Muhammad Syafiq Adnan / EyeEmGetty Images
With much talk of New Year being a time to lose weight, you may be feeling a little confused if your goal is to gain weight – and do it healthily. Gaining weight can be a difficult experience in terms of both physical and mental health, particularly if you’re aiming to increase your BMI following a traumatic experience or eating disorder.
“Many individuals struggle with gaining weight because culturally there is so much emphasis on ‘thinness’ as the ideal that we should all be working towards,” Uxshely Carcamo, owner of The Food Psychology Clinic told Cosmopolitan. But you absolutely can gain weight in a healthy way with the right guidance. We spoke to the experts to find out what you should be focused on.
Could being underweight affect my health?
Weight naturally fluctuates, but being vastly underweight as an adult can have serious health consequences. Weight is generally measured as being healthy via your BMI, but if you suspect that you’re underweight you should book an appointment with your GP to discuss further.
“Being underweight from eating less than your body needs can lead to reduced fertility and irregular or missed periods,” Dr Sally Norton, an NHS weight consultant surgeon tells Cosmopolitan. “It can lead to weakness, shortness of breath, poor sleep, a lowered immune system or weak bones. And it can contribute to poor mental health, low concentration and more.”
How do I increase my weight?
For a number of reasons, you should see your doctor first before deciding to lose weight.
“Dealing with any underlying cause such as thyroid disease, tackling stress or getting support with severe grief or eating disorders is the first place to start,” says Dr Sally. “But then you need to think about how to gain back your weight in a healthy way. And simply filling up with calories from high-sugar, high-fat processed food isn’t the way to go. Yes, you may put on weight – but it will be mainly fat that won’t improve your health much, if at all.”
So while the odd pizza and chocolate indulgence is fine, it’s important to also make sure you’re eating healthily – even when trying to gain weight.
“Your body needs to replenish with nutrients, protein and healthy fats. Not only will these increase your weight, but they will fire up your brain again, boost your mood and positivity, strengthen bones and immunity and give a whole host of other benefits.” Sally recommends adding the following foods into your diet, depending on your personal requirements:
- Quality meat
- Oily fish
- Seasonal vegetables
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolate
“And couple your healthy-eating regime with some strength training to build weakened muscles and keep you toned as you gain weight,” she adds.
“Remember, whether you are trying to lose weight or gain weight it is important not to focus solely on calories – though many of us think that calories are the only thing worth counting!”
How can I look after my mental health while gaining weight?
Both losing and gaining weight can be a struggle for the mind, but with constant messaging – especially around the new year – that slimming down is the answer to your happiness, it can be extremely difficult to purposely put on pounds.
Food psychologist Uxshely explains: “I work with many people that know logically and rationally that they need to put on weight, however they find it difficult to force themselves to eat more.
“Firstly, this is because they have just fallen into the habit of under-eating and restricting their food intake and this restriction can make them feel more in control. Secondly, there can be a fear that gaining weight will make them less attractive or will make them lose their identity. Thirdly, not eating (just like eating) is actually a coping mechanism too – some people cope with things like stress and emotions by not eating – so forcing somebody to eat can be a way of taking away the only coping mechanism that they know.”
If that sounds familiar, Uxhshely explains that it’s important to constantly bring the focus back to you. “When I am working with someone that needs to gain weight, I work with them to establish why they want to or need to put on weight – often looking into the future and what they want for themselves long-term. It could be that their low weight has affected their menstrual cycle and yet they know that in the future they want to have children. Or it could be that they love dancing or a sport and their low weight and lack of energy means that they aren’t performing at their best.
“It’s also important to establish a regular pattern of eating and new habits around food. Ensuring that the individual eats regularly – even though they do not feel hungry – is really key. A lot of my clients tell me that they do not want to eat because they do not feel hungry. However, often they do not feel hungry because they are just not in the habit of eating at certain times of the day. Our body loves routine – and to gain weight an individual needs to establish a routine of eating more regularly even if they are not hungry. This is why concepts such as “intuitive eating” can be very dangerous for some individuals – this encourages individuals to respond to their natural hunger cues – however for most people our hunger is triggered by habitual patterns of eating – so we just feel hungry at the same time as we did the previous day typically.”
“It’s important to start finding pleasure in food again,” says Uxhsely. “Whilst I would never recommend just eating highly processed and sugary foods – I would encourage an individual to think about nourishing dishes that they also enjoy. It is much easier to eat more when the food an individual is eating is something that they really enjoy. It can also be helpful to add in more unsaturated fats into the diet e.g. peanut butter, olive oil, nuts, seeds etc. are all calorie dense foods that can help an individual to gain weight without leaving them feeling too full.”
Here’s to a healthy new year.
Follow Abbi on Instagram.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.