tired (of being) skinny
March 23, 2011 2:44 PM   Subscribe

What can I eat to gain weight and have energy?

I'm looking for suggestions, recipes or advice on things I can do to gain weight and have a more constant level of energy throughout the day. Searching for information on weight gain for females on the internet reveals a barren desert of information. The information I do find seems too complex and involves a whole lot of weight train. Mefites, can you help me up my weight and energy level?

I'm a 26 year old female, 5'6, and I weight 112 pounds. This is less than ideal for me, simply for aesthetic reasons (I don't think I'm unhealthily underweight). I have an insanely fast metabolism, and it seems that no matter how much or what I eat, I just can't keep any weight on. A couple of years ago, when I was doing ballet regularly, I was up to almost 125lbs and really happy at that weight. I think a lot of it was probably muscle mass in my legs, which has since atrophied. I slowly went down to about 115, and then I started an SSRI a year ago (Lexapro). Since then I dropped to 108 pounds, which was distressing for me (10% of my body weight!) and after working really hard to eat a lot in the past few months I've made it back up to 112. I've always had a healthy appetite, but it seems that the Lexapro has suppressed it a bit. I have trouble findnig things that seem appetizing, and I just don't seem to get as hungry as I used to. I've talked to my psychiatrist about this but he doesn't seem very concerned about the weight loss.

In addition, I think I might be a wee bit hypoglycemic. I was diagnosed as such in high school, but never through any specific tests, just through a doctor's opinion after hearing about my energy levels. I'm tired much of the time, and experience significant crashes that are hard to stay awake through. I'm a student and try to keep as much of a schedule as possible, which usually entails going to bed around 11 and waking up around 7. I often fall asleep in class or am too tired to focus, which is really frustrating. I often get tired immediately after eating.

All this being said, I'm not very diligent or conscientous about feeding myself. I'm extremely busy and preparing meals often seems too time consuming and somewhat overwhelming. I can never think of what to eat, and if I can (tacos! salmon!) it just seems like way too much time and energy to make it. I often end up eating out (Subway) or ordering in (pizza). On top of this, I was a vegetarian for most of my adult life up until now, and I'm completely intimidated/clueless about cooking meat, although I'd like to incorporate more meat into my diet for the weight gain/energy factors. However, I do have some ethical guilt left over about eating meat, and so it's hard for me to bring myself to buy chicken at the grocery store when I think about how it was probably raised.

I've tried preparing food ahead of time and freezing it (ex stuffed peppers) and this has worked moderately well, but I don't get around to doing it very often, and never know what/how to make anything. I've tried packing lunches to bring to school (sandwiches, almonds, fruit), and I will end up eating sandwiches, but the fruit and the almonds often go to waste. This is because I seem to always only feel like eating warm, mushy, and comforting foods. I can pack an apple, but the chances I will actually eat it are very slim. If I bring a knife and some peanut butter then the chances go up a little higher. Same thing with oranges. They just seem so cold, and as ridiculously lazy as it sounds, I never feel like peeling them (mess, juice, etc). My favourite foods include lasagna, pasta, Mexican foods, Shepard's pie, and anything baked with cheese. Much of my diet right now consists of carbs and sugar as these seem to be the only things that I crave/seem appetizing.

I'm not particularly active. I walk my dog for about an hour a day, and when school is not so busy I rock climb. I used to do ballet but no longer have the money/time, and in the summer I bike. I do take a lot of naps, and find it very difficult to not gravitate towards my bed constantly. I will often wake up in the morning, take the dog for a walk, then get back in bed for a few hours, then have a nap later that day. I don't drink very much alcohol (twice a month maybe), and don't smoke except for when I'm drinking. I drink a coffee every morning and a tea every afternoon.

I don't have body issues besides wanting to be a little curvier. My legs just seem so skinny. I'm a lesbian and attracted to curvier women, and I guess that's why I idealize that more than the super-skinny ideal set forth by the media. I don't, however, want to get into counting calories in order to try to increase my caloric intake (which is what is recommended on a lot of websites). I tend towards perfectionism and also get a little obsessed with routines and numbers, and worry that starting to keep track of calories would become some kind of unhealthy obsession. Right now I have no idea what the caloric value of most food is, and I don't want to know that information.

