Gaining weight the healthy way

BY: Anita Bannerman
Instead of junk foods, go in for a balanced variety of nutrient-rich foods

There’s now a lot of attention on being overweight or obese – and this is a good thing. It’s a serious health concern which increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, among other health conditions.

Many individuals are therefore on a mission to lose weight – from using “trendy” diets to a professional diet plan or “magic” weight-loss food products to exercising in your most suitable way.

With this possibly being an unending “battle” for some of such persons, being too thin may seem like a good problem to actually have.

And many can’t imagine that there are people who really would like to gain weight. However, being underweight can lead to just as many and serious health problems as weighing too much.

This doesn’t allow the permission to go crazy on junk foods though. Healthy weight gain, just like any professional weight loss programme, requires a balanced approach.

Putting on a few kilos can, therefore, be a real challenge, especially if it’s to be done healthily – but this is the best way and totally possible. This article is all about how to gain weight healthily.

Firstly, let’s note that the storage of energy as fat in the body is, in fact, good. It’s one of the many ways the body uses ingested food to function, heal and grow.

However, we know that too much of everything isn’t good. This can be applied here, as with excessive weight gain.
Primarily, to gain weight, more calories must be consumed than what is burned off by the body.

Knowing your Basal Metabolic Rate, or simply the number of calories your body burns daily while at rest, aids in determining how much you would now need to consume for weight gain.

Let’s now define what underweight really is. Generally determined by using the Body Mass Index (BMI) formula, which considers your weight and height to calculate a score, underweight is defined as having a BMI of below 18.5.

However, other factors must also be considered such as lean body mass, body fat, and bone structure.

A dietician will also determine if you’re underweight based on what you eat and your activity level – maybe you’re eating lesser calories than required, exercising too much or have a very active lifestyle.

Being underweight can be as a result of genetics, as a person’s physique largely depends on genetic factors. And so for naturally thin people, this causes them to have a naturally speedy metabolism or faster satiety cues, thereby making it difficult for them to gain weight.

Medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer could also lead to weight loss.
Feeling stressed, depressed or constantly worrying can negatively interfere with eating patterns and appetite, causing weight loss too.

Weighing too little can bring about several health consequences including developmental and growth delays, as well as learning problems in children, compromised fertility (especially in women), weakened immune system, osteoporosis, anaemia, slow wound healing and a high risk for further malnutrition.

Here are 14 helpful tips for your weight gain journey the healthy way:

Mentally prepare yourself
It’s said that effective weight loss starts when the mind is ready to conquer the challenge. This is also true when trying to gain weight. Be prepared to eat even when not hungry.

Accept that an increase in food intake could cause bloating. Also, psych yourself that gaining lean body weight will be a slow process that takes months and years rather than just a few days.

So please don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results – be patient.    

Set attainable goals
The rate of weight gain of any individual depends on their health goals and current health status. A dietician can help in establishing a reasonable goal weight.

Aim to put on weight gradually and consistently, which is more successful and safer than quick gains.

Gaining 0.5-1kg per week, whilst consuming up to 500 extra calories daily, can be a reasonable target.

Create an eating plan
Meal planning is vital in healthy weight gain, just as in healthy weight loss. A dietician will help you plan your meals in a way that best suits you.

This will include what and when to eat. The best eating plan is one that you can stick to long-term to reap its benefits.

Don’t go overboard with junk food
Quality comes before quantity in any diet plan. Hence, what really counts in gaining weight is the quality of foods you consume.

French fries, biscuits, spring rolls, toffees and cakes are full of calories, but they also contain lots of bad fats, salt or sugar, which aren’t great to your body.

Overdoing it on these and other junk foods may therefore result in weight gain. However, you won’t be supplying your body with the right nutrition, particularly for muscle growth and maintenance, and health conditions could arise in the long-term.

Go for nutrient-dense foods
Instead of junk foods, go in for a balanced variety of nutrient-rich foods from the different food groups.

To do this, you need to focus on and moderately increase your daily food intake of complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grain, tubers, fruits and vegetables), lean protein and good fats/oils.

The writer is a registered dietician and a member of the Ghana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
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