy either. I probably am the one most guilty of being an unhealthy eater as I care not what I eat; only that I eat whatever I’m in the mood for at the given time. And, based on lab work from the doctor, do not have high cholesterol and my blood sugar is well within normal limits.
So, if you feel the need to monitor anything, continue down the path of offering healthier alternatives to “junk food” but, in my totally unprofessional opinion, be more mindful of the calories consumed compared to the calories being burned.


October 2nd, 2013
8:19 am

I do think this is a good topic but perhaps presented a little harshly. I honestly cannot believe the percentage of overweight kids these days and I do think parents need to pay attention to the eating habits of their families, especially if the kids like to eat more than their level of activity requires. But you have to present and teach it in such a way that doesn’t make your daughter feel like she’s already fat and will never live up to your standards. At 12 she is still growing and while I think it’s ok to focus on healthy eating habits, I don’t think you should focus on weight.


October 2nd, 2013
8:25 am

Teach healthy eating, which means educating both (and yourself) about gender, nutritional, and energy needs for proper portion sizes.

ATL Born and Raised

October 2nd, 2013
8:31 am

Growing kids need a higher proportionate number of calories, especially active ones. But it’s definitely the parents’ responsibility to make sure they’re providing healthy calories. No child should be allowed to pig out on junk, “growing boy” or not. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are epidemic in our children now. Especially in Georgia.

I was on swim team in high school and had practice every morning before school. I would only have time for a quick breakfast before classes started and I had a late period lunch. We weren’t supposed to eat in class and I remember starving throughout the day. My dad finally had to start packing me snacks to sneak in between classes because I couldn’t make it until lunch and then until the end of the day.


October 2nd, 2013
8:45 am

I typically ate 4 meals a day in middle school (one was directly after school) because I was too hungry to wait until dinner. It depends on how physically active the kid is. Also note that I was one of the skinniest kids around (think 5′7″ and under 90lbs.), and not a single person would have ever said I was fed too little.

Of course, I was also playing ball every minute the sun was out and school wasn’t in session. We milked every minute between school and dinner. None of us were overweight.


October 2nd, 2013
9:09 am

Of course the girls should be cautioned not to overeat. Bad for their health and bad for boyfriend prospects. If she’s fat, no boyfriend, no boyfriend, no husband and so on and so on….


October 2nd, 2013
9:10 am

My 15 year old son eats me out of house and home! I don’t understand his hunger, but my husband is the same way. My oldest daughter doesn’t eat nearly as much and on her own was weight conscious. I wouldn’t differentiate. That’s moms putting their own weight issues on their daughters. It’s not fair to them. Teach all of your children how to eat healthy. Make sure they’re active. She’ll be fine if she over indulges sometimes. We can get away with that as teens. Let her enjoy it. I would focus more on healthy eating and staying active than anything else. You don’t want her to grow up having negative body issues which many young girls have.


October 2nd, 2013
9:11 am

So, we have a 12 year old son…so I understand the stage Therese is going through.

However, we’ve never allowed our son to free-for-all with food. We’ve always differentiated between the pre-school concept of “anytime” food and “sometime” food. And to eat a reasonable portion size.

As a result, our son prefers water over milk (milk is NOT an inherently healthy drink), juice, or soda. He will have a soda if he’s at a party, or a sleepover, etc. If we go out to eat he will have one glass of soda and then switch to water. We don’t have to tell him to do this. He does this on his own.

He certainly likes chips, pizza, burgers, and candy but he’s good at limiting himself. That’s not to say he doesn’t occasionally overeat. I mean, we all do when we’re at parties or during holidays. But, he understands this isn’t a good or bad thing when it’s occasional.

I think if you start when they’re very young then you won’t run into problems of suddenly having to make them understand that their metabolism has now changed. And risk it being associated with issues of self-esteem. After all, why would you suddenly need to change they way they eat unless they’re gaining too much weight? They’re not stupid. They know that. But if they’re already eating healthy foods in healthy amounts then you don’t need to change anything. Even if they gain a little bit of weight you can be confident it’s just a growing phase and nothing should be changed.

I don’t have a daughter. But I certainly wouldn’t treat her differently, with regards to diet and exercise, than my son. Afterall, I am a woman and I don’t treat myself differently.


October 2nd, 2013
9:36 am

I want to add the reason we’ve raised our son this way is because both my husband and I, while fit and live a healthy lifestyle, struggled with both self-esteem issues related to weight and unhealthy attitudes towards food while we were in our teens and 20s.

My husband was a chunky kid, though now he’s got the build of a running back. And I am large-boned, though I keep at a healthy weight through diet and exercise (mainly running and cycling). Neither one of us is naturally thin with a super fast metabolism, though. And our son seems to be some combination of the two of us. We don’t want him growing up with our food/esteem issues so we’ve focused on healthy living and not worrying about weight. The logic being that if you live healthy then you are by definition at the ideal weight for you, which will be different than the ideal weight for someone with a whole different genetic makeup.