I've considered protein shakes but am not quite sure how to incorporate them into my diet/routine. I guess I am also a little intimidated by all the different varieties of them.

I am a student, and sometimes grocery shopping is anxiety-provoking because of the cost of food. Also, I find that I never get very much at the grocery store because I try to avoid packaged/processed foods. I end up getting fruit, milk, yogurt, cheese, hummus, and bread. A couple months ago I decided to start letting myself buy processed food so that I'd eat more (since I was always ordering pizza anyways) and so I bought things like fish sticks and frozen pizzas. That did help, but I don't want that to be a long term solution.

I'm looking for general insight into my condition/problems, as well as simple solutions for how to start eating more, and what to eat to gain weight and have more energy. I know that cardio is an important aspect to having energy, but I'm scared that doing cardio would make me lose even more weight.

I'm tired of being skinny and tired! Mefites, what can I eat?
posted by whalebreath to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you searched the archives? There are some really good posts about this already in ask.mefi
posted by TheBones at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2011

Start adding healthy fats into your diet more-- for example, start eating organic peanut butter. Calorically-dense, good carbs, delicious on (almost) everything. When you get Subway, have them add avocado.

Carbs will make you gain weight and will also give you energy-- just make sure you're eating complex carbs rather than the crappy starches and sugars-- those will just spike your blood sugar and them plummet it, bad for a hypoglycemic person.
posted by egeanin at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2011

Best answer: I'm there with you. I'm underweight (though male), and every attempt I make to gain weight peters out when I decide it's too much work, or too expensive.

Nuts are a great source of fat and protein, and are super easy to prepare (i.e., no preparation at all) and to snack on whenever you think about it. Most varieties are pretty cheap, and if you got them from someplace like Costco, the price per calorie would be super low. If you have to, put yourself on a schedule-- handful of almonds every hour. The easier, cheaper, and more accessible your food is, the easier it will be to force yourself to eat it.

Spinach salads with slivered almonds, dried cranberries, extra virgin olive oil, and balsamic, maybe some gorgonzola, is really easy to prepare as well, especially if you get bagged, pre-washed spinach. Fresh spinach is a great source of iron, especially for someone who doesn't like to eat meat. The oil and nuts will boost fat and calories.

A slow cooker might help you as well. My wife is vegetarian, so I rarely eat meat because it's too much of a hassle to make something else. With this, though, I can buy cheap roasts (again, even cheaper at Costco), freeze them, and occasionally pop one in the slow cooker in the morning for dinner that night, and leftovers for a few days. Cooking it with a can of mushroom soup and a packet of onion soup mix is the classic super-easy treatment; you can also add in frozen, pre-cut veg. Have it over rice and you have a comforting meal for days that has carbs, protein, and fat. If you don't like beef, any meat will do; the cheaper you can buy it in bulk, the more the slow cooker will pay off. A slow cooker cookbook will have versions of everything you listed as favorite foods.

There's no shame in eating peanut butter from the jar with a spoon. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

They're not cheap, but Clif bars definitely pack a punch as well.
posted by supercres at 3:03 PM on March 23, 2011

If you're in school, do you have a student health service? If you do, do they have a nutritionist you can see? What leaps out at me from what you're saying is that even though you're working hard to consume enough calories and you're really drawn to high-starch, sweet, or high-fat foods, you just can't keep the weight on. That seems to my (not-doctor) eyes like your body has an unusually low set point. That's probably an issue that is going to take a more nuanced approach than "eat a lot of ice cream", or what have you.

The other thing that leaps out at me is that the food you consume doesn't seem to be particularly nutritious overall. Do you take a women's multivitamin? If you don't, I'd try it, even though they're quite expensive, because it could be that the solution to more energy is literally a pill away.

