Eat to beat underweight & weight loss

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 16 October 2012.
Tagged: guides, healthy eating, special diets, tips, weight loss

Eat to beat underweight & weight loss

Trying to gain weight?  While most people in the Western world are battling the ‘bulge', there are some people that struggle to gain or maintain their weight. It's as hard for them to eat enough each and every day to really make a difference to their overall body weight as it is for those that need it, to shed excess weight. These people include:

  • those who are born naturally thin
  • anyone recovering from chemotherapy or other cancer treatments
  • anyone who has lost weight through illness or after surgery.

If you are trying to add kilos or simply want to keep on those you have, here are some tips you may find helpful.

Family history counts

Remember, if you come from a family with a lean build or a slight body shape, your genetic predisposition will probably override whatever you eat or however much (or little) exercise you do.

As you age, a slim build can become an asset, rather than a liability, as it means you are less likely to suffer from heart disease, type 2 diabetes and gallstones - illnesses which affect people who are overweight.

Tips to put on weight

The secret to eating for weight gain is to eat regularly and include foods that are kilojoule-dense and nutrient-dense, in other words those that will give you the most kilojoules/calories in the least volume. These foods generally include more fat than recommended for the general overweight population

  • Eat small and often, especially if your appetite is small or you fill up quickly.
  • Ensure you eat a protein food such as red meat, chicken or fish in at least one meal each day.
  • Aim for some kilojoule-dense or "concentrated" foods at each meal or snack. Try avocado, peanut butter, extra margarine on vegetables and pasta, dressing on salads and sour cream or cheese on potatoes.
  • Enrich soups and porridge with cream or milk rather than water.
  • Avoid using diet or fat-free products.
  • Snack on foods like nuts, dried fruit, sandwiches, cheese and crackers, yoghurt and flavoured milk or smoothies.
  • If you enjoy fruit combine it with custard, yoghurt or ice cream for a higher kilojoule boost.
  • Make up the high protein milk recipes that follows and use it instead of your regular milk in drinks, with cereal and in cooking.
  • Don't fill up on "no-kilojoule fluids" like mineral water, tea, black coffee or diet drinks. Rather aim for drinks with kilojoules like full-fat milk, fruit juice or cappuccino.
  • Try adding a supplement to your drinks such as Sustagen™ or Ensure™ to boost the kilojoules and vitamins you get from a glass of milk. Mix these into full-cream milk or use the vanilla flavour and add a scoop to banana smoothies for mid-meals.
  • Eat in a relaxed non-stressful environment, which aids digestion.
  • Do things that will give your appetite an edge - take a brisk walk before mealtime, enjoy a pre-dinner drink (beer, Scotch and dry ginger ale, wine, sherry). If you don't feel like alcohol, think of it as a ‘medicinal' - and swallow it down. It DOES add kilojoules/calories.
  • Stop smoking - it blunts your taste buds and decreases your appetite.
  • Try to eat out more often.

Worried about cholesterol?

If you are worried about cholesterol by increasing your fat intake, choose lean meat, poultry and fish and use fats that are either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Lean meats and fats such as these won't raise your blood cholesterol or increase your heart disease risk.

Advice for males, especially teens and young adults

Many young males want to put on weight, especially around the upper torso (chest, shoulders and arms).

To achieve a bulkier look, you need to combine the above eat-more tips with a graduated weight-training program at a gym or with a trainer.

You may need to drop your level of aerobic exercise too, so that you're not burning off muscle as soon as you create it. This means less running or cycling and more weights for the upper body - ask your gym instructor or coach to plan a weight program for you to use in conjunction with the eat-more tips.

Weight-boosting recipes

High-protein enriched milk

4 cups (1 litre) milk *
1 cup of skim milk powder

Whisk the skim milk powder into the milk. Store in the refrigerator as with regular milk. Use in drinks and sauces as usual. Makes 5 cups.

* Ideally the milk should be full-cream, but this recipe works with low-fat milk depending on your preferences and other dietary needs.

Egg flip

2 egg yolks
3-4 drops vanilla essence
2 tbsp caster sugar or honey
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
3 tablespoons skim milk powder (optional)
2 cups (500 mL) milk

Place egg yolks into a blender or food processor. Add vanilla essence, sugar or honey, nutmeg and milk. Blend for 30 seconds until frothy.

Store in the refrigerator and drink when required. Makes 2-3 serves. Discard any unused drink after 24 hours.

Note: You can use 1 yolk plus 1 whole egg if preferred.

Fruit and nut snack

A healthy high-fat nibble for between meals.

1 ½ cups (200g) dried apricots
½ cup (100g) raisins or sultanas
1 ½ cups (100g) dried apple
1 cup (150g) dates
½ cup (100g) whole unpeeled almonds
½ cup (100g) walnut halves

Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Pack into 10 bags or plastic containers. Makes approx. 10 snack portions

Note: any type of nuts or dried fruit can be substituted in this recipe. 

Recipe conversion:

250ml equals 8 oz
30ml equals 1 oz
30g equals 1 oz
250g equals  8 oz
500g equals 16oz

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life 2020 Edition is a fresh new update on all the things you've read about or heard in the last year. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!