While it’s a problem that many people are envious of, gaining weight can be a frustrating and challenging undertaking for those who are too thin. Sure, you can load up on deep-fried foods and sugary drinks; but the healthier way is to follow these weight-enhancing strategies.
Body build and weight are determined mainly by genetics and the food and activity choices you make. While you can’t change your basic body type, with some perseverance it is possible for most underweight people to gain weight.
Being too thin comes with its own set of health risks, especially when it is the result of undereating. Underweight people may have: weaker immune systems, which make them more prone to illness; lower muscle mass and strength; hormonal disruptions which affect menstrual cycles and bone health; and a greater likelihood of nutrient deficiencies like anemia.
To gain one pound of weight, you need to eat 3500 calories more than your body burns. In other words, to gain a pound per week, you would need to eat an extra 500 calories a day. Focus on adding nourishing foods rather than just loading up on high calorie “junk” foods. Here are some suggestions:
- Follow Canada’s Food Guide recommendations and Include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lower fat milk products, died beans and peas, nuts and seeds, lean protein and healthy fats and oils.
- Eat frequent snacks: nuts, dried fruit, whole grain granola bars and yogurt are nutritious choices. alt=”Orange, bowl of yogurt, granola bars” width=”110″ height=”78″ />
- Include a snack before bed, such as a bowl of cereal with milk and berries or toast with almond butter and a banana.
- Add healthy sources of fat to meals and snacks; spread peanut butter on apple slices, sprinkle peanuts on a stir-fry, top yogurt with almonds or oatmeal with walnuts.
- Stir-fry or sauté foods with canola, olive canola or peanut oil; each teaspoon of these healthy plant oils contains 45 calories. Try to avoid saturated fats, found in fatty meats and high fat dairy products like cream, and trans fats, found in many packaged foods.
- Add sunflower seeds, olives, avocados or chick peas to a salad. alt=”Smoothies” width=”110″ height=”73″ />
- Drink nutrient-rich beverages like milk, real fruit juice, fruit shakes or smoothies.
- While you do have room for “discretionary calories” that come from having “treats” like pastries, candy, chips and pop, try to limit these to no more than 10% of your total diet.
- Stay moderately active, which will help you to build strong muscles and increase your energy level. Aim for about 30 minutes of daily activity.
- See a nutrition counsellor at Health Services for guidance on choosing healthful foods for weight gain.
Do you have a poor appetite?
A person may lose his or her appetite for many reasons, including illness, stress and fatigue. If this happens to you, you may be less likely to feel or recognize hunger. Include five or six small meals per day, at three hour intervals, using colourful and appealing foods. Avoid filling up on beverages with meals; instead include them a half hour before or after you eat. A short walk can also help to stimulate your appetite.
Be sure to see your doctor if you experience unexplained weight loss or your appetite remains poor for more than a week or two.
How can you build more muscle?
There is a lot of misinformation around this topic; however the only proven and safe way to build muscles is to exercise them. Carbohydrates, including grains, fruit, vegetables and milk products, are your muscle’s preferred fuel and will help you recover from a workout. Commercial protein supplements will not help you gain weight, are expensive and may add too much protein to your diet. A glass of chocolate milk makes a perfect post-workout recovery snack and contains an optimal balance of carbohydrate and protein for your muscles.
300-400 calorie snacks
- ¾ cup yogurt, ½ cup fruit & ½ cup granola
- ¼ cup almonds, an apple and a whole grain granola bar
- 1 cup chocolate milk and ½ bagel with 1Tbsp peanut butter
- 2 ounces turkey on 2 whole wheat bread with 2 tsp mayo
- Smoothie: 1 cup milk, ¾ cup frozen yogurt, a banana and 2 tbsp chocolate syrup
- One slice veggie pizza and 1 cup fruit juice
Extreme meal makeover – High energy editions
*Source: Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods: 2008
Average day (Energy – calories)
Cornflakes (1 1/2 cups) (155)
1% Milk (1 cup) (108)
Orange juice (1/2 cup) (58)
Kashi granola bar (150)
Turkey (60g) Sandwich, 2tsp mayo (390)
Celery sticks (6)
Grapes (20) (69)
Crackers (8 Ritz) (120)
Mini carrots (1 cup) (56)
Baked chicken breast (75g) (119)
Rice (1 cup) (218)
Steamed broccoli (1/2 cup) (29)
Margarine (2tsp) (68)
Tossed salad (with 1Tbsp vinaigrette) (61)
1% milk (1 cup) (108)
Vanilla togurt (175mL) (183)
Total calories: 2010
*based on average daily energy requirement of 2000 calories for 20 year old female.