Oh, and so that this answer isn't just "hm, go ask someone smarter than the Internet": Eggs. Eggs scrambled with cheese. They're high-protein, packed with micronutrients, and relatively inexpensive.
posted by KathrynT at 3:03 PM on March 23, 2011

I'm not particularly active.

Burying the lede there, OP :P

Anaerobic exercise is your friend. Lift weights. I promise you that you aren't going to get bulky; but you'll but on a bit more muscle and find it a lot easier to keep weight on. And most importantly your appetite will increase, which is the whole point.
posted by auto-correct at 3:08 PM on March 23, 2011

Here are some good past questions to review.

posted by TheBones at 3:09 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, cut out the caffeine and replace with fruit and protein smoothies. You'll find your energy levels to be a lot more consistent.
posted by auto-correct at 3:10 PM on March 23, 2011

Sometimes the solution really is simple: if you want to gain weight, eat more.

If you want that weight to be muscle and not fat, do some weight training, eat EVEN MORE, and make sure what you're eating is good, whole food (mostly vegetables, grains, and legumes from the produce section -- not breads, sugars, or processed food).

Pushups, pullups, body squats, etc are a good start. No need to join a gym or anything fancy.

You need to eat so much to gain weight that you will constantly be thinking "Am I really supposed to eat this much?" and the answer is YES.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a similar size to you, and the only time I can ever manage to keep any weight on is when I'm eating regularly and not under a lot of stress. I also have that same desire to be curvy, but I've taken an effort to love my shape more, and to recognize that it is unhealthy for me to worry about a number on a scale instead of how I am feeling.

I am always answering these threads with "see a nutritionist", because seeing a nutritionist was one of the smartest things I've done. The one I saw was a vegetarian, which was really helpful for me as someone who rarely eats meat, and she went over my diet with me to make sure that I had my bases covered. I start my day with berries and greek yogurt every day. I eat nuts as a snack. I have a lot of salads with olive oil and avocado. I try to eat primarily whole grain breads and pastas.

I found that my energy levels went up a lot when I switched to eating a lot less carbs and a lot more protein. If I ate the diet you described, I'd be a zombie. My key to success has been to grocery shop once a week and cut up everything for my snacks and salads for lunches and have them in the fridge. Here's a lousy picture where you can see what I had ready for this week.

I cut out all but my first cup of coffee a day, and switched to water. These changes meant that I put on about 10 lbs (which is a big deal when you go from 98 to 108 lbs), and my energy levels have never been better.
posted by Zophi at 3:16 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you been checked for Celiac Disease? You sound just like me. With Celiac you're basically not absorbing the nutrition your body needs so it doesn't matter how much you eat.

When I was diagnosed my blood tests were negative, they found it with an endoscopy. YMMV

When my nephew was having problems gaining weight my sister was given a prescription for PediaSure for him. You could try some of those weight loss meal replacements in addition to actually eating. Don't skip breakfast and have a Slim-Fast, eat a regular breakfast *and* have one.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:18 PM on March 23, 2011

I think it's a great idea to see your doctor or student health service to get your blood levels and whatnot checked, and ask them about your fatigue as well. If you have an underlying problem, eating more isn't going to fix it.

However, since you asked specifically about protein shakes, here's how to make them: put yogurt, a scoop or two of protein powder, some fruit (fresh or frozen) and some ice/water/milk/some other liquid in a blender. That's it. I use nonfat yogurt, but you can use the regular. The protein we buy is vanilla flavored whey protein in the big bag from Costco - it's pricey (about $36), but it's the cheapest per unit we've found. I love them for breakfast or an after workout pick me up - the only reason I don't drink them more often is that I don't like having to wash the blender by hand (I'm lazy).
posted by Safiya at 3:22 PM on March 23, 2011

Get a complete thyroid workup. My mother had thyroid issues, and had the same combination of weight and fatigue until they put her on synthetic thyroid hormone. Good luck!
posted by Atrahasis at 3:23 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like it would be helpful for you to talk to a doctor again since there might be something else going on. Just as a data point, eating more isn't automatically a way to weigh more despite what some people say. I know someone who holds the record at his workplace for eating the most Chinese take-out in one sitting at his workplace and he is 5'11", 135 lbs.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:33 PM on March 23, 2011

I'm concerned with how tired you feel all the time. Have you talked to a doctor about that? Having been a vegetarian, have you been tested for anemia? How about your B-12 levels? (Like TooFewShoes, I came on to comment that celiac disease might be another possibility.)

