The best method of weight gain is to eat a healthy diet of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy products, olive oil, nuts and seeds. When increasing your caloric intake, you can expect to gain 1 to 2 pounds per week.
How Is Underweight Defined?
Having underweight can put you at risk of various health problems, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Body mass index (BMI) is a screening tool that provides a rough idea of whether a person's body fat is too high or too low.
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To see if your weight is below normal, go to an online BMI calculator and simply put in your height and weight. A BMI of less than 18.5 denotes underweight, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 denotes normal weight and a BMI of 25 to 29.9 denotes overweight.
Watch children for signs of having underweight, advocates the Cleveland Clinic. Notice how clothes fit your child. At bath-time or at the beach, see if his or her ribs stick out prominently.
If you or your child has underweight, a doctor can prescribe a weight-gain program. However, just like a weight-loss program, it should involve a healthy, balanced approach, advises the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Although less nutritious foods high in sugar and fat can lead to weight gain, they won't meet the body's nutritional needs. Something else to consider is that even if eating extra sugar, fat and salt results in weight gain, it can still harm your health.
Healthy Approach to Weight Gain
In an interview with LIVESTRONG.com, nutritionist and best-selling author Janet Brill, PhD, provides her strategy for healthy weight gain.
Underweight is often unrecognized as a nutritional problem. Unless it stems from an eating disorder, the best solution is for individuals to eat more calories than they burn. "Calories should come from a nutritious, balanced, energy-dense variety of foods," says Brill.
Read more: Home Remedies to Gain Weight in One Week
Gaining weight in a healthy way is harder than most people imagine because the goal is to gain mostly lean body mass in muscle rather than body fat. In addition to increasing calorie intake, this objective is accomplished by getting at least 60 minutes of exercise per day.
"When reasonably increasing caloric intake, you can expect a healthy rate of weight gain, which is 1 to 2 pounds per week," says Brill. "It takes an excess of about 2,000 to 2,500 calories per week to support the gain of a pound of lean muscle."
The best way to gain weight is to slowly increase your intake of healthy foods. Buying expensive supplements isn't necessary — it only requires a little forethought.
Most Americans don't get enough fiber, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. They're also deficient in the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. With this in mind, Brill recommends making a special effort to increase your consumption of higher-calorie healthy food sources of these vitamins and minerals.
Weight Gain Tips
Brill offers some tips to help get you on your way to gaining weight in a healthy manner:
- Eat larger portions of healthy foods. Examples include nut butters, which are a high-calorie source of protein and nutrients; fish varieties like tuna and salmon; nuts; low-fat dairy products, such as cottage cheese and yogurt; and lean cuts of turkey and chicken.
- Instead of drinking low-calorie beverages like diet soda, opt for no-sugar-added 100-percent fruit juices such as pomegranate and cranberry juice.
- Add liberal quantities of healthy fats like olive oil to your diet.
- Instead of eating a low-calorie refined-grain cereal, such as Kellogg's Special K, which contains 117 calories in 1 cup, eat a higher-calorie whole-grain cereal like Post Grape Nuts, which has 208 calories in a 1/2-cup serving.
- Include a few high-calorie snacks between meals. An excellent choice is a nutritious shake or smoothie made with real fruit and fat-free milk with added peanut butter, nonfat dry milk and ground flaxseed to increase calories and nutrients.
- Get in the habit of eating three meals per day, along with several high-calorie snacks.
How to Gain Muscle Mass
Athletes and people with underweight who are interested in increasing muscle mass often want to know how much gain to expect and how long it will take. "The answer depends on many factors: the resistance training program in which they participate, prior weight training experience, genetics, gender, motivation, diet and use of anabolic agents," notes Brill.
Brill's formula for a successful resistance training program to maximize muscle mass is:
- Engage in an intensive weight-training regimen designed to result in increased muscle mass.
- Work hard to overload the muscles, pursue progression in the gym and permit adequate recovery time.
- Adopt a healthy balanced diet that includes enough calories, carbohydrates and protein.
Causes of Thinness
Various factors may cause thinness, says the American Academy of Family Physicians. People who have jobs that involve heavy physical activity will burn more calories than those who are sedentary. Poor appetite or a loss of weight could also stem from diabetes, digestive problems, thyroid conditions and cancer.
Certain medications like chemotherapy can cause nausea and weight loss. Depression and stress can change eating habits, and an obsession with body image can lead to eating disorders.
Additional problems can result from thinness in older adults. These include dental issues, dementia, lack of mobility and failing vision.
Underweight Health Risks
According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, health risks of low body weight include heart irregularities, bone loss and nutritional deficiencies. Other effects are delayed wound healing and a higher risk of infections due to impaired immunity. Warning signs of low body weight are loose skin, lethargy, loss of muscle bulk and depression.
Thin people may get anemia due to inadequate intake of iron and folate. Low weight also causes dry skin and thinning hair. The American Academy of Family Physicians adds that thinness in women may lead to irregular periods, a lack of periods and infertility.
Another risk of having underweight involves challenges in recovery from surgery. In a case-controlled study published in Arthroplasty Today in March 2017, researchers explored how low weight affects recovery from knee repair surgery.
After comparing 27 people with underweight with 81 average-weight people, the scientific team in the Arthroplasty Today study found the former had a higher incidence of infections in the surgical site and a need for blood transfusions. The results indicate what problems can result from impaired immunity and wound healing associated with having low weight.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Assessing Your Weight"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Adult BMI Calculator"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Healthy Ways to Gain Weight If You're Underweight"
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: "Underweight Health Risks"
- Cleveland Clinic: "A Dietitian’s Best Advice If Your Child Is Underweight"
- Arthroplasty Today: "Surgical Site Infection and Transfusion Rates Are Higher in Underweight Total Knee Arthroplasty Patients"
- Dr. Janet Brill: "Nutrition & Fitness Expert | Writer | Speaker | Media Spokesperson | Nutrition Consultant | Educator"