It may seem odd that I'm writing a column on how to gain weight when so many people are trying to do the opposite.
But for some individuals, trying to gain extra pounds – and keep them on – can be a real challenge.
Reasons for wanting to gain weight include building muscle, feeling healthier and looking better. Some people lose their appetite or experience a change in metabolism due to stress, illness or depression.
Body mass index (BMI) is one gauge to know if you're underweight. Your weigh is considered normal, or healthy, if your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything under 18.5 is considered underweight.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight (in kilograms) by his height (in metres squared). You can also use an online BMI calculator to determine your number.
Just as there are health problems associated with carrying too much weight, being underweight has its own risks. Those who are underweight may have weaker immune systems and get sicker more often during cold and flu season. Being underweight can also increase the risk of osteoporosis, fertility problems and nutrient deficiencies.
Not everyone who wants to gain weight is underweight. Many males who strength train want a food plan to increase muscle weight. Others want to gain weight to feel more energetic. And some people simply want to overcome looking what they feel is "too skinny".
Theoretically, you need to eat an extra 500 calories a day in order to gain one pound a week. Some people, however, have difficulty gaining weight and need to consume more.
To gain weight healthfully, choose foods that are calorie – and nutrient-dense rather than opting for high-calorie foods packed with sugar and saturated (animal) fat.
If your goal is to put on a few pounds, use the following tips to gain weight gradually while adding nutritious foods to your daily diet.
Eat six times a day
Eating three meals plus three snacks is often the easiest ways to add extra calories into the day.
Each meal should include a source of protein such as lean meat, poultry, fish, egg whites, legumes, tofu and dairy products. Protein is needed for bone health, a strong immune system and to help recover from illness.
Carbohydrates are also essential to any weight gain plan. Too often I see clients bulking up on protein, at the expense of carbohydrates in an attempt to build muscle, and not getting results. Without enough carbohydrate calories, the body uses some protein for energy purposes rather than directing it to muscle development.
Healthy carbs such as whole-grain cereals and breads, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, sweet potato and fruit should be included in all meals and snacks. Be generous with portion sizes to increase calories.
Eating a bedtime snack can also help promote weight gain. Healthy choices include smoothies, toast and nut butter, crackers and part-skim cheese, and whole-grain cereal with milk or soy beverage.
Add healthy fats
Fat is a concentrated source of calories providing roughly 120 calories a tablespoon. Adding heart-healthy unsaturated fats to meals is an easy way to sneak in calories without adding bulk, which can make you feel too full.
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over vegetables, potatoes and pasta. Add avocado to sandwiches and salads. Spread toast with peanut or almond butter. Blend a tablespoon of flax oil into a smoothie.
Include nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are calorie- and nutrient-dense, making them a great way to get substantial calories for a relatively small portion size. One half-cup of nuts, for example, delivers roughly 400 to 500 calories.
Snack on raw or dry roasted nuts with dried fruit. Add ground almonds to smoothies. Stir chopped nuts into Greek yogurt and top with honey. Toss cashews or slivered almonds into stir-fries.
Make liquid calories count
Drinking 100-per-cent fruit juice with meals and/or snacks adds calories and nutrients. Pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and purple grape juice are also good sources of antioxidants.
If your appetite is poor, drink liquids before or after meals to make room for other nutrient-rich foods.
Choose higher calorie foods
Include foods at meals that offer more calories per serving. For example, dense cereals such as granola and muesli tend to have more calories than flaked or puffed cereals.
Choose soups with barley, beans and lentils as they offer more calories – and fibre – than most brothy soups like chicken noodle and vegetable.
Make sandwiches with higher calorie breads such as whole-grain rye and those made from sprouted grains.
Peas, corn, carrots, winter squash and beets offer more calories per serving than many other vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and zucchini.
Be consistent on the weekend
Many people find it relatively easy to follow a regular meal and snack schedule on weekdays. But because weekends tend to be less structured than weekdays, it's not uncommon to miss meals and snacks.
To keep your calorie intake up – and prevent losing a pound or two over the weekend – stick to your meal and snack schedule as much as possible.
Even though exercise burns calories, it's important to include strength training and cardiovascular exercises in your weekly routine to build and maintain muscle strength and keep your bones strong.