High energy day (Energy – calories)
Raisin bran (1 cup) (187)
1% Milk (1 cup) (108)
Almonds (1/4 cup) (208)
Kashi granola bar (150)
Turkey & Swiss cheese sandwich (485)
Grapes (20) (69)
250 mL orange juice (116)
Crackers (6 Triscuits) (106)
Hummus (2Tbsp) (47)
Mini carrots (1/2 cup) (28)
Chocolate milk (1 cup) (166)
Chicken breast sautéed in 2tsp oil (203)
Rice (1 cup) (218)
Stir fried broccoli (1/2 cup with 1tsp oil) (66)
Tossed salad (with 1Tbsp vinaigrette & 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds) (95)
Vanilla yogurt (175 mL) (183)
Berries (1/2 cup) (40)
Granola (2 Tbsp) (57)
Total calories: 2575
Health Services offers free nutrition counselling! To book an appointment call 519-888-4096.
Gaining weight can be as challenging for some people as losing weight is for others. Try these 10 tips for healthy weight gain and building muscle mass.
Believe it or not, weight gain is just as hard for some people as weight loss is for others, especially men, notes Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “Depending on how underweight you are, it could be just as unhealthy as being overweight,” she says. A poor diet can lead to health complications, whether you’re thin or fat.
If you need to gain healthy weight, overeating, especially empty-calorie foods, isn’t the answer. “You want to eat right so that you’re gaining muscle and not fat,” Nolan explains.
Follow these 10 steps to smartly gain muscle — and weight:
1. Eat frequently. One of the first steps toward healthy weight gain is eating every three hours. “If you go for too long without eating, you metabolically start to slow down, which is unhealthy as well,” Nolan says. “When you eat every couple of hours, you’ll eat more calories and prevent your body from losing lean body mass.”
2. Go for variety. Eat at least three different foods at every meal and snack. “At meals, that’s easy,” comments Nolan. “You probably eat a protein, a starch, and a fruit or vegetable.” But you want to be sure to include at least three different foods when you’re eating snacks as well. “That way you’re getting different nutrients to build muscle with.” Good snacks for weight gain, for instance, might be yogurt with fruit and peanut butter with crackers. “Trail mix is also an excellent snack choice because it has everything in it,” adds Nolan.
3. Choose higher calorie foods. “When we think high-calorie foods, we think fat,” Nolan explains. Fat typically has more than twice as many calories as the same amount of protein or carbohydrates. But stick to the unsaturated, heart-healthy fats found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados. Avoid coconut and palm oil because they contain saturated fats. Good choices for calorie-rich weight-gain foods include nuts, seeds, and nut butters such as peanut butter and almond butter.
4. Drink lots of fluids. Drinking 100 percent fruit juices and smoothies can provide calories along with vitamins and minerals, advises Nolan. Make a smoothie with 1 percent to 2 percent milk or low-fat yogurt, strawberries or bananas, and peanut butter. “You can add a tablespoon or two of protein powder or plain whey powder to bump up the calories and protein content.” Even if you are trying to gain weight, Nolan warns, “be cautious when using just protein powders to make shakes or smoothies because they can be jam-packed with artificial stuff.”
5. Eat at bedtime. Have a healthy snack or late dinner. “At nighttime our bodies are really active. Our cells are regenerating and repairing and healing. By eating later or having a snack before bedtime, you’re allowing your body to draw from your day’s worth of calories,” says Nolan.
6. Get enough sleep. “Your body has to have time to rebuild muscle and store it in a healthy way versus just turning food into fat,” Nolan says.
7. Be active. Resistance training is how to gain muscle — it builds muscle tissue that helps ensure healthy weight gain, Nolan explains. You should do resistance training at least two to three days a week. Be certain to do at least one to two strength training exercises per muscle group. “Don’t neglect cardiovascular exercise like jogging, bicycling, or swimming because the heart is a muscle that needs to be worked out, too,” adds Nolan. “If you gain weight, you’ll have more muscle to which your heart needs to circulate oxygen and nutrients.”
