Yes you did hear me correctly, this is going to be my Tips for Gaining Weight. Many of you may be thinking why I’m not talking about weight loss or referring to it here, but we need to keep in mind that not all of us are after weight loss! Many of you out there have emailed me about providing tips and advice on how to gain weight in a healthy manor especially those who are athletes, naturally underweight, or recovering from disordered eating habits. I commend each and everyone of you who email me about this issue because I think it’s something we nutrition professionals don’t speak about enough; the flip side of weight loss and the obesity epidemic.
WHY BEING AT A HEALTHY WEIGHT IS IMPORTANT
Many clients of mine who are looking for weight loss come from a wide range/background of issues; some health related such as Coeliac or a myriad of digestive issues, suffer from health issues that contributed to weight loss, some have “always been thin” and are natural ectomorphs, some are athletes or recreational athletes looking to put on lean body mass, and some are recovering from disordered eating habits. No matter what the cause or reasoning behind wanting to gain weight, these tips can be applied globally.
First, let me just preface what underweight is, according to the BMI guidelines anyone under 18.5 is “underweight”. Although the BMI system is flawed in my opinion when it comes to assessing overweight/obese and sometimes with underweight as well. It doesn’t take into consideration ones lean body mass:body fat ratios, genetics, nor bone structure- it’s a guideline and only should be used as such. Being underweight has many signs/symptoms that differ from each person and some include: reduced appetite, emaciated features (especially around the shoulders, collarbone, knees, and other joint points), sunken eyes, hormonal imbalance (especially in women), very low body fat percentage, poor vital signs, losing hair, feeling cold, lack of energy/tired, and more. Not to mention the health consequences that ensue when one is underweight such as, hormonal changes, decreased muscle mass, decreased bone density, lowered immune system function, slow wound healing, sleep issues, irregular heart beats, vitamin/mineral/nutrient deficiencies, impaired gut function, heart disease, anemia, and high risk for further malnutrition.
WHAT IS A HEALTHY WEIGHT?
It depends on several things, I always take into consideration metabolism, body type, genetics, bone structure, body fat percentage, and weight trends overtime. Using the BMI chart as a guideline and then adjusting to your history of weight, body type, etc. will be key- also being in close communication with your doctor about your blood work, vitals, and body fat percentage is needed as well. I’ll use another scenario as an example, let’s say you have someone who is “on paper” underweight, but they’ve always been that way (i.e. with their weight trends), small bone structures, feel great, and are otherwise healthy; then this is an entirely different situation where obtaining a “normal” weight on paper may not apply to them, as their weight is their normal.
I want to also make a note. Just as you wouldn’t comment on someone who is battling eating issues, struggles with being overweight/obese, the same goes for those who are underweight or thin. The realistic side of things is that all too often we hear of the media, friends, family, even complete strangers comment on those who are thin thinking it’s okay- “gosh you’re so thin!”, “I wish I could eat like you and look like that”, “oh, you don’t have to worry about eating healthy”, “eat a hamburger”; these are just some comments I hear my clients tell me about with their experiences that I find completely disrespectful.
We all need to act out of love, compassion, and kindness regardless of someone’s body shape and composition, but especially for those who are struggling with their weight. Someone may be suffering from underlying health issue or mental/disordered eating issue; a comment such as some I mentioned above can easily be a trigger for them to spiral and reverse all the hard work they’ve done emotionally to gain weight. Comments such as those may also reinforce that somehow the way they “are” isn’t “good enough”, I see this is especially true for those individuals who are naturally thin and technically “underweight” by BMI measurements and with those suffering from disordered eating thought patterns.
A MINDFUL CHALLENGE
The next time you hear a thought buzz around in your head about commenting on someones body image, whether overweight or underweight, I challenge you to say the mantra “act with love”. It’ll turn your thoughts 180 degrees around and for that moment you may realize you don’t know the full picture of that person, and judging them or verbally commenting doesn’t represent a loving attitude. We all universally share the same goal, to be healthy. We all have to keep this in mind and bring a new awareness and compassion to all sides of the spectrum, whether under or overweight.
I’ve compiled my top tips for any of you out there looking to put on healthy weight with whole foods instead of resorting to a lot of processed foods or “junk” items that will make you feel worse in the long run.
1. START SLOW
Random example- going from eating 1000 calories one day to eating 3000 calories the next, is a recipe for disaster and not to mention digestive distress. Ease into increasing your portions and servings of food gradually, allowing your stomach to stretch and for your body to get used to the amount of calories and nutrition.
2. NUTRIENT AND CALORIC DENSITY
Always be on the hunt for whole foods that are not only nutrient dense, but also calorically dense. Some examples include: coconut oil, nuts/seeds, avocados, grass-fed butter, olive oil, coconut milk, fruits, dried fruit, starches like sweet potatoes, etc.
3. SMALLER MEALS
Eating smaller meals more frequently may help cut down the volume of your meals so you don’t feel so full all the time. Your body will adjust to the amount of foods overtime.
4. SNEAK FOODS IN SMOOTHIES!
Smoothies are incredibly easy to sneak in heaps of good calories without making you feel incredibly full, the trick is volume. High calories for a small volume. Use things like nut butters, coconut oil, fruit, and avocado to boost the calories.
5. CHANGE UP YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE
If you’re engaging in a lot of cardio exercise (i.e. running, aerobic classes, sports) you may need to limit and adjust this temporarily until you’ve met your healthy/goal weight. Also adding in body weight, weightlifting, and resistance training is going to be crucial for helping retain and build muscle mass!
Share this experience with friends and family so they can keep you accountable to eating all of your meals, sneaking in high calorie add-ons, and helping you stay on track.
7. FOOD DIARY
For those who are suffering from disordered eating issues, I often don’t recommend tracking your food intake or logging because this can become another outlet for the disorder or an obsession; rather this option is great for those who are trying to gain muscle, recover from illness, etc. As always, use calorie counting as a tool- don’t let it use you!
8. WORK WITH A Nutritional Therapist
Find a local Nutritional Therapist in your area (or feel free to email me, I do virtual consults - and consequently have clients all over the world), who can help you come up with a plan for foods you should be consuming, how many calories, ratio of macronutrients, and monitoring your progress.
If being underweight is caused by an underlying emotional/mental challenge, seek a professional to get on a path for your overall wellbeing and health. Always be in communication with your doctor or health professional!
I hope you all have a lovely day,
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!