Foods/resources for healthy weight gain?
June 10, 2010 3:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for specific foods I can add to my diet to gain weight. Caveats: no dairy, and I'm not trying to 'bulk up' or gain muscle.

I'm a girl, and I'm very underweight right now due to an illness. I'm doing better now health-wise, but haven't gained the weight back. It's possible that there's another reason for this, but my doctor suggested that I try eating a higher-calorie diet for a while before we do anything more drastic.

Sounds easy, but my stomach's a little touchy to begin with, so I can't just load up on doughnuts and burgers (that would just make me sick). I'm lactose-intolerant, so a little cheese here and there is cool, but dairy- or whey-based supplements are out. I don't eat much meat but do like chicken. I'm not a big sweets person either, rich or sugary things just make me feel gross.

I've been looking for resources - online or books - to help me devise a diet, but nearly all of what I'm finding is aimed at sports nutrition or bulking up for muscle mass, which is so not what I want.

So far, I've been eating almond butter (with added flax seeds for omega-3's) on bread or crackers, which is a start, and I've been trying the different types of Naked juices for extra vitamins and such. Are there any other foods like these that you can recommend? I'll take high-calorie, high-fat, or just super healthy.
posted by Fifi Firefox to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You've already got nuts covered, so how about avacado?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

you can't really "bulk up" for muscle mass unless you go work out and lift heavy weights. As is often said when someone doesn't want to get bulky, it's not like you're going to wake up one morning, and say to yourself "I got too bulky!"

Athletes that want to gain muscle eat a high calorie diet and workout like crazy to build muscle mass (and it is HARD! to build muscle mass, it's not something you accidentally do). Feel comfortable following those diet plans - if you don't work out, you're just going to gain weight, which is what you want.
posted by unexpected at 3:51 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

And by that I mean avocado. They're very nutritious and have a decent amount of fat.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2010

Is mayonnaise an option? My grandmother said a doctor once told her to gain weight and he suggested she put mayonnaise on everything possible.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:04 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about cornbread? There's a reason for the old term "corn-fed". Maybe lots of white rice, if your stomach's really tricky.
posted by dilettante at 4:07 PM on June 10, 2010

Peanut butter, nuts, eggs!

You won't get big muscles by accident - bodybuilder damage their muscles then use food to repair them so they grow (massive oversimplification). If it was as easy as just eating eggs there'd be no scrawny boys.
posted by Chrysalis at 4:07 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Coconut milk is very calorie dense and it's also quite tasty (mmm...Red Thai Curry).
posted by talkingmuffin at 4:09 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Olive oil. Also tahini.
posted by lover at 4:09 PM on June 10, 2010

Add garlic (or spices), salt, and lemon, grapefruit, orange, or tomato, and you've got yourself a dressing that can be added to everything.
posted by lover at 4:10 PM on June 10, 2010

Theoretically, couldn't you just look at examples of what dieters SHOULDN'T eat, and eat that?

That said...
~Eat extra helpings
~Eat another meal before sleeping
~Find foods you can snack on that aren't exactly healthy calorie-wise, like:
~Drink Calories IE:
~Fast Food

If you had to gain weight uber-fast and cheap, my advice would be to go and grab a bunch of cookies at Walmart or wherever they have cheap cookies, and start eating 3 or 4 servings in between meals, and grab some of your favorite full-sugar-juices to wash them down (orange, grape, apple). You should put on an LB a day if you're also eating extra helpings and a 4th meal.
posted by mhuckaba at 4:13 PM on June 10, 2010

Seconding coconut milk, mayonnaise.

You could replace fruit juices with virgin unfrozen pina coladas, if you want.

You could make a garlic Parmesan spread with mayo, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and tons of Parmesan. Put it on a roll of French bread and bake.

Also, if you like Japanese steak houses and their creamy dipping sauces, this is a pretty good approximation of the dipping sauce and is super calorie laden:

Japanese Steakhouse Sauces
posted by mhuckaba at 4:17 PM on June 10, 2010

Flavored oils, like garlic flavored avocado oil, are delicious. Get a great loaf of bread and enjoy.

Can you eat fish? Yum. There are a zillion ways to prepare, including fish curry.

Peanut butter, especially the kind you can grind yourself at the market from plain old peanuts, is good stuff.

Lots of great nuts out there. Do you like cashews?

You may want to pick up a rice cooker and a cookbook of rice cooker recipes.
posted by bearwife at 4:18 PM on June 10, 2010

Funny, I just posted the reverse to another question. I've been trying to loose some weight, using a mild and non-fanatical form of low-carb diet and was directly successful; 8 kilos in c. 2 months and no agony or stupid discipline involved. Mark this: I ate all the nuts and fats, oils, and meat-fish-whatever and I still lost weight, because I didn't do the pasta, french fries, beer, soft drinks or candy bars.