8. Go protein-crazy. You should eat 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is equal to about 94 grams for a 125-pound person. Make sure to have some form of protein at every meal. Healthy, protein-rich foods that will help you gain weight include low-fat dairy, lean meats, and nuts or seeds. “Protein is most easily converted into lean muscle mass,” Nolan says. It is essential to gain muscle mass.
9. Say yes to carbs. Carbohydrates are another food group that can help with weight gain. “If you want to build muscle mass, you need to eat enough starch or carbs to use the extra protein,” Nolan says. “Starches or carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and they provide the energy you need to create body tissue. If you want to build muscle, you need enough carbs to fuel the process.” Good carbs include multigrain, rye, or pumpernickel breads, beans, lentils, couscous, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
10. Keep a food diary. This strategy can really help when you’re trying to gain weight. “People who need to gain weight often don’t realize how many calories they’re eating,” notes Nolan. Keep track of what and how frequent you drink and eat. If you haven’t gained weight, you can use your food log to figure out where to fit in more foods or fluids.
Gaining weight can be a challenge. If you focus on building lean muscle mass instead of fat, though, you can gain weight in a healthy way.
Conversations about weight typically revolve around losing it. But there is a real subset of people out there wondering how to gain weight. The guys who struggle to find a dress shirt that doesn’t fit them like a poncho? A watch that doesn't hang off their wrist on both sides? We see you.
Otherwise known as hardgainers or ectomorphs, these are men who feel like they can’t bulk up even after hitting the gym regularly. But they can gain weight and add muscle mass, provided they’re willing to take the time to do so.
“Americans just want a quick fix,” says Christen Cooper, registered dietician and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at Pace University. “The first thing I tell people, especially guys shooting for these huge muscles, is that to do it right, you need to have a little more patience.”
In other words, don’t expect to coast your way to beefier biceps simply by chugging whey protein and cranking out a few sets on the bench press and calling it a day. Getting bigger is a lifestyle change, one that encompasses what you eat, how you get and stay fit, and a set of realistic expectations.
Eat. Then Eat Some More.
You don’t need a degree in nutrition to know that gaining weight is a function of eating more. But what you eat is just as important as how much more you are eating.
“The bottom line for weight gain is increasing total calories from a mixture of nutrient-rich protein, fat, and carbohydrates,” says Cynthia Sass, a registered dietician and virtual private-practice sports and performance nutritionist who has consulted for the New York Yankees.
If the goal is to also gain weight and build muscle, then amplifying the diet in a discerning way is especially key. This isn’t your opportunity to wolf down handfuls of potato chips and guzzle soda, which are just empty calories without the nutrients you need.
You need carbs for the energy you’re going to be using—presumably you’re working out more as you’re eating more—and you need proteins and fats to provide the raw materials necessary to build new tissue. So you might consider adding a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk and granola. Maybe a peanut butter sandwich. Maybe scrambled eggs on top of a bagel. No matter what, start slowly: anywhere from 250 to 500 extra calories a day.
In Particular, Eat More Protein.
Muscles are built out of proteins, not fats or carbohydrates, so eating enough protein to encourage muscle synthesis is crucial. Fortunately, you can do this a variety of ways if beef isn’t your thing. Whey protein, lamb, and seafood are all options. So, too, is plant-based protein like soy. What it comes down to is portion size: Do you want to eat a three-ounce piece of steak every few hours, or five cups of broccoli?
Sass also says to not let four hours go by without eating something, and you can do that with well-chosen snacks. An energy bar made of dates (carbs), plant proteins, and nuts or seeds (healthy fat) is one item she suggests. Even a big slice of avocado on top of turkey slices on an English muffin is good.
“An easy option for one extra meal can be a smoothie made with greens, banana and berries, plant protein powder, and nut butter,” she says. “But it’s important to be sure that an extra meal truly is an addition to your diet, and that it doesn’t displace other foods.”
Can’t I Just Drink Milk?
The GOMAD diet—drinking a gallon of milk every day—comes up in every discussion or Google search about how to gain weight. It is certainly aggressive, and its adherents make several caveats. You should be working out heavy weights three times a week if you take this approach, and if you’re worried about gaining fat, the GOMAD method probably isn’t for you. Many people can't process that much lactose.
For a more definitive answer, we asked Michael Zemel, professor emeritus of nutrition and medicine at the University of Tennessee, who loudly laughed into the receiver of his phone when we told him what the GOMAD acronym stood for, and then promptly called it “bullshit.”
