How to gain and maintain weight for those that struggle
Times of high stress may increase emotional or mindless eating for some, but can suppress the appetite of others. There are people who forget to eat due to busy-ness. Many women lose weight and muscle mass unintentionally after pregnancy at a much more rapid rate than they gained; others have active jobs with high energy demands and some people have naturally been very slim all their lives and have not been able to put on weight for love nor money.
It is hard for those who look at a cake and gain five kilos to be sympathetic of the above scenarios, but they can be as emotionally difficult to deal with. Off hand comments about needing to eat a pie or “put some meat on your bones” can be as upsetting as remarks around needing to lose weight, and of course most lean people with good health behaviours (diet and lifestyle) are very healthy. However, there are health risks associated with being too lean, particularly if nutrient needs aren’t being met. More body fat (to a point) can be a buffer for metabolic health — the ability to stores fat and glucose under the skin (subcutaneously) provides a reservoir for these metabolites which means they aren’t lingering around the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on the arteries and cells and beginning the cascade to poor metabolic health. If you don’t carry much subcutaneous fat it can place you at greater metabolic risk. Having more muscleis also more protective for bones (particularly as we age) and if weight loss has been too rapid, the immune system can take a hit, leaving someone far less resilient against infections or illnesses.
Not being able to gain weight can be frustrating forsomeone with the intention to do so. Everyone hassubconscious habits that affect the calories they endup eating in a day — we are only aware of around onequarterof the estimated 250 food decisions we make. Therefore, it isn’t as easy for some to consciously eat more to gain weight. This is true of both people who arenaturally slim, or those that have heavy work demandswho may be struggling to maintain their muscle mass.
How to healthfully gain weight
Unsurprisingly, the key term here is “healthfully". Though you can certainly gain body fat by visiting a fast food restaurant every evening, it goes without saying that for most, this isn’t a good move. Laying down more muscle requires more than calories, it needs nutrients to support processes in the body that ensures it stays there. Energy dense, nutrient-void food may help gain fat, but can also lead to swinging blood sugars, high blood pressure, sleep problems, body fat gain around the organs (known as visceral fat gain, where it’s related to most health risk) and mood problems. It’s a better strategy to include more energy dense AND nutrient dense food — those foods that have a lot of calories and nutrients per gram of weight.
1. Switch from low fat to full fat dairy — regardless of body weight, studies have found this is healthier for most people in terms of overall health risk
2. Get rid of all “light” products across the board, they are typically devoid of many nutrients you want to be consuming to support energy metabolism.
3. Add liquid calories to your diet — fresh vegetable juice that has a fruit base, coconut water or kombucha are three options that contain sugar but won’t take additional stomach space. Milk and smoothies are other options, but these might fill you up and affect meal size later, which is an important consideration for those who don’t have a good appetite. It’s probably best to drink these outside meal times, as it can fill you up quicker than you would be otherwise. Be mindful of your teeth though, and rinse with water after consuming them.
4. Add nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter, dates, or coconut to your morning smoothie or rolled oats. Use milk, cream or coconut cream rather than water in your preparation or just before serving.
Recipe collection: smoothies
5. Eat snacks in between meals. Bliss balls, homemade fruit loaf, nuts, coconut, full fat yoghurt, peanut butter, seeds and nut-based mueslis are all higher in calories and you don’t need a lot for the calories to accumulate.
Recipe collection: bliss balls and bites
6. Add cooking fat to vegetables when you’re roasting, stir-frying or baking them.
7. Drizzle olive or avocado oil over steamed or blanched vegetables just before serving them.
8. Add nuts, seeds, cheese, avocado, olive oil-based dressing and fruit to salads
9. If you’re someone who enjoys plenty of vegetables (ie more than 7-8 serves per day), reduce these down to make more room for starchy carbohydrate (suchas kumara or potato), protein (such as meat or eggs) and fat (such as avocado or nuts) on the plate.
10. Eat whipped cream and berries for dessert.
11. Consume dairy products before bed. They contain the protein casein and research shows that our ability to synthesise muscle (muscle protein synthesis) is enhanced when we do this, with little change in fat deposition. A turmeric latte, warm milk drink or a whey and casein based protein shake can all help.
12. Probably the most important point for people who struggle to gain weight is resistance training. It is an absolute requirement for muscle gain (and very good for keeping bones strong). Those wanting to maximise gains will do well eating a protein and carbohydrate rich snack (boiled eggs, cheese, biersticks, protein shake, kumara chunks, fruit and nutbutter) in the hour before training. Eating a meal with protein in the two hours post-training is also important. If you’re already resistance training but haven’t seen any changes in body composition, focusing on pre and post eating swill likely help.