So far I think it’s working because he’s got good habits and none of the issues we had. We’re grateful for that.


October 2nd, 2013
10:29 am

I doubt if you meant this article to sound the way it did. Just reading the article, all I sensed was God forbid your daughter did not watch her weight, but your son was a boy and could eat anything he wanted. I watch what I eat and I excercise every day but, I am really short and I am stocky and that is not going to change. I try to make good food choices, watch portion control and eat healthy snacks. At the age of 68 my blood chemistries are excellent. Everybody is not meant to be a size 2. When models are a size 6 and considered plus sized, we have gone way overboard on the obesity issue. Obesity is certainly a problem that should be addressed but not on a gender basis. Moderation in all things for both genders is what we should be teaching our children


October 2nd, 2013
11:38 am

I agree with most posters here. Not sure what activities Rose is involved with, but I would push them rather than a lot of dietary restrictions. Keep no junk food, and limit your son’s access to snacks( you have written before about him expecting you to cook something special, or he snacks and then does not eat supper). A piece of fruit will hold either of them till supper. And watch the message your littlest is getting!


October 2nd, 2013
11:43 am

“Please don’t differentiate by gender.”

Bad advice in this context. Look up needed calories by gender. Sorry ladies, it isn’t fair….it’s nature.


October 2nd, 2013
11:50 am


October 2nd, 2013
11:58 am

TWG…don’t forget she needs fuel for the growth she is doing right now…some of it is the building of her insides not just height stuff. It also depends on how active she is in exercise stuff. My almost 14 is ALWAYS hungry…right now mostly for protein. She spends several hours a week working on some coreography for a play. She also is very active running around playing. My younger one (11) in a growth spurt. Her hormones are changing, but she has picked up height too. She remains active climbing trees and running around. However, she too is spending time learning routines for Honors Chorus and the school play. She too is craving protein and loves eating peanuts or granola bars. If Rose were gorging on candy and chips etc that would be an issue. I do have one that will if I have “junk” in the house.. She ate the chocolate chips I bought on sale to make cookies! I just don’t buy much junk. Younger one prefers fruit over junk.

I agree with those that said you should be teaching Walsh to make good food choices too. Honestly, mine make better choices than I did at their age. Broccoli not fries etc. I think that is because eating veggies has never been an issue for us. Broccoli, spinach, etc were on the table from a young age.

I also agree with jarvis, the calories needed by gender are different. However, you still really have to look at activity levels.

a reader

October 2nd, 2013
11:58 am

I stand by my “don’t differentiate by gender”. I meant it with respect to how the kids are treated. They notice this very quickly and it’s hard to get it out of their heads once it’s in there.

Instead, push activities. A very active kid will eat when hungry, and not eat when not hungry (mainly because they won’t have the time). Keep them very active, in sports year round if possible, and just make sure there’s plenty of healthy food around.

Don’t keep junk in the house, but don’t forbid it either. Special treats when y’all dine out are good, as is a weekend dessert day. Let them have whatever if they’re at a friends house unless they’re doing that most days.

Just keep them active, and keep lots (and lots) of good and easy to eat food (and pick the good stuff that they like) around for them.


October 2nd, 2013
1:15 pm

Model the behavior you want from your children. Let them see you as an active adult. Play outdoor games together. Eat healthy foods. Do not eat in the car or in front of the tv except for on special occasions. If you replace junk food with healthy alternatives in your house they will develop a taste for what is best for them. Whatever you do please never write that a child is gaining weight and imply that they are approaching becoming fat. Also the part about her period seems unnecessary and way too invasive of her privacy.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

October 2nd, 2013
3:39 pm

Hey — I don’t want any of the kids eating junk food on a regular basis. Chips, cookies, sweets should all be eaten in moderation. Everyone is getting exercise. Rose has swim team twice a week and swims more than a mile each practice. Walsh has PE three days a week for an hour and then we all go to the gym some too. Michael and I go three to four times a week. It’s been so hot here you really couldn’t do anything outside other than swim. Now it’s starting to cool off where you could add biking or basketball.

I talk to all of them about portion size — a fist — and eating in moderation. But I am definitely going to be more concerned if I see my teenage girl eating large amts of bread, pasta or sweets than I am if the little ones are. Your metabolism changes. I have definitely seen that turning 40. it’s much harder to move weight now than when i was younger.

I understand you don’t want to make a kid crazy about food or body issues and I don’t think I have. But I also don’t think in general grown ladies eat the same amount of food or items as their husbands.


October 2nd, 2013
5:03 pm

TWG if she is swimming like that she needs the carbs. Really needs the carbs. That is why she is craving them. I swam swim team and at carbs (pasta and bread more than sweets) was 110 lbs when I graduated HS. Stayed that way while I swam in College too…110lbs and 5′6″.

