While many individuals struggle with trying to lose weight, others struggle with trying to gain weight. Whether someone seeks to recover from an eating disorder, manage a long-term illness (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, an autoimmune disorder or food sensitivities/allergies), gain weight for sport or simply aims to try to gain a healthy body weight, healthy weight gain can often present many challenges.
For one, an individual may not wish to gain weight, but needs to do so for health reasons. Perhaps this is someone with an eating disorder. If the individual is a minor, a parent is often the one seeking out healthful ways to encourage his or her child’s weight gain at an appropriate rate. In these situations, it is imperative to work with a team of health professionals who specialize in eating disorders, including a physician, psychotherapist, dietitian and perhaps psychiatrist, as well. In this way, the parents do not become the “food police”, interrogating children at every meal and snack, nor do they choose unhealthy ways to gain weight (such as forcing unhealthful foods into a child’s diet). Additionally, the team can address underlying concerns and focus on whole body recovery, rather than just the weight restoration.
Another reason someone may be struggling with weight gain is simply a side effect of having an illness. Be it Alzheimer’s, where an individual forgets to eat or forgets how to eat, or cancer, where the body’s reserves are being depleted at an accelerated rate.
Men, often, (but, women, too) can struggle with putting on weight, while trying to achieve high muscle mass for sport. With intense exercise, it is essential to be consuming enough calories to not only avoid unwanted weight loss, but also to achieve healthy lean muscle mass. Working with a dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition is helpful in this situation.
Then, a situation may arise where unachievable weight gain occurs for unknown reasons. In this case, it is also important to work with a team of health professionals and get appropriate lab testing in order to determine the cause.
No matter what the reason, if you seek to gain healthful amounts of weight, here are a few ideas to consider incorporating into your eating plan. Remember, though, each plan should be catered to an individual, with individual needs and preferences addressed:
- Incorporate nutrition supplement foods and beverages such as Boost, Ensure and Carnation Instant Breakfast into snack time, to supplement one’s regular eating plan (rather than replace a meal).
- Mix nonfat dry milk powder into liquid milk to make a more nutrient dense beverage.
- Use plant oils (such as olive, canola or nut oils) in cooking or food preparation to incorporate healthful unsaturated fats each day.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, but not at the expense of other foods. Be sure to consume enough grains/starches, proteins and fats, as well. For instance, rather than having an entree salad with a little protein, have a side salad along with your protein source and a starch or grain.
- Drink 100% juice or milk instead of water, at some meals or snacks.
- Switch to whole fat milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream if you normally choose fat free or lowfat versions.
- Select dried fruit and raw nuts for nutritious, energy-rich snacks.
- Select sandwich spreads such as guacamole, hummus, cream cheese and omega-3-fatty-acid-rich mayonnaise.
- Natural cheeses can be used on sandwiches, salads, tacos, quesadillas or as dips. Consider cheddar, ricotta, blue cheese, feta, goat cheese and gouda.
- Sprinkle wheat germ or ground flaxseed on cereal or salads and in yogurt or smoothies.
- Granola is more energy-dense than regular cereal (usually due to the sugar and fat content).
- Consider nut butters as a great dip for fruits, vegetables and whole grain crackers.
- Restaurant milkshakes and smoothies can be an easy, on-the-go treat, where children, especially, may enjoy the flavor, so therefore resist less than a nutrition supplement drink.
- Store bought trail mix, yogurt covered pretzels/raisins/nuts or chocolate can fit in appropriately, as well. Select dark chocolate if possible, with natural ingredients, to promote intake of phytonutrients that promote health and reduce risk of disease.
- Consider your exercise. Very physically active people have higher nutrient needs.
Julie Whittington is a Registered Dietitian in the Lake Norman area. Contact her at email@example.com.