“Making it a gallon a day is sheer foolishness,” he says. “If you’re drinking a gallon of milk a day, my guess is the room that you have in your diet for appropriate servings of fruits and vegetables is going to be substantially compromised.”
Which isn’t to say that dairy isn’t a good cornerstone of any diet where the goal is to get big. Dairy consists of branched-chain amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—that are essential and play a part in supporting healthy weight and body composition as you work toward a more muscular build. But three or four servings of milk or yogurt, as opposed to 16 servings of milk, should be the goal.
Will You Even Lift, Bro?
Let’s not forget that working out the body is a major component if you’re looking to gain weight and get big in the process.
Slow-twitch muscle fibers are recruited during endurance activities, like running, but it’s the fast-twitch muscle fibers that you want to engage. Doing that means going to failure or near-failure on your gym reps. Training the major muscle groups (chest, back, legs, and so on) twice a week should do the trick.
“You need to do resistance training. The goal is to recruit muscle fiber to a significant extent,” says Shawn Baker, an orthopedic surgeon and the author of The Carnivore Diet. “Multiple sets, drop sets, supersets—the goal is to walk out of the gym and your legs are wobbly.”
Skip the body-weight stuff, in other words. And when you’re done with your workout, eat a mixed meal to help muscles repair: some yogurt, some fruits, some peanut butter, and maybe even a glass—one glass—of milk.
Initially after a spinal cord injury, you may experience a decrease in appetite and dietary intake. This can be because of medical problems, changes in mood, poor appetite, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and taste changes. Inadequate nutrient intake and a decrease in mobility can lead to weight and muscle loss. Weight and muscle loss can result in weakness, feeling tired, and an inability to participate in daily activities.
It is important to consume adequate calories and protein to help maintain energy and muscle mass. The right amount of calories and protein help your body fight infection, maintain muscle mass, and help prevent skin breakdown. If you are underweight, the goal for healthy weight gain is a gain of ½ to 2 pounds per week. This can usually be accomplished by eating at least 250-500 more calories per day than you normally do. If your doctor or dietitian has told you that weight gain is appropriate for you, the following tips may help you achieve a healthy weight.
How to Increase Calories in the Event of Excessive Weight Loss (Consult with your doctor first since there may be dietary restrictions related to general health, level of arousal and/or ability to swallow.)
- Start by eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.
- Set an alarm to remind you to eat if you are not experiencing regular hunger cues or have a hard time remembering to eat.
- Try to include more nutritious energy-dense foods such as: nuts and nut butters, dried fruits, cheese, granola bars, and avocados.
- Try nutrition supplement drinks like Ensure Plus, Boost Plus, Equate Plus (Walmart brand), Carnation Instant Breakfast or regular milkshakes.
- Make sure to eat protein with each meal and snack. Foods high in protein include eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, dried peas and beans, nuts, and nut butters.
- Add gravy, cream sauces or cheese sauces to meats or vegetables.
- Add oils or butter to cooked vegetables, grains, or protein.
- Use whole or 2% milk in place of water or skim milk in drinks, snacks, and in cooking.
- Use regular/full fat condiments like mayonnaise, sour cream, and salad dressings in foods.
In addition to a loss of appetite, it is common to experience nausea and vomiting after a traumatic injury. If these feelings are present, try these suggestions:
I’m very thin and have a hard time gaining weight. What’s the healthy way to gain weight?
With the majority of the population being overweight, people who have difficulty gaining weight can have a hard time finding people to empathize with them. It can be just as frustrating to not be able to gain weight as it is to lose it, so I am glad that you took the time to seek advice. Before making any changes to your diet, I would recommend having a physical done by your physician to rule out any medical reasons for your difficulty gaining weight. The last thing that you would want to do is go through all of the effort needed to change your eating if a medical intervention is what is needed.
Here are some strategies to use when designing your diet to gain weight:
- Calories: Our bodies have a need for a set number of calories each day. This need is based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. In order to gain weight, you will need to take in more calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight. You can find out what your needs are at http://www.caloriesperhour.com/tutorial_need.html. Enter in all of your information, and then factor in what your activity level is. Once you have your maintenance calories, you can add 500 to 1,000 calories a day to that number in order to gain one to two pounds per week.