If your really worried about her pasta switch to Dreamfield pasta. 5g of fiber per serving and tastes as good as the “bad” for you pasta. My diabetic father was told he could eat it too.

“But I also don’t think in general grown ladies eat the same amount of food or items as their husbands.” Rose is not a grown lady…”I have definitely seen that turning 40. it’s much harder to move weight now than when i was younger.” She is 12! Please don’t project these onto Rose. I am overweight (now) and I know very well the scenario of wanting my (currently) thin children to appreciate how I made a serious detour and back on track is hard…if you want to write me offline feel free.


October 2nd, 2013
5:08 pm

I mean write me offline if you want to talk about having to fight my own weight stuff vs dealing with my teen & tween daughters.

@ Scooby, I might look like those Walmart people (though I usually don’t hit the Little Debbie aisle) but I assure you my kid’s don’t. I also tend to drive my cart fairly well.

Seventh Scent of a Wayward Tire.

October 2nd, 2013
5:28 pm

Honestly, I think it is more than a little creepy you are sharing your daughter’s personal issues with the world.

Seventh Scent of a Wayward Tire.

October 2nd, 2013
6:11 pm

And why ask us? Doesn’t anyone refer to a health care professional?

a reader

October 2nd, 2013
8:06 pm

She’s 12! Not even a teenager (way far from it, honestly). Chill and stop projecting your issues on her. Don’t sweat the food – up the swimming. Two days a week is okay, but really look at 4-5 days. And then let her eat when she’s hungry.

Again, she’s 12 – she’s a little girl! I know you think she’s so old, because she’s your oldest, but she’s a little girl.

Don’t give her food issues – they’ll come soon enough. Just up the exercise because 2 days a week is minimal, honestly.


October 2nd, 2013
8:42 pm

My kids are only 8 and almost 6, but I think my issue is the opposite. My 8 year old daughter will often forgo food for playtime. She is pretty athletic in general currently plays tennis and is on a flag football league, summer swim league etc, but doesn’t seem to be “starving” all the time like my son. Friends and fun are far more important to her than food.

My son, on the other hand, is “starving” all the time. He does not have his sister’s natural athletic ability and therefore is much less active in general. He plays soccer twice a week, gym class several times per week, and does summer swim league as well… and they both bounce for hours every week on our tramoline. But I worry about my son because he craves carbs like crazy (mostly bread). I make his lunches with Arnold’s whole wheat or multi grain bread, but my husband likes white bread and I will often find my son sneaking slices of white bread. They are not allowed to have soda/sweet tea etc. With dinner we all usually drink water. The kids get milk (organic) sometimes with dinner or sometimes the V8 juice. If we should have biscuts or garlic bread with dinner, we have to practically hide them from my son.

On a side note: while at my son’s soccer practice last week, my husband and I noticed some of the high school girls playing on another field. These girls ran back and forth for a solid 90 minutes and made it look easy, so we were both a bit shocked at how “chunky” they were. It wasn’t just one or two, it was a majority of them. I would venture to guess that many of them were “plus size”… especially on the bottom. It seemed really strange for such active teenagers. At same time, the high school boys were playing on a neighborhing field and all seemed fit and in shape. So I think it is possible that the hormonal changes that come with a girl’s period or possibly birth control could cause extra weight even for very active girls.

a reader

October 2nd, 2013
9:13 pm

High school and college soccer, for girls, requires immense leg strength. I think if you did a true BMI (not weight and height, but the tank test for body fat), you’d be surprised how muscular these girls are.

Soccer is not for the thin “runner-like” bodies for girls – they’ll get injuries and be in PT for months (we’ve seen this). Soccer requires good, strong, leg muscles.

I suspect that the girls you saw may have looked “chunky” but if they were club level or higher, it’s all muscle.


October 3rd, 2013
7:23 am

I’m not a fan of caloric restriction for growing kids. I am a fan of educating your kids how to eat well and understanding that hunger signals are telling them to eat a few bowls of crackers: they are signaling the need for different micro and macronutrients.

Our food industry is responsible for promoting the idea that bags of chips, crackers and cookies are what you should eat when you get hungry after school. As parents, we are responsible for countering that message.


October 3rd, 2013
7:57 am

“But I am definitely going to be more concerned if I see my teenage girl eating large amts of bread, pasta or sweets than I am if the little ones are.”

This sounds irrational. Look at the calorie charts that Jarvis provided. There’s only a 200 calorie difference between the boy and girl ranges, and I think swimming burns more calories than typical PE classes. Limit sweets for all the kids and provide whole grain breads and pasta, or a pasta made with a blend do whole grains and legumes (some have chickpea flour boosting the protein, but still taste more like white pasta than whole wheat). And then back off before you saddle her with the food and weight insecurities that most women have.


October 4th, 2013
1:50 pm

Your daughter is on a different schedule than your son, isn’t she? So, her meals may not be as “balanced” from a scheduling point of view.