The commenters above have some good suggestions about foods to eat. When making a good meal seems like too much work, sometimes it helps me to reframe it as self-care. "I'm taking care of myself, like I would a good friend, and I'm making this good meal for myself." Sometimes that helps.

Maybe you could create a list of good meals, foods and snack ideas from this list and hang it on your fridge door to help you think of good things to eat when those hungry moments strike.

Here are some quick protein ideas, mostly vegetarian:
-handful of nuts, Smokehouse almonds are a treat
-edamame with soy sauce or salt
-raw tofu, cut into strips and dip in soy sauce with a little sesame oil
-baked tofu slices
-hard cooked eggs (cook a handful and keep on hand)
-yogurt, especially greek yogurt (higher protein content)
-cheese sticks
-beef jerky

I hope some of this helps.
posted by purple_bird at 3:36 PM on March 23, 2011

Guy here. Here's some of my comments from another good thread:


I used to be starving all the time and be unable to put on weight. Now I look much healthier, more filled out but not fat, and I don't really think about food between meals.

You get better at eating and digesting. I used to be unable to fathom how someone could eat 500-900 calories in a single meal. Now I can eat 1000 calorie meals effortlessly without feeling stuffed. It just disappears and I'm not hungry for hours and hours.

You may want to look into controversial IgG allergy testing. I think my intestines may have been unhappy and had difficulty absorbing nutrients.
posted by zeek321 at 3:41 PM on March 23, 2011

Best answer: Here's an easy and super-cheap "protein" shake you can make with simple ingredients you probably have on hand:

1 cup milk (I like whole milk for the mix of fats, etc)
25-30g oats
25-30g peanut butter
1 banana
cocoa powder

Toss them in a blender, hit the button, and you're good to go. Also, this is a good way to use bananas that are getting a little too brown.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 3:47 PM on March 23, 2011

Not much advice, but I'm glad you asked this question. I sound just like you, down to dislking cooking/not knowing how to properly cook meats and being a student with limited resources (although I'm neither a vegetarian nor a lesbian). Im interested in seeing the cooking/food preparation addressed.
posted by lovelygirl at 3:56 PM on March 23, 2011

grocery shopping is anxiety-provoking because of the cost of food

I hear you. Whole grains and fat. Brown rice and baked potatoes--cook with or slather on ridiculous amounts of butter and olive oil (work up slowly) and salt. (And/or lard and tallow and coconut oil for the pros.) That's tons of calories for not too much money.

It's got to taste good or you'll never be able to keep it up. Keep experimenting with carbs and fat and listen to your tastebuds. (The fat will keep you from getting fat, by the way. You'll put on lean tissue and get curvier.)

And make sure you eat animal protein even though it's expensive! Both read meat and poultry according to taste. This will help you put on healthy lean tissue, too, and it will help you rebuild your digestive system.
posted by zeek321 at 3:58 PM on March 23, 2011

I second going to the doctor for some blood work in case you have an underlying issue. I also second weight training. I'm female, about 10 lbs heavier than you are, and I have a condition which results in fatigue (diagnosed through the aforementioned blood work!) Weight training plus switching from vegetarianism to a low-carb diet made a world of difference for me. If you have ethical problems with meat, the low-carb thing will be hard for you, but you could still try lifting... just get as much protein in your diet as you can.

I've considered protein shakes but am not quite sure how to incorporate them into my diet/routine. I guess I am also a little intimidated by all the different varieties of them.