- Nutrients: There are six essential nutrients that our bodies need to function; they are protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Each of these nutrients has its own function and is needed in different amounts. The way to get them is through the foods that we eat, and in some cases, by the supplements that we take. Your goal for gaining weight will be to eat a well-balanced diet in order to get all of these nutrients in. The food groups that you will want to focus on increasing are:
- Starch – This is a great group to get calories from. Try to eat foods made with whole wheat flour. Have bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, beans, and starchy vegetables (corn and peas) with all of your meals.
- Fat – You will get a lot of calories for a small amount of food when you add fat to your meals and snacks. The goal here is to avoid the foods with the trans fat and have the ones with little or no saturated fat. You can use nuts as a snack or add them to your meals, cook with olive or canola oil, and use peanut butter as a snack or with your meal. It’s important to get foods with omega-3fats, so include fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines), flax seeds, and walnuts. Be careful not to go overboard with fat because too much is not good for your health. Stick with the guidelines of less than 30% of your calories coming from fat.
- Meat – The protein in meat is great for building muscle. Foods in this group includes chicken, turkey, seafood, eggs, pork, cheese, and beef.
- Dairy – Be sure to include low fat (1% or 2%) milk and/or yogurt into your diet. You can add some nuts or flax seeds to your yogurt to have as a snack, and you can have a cup of milk with your meals for the added calories.
- Fruit – There are lots of health benefits to fruit, and you can have them with some of the other foods to boost the calories. Fruit with peanut butter or cheese are great snacks with lots of calories.
- Vegetables – As always, keep your vegetable intake up for the great health benefits that they provide. Your diet needs the balance of each of the groups for optimal health.
- It may be helpful to eat every couple of hours in order to get enough food and calories in. Set a timer on your cell phone or put it in your appointment book to remind you to eat.
- If you can’t get the calories in from food alone, you can consider using a supplement like Ensure in between meals.
- Nothing builds muscle like weight lifting. If you are unsure of what to do, work with a trainer to set up a program that fits your schedule and needs.
There are many options available to you ,so give some or all of these a try. If it doesn’t work for you after a couple of months, I recommend finding a registered dietitian in your area that can design a plan specifically for you.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine
There are several reasons a person may want to consider gaining weight. Perhaps there was a recent illness resulting in weight loss, a change in appetite during a stressful time in life, or maybe we're an athlete looking to gain muscle mass. Some of us may also experience unintentional weight loss when transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle.
Those who follow a plant-based lifestyle tend to have lower BMI, or body mass index scores compared to the general population. While it's certainly possible to maintain a healthy weight while following a plant-based lifestyle, it may take some extra attention and care to ensure we eat enough to keep our bodies fuelled and to maintain a healthy weight.
A note about eating disorders: this article doesn't discuss eating disorders as this is an extraordinarily complex topic and one that merits an article of its own. Feel free to learn more on the topic in our overcoming eating disorders article.
Increase our food intake
This one seems fairly straightforward: eating more calories than our body's use can steer us towards gaining weight. This doesn't necessarily mean having to add unreasonable amounts of food to our regular intake. Rather, adding an extra 500-750 calories a day can result in a slow and steady weight gain, which is ideal. Here at PUL, we don't promote calorie counting unless there's a medical reason for it. For the sake of demonstration purpose though, let's see what it means to add these extra calories:
1/2 an avocado mashed on 1 slice toast with 1 banana on the side =
Rather than carefully counting our calorie intake, we can be mindful that enjoying the addition of some of the foods described above can go a long way to boosting our intake. Similar to this, we can consider choosing energy-dense foods more often, as described below.
Choose energy-dense foods more often
Nuts and seeds: this is a fantastic way to increase calories, protein and healthy fats all in one. Here at PUL, we aim for the unsalted varieties. We could also consider purchasing candied nuts, though we prefer to make them ourselves. Macadamia nuts and walnuts are especially dense. Nuts and seeds would be a great snack to have with us while we're on the go, or can be added to sauces, stir-fries, granola, yogurt, salads, curries, and so on.
Olives: loaded with plenty of healthy fats, olives are a wonderful addition to salads, wraps, sandwiches and snacks. Try our olive tapenade on some crackers or in a sandwich for an explosion of flavour and for some extra energy-dense intake.
Avocados: these are one of the few produce items that are energy-dense. We can add these to the side of any savoury dish, or use their creaminess to our advantage in a dessert, such as this divine chocolate pudding. Avocados can also be blended into smoothies to get them smooth and creamy.
