This program is basically the opposite of Weight Loss with similar emphasis on avoiding junk foods, excessive fats, and other poor nutritional choices. People who want to gain weight need to eat more calories and more food. To most of the over-weight population, this would be a dream come true, but for underweight people who have trouble gaining weight, it can be a real problem.
Like obesity, being underweight involves many factors. Undernourishment during infancy and adolescence or nutrient deficiencies of the mother during pregnancy can lead to a lower number of fat cells and thus the potential for lower amounts of fatty tissue. Genetics and conditioning are also factors. Thinness, of course, runs in families, as does obesity. Poor eating habits and low food intake are other causes of underweight. Illness can cause weight loss. Flus or debilitating diseases such as cancer can lead to loss of weight, which can be hard to regain, especially when those with these problems are not used to higher-calorie diets. Stress and anxiety are often found with low body weight. High-strung people and worriers can have trouble putting on weight. During times of extreme emotional upset, it may be difficult to eat, and that can be a problem. People who use stimulants such as caffeine and cigarettes are more commonly underweight than those who do not abuse these stimulants. The caffeine-cigarette combination generates a lot of nervous energy and frenetic mental activity. It may be productive for office work, but not for health.
Several medical problems can be associated with weight loss or the inability to gain weight. Thyroid problems, mainly hyperthyroidism, are the most common of these, and are associated with many other symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, and insomnia. Some psychologically related medical problems are also associated with underweight. Bulimia and anorexia nervosa are the two serious food-oriented maladies; they are, in fact, often symptoms of much deeper emotional, attitudinal problems. Treatment of bulimia, or voluntary vomiting, may require a combination of medical and psychological care. The cycle of regular overeating and vomiting is hard on the body, as it can irritate the upper gastrointestinal tract with hydrochloric acid and cause a loss of potassium and other nutrients. Bulimia may or may not be a part of anorexia nervosa, which is becoming a more common eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa, loss of appetite due to nervous or psychological factors, mainly afflicts young women from ages 13–25. It commonly entails a delusion about weight and body image and a fear of eating food because of possible weight gain. Anorexics are often malnourished, deficient in both calories and nutrients. They may also be involved in regular vigorous exercise, such as aerobics or ballet, and may use laxatives, both of which may lead to further loss of body nutrients. And they may become socially separated because of a fear of group pressure toward eating.
Anorexia nervosa is a serious problem! People with this syndrome should receive immediate treatment with education, emotional support, understanding, and food. This problem is more common in the teen years, which is even more a concern because nutrient needs are very high and poor nutrition is more common in this age group. Fortunately, though, this eating avoidance (not really loss of appetite) usually passes in time.
There should also be care not to overdiagnose or overtreat young people who
may watch their weight and eat sparingly. Just try to encourage eating of good-quality, lower-calorie foods and suggest a supplement program such as the one at the end of this section.
For people with problems of being underweight, a medical evaluation is usually needed, especially if the problem is recent. A general physical exam and blood chemistry test may rule out medical problems such as anemia, abnormal thyroid function, or even cancer. Mineral tests and a diet profile may assist in isolating nutritional deficiencies. Usually, though, if both parents were trim and the individual has been thin most of his or her life, no medical problems will be revealed. A faster metabolism and lower potential for fat storage are usually the explanation.
People with low weight who have difficulty gaining weight often need a combined program. Working with a psychologist, stress counselor, or hypnotherapist to deal with some of the psychological, attitudinal, and emotional factors may be helpful. Stress reduction such as through relaxation exercises, music, or meditation, can be important, especially for nervous or high-strung individuals. Learning to slow down internally and externally can improve metabolism and the assimilation of nutrients. Stopping smoking or the overuse of caffeine is very helpful at adding a few pounds, as it will often slow the metabolism, at least initially.
The other, primary focus for gaining weight is good nutrition—diet and supplements. In this area, the suggestions are the opposite of those for weight loss. Bigger portions, many meals along with extra snacks, and more healthy, easily digested, high-calorie foods are the foundation of the plan. Increasing calories is the key; an extra 500 calories per day over and above body requirements can lead to a pound a week weight gain. More yogurt and cheeses, nuts, avocados, rice, potatoes, and bread with some butter may be helpful and healthful for getting extra calories. This will also increase dietary fats somewhat; fats are more caloric than the complex carbohydrates or sweeter foods. If there is a low cardiovascular risk, with a moderate cholesterol level (175–210) and good blood pressure, even more fats, especially monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, can be consumed. Smokers are at a slightly greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases with this higher-fat diet, though generally additional oils, seeds, butter and other milk products, and even meats, if those are tolerated, may be used to add weight. It is still wise to avoid fried foods and hydrogenated oils; an increase in vegetable fats, especially cold-pressed oils is wiser than adding more animal fats.
