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How to gain weight

Advice for those who struggle with keeping weight on.

For a lot of us, putting on weight is as simple as looking longingly at a piece of chocolate cake. But there are many people who struggle to put on weight, and eating chocolate cake is not the solution. Gaining weight can be as difficult for some people as losing weight is for others. And those people are probably fed up with all the advice about not overdoing the kilojoules!

The theory of putting on weight is as straightforward as the theory of losing weight: you need to consume more energy in your food than your body is using through normal activity. In weight-loss, where you want to reduce energy intake and/or increase energy usage, there are healthy ways to go about it, and then there are the fad diets and the crash diets, which are not healthy. For weight-gain, when you are looking at increasing energy intake, there are also healthy ways to go about it; and unhealthy ways. Simply adding lots of fat to your diet, because it's very high in energy per gram, is not a healthy approach.

Just like everyone else, the basis of your daily diet should be the following:

  • at least six serves of breads and cereals
  • at least three serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit
  • at least two serves of milk or milk products
  • at least one serve of lean meat or chicken, fish, eggs, seafood or cooked dried beans, peas and lentils.

Overall you are going to need to eat a greater volume of food than you have been used to but you don't want to feel stuffed after a meal.

  • Serve larger portions. Don't stuff yourself, but you may find a slightly larger serving is fine.
  • Never skip meals.  Regular eating habits are essential.
  • Eat more frequently. Plan to have snacks in between meals and before bedtime.
  • Don't drink in the 30 minutes before meals so you leave more room for food.
  • Keep a food diary. Start with your current eating pattern and then use it to plan where you can make changes; track your progress in the diary.
  • Don't forget to include fluids in your diary, including water.
  • Make small changes. They all add up.

Unless you've been overdoing exercise you don't want to cut back on that. Exercise is good for maintaining or building muscle mass; it helps you to feel energetic; and it enhances your appetite. And don't be discouraged by slow progress; slow is good! Your goal should be a slow and consistent weight gain. As with weight loss, it will be easier to maintain your weight change if it happens slowly and your new habits become ingrained.

  • Add healthy fats to your salads: olive or canola oil; olives; avocado; nuts; and seeds.
  • Choose a milky coffee rather than a black coffee. Even with low-fat milk (to limit saturated fats), the milk adds energy as well as essential calcium and B vitamins.
  • Substitute some of your kilojoule-free water drinks with fruit juice, milk or shakes.
  • Prepare a snack mixture of dried fruit, nuts and seeds: it's high in energy; is nutrient rich with good fats; and most people love it.
  • Don't be tempted to eat 'junk food'; instead, increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods like starchy vegetables and dense whole grain breads and cereals.

This advice is for healthy people wanting to gain weight.  People who have lost weight suddenly and do not know the cause, or people with eating disorders, need to seek personal professional advice.

First published: Jun 2006



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