Underweight? How To Gain Weight The Healthy Way Print

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As published in:

While many Canadians are struggling with carrying too much weight, there are also many people who have the opposite problem.

In our nutrition counselling practice, we hear from concerned parents with children who have fallen off their growth curve or have kids who are bullied because they are small. We also work with athletes, especially teens with high-energy demands on top of growth and development needs. Third, we see defeated adults who need support to gain weight since so many of their overweight friends and family think it is a joke that they can’t gain weight.

Reasons for being underweight

Similar to obesity risk factors, there is no single cause for being underweight. Consuming too little calories, exercising heavily or having “lean genes” or a genetic predisposition for a higher metabolic rate. Sometimes weight loss has occurred because of medication side-effects, significant emotional stress, depression, an eating disorder, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, cancer or other serious medical concern. It is really important to see your doctor to get to the root of the cause, especially if you have experienced a significant or rapid change in your weight.

For parents of infants and young children, ask your physician for copies of the growth curves for your children at each checkup so you are mindful of your child’s own unique growth pattern. Significant changes down or up to the expected growth curve is what you are watching for and provides much better information than simply examining their height and weight. Work with a pediatric dietitian and your family doctor to review the recommended amounts of milk and juice for the age of your child since too much can hinder your child’s appetite for solid foods and lead to growth issues.

Concerns if you are underweight

If you are underweight you may be at risk for poor energy levels, mood disorders, infection, compromised immunity and disruptions in your hormone balance. You may also be at risk for osteoporosis, anemia, hair loss and muscle loss. Underweight females are also at risk for amenorrhea, fertility issues and pregnancy complications.

Putting on healthy pounds

dried_fruit_with_creditThe biggest thing to keep in mind if you are trying to increase your calorie level is that a relentless routine is required to see results. If you only consume extra calories for a few days but fall off later in the week due to busy schedules, lack of habit, stress or distraction, your weight won’t budge.

Have three meals and three snacks every day and keep a journal if needed for accountability. For older adolescents and adults, aim for an extra 500 or more calories per day on top of your current intake by increasing how much food you are currently eating or switching to higher calorie options.

Also keep in mind that while some people associate exercise with weight loss, healthy weight gain relies on physical activity to build and maintain lean body tissue.

10 Healthy Ways To Increase Your Calories

While you may be tempted to fill up on extra calories from junk food, this isn’t the answer as this could negatively influence your health, energy, body composition and sports performance. Try these ideas instead:

  1. Dried fruit such as dates, prunes, dried cranberries, raisins, figs, apricots added to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, muffins and salads.
  2. Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter or almond butter added to muffins, homemade energy bars or snack mixes.
  3. Granola or muesli or oatmeal eaten with milk or yogurt (or serve granola dry as a snack food). For extra calories add powdered milk or protein powder into the milk before serving.
  4. Smoothies with fresh or frozen fruit, milk, yogurt and juice. For extra calories consider adding powdered milk, protein powder, cottage cheese, tofu or nut butters.
  5. Avocado served as a sandwich spread, added to salads or made into guacamole and served with tortilla chips.
  6. Rice pudding or bread pudding made with brown rice or whole grain bread. Add extra dried fruit and extra powdered milk into the liquid milk before baking.
  7. Olive oil or other vegetable oil. Heart-healthy olive oil can be drizzled into many foods such as soups, stir-fries, meats, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. Serve with bread for dipping or add into foods such as smoothies or oatmeal.
  8. Bagels, paninis and dense bread. Read the labels on many of the breads that you commonly purchase and look for those that are the highest in calories.
  9. Unsweetened fruit juice or milk. Adults and teens can benefit from extra added fruit juices and milk at meals or snacks. Also use milk instead of water for cooking oatmeal or soups.
  10. Legumes. Such as baked beans, black bean soup or hummus spread onto foods.

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About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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