While being underweight may seem like a good problem to have, it may increase the risk of health issues like weaker bones, anemia and hair loss, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Here are some ways to boost your appetite naturally to help you gain weight in a healthy way.
To gain weight when you are struggling with unwanted weight loss or hoping to build muscle, you can naturally increase your appetite and calorie intake by scheduling your daily meals and snacks, consuming more calorie-dense foods and changing the foods you eat.
Calculate Your Calories
A healthy body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 to 24.9, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. If your BMI hovers below 18.5, you are considered underweight and may want to begin a weight gain plan.
To start, calculate how many calories you'll need to eat each day to gain weight. A female in her late 20s or 30s should eat around 1,800 calories a day if she lives a sedentary lifestyle, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
A woman who's moderately active, meanwhile, should eat closer to 2,200 in order to maintain a healthy weight. It's recommended that men in their 20s and 30s who are active eat up to 3,000 calories a day.
In order to gain weight, you'll need to consume more calories than you burn. It's also safer to gain weight slowly over time than it is to attempt to eat more than you can handle. You should aim to gain one-half to 2 pounds per week, generally by eating about 250 to 500 more calories a day than you're used to, according to the Shepherd Center.
Make a Schedule
Underweight people and those with high metabolisms may struggle to eat full meals every day, or often end up skipping meals because they're not hungry. The more you eat, the more your appetite will build, so you start craving those meals rather than forgetting them.
Let's begin with breakfast. An August 2016 study published in the journal the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found that people who skipped breakfast tended to eat less during the day. Sticking to a daily wholesome breakfast will jump-start your appetite for the day.
After breakfast, make sure you schedule a mid-morning snack like a banana with almond butter. Then eat a full lunch (perhaps choose the sandwich rather than the salad), munch on more snacks in the afternoon and eat a large dinner.
Eat Calorie-Dense, Healthy Foods
Gaining weight doesn't necessarily mean you should be eating fast food every day or pairing ice cream and donuts with each meal. It's important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet when you're increasing your calorie intake, because the goal is to gain some fat and muscle, not clog your arteries.
High-protein foods like whole milk or yogurt, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, nuts and beans should be a staple of your diet. And in the case of weight gain, carbohydrates are your friend. Just choose the right ones — like whole-wheat breads and pastas, sweet potatoes, brown rice and bananas.
With that in mind, don't shy away from heavy, rich dishes like macaroni and cheese, lasagna or creamy meatballs, as these types of dense foods will help you keep weight on. And if you're vegan, aim for high-calorie vegan foods like avocados, tofu, hummus and coconut milk.
Besides eating calorie-dense, healthy foods, additional steps you can take include:
Making room for snacks: In order to keep up with your metabolism, you'll need to eat small meals every few hours. Choose energy-dense snacks like nuts, toast with almond butter, oatmeal cookies or hard-boiled eggs to keep you energized and keep your metabolism working throughout the day.
Changing up your foods: If weight gain is difficult because you simply don't have a strong appetite naturally, perhaps it's time to shake things up a bit. Experiment and branch out to try new types of cuisines that may stimulate your cravings more than your usual meals.
If you eat a lot of bland foods, get some recipes for spicy Chinese noodles with chicken or try the Indian restaurant you've been meaning to check out. When eating and cooking becomes an adventure, you may be more likely to see your appetite grow.
Getting more exercise: While this may seem counterintuitive, try exercising more frequently to increase your appetite. There's nothing like working up an appetite on a long hike or a swim, when your body has simply burned so many calories that you have no choice but to crave food to regain your energy.
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Healthy Ways to Gain Weight if You're Underweight"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Calculate Your Body Mass Index"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Shepherd Center: "Tips for Poor Appetite and Healthful Weight Gain"
- Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: "The Effect of Breakfast on Appetite Regulation, Energy Balance and Exercise Performance"