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
The 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:
- Dried fruit such as dates, prunes, dried cranberries, raisins, figs, apricots added to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, muffins and salads.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Avocado served as a sandwich spread, added to salads or made into guacamole and served with tortilla chips.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Legumes. Such as baked beans, black bean soup or hummus spread onto foods.