Is there a healthy way to gain weight?

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Yes there is a healthy way to gain weight. Put away your dreams of milkshakes, fries, and candy! The best way to gain weight is to eat larger meals and higher calorie snacks full of nutrient dense foods that build health. Add high calorie fats like natural nut butters, raw nuts and seeds, olive oil, olives, and avocado whenever possible. Add nut butters to shakes and put it on crackers. Eat more complex carbohydrates like whole grains, whole wheat breads, bagels, brown rice and more noodle and pasta dishes. Energy bars make good snacks too. Try to eat six times a day using high calorie snacks in between meals.

Rachel Begun
Nutrition & Dietetics
While most people are trying to lose or maintain their current weight, about 2% of the population is struggling to gain weight. It's important to keep a few key things in mind:
  1. Gaining weight is not a license to gorge on empty calorie foods. To gain weight healthfully (maintaining muscle and bone mass and not adding unwanted fat), similar principles apply as to losing weight:
    --Do it gradually. 1 lb. = 3,500 calories, so aim for adding 500 calories per day. If you are eating 5 small meals/day, that means adding 100 calories per snack/meal. This is pretty easy to do using nutrient-dense ingredients.
    --Do it healthfully (focusing on nutrient dense foods to add more calories to your diet)
  2. Forget the gimmicks and supplements. Instead, focus on gradual weight gain with wholesome, nutrient-dense foods
  3. Maintain a regular exercise regimen. The health benefits of exercise are so important and will ensure you are maintaining muscle and bone mass. 
  4. Focus on high calorie, nutrient dense foods to add calories to your snacks and meals. Emphasize healthy plant-based proteins and fats and moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products.
  • Sprinkle nuts, seeds, dried fruits and all-natural granola onto breakfast cereals and into soups, salads and smoothies
  • Cook hot cereals with milk instead of water
  • Drink low-fat milk and/or yogurt and fruit smoothies with your meals
  • Spread nut butters, hummus or bean spreads onto your breads instead of butter or jam
  • Add slices of avocado to your sandwiches and salads
  • Properly refuel after a workout with a snack high in protein and containing moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates
  • For people who may be recovering from an illness or can’t consume solid foods, consume nutrient dense drinks and soft foods, such as: smoothies made with milk, yogurt and peanut butter; eggs; puddings
Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics

Yes. There is a healthy way to gain weight. It requires 3500 extra calories to gain one pound. To keep it healthy, you don't want to eat 3500 calories of ice cream, chips and cookies. Here are some tips to pack more calories into you day in a healthy way:

  • Snack on nuts in between meals and add them to salads, smoothies and pasta dishes.
  • Incorporate healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and nuts regularly. Drizzle a little olive oil on veggies or add avocado to your omelet. Blend peanut butter into smoothies.
  • Add a liquid supplement several times a day.
  • Add dry milk to mashed potatoes, smoothies and other foods to boost the calories.

Be consistent. To achieve your weight gain goals you must increase your calorie intake consistently.

Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics
It's always important to eat healthy, whether you want to lose weight or gain weight. To gain weight, you have to eat more calories than you burn. Choose healthy foods with extra calories, such as adding a slice of avocado to a sandwich, nuts for snacks, or stir-fry meals with olive oil. One tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories. An extra 100 calories a day will help you gain ten pounds in a year. It doesn't take too much effort to gain weight.
For some people who are too thin, healthy weight gain can be just as hard as weight loss. You need to eat more calories than you burn, but do this in a healthful way. Here are a few tips to get you started.
  • Eat more frequently. If your appetite is small, try 5 to 6 small meals a day. This will also allow you to eat more foods from all the food groups.
  • Choose some foods with concentrated calories such as dried fruits, nuts, peanut butter and cheese.
  • Drink fluids 30 minutes before and after meals - not with meals. By limiting beverages at mealtime you'll have more room for food.
  • Consult with a registered dietitian for a personalized eating plan for healthy weight gain.
Many individuals think that if they are not overweight, or if they are trying to gain weight, they can eat whatever they want to. However, we need to move some of that focus we’ve been putting on the scale towards thinking about what is going on inside our bodies. If you are trying to gain weight, you will need to eat more calories each day than you are burning (at least 500 more). However, obtaining these calories from processed and high fat foods can raise cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Aim for extra lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Additionally, make sure you are moderately physically active and perform strength training exercise in order to decrease weight gain from fat mass, and increase your amount of fat-free mass.    

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.