In the world of health and nutrition, we often talk about weight loss. More often than not, shedding extra pounds is the ultimate goal. However, as a Nutritionist and Personal Trainer, I get quite a few questions from clients about how gain weight, and how to go about it in a healthy manner.
There are endless benefits that come with making healthy dietary changes. Increased micronutrient levels (vitamins and minerals), adequate protein and fat intake to support proper muscle growth, cell maintenance and repair, detoxifying potentially harmful environmental and food toxins from the body, preventing illness, along with many others. However, people often find that when they make certain healthy dietary modifications, weight loss is the result.
In this article, we will discuss several ways to both maintain and gain weight, while still adopting healthy eating principles.
Why Am I Underweight?
Being underweight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of under 18.5, whereas obesity if considered a BMI of over 25. However, keep in mind that BMI calculations do not take into account muscle versus fat density, so it not always the best measurement.
First and foremost, let’s look at the reasons you might be underweight. The simplest and least problematic reason (and the one we will focus on primarily here), is simply being genetically predisposed to a fast metabolic rate, making weight gain difficult and being naturally very lean.
However, more problematic reasons should also be considered (particularly if being underweight is a new phenomenon), such as a GI infection or parasite, Celiac Disease (autoimmune gluten allergy), or malabsorption of food and nutrients. Again, for intents and purposes of this article, we will not focus on these possible contributors, but they certainly are ones that should be discussed with a qualified healthcare professional, if suspected.
In fact, studies show that being underweight actually poses more health risks that being overweight.
Assuming you are simply a fast metabolizer wanting to eat healthy while maintaining or gaining weight, here are 5 important tips to follow:
EAT FROM EVERY MACRONUTRIENT GROUP
Often with weight loss efforts, it becomes important to adjust certain macronutrient intakes depending on the individual. Remember, the three macronutrient groups include protein, carbohydrate, and fat. For someone wanting to gain or maintain their weight, making sure to eat amply from all groups is essential, in every meal.
DON’T SKIMP ON THE CARBOHYDRATES
Again, with weight loss clients, I often recommend a lower-carbohydrate diet model. However, for fast metabolizers wanting to gain weight, this is certainly not the right approach. This can be difficult, as many commonly consumed carbohydrates do not fit into a healthy diet. So, just because you have total liberty to eat starchier foods, does not mean that processed breads, baked goods, and pastries should be the focus.
Excellent sources of healthy carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, yams, regular potatoes, winter squash, fruit, plantains, yucca, whole grains and legumes. Include a healthy portion of one of these carbohydrates in each meal and snack. Also, including fruit (especially starchier options such as bananas), in between meals, can help. Lastly, mixing each serving of carbohydrates with substantial protein and healthy fat can go a long way in being sure not to lose weight.
FOCUS ON PLENTY OF HEALTHY FATS
Thankfully, the myth of the low-fat/non-fat diet model has been largely debunked (although many dieters still opt for this model out of habit and misinformation), but it is certainly true that those wanting to lose weight should not eat excessive calories from fat.
Fat offers the most calories per serving than the other two macronutrients (120 calories per tablespoon). Even for weight loss efforts, fat is essential, as without it, our metabolism senses starvation and slows down, amongst other reasons.
Including servings of healthy fats with all meals and snacks is critical for weight gain. Focus on sources such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, flax oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and naturally occurring fats in good quality protein sources such as grass-fed beef, pasture raised pork, and wild fish. Also, coconut in other forms such as coconut cream and milk can be a nutritious and calorie-dense source.
Smoothies are an easy and majorly effective tool for weight gain. They can be packed with nutrients, and add up to 2,000 more calories per day to your daily diet, if necessary. I recommend smoothie ingredients including a high quality protein powder (grass-fed whey is a good option, if tolerated, or opt for a hemp or pea powder), whole, organic milk or coconut milk, flax and/or chia seeds, banana, a handful of greens such as spinach, and honey as a sweetener, if needed. Add ice and water depending on your desired consistency, and enjoy! One or two of these per day will add extra-needed calories to your diet plan.
EAT WHOLE FAT DAIRY
Dairy can be described as a building food, as it naturally adds to weight gain. Think of babies whose primary mission is to grow and develop, and their diet of mother’s milk. Commercial dairy obviously does not resemble nutrient-dense breast milk whatsoever, and should definitely be avoided. However, organic, whole-fat dairy products definitely have a place in a diet for weight-gain.
Stick to sources such as grass-fed butter, whole, organic milk (even raw, which can often be found at your local farm or cooperative grocery store), whole, plain yogurt, kefir, and organic cheese. Include these foods in meals and snacks.
by following these rules, you can be sure that you are providing the body with the macro and micronutrients necessary for health, without risking weight loss, and likely encouraging weight gain. Remember to consider if you suspect an underlying problem that is contributing to your weight (a parasite or GI infection, for example), and seek treatment. However, if you are simply a fast metabolizer, these tips will support your body in reaching its optimal weight.
 http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v107/n10/abs/ajg2012219a.html. Retrieved March 7th, 2016.