This is the second installment of an ongoing monthly column called “Ask the dietitian,” by Halifax-based expert Diana Chard. If you have a question you’d like answered, email it to us or and share it in the comments section below.
Q. I need to gain weight, what should I eat?
A. As a dietitian, I’m usually asked, “how do I lose weight? Fast. In a hurry.” But for some people the struggle is how to gain weight, and how to do it in a healthy and controlled way.
You may wonder why someone would need to gain weight. Sometimes, it’s as simple as forgetting to eat (which amazes me as my personal mantra is: “Is it snack/lunch/suppertime yet?”). Other times, people are extremely active or recovering from being ill.
Despite the celebrities you may have read about who gorged on doughnuts, burgers, and milkshakes to pack on pounds for a film role, the best way to maintain good health while gaining weight is to incorporate a variety of nutritious foods in your diet.
To some extent, you can take a lot of the advice you hear about losing weight and reverse it in order to gain weight. For example, you can try drinking your calories. Smoothies can be a great way to pack in lots of nutrients, and they can either be high- or low-calorie depending on the ingredients you use. Use full-fat yoghurt or canned coconut milk to boost the calories and try adding peanut butter, hemp hearts, avocado, nuts or seeds to add nutrition as well.
Try some of these other options to gain weight without gorging:
Increase your portion sizes. Some people may be able to trick themselves into eating more by using larger plates and bowls. However, if you find large servings daunting, you might want to try eating a number of smaller meals throughout the day. You may also try avoiding beverages just before, or with, meals. Just as many toddlers can lose interest in their meals when they’re full of milk or juice, the same thing can happen to grown-ups.
Snack sensibly. Choose snacks that are both high in calories and nutrients. Nuts and some snack bars can be good choices. Meal replacement bars can provide a large number of calories in a small amount of food. Just be sure to check the ingredients, as many of these foods are candy bars in disguise. Try to choose ones that are lower in sugar and higher in fibre and protein. Other snack ideas include: homemade fruit or vegetable muffins, wraps, peanut butter and crackers, cheese and crackers, trail mix, and full fat greek yoghurt with fruit and/or granola.
Allow for splurges. Permit yourself to have dessert. Have a full-fat latte. Get whipped cream on your hot chocolate. As long as the majority of your foods are providing you with essential nutrients, it’s okay to have some treats from time to time. For many people who are underweight, calories should be considered essential nutrients.
Keep exercising. It may seem counter-intuitive, since most of us sweating it out at the gym are there to lose weight, not gain it! The thing is, most of us tend to overcompensate for the calories we’ve burnt while working out. Exercise can help work up an appetite. Strength training exercises can also help to gain, or at least maintain, lean muscle mass so that weight is gained in a healthy manner. A visit with a personal trainer can help you determine the best exercise program for your weight goals.
Eat your greens. Make sure all your meals include plenty of vegetables. Even though they are not particularly calorie dense, they provide essential nutrients for your overall health. Add butter, oil or cheese to cooked vegetables to add calories.
Don’t be discouraged. Despite the claims many people make that they can just look at a cookie and gain weight, it takes time to move your weight in either direction. Be patient and continue to lead a healthy lifestyle and you will start to see a change in your body.