Please help me stop eating animal slices
February 24, 2008 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I want to stop eating animal slices. Except there's a catch. Please help.

I really want to become a vegetarian for moral reasons, and ultimately want to be a vegan (maybe 4-5 years from now).

However, I am cartoonishly underweight and I need to gain about 20+ pounds before I even feel comfortable with the process of cutting meat out of my diet. Although my doctor says I am healthy, and that my metabolism is probably just a little more demanding than most people's, he suggested that I put on some pounds before I make the switch to a vegetarian diet. Basically, he was like eat more and lift weights. An otherwise great doctor, but just not that helpful.

The problem is, I can eat like 4-5 meals a day and not put on weight. I try to lift weights twice a week and load up on protein like crazy, but I never gain weight. I haven't gained a pound in like 10 years. Everyone says just wait, but I don't want to keep eating meat. I really want to speed up the process in a healthy way, not just wait until I get fat. For the record, I have been tested for all sorts of parasites, digestive disorders, etc. I am perfectly healthy.

At this point, my diet is pretty open--I just don't eat pork.

What can I do? What sort of meal or work out plans should I follow to put on 20-30 pounds in a healthy way?

What are the best vegetarian foods to eat if you want to gain weight? That way, while I am still eating meat to gain weight, I could begin the process of eating the vegetarian foods that will allow me to keep the weight I hope to gain.
posted by milarepa to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a nutritionist, but there are a lot of things with protein that aren't meat. I am a vegetarian, and if anything, I could stand to lose a few pounds.

I think there are supplements that can help, but you should ask your doctor. Re-reading, you should talk to a different doctor. From my understanding, a vegetarian diet provides more than adequate nutrition, or at least it can. (vegan may be another story) The stereotype of the weak, anemic vegetarian is just that. I'm not going to bore you with the list of famous veggie athletes and such(it usually starts with Hank Aaron), but it sounds like you need a doctor who understands these things a little better.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:46 AM on February 24, 2008

ah what the hell, here is the list, although google says the Hank Aaron thing may be inaccuarate.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:48 AM on February 24, 2008

If you're looking to purely gain weight, I'd try a shot at some of the products listed here. Vegetarian, too!
posted by pedmands at 11:48 AM on February 24, 2008

posted by pedmands at 11:50 AM on February 24, 2008

First, find out your BMR using either a calculator or use the formula. Try here.

For the average person, your BMR is how many calories you burn each day by just existing.

Start counting calories and making sure you eat at least your BMR each day. Start adding calories (I'd say in a couple hundred calorie chunks, since your metabolism is working against your goal) until your weight starts increasing at a rate you are comfortable with.

A healthy, calorie dense way to do this is with nuts. A big handful of nuts will add a few hundred calories to your diet. Peanut butter would work, too. Start cooking with more olive oil. There are a lot of little things you can do to add calories.
posted by Loto at 11:51 AM on February 24, 2008

Potatoes and rice, potatoes and rice, potatoes and rice are your friends. "Whoa, that's a lot of carbs!" Yeah, exactly.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:53 AM on February 24, 2008

Hmm. Methinks your doctor should be a bit more concerned if you are truly cartoonishly underweight. Do you know your BMI? If you need to gain 20 lbs to get into the normal range (BMI 18.5+), then cutting meat could be dangerous.

What/how much are you eating at these meals? How active are you during the day? Do you take vitamins?

I truly hope that you don't have an eating disorder of some sort and are looking for a way to justify eating less. I'd never advise someone who is cartoonishly overweight to eat more...

Of course, I happen to think a vegetarian diet is typically unhealthy anyway - Our bodies evolved around an omnivorous diet.
posted by mamessner at 11:57 AM on February 24, 2008

If you're healthy, I don't think you should worry too much about gaining weight before changing your diet (IANAD). As long as your level of protein intake isn't deficient (think eggs, legumes, veggies, soy products) you will be fine. I doubt you'll actually lose weight from cutting meat out--unless you cut the meat out and don't replace it with anything else. People have different metabolisms and if your weight currently poses no health risks, I think it's okay to just weigh what you weigh. If you really must try to gain weight, though, calorie-laden protein drinks seem to help those who can't be bothered to eat constantly.

