To gain body weight the number of calories consumed in the diet must exceed the number of calories the body needs to maintain its current weight. Medical problems such as depression, hypo- and achlorhydria, bulimia, or anorexia must be addressed and treatment underway before weight gain will occur.
The nutrition considerations of a healthful diet still apply when gaining weight is desired. The goal is to increase the number of calories in the diet while making healthful choices from a variety of foods. Focus on foods such as steak, chicken, fruit, milk, vegetables, granola, cheese and assorted types of nuts, avoiding foods which you know you do not tolerate well. Where serious underweight is a problem, weight gain can be best achieved by concentrating on foods with either a higher calorie or fat content. Ounce for ounce, fat has more than twice the calories of either carbohydrate or protein.
An increase of at least 500-1000 calories each day should be adequate for a 1-2 pound (0.5-1.0Kg) weight gain per week. It takes an extra 3500 calories to gain 1 pound (0.5Kg) of body weight.
Tips for Gaining Weight
- A basic vitamin and mineral supplement, providing 100% of the RDA may be necessary depending on current nutritional status.
- Plan for regular eating times, including three meals and several snacks throughout the day. The need to eat even when experiencing a lack of hunger can be overcome with encouragement from others.
- Stimulate a poor appetite by socializing and eating with friends; or by enjoying favorite foods, enticing aromas like freshly baked bread, soft dinner music, flowers on the table and relaxed, pleasant mealtime conversation.
- Eating larger amounts of foods at mealtimes will increase the calorie content of the meal. If larger meals are not tolerated, try increasing the serving sizes gradually or eating small amounts more often throughout the day.
- For those who drink alcoholic beverages, a drink before meals or wine with meals can increase the appetite. Remember that alcohol does carry "empty" calories - calories with no nutritional value. However, it is not wise to start drinking alcohol simply for this benefit.
- To increase calories, select higher calorie foods and beverages. Beware of filling up on low-calorie or no-calorie foods and beverages. Instead of diet sodas, water, coffee or tea; drink fruit juices, milk and milk shakes, if tolerated. Dried fruits and canned fruits packed in heavy syrup will supply more calories than fresh fruit and are no more filling. Protein powder can be added to some prepared foods to increase the calories and nutrients.
- A canned liquid supplement such as Ensure or Sustacal taken with meals or between meals is effective when there is a lack of interest in food and eating. Many stores carry their own effective brands at a lower cost. Liquid supplements are a convenient way to consume extra calories.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals
- Do not consume simple carbohydrates just before a meal, as this tends to decrease your appetite
- Fill up on food, not low-calorie beverages
- Make mealtime pleasant -- set an attractive table, play soothing music
- Get regular exercise -- check with physician first
- Get together with friends or neighbors to share cooking duties and delights
- Take advantage of community programs to provide ready-made meals
- Have nutritious snacks convenient
- Use substitutes to increase calories, try adding dry milk to fluid milk, soups, or mashed potatoes
- Plan mealtimes around energy levels -- eat a larger breakfast if you feel better in the morning