I know what you are thinking. Who on earth would want to gain weight, and how do I sign up for that problem?! People need and want to gain weight for many different reasons. Some people may have gotten sick or had a surgery and lost a bunch of weight that they need to gain back, some people have trouble gaining weight because of a fast metabolism or another physiological reason, some women lose lots of weight while breastfeeding and they can’t gain it back, and so on. Many people also have children that have a hard time gaining weight.
Weight gain has a pretty simple equation: If you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. But for some people, it really is not that simple. There are many ways to increase your caloric intake. Yes, you definitely can reach for the nearest bag of chips, half gallon of ice cream, or add butter to EVERYTHING, but that is not the most healthy way to go about gaining weight. Most processed “junk” food contains lots of added saturated and trans fats, and/or lots of added sugars. These are considered empty calories that your body really does not need. So how do you gain weight in a healthy way? To do this, you want to look for foods that are high in calories, but also high in nutrients. Here are a few easy ways to gain weight the healthy way.
1. Focus on healthy fats. There are 9 calories in a gram of fat (compared to 4 calories per gram of protein and 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate). An easy way to add calories without adding a bunch of food to each meal and overstuffing yourself, (adding a bunch of food into your diet may leave you feeling groggy or gross), focus on adding healthy fats into your diet. You have to be aware about the fats that you are choosing to add, because there are two kinds- healthy and unhealthy fats. Be careful of saturated fats, which are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found in foods like butter, animal fat (fat found in meat and full fat dairy products), dressings, and margarine. Our bodies need a little bit of saturated fat, but too much can lead to health problems like heart disease.
Focus on unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are still high in calories, but are a lot better for our health. There are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Oils that contain mostly unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. A few examples of healthy fats, that contain mostly unsaturated fats, include canola oil, olive oil, peanut butter, almond butter, nuts, and avocados. Try adding healthy fats to meals and snacks. Here are some examples of how to add healthy fats to your food:
- Add avocados into your eggs in the morning
- Add peanut butter onto your toast or bread
- Eat nuts for snacks
- Add nuts to salads
- Use a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing or to dip bread in
- Add nuts or seeds to your granola (for an awesome granola recipe, click here)
- Add avocados and olives to your sandwiches and wraps
2. Choose healthy, but dense foods. Choose foods that have a large amount of carbohydrates, protein, or fat packed into a small serving. A good example of this is dried fruit. Dried fruit is fresh fruit with the water removed, so the serving size shrinks by more than half. So your cup of grapes now turned into ¼ cup of raisins! Remember when choosing dried fruit to choose the no sugar added kind! Another good example of a healthy, but dense food option is a piece of whole wheat toast with 2 TBSP of peanut butter and banana slices on top. It’s not a huge amount of food, but has a large amount of healthy carbohydrates and fats.
3. Drink your calories. This is probably the first and only time I will ever say this! I usually say not to drink your calories because it is so easy to drink TONS of calories without feeling full. But, for those looking to gain weight, you are trying to add calories and this is an easy way to do just that. Unfortunately, this does not mean that Coke and Dr. Pepper are free game. Choose healthier drink options like 1% or skim milk, fruit smoothies, and 100% fruit juice. Drinking 100% fruit juice with a meal or as a snack will add more calories to your diet while giving you all of the benefits that fruit juice has to offer. You can also add fruit juice to green smoothies to get a real nutrient dense drink! Remember that you are not replacing water with juice or milk- our bodies still need the same amount of water!
4. Lastly, Eat often. Try not to skip meals. You are trying to add calories and when you skip meals, your body has to dip into your “storage” to fill all of your empty tanks. Try to eat something every 3 hours if you can. You do not have to eat an entire meal every three hours…that might be torturous…or not haha You can drink a smoothie, or have a meal replacement shake, etc. Choose snacks that are packed with nutrition.
***Remember that you can and should still exercise when you are trying to gain weight! Exercise is an important part of maintaining health. You can include more weight lifting to build more lean muscle mass. Muscle weighs more than fat! Keep your cardio to 30 minutes per day/5 days per week at a moderate intensity (recommendation for health maintenance).
As with anything, gaining weight can be a long journey. Try not to get frustrated, and keep going! It is so worth it to stay healthy and fuel our bodies with nutritious foods no matter what our goals are!