For what it's worth, I was a vegetarian for eight years and gained weight the entire time. My diet was pretty excessive with pastas, breads, and dairy products, all of which easily let you pack on calories. When I went back to occasionally eating meat, I lost weight.
posted by Polychrome at 12:00 PM on February 24, 2008

When I was a too-skinny vegetarian, I got my weight up by drinking chocolate Spirutein. Twenty pounds underweight is a big deal, though -- if I were you, I'd have a discussion with a different doctor and perhaps a nutritionist. (I've only had boring visits to nutritionists, but in theory this is exactly the sort of thing they help with.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:03 PM on February 24, 2008

I definitely recommend tracking things in Fitday for a week or two when you make the switch, just to get an idea of where you might be falling nutritionally short, and also to put your mind at ease. I worried that I wasn't getting enough protein as a vegetarian to build muscle while running a lot, and it turns out after tracking what I eat for a bit, I get plenty of protein on a vegetarian diet without having to resort to putting tofu in everything.
posted by adiabat at 12:03 PM on February 24, 2008

Gaining weight on a vegetarian diet

Struggling to keep weight up on a vegetarian diet

See also: the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group

Eat your avocados and coconut milk! Good luck.
posted by acridrabbit at 12:14 PM on February 24, 2008

Um, I'm a vegetarian and was a vegan for years and I think you can go either way on this one. I know a lot of people who lost weight by becoming a vegetarian and eating right and I do recommend it to people who're trying to lost weight. But you can also gain weight by being a vegetarian and eating, uhhhh, right for gaining weight. My secrets for packing on the blubber, in case all the bees die and I have to have some meals saved away for the future, is beer and guacamole, but your mileage may vary. But there's a lot of vegetarian food that will help chub you up: there's tons of processed veggie food filled with salts and oils. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you should talk to a veggie-friendly dietitian because being a vegetarian shouldn't be exclusive with healthily gaining some weight and, in addition, now I'm hungry. Or move to williamsburg where all the guys are so skinny, you'll get the nickname "water buffalo."
posted by history is a weapon at 12:15 PM on February 24, 2008

Sam story as Polychrome. When I was a vegetarian, I was 50 pounds overweight. Why? Carbs. They're full of calories and easy to eat a lot of!

(FWIW, after I became an omnivore again, I lost the weight and then some.)
posted by chez shoes at 12:22 PM on February 24, 2008

For the record, my doctor gave me a few suggestions, but the issue came up at the tail end of a visit that was really about a totally different issue. He didn't dissuade me from becoming a vegetarian, he just said I should probably try to pack on a few pounds, one way or another.

I am underweight, but maybe "cartoonishly" is overstated. Every doctor I have ever been to seemed to think I was perfectly healthy. I just have a very slim build and maybe 10 pounds under "normal weight." But since I have a slim build to begin with its more apparent. I want to gain about 20-25 so I can have a little weight to spare and actually get to see what it feels like to not be skinny.

I really appreciate all the advice so far.
posted by milarepa at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2008

You gain weight by having more calories. Even if you think you need more muscle, it's probably not because you're short of protein; it's because you body is probably using protein for energy. Vegetarian calories is carbs and fat. Congrats, you get to eat all the stuff that most people avoid: butter in anything, avocados (mmm, guacamole), sweets, chocolates, custard, whole milk and milk shakes, full fat salad dressing, extra cheese on anything, omelets, cheese cake, whipped cream and chocolate on your coffee with real sugar. Bastard. Of course, please exclude a medical reason for having high metabolic rate.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:26 PM on February 24, 2008

There's no meat in pasta, there's no meat in chocolate, there's no meat in ice cream (sans gelatin, natch), and there doesn't have to be any meat on pizza and there doesn't have to be any meat in chili.

Beyond that, do the opposite of my weight-loss routine: keep no-prep food within arms length at all times (chocolate, nuts, chips, dry kid's cereal etc). Drink full-on sweetened soda or juice to the exclusion of water. Always indulge your munchies after a few drinks...

Give me a sec to get over my jealousy...

Ok, look, I've been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for ethical reasons for well over 15 years, but I value human lives and health above that of other animals, and I am TOTALLY at ease with that. If you have health concerns that these approaches don't address, then take care of yourself by eating meat. This vegetarian says it's fine.
posted by NortonDC at 12:30 PM on February 24, 2008

butter in anything, avocados (mmm, guacamole), sweets, chocolates, custard, whole milk and milk shakes, full fat salad dressing, extra cheese on anything, omelets, cheese cake, whipped cream and chocolate on your coffee with real sugar.

MMMmm, sounds like breakfast! Seriously. I'm 6'1" and a buck thirty five, and I'd LOVE to gain some weight. I have been vegetarian (and am now omnivorous) and it didn't affect my weight one whit. The answer, my friend, is the carbs. Seriously. You don't really need that much protein to get by, but couple that with cheese, beans and nuts, you're well on your way, I think.

I just went to the BMR calculator linked above, and I need to eat ~2386 cal./ day to gain one pound a week.