Granola: we can pretty much add granola to anything, and the beauty of making it at home is that we can really pack some nuts, seeds and dried fruits in. Give any one of our PUL granolas a try, and feel free to customize them as desired.
Dairy alternatives: Consider soy milk, as it provides more protein per cup than other plant-based milks. Another great option is adding full-fat coconut milk into smoothies, coffee, soups, or curries.
Fats and oils: these are an easy way to increase our energy intake while cooking or baking. They can be added to a sauce or salad dressing, or we can add a little drizzle of olive oil to a dish just before serving. Here at PUL, we do recommend getting as much of our healthy fats from whole food sources such as nut butters, nuts, seeds, olives or coconuts first before opting for oils. Even for those aiming to gain weight, we recommend using oil in moderation. Learn more about this in our fats and oils article.
Try our coconut curry, with energy-dense, full-fat coconut milk.
Use beverages to boost intake
One easy way to boost our intake is through our beverage choices.
Consider opting for drinks that are both hydrating and offer some energy. This might include smoothies that include avocados and bananas, or lattes made with full-fat coconut milk. We can also consider juices made with fresh fruits and veggies.
Aim to drink beverages such as water/juice/tea after meals instead of before or during. This helps us avoid feeling full as quickly.
Training our appetite
It might feel difficult to increase the amount of food we eat at first. Here are some tips to help listen to our hunger cues and be more in tune with our appetite while aiming to gain weight.
Start slow: incorporate just one of the suggestions above each day and choose the ones that feel more sustainable to stick to. Keep it up for a few days before adding another food.
Exercise and sleep: exercising might seem counterintuitive for someone wanting to gain weight, but enjoying movement and getting enough sleep can help to increase our appetite. Practicing weight-training exercises more than cardio exercises are particularly helpful for gaining muscle.
Small and frequent: try eating smaller meals, more often. We can spread these out over the course of a day to avoid getting too full, such as a meal or snack every 2-3 hours.
Consider setting a timer: it might feel odd at first, but this can serve as a reminder to enjoy a meal or snack more consistently.
Limit "fat-free", "low-fat", or "light" products: full-fat products have more calories in them to help with weight gain. Another bonus is that they're generally more flavourful!
Try a bite: sometimes our appetite isn't always up for it. Even trying a few bites of something delicious can make us realize we're hungrier than we initially thought.
By enjoying a variety of foods including whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, and by eating enough volume of these foods, it's possible to successfully gain weight over a period of time. Consider seeking professional help from a dietitian or physician for more support and help to address individual concerns and possible supplementation.
Being underweight could be a sign that you’re not eating enough, getting the nutrients your body needs or that you could be ill. If you’re underweight your GP can help with helpful diet advice, as well as reviewing why you might be underweight.
How to gain weight healthily
The first step to finding out whether you are underweight is calculating your BMI (body max index), this takes into account your height and sex to determine whether you are a healthy weight. If you are underweight there are foods you can eat and diets you can follow to help you gain weight.
It’s important to make sure that you increase the calories you are eating. An average man needs 2,500kcals a day and an average woman needs 2000kcals a day, dependent on their activity levels, to maintain their weight. Making sure that you are eating more than the recommended amount will help you to gain weight, however be sure to make sure those extra calories are coming from healthy sources. You should aim to gain weight gradually until you reach a healthy weight for your height, or a weight that you are happy with.
Healthy food to gain weight
If you’re trying to gain weight eating foods that are healthy and high in energy will not only help you to put on weight but will also give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to work properly. Foods high in protein and natural fats support the body’s natural repair and build functions, helping you to grow muscle and put on weight.
Reaching for the cakes, biscuits, crisps or sugary drinks may make you gain weight quickly but in doing so you could be harming your health and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Instead aim to eat regular meals and snack throughout the day, choosing from the main food groups – fruits and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, dairy or dairy alternatives and protein.
Planning your meals in advance will help you to track the amount of calories you are consuming as well as make sure you are enjoying a varied diet. You could get the whole family involved with everything from planning a weekly menu to preparing healthy snacks.
Have a look at our meal ideas for more inspiration:
Breakfast – Have porridge made with full-fat milk topped with berries, fruit or raisins. Add a pinch of cinnamon for a sweet flavour or mix in mashed banana. Top wholemeal toast with scrambled, poached or eggs fried in a small amount of sunflower oil.