Assuming you're working out, you should make and drink a protein shake right after your workout. I make mine with milk, a tablespoon of almond butter, and two scoops of whey powder. The brand Safiya recommends at Costco (Muscle Milk) is good, but anything 100% whey is fine -- trueprotein.com is a great source for affordable pure whey. I use blender bottles like these, because I hate setting up the blender every time.

When you're not working out, I'd suggest a shake per day. You could add them to breakfast for extra energy during the day, or you could try drinking them before bed -- a shake close to bedtime tends to really help with weight gain, though it disrupts some people's sleep patterns. If that happens, you might try using something with casein powder instead of whey. Casein absorbs more slowly during the night, so it's a bit gentler on your stomach.
posted by vorfeed at 3:59 PM on March 23, 2011

You most likely can't gain weight because you don't eat enough.

3 cups of whole milk, spread through the day, adds up to 438 calories with a good mix of carbs, protein, and fat, and requires no preparation.

If you want to do better, mix a scoop of whey protein in there. You can get fancier and add oats, fruit, peanut butter, etc. to your shake. You don't need a fancy protein product -- just whey. You can get cheap and good-tasting stuff from trueprotein.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 4:00 PM on March 23, 2011

Right, I came back to say that although I can't speak to the health/medical specifics of your question, I think you'll be better off financially and physically if you find ways to expand your diet without bringing in too many processed foods.

I'm a big fan of the slow cooker because you can put in the effort once and eat for a few days. Also there are so many ways to make a quick and easy stir fry with frozen veggies, chopped chicken, pork, or beef, and some sort of spice/sauce for flavor.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2011

I am not skinny! But I am extremely broke and trying to eat as much protein as possible as cheaply as possible, purely so I go through less food. A toasted whole wheat english muffin with 2 table spoons of nut butter is easy, cheap, and rich-tasting. A packet of good imported ramen or udon with as much cubed silken tofu as you like is cheap and delicious (if your town has an asian grocery store, the variety and cheapness of both will be phenomenal). If you want to stay vegetarian, you can get a packet of miso paste for the broth. You can also add vegetables for the health benefits. When I'm making things with refried beans, I freeze thaw and then crumble a block of coarse tofu, saute an onion and mix the tofu in with the beans (crumble it very fine).

Whole wheat english muffins are great, because they have 5 grams of protein and some fiber in 100 calories which is nice for a toasted thing, they're chewy so they are satisfying, they are very very cheap and you can make them into cheese and avocado sandwiches or other rich, proteiny fatty things. Plus, toasting them is easy.
posted by Frowner at 4:36 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know you asked for food recommendations, but I also wanted to note that the Lexapro could be responsible for a lot of the sleepiness and lack of energy you are experiencing. And while I am 100% behind finding and taking the anti-depressant that works for you, you might want to talk to your doctor about alternatives to Lexapro, or maybe trying just a lower dose. I'm on two different anti-depressants, have hypothyroidism, take HRT and have struggled with energy in much the same way as a result of juggling all of them. It can be a balancing act to find the appropriate medication and the appropriate level for you.

Just something else to consider.

Now, for food, I'd go for high protein that is also high carbs (as opposed to low carbs like the rest of us who are trying to lose a little weight). Peanut butter is a good example. Plus, it's cheap! Milkshakes (made with real milk) will put the pounds on. Elderly folks often take Ensure to gain weight (or Carnation Instant Breakfast for the budget version).
posted by misha at 5:11 PM on March 23, 2011

Nut butters. Ice cream. Works for me and I didnʻt even want to gain weight.
posted by fifilaru at 6:04 PM on March 23, 2011

Seconding archives.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:11 PM on March 23, 2011

3 1.5oz shots of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is 1,100 calories of sweet healthy fat. You can think about adding a shot to your shakes or just take a few shots throughout the day.

If you get tired after eating all the time you might want to try to stop eating high carb. Almost everything you listed that you eat is very high carb. You're probably always spiking the hell out of your blood sugar.

If you want nicer larger legs you might want to start squatting and deadlifting. Weightlifting in general would be good for you. It will bring your appetite back some too.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:13 PM on March 23, 2011

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