Often, when we talk about our health, we talk about losing weight. But sometimes it is necessary to gain weight. It may seem counterintuitive, but there are several scenarios where your doctor might ask you to gain weight, regardless of your age or gender.
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Besides the “why”, there is also the “how”. When you need to gain weight, you always want to use a healthy approach, not just add a bunch of high sugar and high fat foods to your diet. While it certainly adds weight, this approach isn’t necessarily the best for your body.
We spoke to pediatrician Ellen Rome, MD, and registered dietitian Devon Peart, MHSc, RD, about why your doctor might ask you to gain weight and how to do it safely for both children and adults. the adults.
Why your doctor might tell you to gain weight
Whether you are an adult or a child/adolescent, there are several reasons why your doctor may advise you to gain weight.
Below a healthy body weight
Peart says doctors will look for markers of healthy body weight and if, based on evidence, they decide you’re underweight, they may advise you to gain weight. “While body mass index (BMI) can have many downsides, it can help a doctor see if someone has a low weight that isn’t healthy,” she says. “The concern would be whether you are getting enough vitamins, minerals and energy (calories) for your body and immune system to function well.”
Fight the disease
Another reason, according to Dr. Rome, is that you are fighting an acute or chronic illness. It can be for an adult or a child. “It could be something like inflammatory bowel disease where the patient has lost a lot of weight,” she says. “Or it could be a cancer patient who needs to get stronger before starting treatment.”
Such a need may also be needed after major surgery, whether it’s dental surgery that interferes with your ability to eat or another operation that resulted in weight loss. “After something like this, when a person hasn’t been able to maintain a normal diet, they don’t have their usual body weight and they’ll have to gain it back,” notes Peart.
It’s also possible that various treatments affect appetite or even the taste of food, she adds. “Drugs can make food taste metallic so you don’t eat as much because it just doesn’t taste very good.”
Avoidant/restrictive eating disorder
While restrictive eating disorders like anorexia nervosa are among the reasons a person might need to gain weight, a newly recognized disorder known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a why children may need to gain weight, according to Dr. Rome.
“These children belong to a few different groups, and they may be in more than one group,” she continues.
These groups include:
- Children who have limited intake because they are picky eaters or simply have no interest in food.
- Children who perceive food as scary or dangerous. “For example,” says Dr. Rome, “if a child is choking or getting sick from a specific food, they may want to avoid that food.”
- Children who have other conditions that cause them to avoid foods, such as chronic abdominal pain, loss of smell and taste due to COVID-19, or loss of appetite due to other illnesses such as than infectious mononucleosis.
“We are learning more and more about how to help children who are diagnosed with ARFID,” she adds.
How to gain weight safely
When your goal is to gain weight, it’s important to do it in a healthy, nutritious way that doesn’t cause any harm to your body or your long-term health. And it’s not as difficult as you might think.
healthy fats for kids
Proteins, fats and carbs are the fuel your body needs, especially in children, and getting the balance right is important. The problem, says Dr. Rome, is how fat is sometimes treated. “You can tell a parent to reduce fat in their diet, but you can’t apply that to a child’s diet,” she says. “From the early teens to age 26, their fat intake should be around 50-90 grams of fat per day.”
Foods like avocados and hummus are great sources of these fats that can help kids gain weight safely. Using avocados to make guacamole is a great way to make it more appealing to kids. Dr. Rome says it’s also okay to indulge in ice cream occasionally — in moderation.
Choose high-calorie foods
It’s the same for adults. Peart says to focus on finding that balance by eating higher-calorie foods that still retain some nutritional value. “It’s not just about the calories. You might think eating lots of sweets would add calories, but that wouldn’t be healthy,” she says. “You also don’t want to fill up on low-calorie foods like popcorn.”
Instead, she also recommends avocado as a go-to snack. “It’s heart-healthy and contains healthy fats,” she points out. Other suggestions include:
- Nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter).
- Dried fruits.
“These foods help get more calories into your meals or snacks,” she notes. “Even if you eat a salad, you can add avocado and dried fruit and add those extra calories in a more nutrient-dense and healthier way.”
Various additional shakes are also suggested by Dr. Rome for children and Peart for adults. For kids, Dr. Rome recommends avoiding powders in favor of the premixed shakes you can buy off the shelf. “They pack a lot of calories into a container the size of a juice box and it’s perfect for a parent to prepare the night before and give a child in the morning for breakfast.”
Peart suggests protein shakes or even smoothies for some people with small appetites. “For some, drinking may be more palatable (or easier to consume) than solid foods, so that’s one way to get those calories,” she says. “And you can add ingredients like honey, fruit, and even dry oats.”
Eat regularly throughout the day
Peart says a problem for some adults who want to gain weight is that they struggle to eat large portions at each meal. “I would recommend eating smaller, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day, about every two to three hours,” she says. “If you have a smaller appetite or something else that’s keeping you from eating as much from a traditional three-meal structure, this may help.”
Whether it’s adding snacks to supplement meals or simply eating more, smaller meals throughout the day, it can help you eat enough to gain the weight you need without straining yourself. to eat when you’re not hungry.
Avoid drinks right before dinner
Avoiding drinking large amounts of liquids before a meal can help keep your stomach a little emptier if you feel full. “When you have something to drink before a meal, no matter what it is, it fills your stomach, so you may feel less hungry when you start eating,” says Peart. Instead, drink between meals, not just before.
How fast should you gain weight while staying safe?
Everyone is different and our bodies react to food in different ways. It is therefore always essential that any plan aimed at gaining weight is carried out under the supervision of a doctor or under the guidance of a registered dietitian. Everything about weight is a process that must be done correctly, healthily and safely.
“With most ambulatory children, you’re hoping for anywhere from half a pound to two pounds a week,” says Dr. Rome. But, she adds, this could differ depending on your child and their conditions. “Partner with your pediatrician, a registered dietitian versed in weight gain — not just weight loss — and a doctor who specializes in adolescent medicine,” she suggests. “They can help make this trip more manageable.
Peart says that by adding about 500 extra calories a day to your diet, most adults could see a gain of about a pound a week. The catch, however, is that some adults will gain weight more easily than others for a variety of reasons. “A dietitian can customize a plan for you,” she points out. “They can work with you and your likes, dislikes and appetite size, and find a way for you to gain weight in a healthy way.”