Naturally lean people can be the way they are due to their genetics or their low food intake, which means they feel fuller faster, leading to less eating or a hormonal imbalance or a high metabolism that metabolizes the foods they ingested instantly thus increasing the overall requirement for calories and other nutrients. According to the BMI (body mass index) range, a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight. Although it is a growing minority, underweight people may be at risk for health problems such as nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, especially in women, weakened immune systems, and fertility problems in women, to name a few.
“Eat all you can” is common advice when trying to gain weight, especially for someone who has always been thin and lanky. You may gain weight, but it may not be the best indicator of your health. Body composition is a better tool for determining your health and fitness along with weight. It’s a measure of how much of your weight comes from lean mass, which includes muscle, bone, connective tissue, and water, and how much comes from fat. It is commonly observed that even though the weight and BMI are within the normal range, the composition of the fat is very high, which suggests that the levels of physical fitness are not appropriate and this makes the individual susceptible to various Metabolic diseases.
It may sound strange, but it is possible to lose weight without actually seeing a change in your weight. This happens when you lose body fat while gaining muscle. Your weight may stay the same or even increase, even as you lose inches, a sign that you are moving in the right direction. Similarly, while gaining weight, it is again possible that the individual is gaining weight with an increase in fat mass and not muscle mass, indicating that the weight gain is not happening in the correct way.
Here are some healthy ways to gain weight if you are underweight:
1. Eat more often: If you feel like you can’t eat more food at once, it would be wise to eat five to six smaller meals instead of three main meals.
2. Increase your calorie intake: Determine your daily caloric needs with your BMR and gradually increase the number of calories (see where you get them from).
3. Smart snack: Calorie-dense snacks like nuts, cheese, dried fruit, hummus, or guacamole with whole grain breads, peanut or almond butter with bread, smoothies, and shakes will help you get calories with other nutrients.
4. Pay attention to fat: Avoid saturated fats from butter, margarine, ghee, salad dressings like mayonnaise and thousand island dressing, and dairy and whole milk products. They are not good for your heart. Instead, use vegetable oils that contain good fats. You can drizzle additional olive oil on salads, soups, and breads (don’t overdo it).
5. Don’t go overboard with protein: Medical research shows that consuming more protein could actually harm your body. Eating more protein and increasing calorie intake will add to the fat mass in the body and cause stress on the other systems of the body. Therefore, eat protein in moderation (15% of your total daily caloric intake). Lean chicken and fish are your best options when it comes to animal protein.
6. Throw out the trash: Avoid sweet and processed foods. Your weight gain will be mainly fat gain, which will increase your risk of contracting the diseases that result from its consumption.
7. Remember to exercise: Exercise, especially weight training, helps build muscle and therefore gain weight. Exercise also helps stimulate your appetite.
No matter what the reason for gaining weight is, it is important to focus on the nutrient profile of calorie dense foods and not just the number of calories they contain. Eating more calories shouldn’t give one a license to binge on junk food that has only empty calories and no other nutrients. Eating more calories from the right foods along with a controlled exercise program will ensure that the weight you gain is the weight of muscle and not fat.
A qualified nutritionist plays an important role in formulating a good diet for weight gain. She could provide adequate nutrition for the development of the body with the appropriate percentage of macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats to maintain the desired body composition. If one does not have the means to visit a qualified sports and fitness nutritionist in and around your place, there are several nutrition companies offering online nutrition services for the same.