Help me gain weight in a healthy, sustainable way
April 25, 2016 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of problems trying to maintain or gain weight. I know, many people wish they had my problem, but it's been a longstanding issue. I've always felt like I was too skinny. I'm 6' and I've never been over 147 lb in my life. I'm currently 140. I know I should get more calories in, but I rarely have enough of an appetite to eat enough healthy food to gain in any real noticeable way. I'm not sure if I should be taking something extra like protein powder. I've also started running, so I've started to see a bit of weight loss there that I'd like to avoid. I think I should be closer to 150-155, but I don't know how to get there without eating crap or gaining it all in my gut. Suggestions? Oh and I'm in my 40s if that means anything.
posted by theNonsuch to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm short but I have roughly the same problem; I shed pounds too quickly and I have a really intermittent appetite. Weightlifting as helped out a lot for keeping weight on in a healthy way and also keeping me eating healthy amounts because my appetite is healthier and much more regular.
posted by griphus at 1:06 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I drank a lot of whole milk when I was underweight and needed to add pounds. Munching on the giant peanut butter cups throughout the day also helped.

If you have a relatively small stomach, you might try switching to four smaller meals per day.
posted by Candleman at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2016

While BMI has its detractors, your BMI is 19, which is the low end of normal. So take that into consideration -- ultimately, you're fine. Weightlifting will likely increase your appetite across the board, and lifting is healthy for all sorts of reasons.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:09 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Squats and milk. That's usually the advice for younger guys wanting to put on weight. Maybe not so good for you, depending on whether you like milk that much. It doesn't matter whether you like squats or not, you should do them anyway.

If you don't want the weight in your gut, you'll need to add it as muscle. 15 pounds of lean mass would take a while to build and you would need to supplement to add protein to your diet, so a whey protein would be beneficial, assuming that you are not already getting sufficient protein). If you are running along with lifting, you will want to add more calories so that you have a caloric surplus for your body to use to build muscle.

Starting Strength is a good way to get started and is the bible for beginners in strength.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 1:19 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

People are talking about weight lifiting and such, and, sure, that is great and it worked for me when I was 6'3" and 145 (at 30yo) and I ate like a 15yo boy at 30yo, but is everyone missing this part:

rarely have enough of an appetite

That sounds really serious. What has your doctor said about that?
posted by TinWhistle at 1:22 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

My priorities when gaining weight are to lift heavy, eat a lot, and prioritize the project. What works for me is lifting heavy weights in compound exercises (e.g barbell squat, deadlift, press, chin-ups) several times a week, gradually increasing those weights week to week, and eating more than I feel like eating. If I'm ever hungry, I'm not eating enough and cannot expect to get bigger. Lifting on a program like Starting Strength dramatically increases my appetite, so I plan my meals and cook in advance to make sure I can ride that wave. I make sure to sleep plenty.

Running is counterproductive to your stated goal. If gaining weight is a priority, I'd recommend you switch to barbell workouts like Starting Strength, 5/3/1, StrongLifts, or GreySkull LP.

Specific eating practices that help me grow (though I have never been very big) include milk (especially before bed), multiple large steaks per day, as many buttery vegetables as I can physically pile onto the largest plate available, big early breakfasts so I can be hungry again for lunch, avoiding caffeine, setting numeric goals for how many eggs I can eat per day (e.g. 8-12 in addition to regular meals; this is also common with milk and fermented dairy), fruit before lifting, large bowls of yogurt with jam and nuts after every meal, snacking between full meals, eating fast, "topping off" after a full meal but before fullness has completely set in, and again, eating even if I'm not hungry.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:32 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

This sounds like something you need to discuss with your doctor and with a dietician.

Everyone's metabolism is different, you may have one that's really speedy. That's great and there are things you can do to keep fuel in your body and to allow yourself to build muscle and add fat (if that's what you need.) A Registered Dietician can discuss your eating habits and give you strategies and food choices that will work for you.

The lack of appetite is worrisome and why I suggest you see a doctor, just to insure that everything is okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I rarely have enough of an appetite to eat enough healthy food

I have this problem too, so I eat healthy stuff that has a lot of calories when eaten in small amounts, like peanut butter and avocado and nuts. I can eat a ridiculous amount of almonds while watching TV without even noticing.

