Our expert says:
Thanks for writing to us.
I’m sure you must be super frustrated at
struggling to gain weight. Starting a high calorie diet to gain weight can be
tough, especially when it seems the world is obsessed with losing weight and
low calorie diets. Being underweight is concerning as there are health risks
with being too thin, particularly if for long periods of time, such as a
weakened immune system, increased likelihood to fall ill, slower rates of
recovery from illness and nutritional deficiencies.
I do think it would be a great idea for you to see a
dietitian in your area to work out something really personal for you taking
into account all these factors needed for weight/muscle gain. This is
especially the case if you’ve tried hard in the past but gotten nowhere. A
dietitian is trained in medical nutrition therapy to assist you with your
goals. If you would like to consult with a dietitian, follow this link: http://www.adsa.org.za/Public/FindARegisteredDietitian.aspx
However, I can certainly help guide you on
how to make the right choices in your nutrition to encourage weight gain in a
healthy way. The good news is that there are loads of
small strategies and tricks you can try to help gain weight so I am so glad you
wrote to us today for guidance. Weight gain sounds simple for people who want
to lose weight but a person whose weight is low only knows the dilemma they
face. Your body needs extra calories in order to gain weight so that the extra
energy can be stored as body weight. Aim for a goal weight gain of no more than
500g per week. While this may seem slow, much like in weight loss, this is far
more sustainable and healthy for you.
Often the biggest challenge for trying to
gain weight is that you eat large volumes of food to try get in more calories. However,
this leaves you feeling super full and then not likely to eat much thereafter. Here
are some tips on how to add these extra calories to your current diet without
feeling overly full.
Eat small frequent meals.
Eating large volumes of food to get
in more energy is often not practical. Rather eat smaller amounts at one time
by having three main meals plus three "mini-meals" each day. Because
of this overall total energy improves. Also, you may find smaller meals easier
to manage instead of very large volumes.
Eat when it is time to eat, rather
than waiting until you feel hungry. You still need to eat even if you do not
Eat at set meal times. Fixed meal
times may help to establish a more regular diet and improve appetite and
intake. Try to keep consistent meal times on the weekend, too.
Have ready-to-eat snacks available to munch
on when you feel hungry. Keep bite-sized and easy to eat foods within arm’s
reach such as on your desk, in your handbag or in the grocery cupboard at home.
The following foods make great high calorie snacks which you can eat between
Fresh fruit (cut apples and pears
into wedges, make fruit kebabs or fruit salad)
Dried fruit (e.g. apples, pears,
Peanut butter (on bread or crackers,
or used to dip apple wedges) - try the salt- and sugar-free Black Cat yellow
Nuts (your choice of raw, unsalted
Milk and flavoured milk (e.g. Super
M, Sterie Stumpie, etc)
Yoghurt and drinking yogurt (e.g.
Yogi sip, etc) or Maas
Meal supplements e.g. Ensure, Nutren
Activ, Nutren Fibre, etc (found at Dischem). Add these to your diet, so use as
a meal supplement and not as a meal replacement. You can also mix protein
powder into milk, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, etc.
Smoothies. Blend frozen berries with
fresh fruit and have as a snack between meals. You can up the energy by adding
protein powders, peanut butter or nuts and/or seeds. I’ve attached to this
email a few smoothie recipes for you to try.
Use liquid calories to your benefit.
There are loads of calories in beverages we
consume and you can certainly use these to your advantage when trying to pick
up some weight.
Firstly, drink fluids between meals
and not with meals. Drinking fluids when eating a meal will fill you up quicker
and so you eat less food (energy). Wait about 30 minutes after eating to have a
Limit diet drinks, tea and coffee as
these low calorie beverages fill you up and displace higher calorie foods.
When you do drink beverages keep them
both energy and nutrient-rich. The best thing to drink on a healthy high
calorie diet is water, low fat milk and fruit juices.
Replace cool drinks, coffee and tea
with water, milk and fruit juices.
skim or fat free dairy, use 2% or low fat milk or yoghurt.
Water is good for general health and
milk and fruit juices are very high calorie drinks.
Fruit juices are healthy, like the
fruit from which they are derived, but contain many more calories than the
fruit itself. Include 1 glass of fresh fruit juice at some point in the day.
the right kinds of fats.
The secret to consuming enough calories is
to choose calorie dense foods. Calorie dense foods are foods which by volume
contain a high number of calories compared to another food of the same volume.
Think of two cups of food: one filled with a leafy salad and the other with
nuts. Each cup has the same volume of food but the cup of nuts has much more
calories than the cup of salad. It is then said that nuts are more
calorie-dense than the salad.
Fats are a concentrated source of energy
providing more than twice the energy per gram than the same amount of carbohydrates
or protein. Including fats in your diet is therefore an easy way to add extra
Healthy dietary habits are very
important when gaining weight and eating a lot of unhealthy junk foods that are
not nutritious can hinder your health in the long run.
Instead, consume healthy and good
fats such as avocado and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, sesame oil, flax
seed oil and oily fish (salmon, tuna, pilchards, sardines, mackerel), nuts
(almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia, pecans, peanuts, pistachios), peanut
butter, and seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds).
While high in energy, limit full
cream dairy such as full cream milk, yogurt and cheese. Rather add healthy fats
(such as those listed above) so that we do not encourage adverse health effects
such as cholesterol problems.
Get enough protein.
You need to supply your body
with the protein it needs or you won’t see very much weight gain. Protein is an
important nutrient for muscle building and to strengthen your immunity.
Sources of protein
include lean meat, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, dairy products, eggs and cheese.
Aim for protein with
every main meal (and even as a snack if possible).
Use milk or yoghurt with
cereals or smoothies.
Spread peanut butter
(also a healthy fat) on crackers, wholewheat bread or as a dip for fruit.
Include low fat dairy in
your diet such as yoghurt with breakfast, Yogisip as a snack, or a glass of hot
milk (with a teaspoon of honey, Milo or protein powder) before bed.
I know this one may sounds counterproductive
but even when trying to gain weight exercise is important.
Regular exercise is important to gain
body weight through muscle building.
Also, being active helps to improve
your appetite. When first starting a weight gain eating plan though, it may be
best to start exercise only when you feel comfortable with your weight gain.
For more information on exercising
for weight gain, pop a question on health24 to the fitness experts.
I hope this information helps in
addressing your concerns. As I mentioned in the beginning, the best advice is
to start slow and go slow. I wish you much success with your quest to get
healthy and gain weight.
Best wishes and I wish you everything of the best in keeping healthy and beating this cancer. Stay strong!
The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal
advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.