Lunch – Choose a jacket potato with baked beans or tuna, add a sprinkling of cheese to up your calorie intake. Make sure to pair it with a salad or some fruit afterwards to help you reach your 5 portions of fruit or veg goal.
Snacks – Cut up an apple and dip the pieces into peanut butter, or reach for a handful of unsalted nuts or dried fruit between your meals.
Dinner – Base your meals around starchy carbohydrates, for example eat pasta with tomato sauce and chicken served with a salad, or steak, potato wedges and vegetables.
How can I put on weight fast?
Ideally you should aim to put on weight at a gradual pace, however if you are looking for a way to boost your weight gain and see results quicker you could try to:
- Eat more protein from sources such as lean meat, fish, beans, lentils and eggs
- Eat more often – snack on dried or fresh fruit, homemade popcorn, rice cakes or boiled eggs
- Increase your portion sizes – make sure you’re eating a healthy balance foods, including 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day
- Fill up on foods high in good fats – Crush avocado on toast, or sprinkle seeds onto salads to add extra calories to meals. Also use full fat milk in your tea or add cheese to your meals.
The key to weight gain is to make these food changes part of your lifestyle, rather than view it as a diet these changes are ones that you can keep up for life.
If you are looking to gain weight in muscle mass alongside exercise, there are protein shakes and supplements that may be able to help alongside a healthy lifestyle and protein rich diet.
How long does it take to put on weight?
If you’re underweight, it’s important to visit your GP before changing your diet to rule out any underlying health issues. The aim of any weight gain or weight loss programme should be gradual improvements. In order to gain more weight, you need to create an energy surplus which for women involves eating more than 2000 calories a day and for men more than 2500. It’s healthy to expect a weight gain of 1-2 pounds per week when energy intake levels are increased by about 500 calories a day.
It’s important to keep these additional calories as healthy as possible. Try to avoid relying too heavily on foods high in saturated fat and sugar as these will harmfully impact your body, leaving you at risk of developing conditions such as high cholesterol or blood pressure.
What counts as my 5-a-day?
One portion of fruit should weigh around 80g, which is the same as half a large grapefruit or two satsumas. A portion a dried fruit should weigh 30g, as dried fruit is higher in natural sugars and denser in energy. Your morning glass of fruit juice will also count towards your 5-a-day as long as it is unsweetened 100% juice and measures no more than 150ml.
What determines my weight ?
There are a number of factors that contribute towards your weight, for example:
- Hereditary factors
- Hormonal abnormalities
- Lack of exercise
Weight tends to be influenced by a combination of factors, for example working in an office and not getting enough exercise could cause you to gain weight.
Can you gain weight without eating dairy ?
Yes, if you are lactose intolerant or have decided to cut out dairy from your diet for other reasons you can still put on weight. Dairy alternatives such as soy, nut and oat milk as well as coconut milk or vegan cheese, eaten as part of a balanced diet will help you to gain weight.
It’s almost never a good idea for a kid to try to gain weight, especially by eating lots of junk food. Many people want to be thinner, so it can seem strange that some kids want to gain weight. But kids who are thin sometimes feel like they aren’t the right size. And they might even get teased about it.
People come in different shapes and sizes. You might have friends the same age who weigh a lot more than you do. That doesn’t mean that either of you is the wrong weight.
Why Do Some Kids Weigh Less?
Here are a few good reasons why some kids are thin or don’t weigh as much as their friends:
- They’re short. If you’re not too tall, there’s less of you — at least vertically. That equals fewer pounds when you step on the scale.
- They’re small-framed, which is sometimes called “small-boned.” It just means a person’s body frame (their skeleton and muscles) might be smaller or thinner. One way to compare frames is to look at your wrist. A person with a smaller frame usually has a smaller wrist and might have trouble finding a watch that’s not too big!
- They feel thin compared with friends who’ve gone through puberty. During puberty, it’s normal for kids to grow a lot and gain weight, too. If one kid hasn’t hit puberty and another has, the one who’s still waiting for puberty is likely to be smaller and thinner.
- Their parents are short, small, or thin people. Your mom and dad pass along their genes to you — including the genes that help determine your height and body frame. If close family members are on the small or thin side, there’s a good chance you will be too.
What About Getting Teased?
