Some people are trying to gain weight, and for most of my adolescent and young adult life I was one of them. A great deal of current weight management content is focused on people who want to lose weight, but that does not mean that people aren’t out there struggling to gain it. If you or someone you know has struggled trying to gain weight, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.
If you’d prefer to see me discuss this topic in video format, check my YouTube.
The advice and feedback I am offering in this piece is inspired both my expertise as a dietitian and by my own journey towards gaining weight in my youth. Please note that this blog posting is not a replacement for seeking professional assistance for severe health issues affecting food intake. The advice provided may not be applicable if medical issues are preventing your attempts at weight gain. I do urge you to seek further professional assistance if you fit into this category. If, however, you are an otherwise healthy teen or young adult who just wants to gain some weight in a healthy way, look no further.
I was quite skinny throughout my teenage and young adult years. I did not necessarily perceive my self as skinny, so when close friends and loved ones suggested that I eat more, I did not pay much attention. As I got older, I began to realize that I did not look as healthy as I would have liked to, that clothes did not fit me the way that I would have liked, and that this was at least partially related to my low body weight. I committed to remedying this issue by attempting to eat more with the hope of increasing my body weight, but having been such a light eater for most of my life I found it quite difficult.
Changing one`s weight, whether gaining or losing, is no easy endeavour, but I knew I quickly learned that I had to take a strategic approach to be succesful. After months without a change, I adopted several effective principles that ultimately aided my cause. These same principles, which I can now support professionally as a dietitian, may provide the boost you need to put on weight in a safe and healthy manner.
1) Eat more than you used to: This point is so simple, so seemingly obvious yet so important. If you want to gain weight, you will almost inevitably need to eat more than you did before. This could mean eating more calorie dense foods(see #2), but it could also just mean eating greater amounts of what you are already eating. If every time you sit down to a meal or a snack, and you eat a little bit more of that meal or snack than you used to, this will go a long way in aiding your cause. If you usually have one granola bar for a snack, eat one and a half. If you usually have one bowl of rice at dinner, eat one and a half. You can also simply add an extra snack or meal into your day, on top of what you would usually eat. Don’t be afraid to eat more and embrace being more full than usual as your body adapts to the increased amounts of food.
2) Eat healthy calorie dense foods: If you aren’t already, try incorporating healthy foods rich in calories such as almonds, pecans, pasta, dried fruit, peanut butter, avocado, beans and fatty fish ( salmon, trout etc.). These foods are both healthy and rich in calories which may help contribute to your weight gain endeavours. Healthy calorie dense foods can be added in moderate amounts on top of your current diet in order to provide a boost to your overall intake.
3) Try the higher calorie option more often: This suggestion is the opposite of common weight loss advice. For those trying to gain weight, excellent examples would be to opt for the 2% milk fat yogurt rather than the fat free, choosing salmon or beef over lean chicken breast and using peanut butter instead of calorie reduced jam.
4) Don’t be afraid to eat “unhealthy” food sometimes: This may not apply to everyone, but there will be people reading this blog who are also very health concious. My message to you is simple; don’t be afraid to enjoy fast food or food you perceive as unhealthy once in a while. These types of foods are generally higher in calories and won’t hurt your cause if consumed in moderation.
5) Stimulate your appetite with exercise: In a perfect world I would love you to incorporate both cardiovascular and resistance training into your weekly routine, which would greatly benefit your appetite, body composition and overall health. I understand that this may not always be possible, so do what you can and do your best.
6) Slow and steady wins the race: Healthy weight gain takes time. You don’t need to stuff yourself silly in the first few days but rather take a measured long-term approach while aiming to gain 1-2lbs a week.
7) Monitor but don’t obssess: When you are actively trying to gain weight it is important to monitor your progress with the goal being 1-2 lbs gained a week. This does not mean obssessively checking your weight daily, which can become counter-productive and stressful. Once or twice a week at most will be sufficient. Do not be discouraged if you are not gaining weight right away or if you have a slow week, revisit principles #1-6 and remain optimistic and committed.
8) Keep the food guide in mind: This could easily have gone as #1, but I saved the best for last. However you choose to go about your weight gain endeavour, keep Canada’s Food Guide in mind. Make sure you eat your fruits, vegetables and whole grains as you want to keep yourself and your digestive system healthy as it adapts to the greater amount of food you will likely be consuming.
Weight gain is a complex topic which I have tried to breakdown and simplify with these principles. I understand that the number of people out there trying to gain weight may not be the same as the number of people trying to lose it, but I can assure you their struggle is just as relevant and one that I can greatly appreciate. The principles that are meant to act as general guidelines that should help guide you towards reaching your weight gain goals in a healthy and safe manner. You don’t necessarily need to follow every single principle to be succesful, but different principles will inevitably appeal to different people and so the hope is there is something there for everyone.
I wish you all the best with your efforts and , as always, Eat Up!
Andy the RD