Updated 05 August 2013

Tips on gaining weight

While many people have questions about weight loss and how to combat obesity, a great number of people also want to, and need to, gain weight.


While many people have questions about weight loss and how to combat obesity, a great number of people also want to, and need to, gain weight.

"Impossible," those of you who struggle to lose a kilogram a week might say, “why would anyone want to gain weight?”. No, it is not impossible, or improbable, that a fair number of people are very thin and get desperate because they too aspire to look attractive with well defined muscles and sexy curves.

Causes of underweight

There are a variety of reasons why some individuals are very thin and struggle to gain weight. The following are possible causes:

  • Very rapid metabolic turnover
  • Very high stress levels
  • Problems with absorption
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessive exercise
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Depression
  • Wasting illnesses
  • Inadequate dietary intake - eating too little per se
  • Unbalanced eating patterns - eating too much of only a few foods


Rapid metabolism

If you have been born with a very rapid metabolic turnover, then you need to increase your daily intake of healthy foods to compensate for the rate at which you burn energy. Make use of six or more smaller meals a day, increase your intake of carbohydrates to provide the energy you are burning, and if necessary take a carbo-booster formula.

Very high stress levels

If you are constantly exposed to very high stress levels and anxiety at work, or in the home, then you should try and address the underlying problem by consulting a clinical psychologist to help you cope and reduce the stress.

Other solutions are to use relaxing exercises, yoga, or standard exercise like going for long walks in the fresh air. Exercise is one of the best stress relievers and will also help you to sleep better, lift your mood, and generally make you relax.

Problems with absorption

There are a variety of clinical conditions which can cause poor absorption of food. Patients suffering from coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis or steatorrhoea (inability to absorb fats from the gastrointestinal tract), are often underweight and have difficulty gaining weight. Such patients need to be treated by a medical doctor who will prescribe the required medications, such as enzymes, to aid digestion. Because of the complexity of such absorption illnesses, it is always a good idea to consult a clinical dietician who will help you by working out a balanced diet which compensates for the absorption problems.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the conditions that can make gaining weight in children a problem. The reason is that such children are so physically active that they burn up energy at an alarming rate. It is essential to ensure that these children eat a balanced diet and plenty of it. ADHD kids need snacks between meals, especially in the late afternoon when they often go into a total dip because their blood sugar levels are at rock bottom.

Don’t tell such children that they will be having supper in an hour and should not spoil their appetites, give them a double wholewheat sandwich with peanut butter or cheese and jam with fresh or dried fruit and a glass of milk when they say they are hungry. You will find that they are much calmer afterwards and will still eat supper after all.

Don’t ever let such children skip meals, especially breakfast. The moment they go for long periods without replenishing their blood sugar levels, you will be sitting with a burst of hyperactivity and contrary behaviour.

Excessive exercise

Exercise is good for you, there’s no doubt about that, but some people tend to overdo how much and how often they exercise. They push themselves mercilessly until they reach a point of exhaustion and if they don’t make quite sure that they are putting back the energy they have used, they will struggle to gain weight.

If you are a compulsive exerciser then you need to slow down a bit. Take a day’s break in between bouts of exercise and start eating more healthy foods, including carbo-boosters to supply you with the energy you are burning so relentlessly.

This type of exercise might actually be a manifestation of anorexia, where the individual is actually trying to punish her/his body and force it to burn up every last gram of fat. Nothing in excess is good for you, not even exercise. The top athletes who do train every day, eat a very special diet which restores the energy they burn and does not leave them exhausted and emaciated due to a lack of kilojoules.

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Read more of her articles.


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