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Ask the experts: How to gain weight

Q. “I am in my 20s, and I have always been thin. How can I gain some weight and still be healthy?”

A. You obviously recognise that getting into junk food, while it may help you gain weight, is not a viable strategy for good health. To gain weight you need to increase your energy/kilojoule intake and there are lots of healthy foods that will help you.

Exercise is important, too. Focus on exercises to build strength so you are gaining muscle as your weight increases. And keep in mind that if you increase the amount of exercise you’re doing, you will need to increase your kilojoule input as well: try having a snack before and after a good workout.

Strategies and tips for weight-gain

If you can, aim to eat slightly larger portions of higher-energy foods at each meal, or add an additional portion, eg:

  • Don’t rush breakfast – and after your cereal, add a slice of grainy toast with peanut or almond butter.
  • Pasta salad at lunchtime – add extra tuna, avocado and vinaigrette.
  • Potato salad – add extra mayonnaise and chopped boiled egg to your serve.

In addition to your three meals each day, aim to have three high-energy snacks, eg:

  • Generous serve of nuts and/or dried fruit.
  • Banana smoothie with (reduced-fat) ice cream and added milk powder.
  • Avocado on grainy bread.

Increase your intake of healthy fats:

  • Add lashings of vinaigrette to salad. Make your own vinaigrette with three parts oil (using healthy oils like olive, canola, rice bran or avocado oil) and one part vinegar.
  • Use avocado in salads and sandwiches.
  • Add generous amounts of nuts, seeds, olives or raisins to salads and couscous.
  • Add nuts and dried fruit to baking and desserts.
  • Even for people wanting to gain weight we recommend using low-fat dairy products and trimming fat from meat so you are not adding saturated fat to your diet.

Don’t drink too much with meals as this can limit how much food you can comfortably eat:

  • Replace some water with higher-energy fruit juice and milky drinks between meals.

Don’t fill up on bulky, low-energy foods:

  • Snacking on carrot sticks and apple slices is great for people who want to lose weight, but not for you. You may also find it helps to keep a food and exercise diary for a week or two until you get into the habit of your higher-energy diet and resistance training regime.
This advice is for healthy people wanting to gain weight. People who have lost weight suddenly and do not know the cause, or people with eating disorders, need to seek personal professional advice.

Date modified: 4 April 2017
First published: Jan 2010


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