Like many other people, how to gain healthy weight isn’t something I’ve had to worry about too often. I have enough unhealthy weight without gaining any more. The discovery of beer, cocktails and late night pizza in my early 20s prevented me from worrying too much about needing to gain weight.
A new study found obese people outnumber underweight people globally for the first time in human history. Looking at 19.2 million men and women from 186 countries, the study found 10.8 and 14.9 percent of men and women respectively were obese. By comparison, only 8.8 percent of men and 9.7 percent of women were classed as underweight.
While obesity is often a result of poor lifestyle choices (the beer and pizza again), being underweight is often overlooked. It could be down to genetics and have little to do with poor decision making. Weight gain for many people can improve their health, for example, when dealing with an eating disorder or recovering from an illness.
However, it can be hard to gain healthy weight with few healthy or sustainable options being easy to find. Weight gain doesn’t have to follow radical or fad diets, there are many options when looking at how to gain healthy weight.
Do You Need to Gain Healthy Weight?
Before starting on any weight-gain program, you need to ask yourself is it really necessary? Checking what your healthy weight should be with a BMI calculator is a good indicator. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a BMI figure of less than 18.5 is consideredto be underweight.
Keep in mind that body mass index (BMI) is only a classification system and not a diagnostic tool.
A doctor can diagnose whether you’re underweight and hopefully rule out conditions like cancer, thyroid disease, digestive problems or medications. Behavioural causes of being underweight include being depressed or stressed. It’s also possible you’re underweight because of genetics, your activity level, or simply because you don’t eat enough.
Once your doctor has recognised the cause of your weight loss, they’ll advise on changes you can make to your diet. Some underlying conditions will require medications to put your body back on track. A doctor may even prescribe medications that improve your appetite including some antidepressants, steroid medications and drugs related to marijuana.
Other Reasons to Gain Healthy Weight
Don’t laugh, but some people actually choose to gain weight. You may be an athlete who wants to build strength and muscle for a better performance. Or maybe you’re below your healthy weight and just want to feel better.
Whatever the reason, gaining weight can be hard to achieve in a healthy way for some people. Genetics play a major part in our physical build and if your parents or siblings are thin, it’ll be more difficult to gain weight. You can change your body to a certain extent through increased food intake and weight training, but drastic changes are usually not sustainable or healthy.
Complications of being underweight can include:
- Frequent breakages with more fragile bones.
- Irregular menstrual periods or difficulty getting pregnant.
- Hair loss.
- A weakened immune system.
- Dizziness or fatigue from anemia or other forms of malnourishment.
- Poor growth and development especially in underweight children and pubescent teens.
But before you put the local burger joint or pizza shop on your speed dial, consider the following tips on how to gain healthy weight.
Quality, Not Quantity
Most people would think just eating more will put on weight. Unfortunately gaining weight is about more than just filling up on your favorite junk foods. While these may be an easy way to boost your energy intake, you should aim to provide your body with nutrition to support a healthy weight gain.
Weight gain due to calories from large amounts of salty, greasy, sugary, highly processed foods will cause future health problems. This could include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. Rather than leaving you feeling energized and nourished, a junk food diet will often leave you feeling sluggish.
Try to eat a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein and good fats every day. Complex carbs like sweet potato, quinoa or whole grain bread can provide the extra calories without playing havoc with your blood sugar levels. Many natural whole foods are nutrient and calorie dense to aid with a healthy weight gain.
The following YouTube video looks at 18 of the best healthy foods to gain weight fast.
Adding a little extra fat to your diet will go a long way in helping you gain weight. At 9 calories per a gram, fat is a much more energy dense food than carbohydrates or proteins which only have 4 calories per gram. Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado and nut fats can bump up the calories with no need to increase the volume.
It’s easy to sneak some extra healthy fats into your diet. You could use peanut or almond butter as spreads or snack on trail mixes with nuts and dried fruits. They’ll fill you up while providing plenty of nutrients and calories.
Instead of using a cooking spray use olive oil instead or drizzle some oil on vegetables instead of dry roasting them. Choose fish canned in oil rather than brine and maybe try rubbing infused oils into fresh fish and meat instead of a dry seasoning. You could also use sliced or crushed nuts on a salad instead of croutons.
Eat Regular and Frequent Meals
Eating every three hours can be a first step towards a healthy weight gain. When you go too long without eating your metabolism starts to slow down. Eating every few hours will mean you eat more calories and prevent your body from losing lean body mass.
There’s nothing to say you have to get your daily calorie requirements from three meals. Five or six meals spread throughout the day are easier on your stomach and will keep you feeling full all day. Adding a little extra to each meal can be great for slowly building up the calories.
Enjoying more snacks throughout the day can also help you gain more weight. Healthy snacks for in between meals can include:
- Dried fruit which is dense in calories with the water taken out.
- Nuts and nut butters or trail mix—try adding chocolate chips for extra calories.
- Veggie sticks with a high fat hummus or avocado dip.
- Homemade granola bars with dried fruit or dark chocolate.
Protein bars will increase both your protein and calories. Protein is essential to gain muscle mass rather than body fat. Be sure to check the calorie content on the nutritional label and try to avoid any with added sugars.
Drink Your Calories
Drinks are calorie dense yet not very filling. They can be an important tool when trying to gain weight. Nutritional shakes or meal replacement drinks are great in between meals.
Drinking 100 percent fruit juices and smoothies can provide more calories along with essential vitamins and minerals. Sugary sodas may be more tempting and are high in calories, but they have no other nutritional value.
Change Up Your Exercise Regime
It’s not just about what you put into your body, but also what you take out. It may seem crazy to be recommending exercise for weight gain. For some people exercise can even be dangerous until they reach a certain weight.
If you have trouble gaining weight, especially if you have a faster metabolism, cut any cardio to a healthy minimum. A recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio five days a week will keep your heart healthy. As you gain weight, you’ll have more muscles for the heart to pump nutrients and oxygen to.
Instead of lots of cardio, focus more on resistance training to improve your shape and gain weight. Adding muscle mass is much healthier than just adding body fat. Muscle is an important way of increasing mass and adds shape for men or curves for women.
When exercising with either cardio or resistance training remember to accommodate for it by eating more calories before or after. You’ll burn calories with both, but resistance training can turn those proteins and carbs into muscle mass which weighs more than fat.
Patience Is the Key to Gain Healthy Weight
Although many of us wish we struggled to gain weight, gaining healthy weight can prove to be pretty challenging. If you focus on building lean muscle mass rather than body fat, you can gain weight in a healthy way.
When looking how to gain healthy weight there are many miracle products on the market which often seem too good to be true. Normally they are! A healthy balanced diet high in healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrates will not only help you gain weight but also provide many other essential nutrients.
The important thing is to stick with it, be patient and give your body the time it needs to change. The advice in this article may not be suitable for everybody. If concerned about your lack of weight or if you’ve been losing weight without trying, it’s always advisable to speak to your doctor for individual nutritional advice.