Being teased is one reason thin kids sometimes want to add pounds. It’s never fun to be picked on. If this happens to you, be sure to tell a grown-up who can help. You might also rehearse what you will say back to someone who teases you. Don’t insult anyone, but maybe say, “That’s just the way I am. Everybody is different.” Having friends who back you up can help you feel braver and less alone.
Health Advice for Thin Kids
Small kids especially want to know how to help their bodies grow and be strong. The best advice for all kids is to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and get enough sleep.
Trying to gain weight by eating a lot of extra calories is a bad idea. It can make you feel sick and is not healthy. So just listen to your appetite and eat only as much as your body tells you to. If you’re worried you’re too small, talk with your mom or dad. They can help figure out whether you should see your doctor.
Once in a while, a health problem can keep a kid from gaining weight. A kid who is not growing well or is losing weight may need to go to a specialist who can check things out, or to a registered dietitian who has lots of tips on how to eat well. But most of the time, thin kids don’t need to see a doctor or go on a special diet.
Here’s another surprise. All kids need to exercise, no matter their size. A lot of people use exercise to keep their weight under control or to lose weight. But there are many more reasons to stay active. Exercise builds strong bones and muscles, helps you stay healthy, gives you energy, and helps you feel good.
Losing too much weight is a problem for many people with cancer
by Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., CSO, and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., CSO, U-M Rogel Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program
It’s important to include enough carbohydrates, protein and fat in your meals to maintain weight during treatments because too much weight loss can actually slow down/delay treatment. But, side effects of treatment, including loss of appetite, can make it challenging to eat enough food to get the calories your body needs.
This is particularly true for patients with oral, throat or other types of head and neck cancers. For these patients, the cancer itself, as well as treatment, changes the ability and desire to eat. This is true for other cancer patients, since chemoradiation treatment often has side effects that impact appetite and how foods taste. It’s also important to understand that cancer changes in the way the body uses food for energy.
- Protein is an essential nutrient for healing, tissue maintenance and growth. Your body requires protein to maintain its muscle mass; people who keep their muscle mass generally have fewer side effects during cancer treatment and recover more quickly.
- Carbohydrates and fat help to provide increased calories your body needs during treatment.
Tips to get more protein and calories:
- Switch from skim milk to whole milk, if you’re struggling with weight loss
- Melt cheese on sandwiches, stir it into scrambled eggs or grate on top of soups, starches or meats
- Add cottage or ricotta cheese to fruits and vegetables, egg dishes or desserts
- Get an extra boost by mixing powdered milk into milkshakes and smoothies
- Spread peanut butter and other nutbased spreads on sandwiches, toast and vegetables or swirl them into shakes, smoothies, yogurt and soft ice cream
- Sprinkle nuts over cereal, salads, vegetables, pancakes or fruit as a crunchy topping
- Add chopped meat to salads, omelets and quiches
- Eat more beans and tofu. Hummus is high in protein and can be spread on breads and vegetables
- Use whole wheat pastas — and add cream sauces
- Mix legumes, lentils and beans into chicken or beef broth
- Cook vegetables and meats in olive oil
- Turn fruit into smoothies or sauces, such as apple sauce
Also consider drinking nutritional supplements, like Boost or Ensure. Several brands and flavors are available. They can be mixed with fruits, ice cream and syrups to make milkshakes. Generic versions are available and can be less expensive. Boost Very High Calorie, an ultra-high calorie supplement, is available in the U-M Rogel Cancer Center pharmacy.
Tips to make eating easier for head and neck cancer patients, specifically:
- Dry mouth? drink plenty of fluids. Choose moist, soft foods. Limit spicy or hot foods. Cut food into small pieces and mix with sauces and gravies.
- Sore mouth & throat? Avoid dry, crunchy, citrus, spicy or salty foods. Eat luke warm or cool foods. Use sauces and gravies or milk to moisten foods.
- Food tastes different? Use plastic utensils for metallic tastes. Rinse your mouth with alcohol free mouthwash or a baking soda and salt water mix before each meal. If foods taste salty add sugar. If foods taste sweet add salt.
- Difficulty chewing? Choose soft foods. Cut foods into small pieces or puree foods with gravies or sauces. Drink protein rich smoothies and shakes.
U-M Rogel Cancer Center patients: if you are losing weight or have additional questions, the Registered Dietitians at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center can help you. Talk with your physician to request a referral and call 1-877-907-0859 to make an appointment.