Remember that muscle weighs more than fat so even if you lose weight initially via exercise you should gain it back from increasing muscle, and like others said, your appetite is likely to increase the more you work out. If it doesn't, then yeah, see a doctor.
posted by AFABulous at 1:34 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

So I am not looking to gain weight currently, but I am going through some Life Crap that's really bringing out depressive feelings that affect my appetite. Lots of days, food just doesn't taste good to me but I know I need to eat to get through the day with any amount of energy. On those days, I find protein shakes made with whole milk to be really helpful, because I can just kind of sip on them over an hour or so and get 500ish calories in without having to really think of them as food. I also find ways to make the meals I do eat be fairly high-calorie for the amount I have to eat. Full-fat yogurts and other dairy, and nut butters help me a lot on this front.

I also track food on MyFitnessPal, again not with a goal of gaining/losing weight specifically, but just to get a sense of how I'm eating on days when my appetite itself isn't giving me very useful signals. My calorie goal is set to match what I need to stay at my current weight, but you could set yours about 100 or so calories above that so that you're eating at a gain, but not so much that it's drastic or especially unhealthy. I also agree with TinWhistle above that appetite loss in the long term is a good thing to talk about with your doctor, especially if this is something that's changed recently.
posted by augustimagination at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have any dietary restrictions/allergies currently? A lot of the responses here mention milk/whole milk and that's fine, but many people can't digest dairy and one of the symptoms of lactose intolerance is an uncomfortably full feeling which sounds like it might be an issue for you.
posted by kate blank at 1:46 PM on April 25, 2016

I don't know if homemade protein shakes do the same thing, but Ensure Plus (and similar) caused, uh, weird digestive issues, so go slow at first.
posted by AFABulous at 1:51 PM on April 25, 2016

I'm in similar situation. In general, liquid calories are less filling than solids. A smoothie at night with a mix of fruit, protein, and fat can easily add another 500 calories. For example, milk and/or yogurt, frozen fruit (cheaper and easier than fresh, and just as healthy), and peanut butter. You might not be as hungry for other foods, but on net your calories should be up.

Next, don't worry so much about eating "healthy." For most people, healthy means lower calorie. You don't want huge amounts of sugar, or much if any transfats, but a few extra cookies or a glass of juice is good for you if it's in addition to a diet that meets your nutritional needs. And remember that if you do find yourself gaining a bit too much fat, it won't be a problem to lose a couple of pounds.

And if this has been a lifelong issue, I wouldn't worry so much about a health issue; that's quite different than a sudden loss of appetite.

And finally, there's some helpful info at Gainit at Reddit, though it's more aimed at people trying to gain significant muscle than just getting a bit bigger.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:53 PM on April 25, 2016

Buy Nutella. Get a spoon. Wash it down with some whole milk.
posted by saradarlin at 2:19 PM on April 25, 2016

I will offer a different approach to those outlined above. Learn to bake bread; it's easy, inexpensive, delicious and worked for me.

Never in my life was I been able to gain weight until I found the magic of fresh baked bread!
posted by axismundi at 3:02 PM on April 25, 2016

just want to add that there's no reason to worry (unless you have specific experience) that weight will (only) go to your gut. it generally goes all over. example: i lost some pounds after xmas and my thighs decreased in size (despite doing legwork).
posted by andrewcooke at 3:28 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eat more fat. It packs the most calories by volume. Basically, drizzle olive oil on anything you could reasonably drizzle olive oil onto, snack on nuts all day, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:50 PM on April 25, 2016

Like augustimagination above, I have experienced times of life when I simply can't eat. In my case this has been due to anxiety, depression etc. At times like these, I tried to focus on nutrient-dense food so that the little I was eating counted for something. I ate a lot of nuts, milk-based protein shakes and smoothies. I also think that switching to a lifting/weights regime might be more useful to your goal of gaining weight.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:55 PM on April 25, 2016

See what happens if you start lifting weights. If your appetite improves, indulge it. If you just start losing weight, that's more problematic and worth a conversation with a physician and/or a (registered) dietician.

It sounds like you don't have much experience with lifting, so maybe consult with a physician or reputable trainer who has experience with programming appropriate to your age and fitness level. In particular, learn to tell the difference between the burn of working hard, the soreness of having worked hard, and the pain of injuring yourself. The first two may be normal, depending on how intense you want to go, but you need to stay away from the last one, especially at forty.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:31 PM on April 25, 2016

