Healthy Ways to Gain Weight
Whether you have lost weight unintentionally or due to illness, it can be difficult to gain weight, especially when a lot of information seems to be geared towards losing weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and well-being. Being underweight can lead to fragile bones, anaemia, a weakened immune system, fatigue and fertility issues.
It may seem like the only way to gain weight is by increasing portion sizes and eating more food.
However, if you find it difficult to eat large quantities of food, you don’t need to drastically change your intake. A few simple tweaks can make a big difference to you overall energy intake and help you meet your goals. Read below for some suggestions on gaining weight healthily.
1. Don’t throw all the healthy eating“rules” out the window
Choose foods that are nutrient rich rather than relying on foods that are high in sugar and fat but have little nutritional value e.g.chocolate, sweets and sugary drinks. Healthy weight gain requires a balanced approach similar to a weight loss regimen. Weight gain predominantly due to extra calories from large amounts of “treat” foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt can lead to other problems later on e.g. high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
It’s important to get a handle on the types of fat; saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats such as those found in butter, fatty cuts of meat, cream, chocolate, biscuits, cakes and pastries are associated with increased cholesterol levels and can therefore increase your risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts,seeds, avocado, olive oil and vegetable oils e.g. canola, do not raise your cholesterol in the same way and are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. When looking to gain weight healthily, it’s important to increase your intake of unsaturated or “good” fats rather than saturated fats.
2. Make every bite count:
Aim to get a healthy balance of carbohydrates (cereals,bread, rice, pasta, potatoes), protein (meat, fish, chicken, eggs) and “good”fats (nuts, seeds, unsaturated oils e.g. olive oil, rapeseed oil) every day.Choose full-fat dairy (milk, cheese and yogurt) and make porridge on milk rather than water. You could also add milk, cream or even dried milk powder when making mashed potatoes, soups and stews. While full fat dairy is a source of saturated fat, it is also rich in protein and other nutrients e.g. calcium. A good intake of protein can help you to gain not just fat, but also muscle.
Although fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, they are also relatively lower in energy. Avoid filling up on these foods and aim to serve these with healthy sources of fat. Top salads with healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocado and roast vegetables in rapeseed oil. Have fruit with yogurt or nut butter.
3. Top off meals and snacks with calorie boosters
Small additions can make a big difference. Try to boost the energy content each meal or snack e.g. add a drizzle of olive oil or a tablespoon of chopped nuts or seeds to a salad, sprinkle a tablespoon of ground flaxseed on your smoothie, stir a tablespoon of nut butter into your porridge.
Some other easy 100 calorie “boosters” include:
· Savoury: 2 tablespoons of hummus, salad cream or pesto; 1tablespoon of mayonnaise, oil, butter or nut butter; 1/3 of an avocado; a small handful of grated cheese, or nuts and seeds
· Sweet: 1 small pot of full fat yogurt; 1 small banana; a small handful of dried fruit; 2 scoops of ice cream; 2 tablespoons of honey; 1heaped tablespoon of sugar
· Drinks: 150ml milk; 200ml orange juice
4. Adopt a “little and often” approach
If you are struggling with a poor appetite, the thought of sitting down to a big meal may be overwhelming. It may be easier to start with having smaller meals and snacks more often e.g. 3 meals and 3-4 small snacks. This can also help to reduce some of the GI discomfort e.g. bloating, gas or stomach pain that may occur when you first increase your intake of food.
Have a light bedtime snack even if you are not very hungry. A slice of toast with peanut butter or a small bowl of cereal with whole milk are quick, easy and nutritious options that can help you increase your overall energy intake.
5. Don’t forget about fluids
While drinking enough water is important for health and wellbeing, consider adding in some more energy-dense fluids to help increase your overall calorie intake. Avoid having sugary drinks e.g. fizzy drinks as these provide little nutritional value. Choose milk-based drinks such as a latte, hot chocolate or a smoothie as these will provide more nutrients e.g. calcium and protein. Avoid drinking large quantities of fluid with meals as it may cause you to feel full more quickly. Stick to small sips until you have finished your meal.
It’s important to remember that just as weight loss doesn’t happen overnight, the same can be said for weight gain. Focus on making small changes consistently that will help you meet your weight gain goals while optimising your health.