The Skinny on How to Gain Weight

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how to gain weight
Author Name: Lucas Cook
Date: Monday March 11, 2024

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You might hesitate to ask how to gain weight. When you mention your struggles, you more often meet an “I wish I had that problem” rather than any concrete advice on how to solve it.

Being underweight can result from multiple factors, including genetics, treated and untreated health conditions and financial hardship. While your choices play a crucial role, multiple other stressors impact what and how much you eat. 

However, getting too thin can have serious health risks. Here’s the skinny on how to gain weight and 12 tips for reaching your goal. 

Reasons Why It Is Hard to Gain Weight

Some people gain weight more readily than others. There’s often more than one underlying reason, including those that lie within your control. Some common lifestyle factors that may impact your ability to gain weight include: 

  • Working a job that requires regular physical exertion 
  • Having too busy of a schedule causing you to skip meals
  • Over-exercising 
  • Financial hardship 

For example, it’s normal to drop a few pounds if you’re training for a marathon. However, you can still develop health problems if you let your weight fall below normal. 

People in the U.S. often associate financial hardship with obesity, not being underweight. Why?

The issue is cost. Inexpensive, ultra-processed food is high in calories while offering little nutritional value. Eating it may leave you unsatisfied and craving more — so you consume whatever you can afford. Additionally, people experiencing long-term poverty are more likely to live in food deserts or areas where fresh, nutritious foods simply aren’t readily available. 

Therefore, people experiencing temporary financial hardship may become underweight. If the situation persists, however, it may influence their weight in other ways. The “poverty diet” entails serious health risks and isn’t recommended for gaining weight.

What Is a Normal Weight? 

In the U.S., the CDC uses the body mass index to determine normal weights. They consider normal weight to fall between 18.5 and 24.9. However, this formula only involves weight and height. It doesn’t consider other factors like fitness level or age. Some bodybuilders may have a slightly higher BMI and still be in shape, and the National Institutes of Health recently suggested a BMI of 25 to 27 may be healthier for older adults. 

Health Reasons Why It’s Hard to Gain Weight 

You might not be able to attribute your inability to gain weight to your lifestyle. Several health conditions also play roles, including the following:

  • Hyperthyroidism: This tiny gland influences metabolism, and weight gain becomes hard when it gets overactive. 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s may struggle to gain weight as they have frequent diarrhea and limit certain foods to avoid flares. 
  • Celiac disease: This intolerance to wheat gluten makes getting adequate calories hard, especially in food deserts. 
  • Diabetes: Although doctors associate the Type 2 form of the disease with obesity, the Type 1 form can cause weight loss. 
  • Cancer: Although you should avoid jumping to conclusions, the inability to gain weight can be an early cancer sign. 

Additionally, certain medications can make it harder to gain weight. These include HIV medicines, certain antipsychotics, antidepressants, corticosteroids, anti-seizure drugs and beta blockers. 

Is Being Underweight Unhealthy? 

Despite the perception that thinner is better when it comes to health, being underweight carries serious risks. While people who are overweight are more prone to increased inflammation and chronic disease, having too little weight increases your risk of kidney disease. It also ups your risk of heart trouble and can cause difficulty in pregnancy. 

When to See Your Doctor 

If you know the reasons that it’s hard to gain weight, you can correct them independently. However, you should seek help for any sudden, severe weight loss of more than ten pounds over six to 12 months without knowing the reason. Additionally, you might seek support if you experience psychological distress from your inability to gain weight. 

How to Gain Weight: 12 Tips That May Help 

If you understand the reason for your loss or simply want to pack on some pounds, these 12 tips on how to gain weight can help. 

1. Aim for an Extra 500 Calories Per Day 

According to the calories-in, calories-out theory of weight gain and loss, it takes 3,500 additional calories to pack on one pound. Adding 500 calories per day equates to a slow and manageable one-pound-per-week gain. 

Begin by calculating your average intake by writing down everything you eat per day for one week. Use that as your baseline for adding 500 additional nutritious calories. 

2. Eat Several Smaller Meals 

Some people wonder how to gain weight because they eat slowly or have swallowing difficulties. For example, people with acid reflux or certain neurological diseases may experience a choking sensation from eating too quickly. Instead of trying to inhale one huge meal in a single sitting, break it up into several smaller ones throughout the day. 

3. Sprinkle Snacks Everywhere 

Most of us don’t live in our kitchens. Ensure you have healthy snacks on hand you can grab anywhere — stash them in your purse, backpack or briefcase, your drawer or cubby at work and your car. Keeping nutritious, high-calorie snacks in your vehicle doubles as a valuable prep if you break down on a long road trip. 

4. Choose Healthy, High-Calorie Foods

While it’s tempting to choose whatever’s the most fattening and also most convenient, please keep your health in mind. Overindulging in foods high in sugar and bleached flour increases your Type 2 diabetes risk. Instead, strive for healthy, high-calorie protein and fats, such as nuts, cheese, nut butters and protein bars. Dried fruit has more calories than fresh, and you can eat quite a bit of brown rice or whole-grain pasta before getting full. 

5. Balance Protein, Carbs and Fat 

Please don’t limit any one food group. Instead, strive for a healthy balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. While fat has the most calories per gram, you need carbohydrates for energy. Now is not the time to strive for ketosis.  

6. Add Meal Replacement Drinks to Your Diet 

High-quality meal replacement drinks can be a godsend for those wondering how to gain weight. Huel is a popular one among the vegan crowd, and you’ll find plenty more on store shelves, from Ensure to Muscle Milk. These also offer supplemental nutrition and may be your best bet if your inability to pack on the pounds stems from your busy lifestyle — you can drink them on the go. 

7. Relax Before You Eat

Some folks have such severe anxiety before mealtime that each one becomes a battle. Such situations can occur if you previously had an eating disorder or difficulties swallowing that caused past embarrassing situations. Try calming your nervous and digestive systems with a few minutes of deep breathing, perhaps even some gentle yoga, before you eat. 

8. But Pass on the Pre-Meal Beverage

However, skip the aperitif — and even the complimentary glass of water. Drinking fills your stomach, making you feel full before you dig into the main course. 

9. Skip the Soup Course

Furthermore, eat strategically. Consume the highest-calorie fat and proteins on your dish first before digging into the fiber-rich carbs. 

10. Get Plenty of Rest

Sleep affects your digestive and nervous system in ways not yet fully understood. However, getting your Zzzs improves appetite and digestion. 

11. Quit Smoking

Smokers tend to weigh less. Furthermore, you increase your cancer risk. Have a healthy snack instead. 

12. Try an Optical Illusion

Do you know how they tell folks who want to lose weight to use a smaller plate? Your job is to reverse the trend. Choose the largest plate you can find. It can hold more, and you can plate your food to make the portion size look less intimidating. 

Tips for How to Gain Weight 

While people may joke about your situation, there’s nothing funny about not knowing how to gain weight. Remaining underweight carries health risks. 

Follow these tips for how to gain weight and reach a normal BMI. Seek the support you need if necessary and make the primary focus your health. 

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