So for gaining weight (an exercise I'm particularly good at): combine a reasonable amount of various fats (as found in meat, fish, or added by ways of olive oil, coconut oil or whatnot else) with good (but not insane) portions of pasta, rice or potatoes, and toss a few beans and chickpeas into the mix for variety. In other words, Mediterranean diet at its best (minus the milk and cheese, in view of your lactose intolerance). Good luck - this seems a great task to me.

(I wouldn't eat lots of sugar, btw. if you like your dentist to remain supportive but distant).
posted by Namlit at 4:32 PM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

eggs. Lotsa eggs.
posted by smoke at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2010

beans, beans, beans! Quinoa is very nutrient dense, digestable and packed with protein.
posted by Sara Anne at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2010

I eat a pretty high-fat diet - lots of vegetable oil, and a reasonable amount of meat and fish - and I stay pretty skinny. I'd recommend a kind of reverse Atkins diet - lots of bread, rice, pasta and potatoes.

Basically, I'm agreeing with what Namlit said.
posted by nangar at 4:54 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend went through this when he had his jaw wired shut. I recall researching healthy ways to help him gain/maintain weight (iin his case, things that could easily be liquified) and - in the end, as his weightloss became critical, I threw "healthy" out the window and started adding butter and oilive oil to almost everything he drank (soups manily - and he said they still tasted good/not at all nauseating).

What I kept hearing over and over was peanut butter - so your almond butter is definitely a great choice. Does bread agree with you? High calorie breads like frocaccia will work.

What about oily fish?

I thought there was something called "kangaroo" used in hospitals that was used to help people gain weight. Maybe ask your Dr about that?

Not only eggs, but just the yolks..

Also, and it may have been mentioned already - but try eating five or six times a day.
posted by marimeko at 4:55 PM on June 10, 2010

You can make chocolate or vanilla milkshakes with the full-fat Lactaid milk and the Lactaid ice cream. I am lactose intolerant badly enough to react when there is trace lactose as an inert filler in medication, and I can still have the Lactaid ice cream without explodey death.

Also, depending on how you feel about alcohol, you could switch from your favourite alcoholic beverage to Guinness, which is practically a meal in a glass.
posted by elizardbits at 5:43 PM on June 10, 2010

I've been calorie counting. I'm astounded by how many calories carbs have: breads, pastas, rice. It's entirely possible that I was just misled before, and so the contrast beween what I was expecting and reality is surprising me--but a single slice of bread tends to have more calories than what I'd put IN a sandwich.

Since I tend to eat bread, pasta, or rice when my stomach is really unhappy, I thought I'd suggest looking into adding more such things to your diet; they might be acceptable to your touchy tummy. You could, say, have a whole sandwich instead of putting your almond butter on a slice of bread. I used to have a piece of bread before bed to settle my stomach. You could just add on some extra carb (extra slice of bread, extra helping of pasta, etc) any time you eat anything.

It's probably worth doing some calorie counting for a few days, eating what you'd like to eat and adding it all up (I use a spreadsheet). Once you figure out what you're doing now and what their actual calorie counts are, you can see pretty clearly what kinds of additions will most efficiently make a difference.
posted by galadriel at 5:44 PM on June 10, 2010

Want to add: if you add extra bites/sips spaced out many times over the course of the day, you could add 500 calories without it making you feel queasy. You just have to do this ever two hours or so (50-100 cal each time). That should equal a pound a week.

This could mean eating almond butter on toast - then just another quarter slice (even if it's sort of gross for you at the moment - anything that doesn't actually make you sick = okay).
posted by marimeko at 5:56 PM on June 10, 2010

Just wanted to let you know that if you do want to go the protein powder route but skip the whey, there are non-dairy types available in the form of rice, hemp, and pea protein.

Also, 100% whey protein isolate has less than 0.1 gram of lactose per tablespoon, so you just might be okay with it.
posted by smalls at 6:32 PM on June 10, 2010

If you typically don't drink juice or soda, add that in (obviously juice is healthier than soda, but it's still extra calories).

Double the butter on everything, if that dosn't trigger your lactose problem -- toast, eggs, etc. And put some on your oatmeal! And in pasta sauce! (Honestly. Last night I made a tomato sauce that was supposed to be finished with cream, but I only had skim milk... and I was very hungry.... so I topped up the milk with butter and it was delicious. Who knew?)

Have two beers every night. Or wine. Both are more caloric than, say, scotch on the rocks. Mixed drinks are good too -- gin and tonic (after all, tonic is sugary as hell.)