Often, underweight people experience symptoms of fatigue and coldness in the body. Fat helps to keep us warm, and low body fat with poor circulation will reduce vitality and warmth. Fatigue may also be related to nutritional deficiencies secondary to limited caloric diets and low intake. Vegetarians and people who eat macrobiotic diets tend to have lower weights, but these may be healthier weights if these people consume reasonable amounts of calories, protein, and vegetable oils—and mostly nutrient-rich foods. Still, these diets can more easily lead to deficient calorie intake, because they are lower in fats, and most of the foods consumed are low-calorie foods (better for weight loss). In these cases, more animal proteins can be therapeutic. Deep-water fish and organic poultry are best; but even “organic” red meat and liver may be helpful for deficient, tired, cold-type people. Low thyroid function and anemia can produce fatigue and coldness; however, hypothyroidism usually causes some weight gain also. Most often, low weight with fatigue results from inadequate nutrition. In the Chinese traditional energy system the imbalance that is associated with “weak Fire element” may lead to fatigue, low endurance, and coldness, although this symptom complex may be associated with either low or increased weight. These symptoms may also accompany anemia, a part of “weak Fire” or weak blood, and in this case more iron, as is found in the animal meats, poultry and fish, or as supplements, is the appropriate medicine. Folic acid, vitamin B12, copper, and adequate protein intake, as well as regular exercise also help to build up the blood and improve the energy, endurance, and weight.
Another dietary suggestion for weight gain is to increase the size and number of meals. Three main meals and three or four snacks will help keep calorie intake up. A decrease in the bulky low-calorie foods and a focus on the higher-calorie ones will also help. It is good to eat the main course first (the opposite of the plan for losing weight). Follow the richer foods then with vegetables and salads, with lots of good dressing if there is room. Of the vegetables, eat mainly starchier ones, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and squashes. Also, eat the starchy grains, such as rice, oats, and pastas. Sweets and desserts are really not very helpful; they tend to fill people with short-term energy without nutritional value and may actually lead to increased energy expenditure. Fluid intake just before or during meals is not recommended, as it reduces the appetite, and you will want to eat more to gain weight. Some alcohol, maybe one drink of a good wine, before a meal occasionally is helpful as it promotes relaxation and improves the appetite. Even bedtime snacks are appropriate when it comes to gaining weight, as long as it does not interfere with sleep.
Adequate rest and deep sleep are important to help the body slow down and relax the nervous tension that can eat up calories. Warm milk before bed with a little treat such as toast or a cookie can be useful to improve sleep and add calories. Avoiding stimulants that increase nervous energy, especially in the evening, is a very good idea. And again, stopping smoking is important to this program and life itself.
A regular exercise program should be followed, but it should be oriented more to toning and conditioning exercise, such as working with weights, to build up the body muscle, tissue density, and thus, increase weight. Vigorous aerobic activity, however, burns off more calories and may keep weight down (though some is useful to maintain endurance). Walks in the fresh air and nature may help us to stay fit and relaxed enough to be more receptive to food.
Some supplements are helpful in improving the potential for weight increase. A general multiple is, of course, suggested to provide all of the essential nutrients. Additional B vitamins taken several times daily may also help; most of the B vitamins aid the metabolism and assimilation of food and proper generation of energy (ATP). Essential fatty acids, as a supplement or as additional vegetable oil in the diet, are helpful from both a caloric perspective and a metabolic one. Amino acids are also effective when taken before meals. They stimulate the appetite and provide good protein synthesis capacity, thus helping to build the body. Overall, a moderate supplement (not high amounts) program is indicated, just to cover the basic needs for nutrients; we are not trying to increase the metabolism in general. People with significant weight loss or people who generally have low weight, say 10–15 percent below their ideal, need to focus more on “living to eat” rather than their usual “eating to live” plan, at least for a while, to bring up their weight.
|Protein||65–125 g.||Chromium||200 mcg.|
|Fat||60–110 g.||Copper||2 mg.|
|Vitamin A||5,000–10,000 IUs||Iron||10–18 mg.|
|Beta-carotene||20,000 IUs||Magnesium||300–500 mg.|
|Vitamin D||400 IUs||Manganese||5–10 mg.|
|Vitamin E||400 IUs||Molybdenum||200 mcg.|
|Vitamin K||300 mcg.||Selenium||200 mcg.|
|Thiamine (B1)||50–75 mg.||Silicon||50 mg.|
|Riboflavin (B2)||25–75 mg.||Zinc||30 mg.|
|Niacinamide (B3)||100 mg.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||100 mg.||L-amino acids|
(500 mg. before each meal)
|Pyridoxine (B6)||50 mg.||Essential fatty acids||6 capsules|
|Pyridoxal-5-phosphate||25–50 mg.||or Flaxseed oil||2 Tablespoons|
|Cobalamin (B12)||50 mcg.|
|Folic acid||600 mcg.||Optional:|
(if needed for better digestion)
|Biotin||250 mcg.||Hydrochloric acid (with protein meals)||5–10 grains|
|Vitamin C||1,500 mg.||Digestive enzymes|