Guys, OP didn't say he didn't have an appetite period, he said he "rarely [has] enough of an appetite to eat enough healthy food to gain in any real noticeable way." That last part makes a big difference. If I'm understanding the OP right, I feel similarly: my appetite is fine for maintaining my current weight, but if I start trying to push calories, food starts to seem kind of disgusting and unappetizing. That's totally normal and something a lot of skinny people report when trying to bulk.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:09 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you get a chance listen to the April 23rd radio show episode of Dr. Zorba Paster, a listener called in with this same problem...his advice was about drinking Boost and Ensure right before bedtime, mixing it with ice cream for more calories. Most people do not eat before bed for fear of weight gain but yours is opposite...good luck.
posted by irish01 at 5:30 AM on April 26, 2016

Hi! Nthing that weight lifting may help you gain weight. I really came here to add that: Asian people are a healthy weight as lower BMIs. People of Asian decent (which you appear to be) are over weight at a BMI of 23 instead of 25. Your frame may not be made to carry as much fat or even muscle as people of other decents. This of course varies among people of any ethnic origin but is the majority for people of Asian decent. I would look terrible at a BMI of 19 (I am made to have a bunch of muscle and fat). It would be nearly impossible for my sister with a BMI of 19 to have my BMI of 24. We have different frames and different abilities to gain muscle and fat. So while you can push within your frame, you are never going to have a different one. Neither am I!
posted by Kalmya at 7:31 AM on April 26, 2016

Yeah, en forme de poire is right. I always have an appetite and can eat enough to roughly maintain my current weight, but adding more calories in can be hard without, as my original question noted, eating healthy. I'd like to avoid eating crap just for calories' sake.

I used to lift weights for years for my back (it has a slight curvature that was fixed through exercise) and I really didn't like what it did to my body. I don't have a lot of body fat to begin with, and lifting weights just made me look even more stringy. More muscled, yes, but also more gaunt.

Plus I hate lifting weights. :)
posted by theNonsuch at 8:27 AM on April 26, 2016

If you're firmly opposed to weight training then I'd just take whatever you consider to be healthy food(1) that you digest well and do your best to double your daily intake. But I'm not convinced that will go anywhere but your gut or your toilet if you refuse to lift weights.

You might do well to consider another form of lifting weights. Physical therapy exercises (YWTLs with light dumbbells...) are nothing like bodybuilding (Monday chest, Tuesday back and bis, sets of 12...) is nothing like powerlifting (squat, deadlift, bench, sets of 3 and 5...), which is nothing like Olympic lifting (clean, jerk, snatch, squat...), which is nothing like dumbbell circuits, and so on through CrossFit and Nautilus machine circuits and Bosu-ball "functional training" et cetera. Maybe you only hate one kind of lifting weights. Different kinds of lifting weights also have different effects on the body—powerlifting, properly buttressed with sufficient steaks and potatoes, does not leave most people "stringy" or "gaunt".

(1) For me, this would be the vegetables, eggs, meat, and dairy I mentioned previously. Pastured where possible.
posted by daveliepmann at 9:52 AM on April 26, 2016

I think that I have a similar build, but shorter than you. I've never been over 145 and that took a ton of heavy lifting and only after I started chugging a couple of shots of olive oil every morning (lactose intolerant, do not like carbs).

Hemp seed oil has a similar caloric density, tastes better, and has essentially the optimal omega-6:omega-3 fatty acid ratio. It's incredibly healthful stuff.
posted by porpoise at 11:52 AM on April 26, 2016

I'm 6' and went from 145 to 200 over a few years of lifting and eating (and got pretty strong, too). I was kind of soft at 200, but these days I'm around 170 and very lean (and I mostly train for gymnastics). You can message me if you're curious to see the before/after.

You don't have to lift weights, but you should perform progressive resistance training, as it will favorably affect the ratio of lean / fat mass that you gain when you increase your food intake.

It doesn't matter that much what you eat, just that you increase calories, although you probably shouldn't go wild eating a ton of candy. You just need to find things you don't mind consuming more of. I drank a lot of whole milk. Protein shakes are fine but they're not magic, they're just food. Check out, it's full of people in your situation.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:27 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Personally I found that adding starchy carbs worked better for me than adding fat, because carbs were less satiating for me than oils and fats and I find them easier to digest. (I eat mostly vegetarian and a lot of legumes so I wasn't hurting for fiber.) But the point really is, as ludwig_van said, to experiment and find foods that you can tolerate, because they might be different for you than someone else.

"Eat whatever you normally eat but add a shake at the end of the day" is not a bad way to start if you are really averse to calorie counting. That said, calorie counting for just a few days can be illuminating. Eventually after doing done counting you get a much better intuitive sense for how much you have to push calories to actually gain weight.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:05 AM on May 2, 2016

« Older Help with better audio in videos   |   How do I put somebody's eye out? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.