That weightgainer stuff really is your friend. Like others said, you're not magically going to turn into the Hulk. It's just a lot of calories and protein.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2010

I have this problem. Perhaps I'm not the best person to provide advice, since I'm still struggling with this problem, but I've learned a little bit about getting more calories in. The tricky thing is that the foods that are most congenial to weight-gain are all typically regarded as unhealthy. You have to let those preconceptions go. The trick is to think
in terms of calorie density. You want to over-ride your appetite. Some of the foods recommended above are pretty worthless for gaining weight. (Like beans! And also eggs -- they aren't really high calorie relative to how filling they are.)

So far the easiest way I've found to get in more calories is to supplement with energy shakes. The high-cal Boost drinks are lactose-free and have 350 calories. I can chug them down in 10 seconds. Having three a day doubles my calorie intake. Some find them distasteful, but give it a try. They are sweet, but you can get them down fast.
posted by reren at 7:00 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're underweight due to illness, I expect you do actually need to add some muscle mass; simply stacking adiposity on a wasted frame in order to meet some arbitrary minimum weight criterion is in no way healthy. So don't be afraid of diets designed for muscle building.
posted by flabdablet at 7:22 PM on June 10, 2010

A strong Belgian Ale (like Chimay) will pack the pounds on pretty quick.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:54 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

What namlit said; I can eat 5,000 calories a day and still lose three pounds of week if it's low-carb. I gain weight on 1500 calories of high carb. You're going to have to eat sugar and starch if you want to gain weight. Since sugary things make you feel gross, start eating white rice, bread, potatoes, pasta, that sort of thing. Just don't overdo it; if you can, monitor your blood sugar. And of course once you gain the weight back, stop eating that stuff.
posted by Nattie at 9:23 PM on June 10, 2010

Different people will put on those "extra pounds" in different parts of their body.

Do you want to keep your current bodily ratios, but just up the absolutes a bit? It can be hard to do.

A simple high calorie diet can put mass onto parts of you that you don't want it to be put. A major part of it is genetics so there isn't much that you can do.

However, for your case, spot training can actually work. You're currently underweight so probably have a pretty evenly distributed (or unnoticeable) body fat. Upper body muscle mass is flattering - maybe try the 100-pushup challenge. You'll gain weight (if you eat enough) and not in unflattering areas. If you get strong enough to do pullups/chinups those are incredible for building up the muscles running down your back. The increase in upper body muscle mass might also stimulate your appetite. Lots of crunches/situps can also shunt a lot of energy into muscle-making and maintenance that flatters the female figure. Biking, on an appropriately sized bike, can also do great things for muscle tone in your legs without invoking the thunder-thighs phenomenon.
posted by porpoise at 9:43 PM on June 10, 2010

Cook with generous amounts of olive oil (or other oils, or butter), and drizzle oil over your food - you should be able to add significant amounts of oil to vegetables, rice, etc. Add spreads with fat (pesto, mayonnaise, tahini, nut butter) to your sandwiches. Smoothies are an easy way to get in a lot of calories - you could use soy milk (some have more calories than others) or coconut milk as a base, then add sorbet and fruit. If you're willing to take lactaid pills/if they work for you, milkshakes also are easy to eat and have a lot of calories.

The most important thing, though, is to eat regularly, whether you're hungry or not - three meals and three snacks a day - breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Eat by the clock, and eat good-sized meals and snacks, even if you're not hungry. If the idea of food is nauseating because you're full/not hungry, that's when you can depend on things like juice, nuts, a smoothie, etc - things that are really easy to get down. Personally I find it easiest to drink something if it's time for a meal/snack and I'm just.not.hungry. (I am recovering from an eating disorder so I have to eat on a schedule, whether I'm hungry or not.)

I've been there with the weight gain, feel free to memail me with any questions.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:08 AM on June 11, 2010

I agree with reren about meal replacement drinks. A family member had your issue as a teen and he was told to add meal replacement shakes to his diet -so Carnation Breakfast shake with normal breakfast. He didn't like them but did has he was told. I'm sure you can find one that is lactose free and palatable- there are many on the market.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:05 AM on June 11, 2010

nthing going with formulated drinks for this task - many of the meal replacement drinks are very gross tasting so I would suggest going with a powder. If you can handle cheese you can likely handle whey protein mixes (low lactose) - Aria is at trader joes and all over, and it is hypoglycemic, non gmo and 1/2 soy. Most importantly, tasty. I blend it with frozen strawberries. GNC has lots of options as well- but its been ages since I was in one.

Also important: give yourself some time - it can take weeks for dietary changes to have impact.
posted by zenon at 10:13 AM on June 11, 2010

Try drinking a few boost a day. You'll find them at most grocery stores. Nursing homes use them for patients who have a hard time eating so they're packed with tons of goodies. Specifically, 240 calories, 10 g of protein, 26 vitamins and minerals, helpful antioxidants, and as much calcium as an 8-oz glass of milk.
posted by sandyb at 1:05 PM on January 22, 2011

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