Starving wolves in the house |

Starving wolves in the house

Alison Osius

When Lee was a teenager, he would come home from football and eat a roast-beef sandwich even as his mother protested that dinner was almost on the table. He’d then have the full dinner, with seconds, do some homework, and return to the kitchen and eat a bag of chips. And he was skinny.

She took him to the doctor.

“He must have a tapeworm,” she said.

The doctor looked him over and said, “He’s perfectly healthy.” Then he explained the issue point by point: “He’s an athlete, a male and a teenager.”

Lee jokes today, “I’d eat one meal a day: all day long.” Once when his parents went out to dinner, leaving him and his brother to dine on “TV dinners,” old-fashioned prepared dinners in foil trays, Lee ate seven of them.

I know this phenomenon, too. Both of my sons shot up in 10th grade, gaining 25 to 30 pounds apiece that year (though remaining thin). I had never seen a human being eat as much as Teddy did. When my husband, Mike, and our younger son, Roy, would pick him up at football, they’d try to guess whether the first thing he’d say would be “What’s for dinner?” or “I’m so hungry.” It was always one.

I remember one Sunday morning asking Teddy how many eggs he wanted. “Eight,” he said.

He ate eight.

My friend Greg tells me he grew 9 inches in the ninth grade — without gaining a pound.

He emails: “I’d come home from track workouts, make a full quart milkshake of ice cream, milk and crushed pineapple, quaff that down watching a Star Trek re-run from 4-5, mack down a full dinner at 6 with several glasses of cold milk, then have a bowl of milk-soaked raisin bran before bed … and wake up hungry. The part that really pissed me off was not gaining any weight. Literally, I weighed the same at the end of the year that I did at the start, just 9 inches taller. I was so skinny I had to run around in the shower to get wet.”

Occasionally over the years, our family and some friends have shared condos at bike races, and other adults came to count on Teddy to eat all the leftovers, to the point of vying to use him. He’d hoover up all the taco leavings for one mom, and then another would say, “Darn, I wanted him for this leftover salmon, I didn’t want to drive it home in the car.” He is now 21 and they still count on him to eat a large share of any holiday meal.

Our other son Roy, now 18, may even still be growing, and he, too, plays sports. He takes three sandwiches a day in his school lunch.

Five years ago a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study gathered data regarding widespread anecdotal evidence that teenage boys eat like wolves. In what a Reuters article called a “lunch-buffet experiment” involving children ages 8-17, boys ate more than girls at every stage of puberty. Those in their mid-teens put away an average of 2,000 calories per lunch.

An article in, using information from the USDA and Teenshealth, cites that moderately active teenage boys ages 14-18 require about 2,400-2,800 calories each day, and that teenage athletes may require 2,000-5,000 calories daily depending on their sports and workouts.

One mother on a blog wrote of her teenage boy: “Junior drank 2 gallons of milk in four days. … I don’t even know if it’s good for him. It’s gotten so bad, that when I buy milk, I don’t check the expiration date.”

I never, even at a skinny 13, could eat close to the way my sons do. When Ted is home working summers on a ranch, he eats two sandwiches and everything else we’ve packed him for lunch, then he and his pal Carson go inside and finish all Carson’s family’s leftover lasagna and salad, and half a pie. Before dinner.

No one can eat like that forever, and the trick, of course, will be for the boys to realize when they can’t. I could tell them that day is coming. Or let them enjoy the buffet while they can.

“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at

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