I'm going to go make a bacon omelet now and wrap it in bacon. (and eat 9834758937598 pieces of buttered bread)
posted by exlotuseater at 12:45 PM on February 24, 2008

The problem is, I can eat like 4-5 meals a day and not put on weight. I try to lift weights twice a week and load up on protein like crazy, but I never gain weight.

Saying 4-5 meals doesn't really help quantify how much you're eating. I'll second using Fitday to track how many calories you're eating. I'll bet that once you start keeping track, you'll realize that you're not eating as much as you thought you were.

Talk to someone who knows about nutrition and find out how many calories you should be eating to gain weight. If you find yourself falling short in calories, take a couple tablespoons of olive oil, eat some peanut butter on multigrain toast, and if you're diet is still open, have a chicken breast or two.
posted by ODiV at 1:16 PM on February 24, 2008

It's my understanding that one of the best ways to gain weight is to diet.

Now, I could just post that and it would look like a self-contained little snarky joke, but in actual fact, this is apparently true. If you diet for awhile, restricting your caloric intake, your metabolism will slow down permanently. If you then resume your old diet, you'll tend to gain weight to above your old figure.

I'm not sure, though, that you really want to do this; that change is permanent, and you may have trouble with weight in later life. My personal guess is that you shouldn't worry too much, and go ahead and be vegetarian, and if you start to lose weight from that, or if you don't feel good, THEN worry about it. Otherwise, don't.
posted by Malor at 1:41 PM on February 24, 2008

>Every doctor I have ever been to seemed to think I was perfectly healthy.

The meaning of this assessment is completely clear: You don't need to gain weight for health reasons. In fact, I'd wager that you're current body weight, with an extremely low body fat percentage, is at an enviously healthy weight point. Throw the idea that you need to gain weight out the window. Unless you experience health issues entailed by your current BMI, try to maintain your current weight--even after your switch to vegetarianism.

Now, you made the point that you feel you're too skinny. But that's an aesthetic issue, not a health one. Still, if you'd like to proactively deal with this problem, you need to gain the right type of weight, which is muscular weight, rather than body fat weight. And the easiest way to accomplish this is through weight lifting.

So, get to the gym and lift those weights. I know you're trying to lift twice a week and eat massive doses of protein. But keep in mind that it takes a year, or even longer, for substantial, visible gains to appear on your physique (unless you're juicing, of course). Stick with your twice-a-week routine, and lower your expectations for an immediate change in body appearance. But above all, remember: you do not, and should not, need to increase your body fat. You'll find it remarkably easy to fatten up as you age, and now is the time to build a lifetime of slim vegetarian eating habits.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2008

most skinny guys i know that workout but can't gain weight do a ton of reps or run. Hit the weight gainer suplements and lift HEAVY weights. No more than 8 reps no more than 3 sets of any exercise. focus chest, back, legs. Those are your big muscle groups and hitting them heavy will get your hormones going in the right direction.
posted by jseven at 2:18 PM on February 24, 2008

The keys to gaining weight:
1. add more calories to everything (by adding butter, peanut butter, avocado spread/slices, hummus, baba ganoush, mayo, cheese, salad dressings etc; cream in coffee rather than milk)
2. eat more meals than you are eating now (I also eat 5 a day to stay at the same weight.)
3. eggs and nuts for snacking
4. carbs - beer, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.
5. drink calorific things instead of just water
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:25 PM on February 24, 2008

I'm 6'3 and 150lbs. Not technically underweight by the BMI definition (very borderline) but if I stand very still in front of a mirror with my shirt off, I can watch my heart beat. I can eat as much as I want, of whatever I want, and these numbers do not change. I have friends who tell me they envy me this (and I do appreciate its good points) but if I work out with these friends, doing the same regimen, they gain muscle probably 30-60 times as fast as me, as measured by weight increase (if they're already trim) and by increase in lifting capacity. If I stop working out, I return to my baseline.

People here are counseling carbs, but I don't think that works for people of our body type. I can eat huge numbers of calories in carbs, but not gain weight. Extra calories just get burned as heat and as non-exercise muscle movement (fidgeting.)

That said, I can put on weight, but it is a huge amount of work for a very small payoff. To put on weight, I have to put on muscle. If I want to put on muscle, I must work out as often as possible (every day if possible, but can be successful at 4 times/wk.) I alternate muscle groups so that I have a little time to build muscle between tearing it down. And key to this is, I eat an ungodly amount of protein, fats, and carbs, figuring that somewhere in that mix will be something my body will want to keep. My favorite post-workout food is something my friends and I refer to as "human-chow" because it contains lots of all three of those things. It is a mixture of peanut butter (protein, fat) honey (carbs) and rolled oats (carbs, protein.) Mix them to taste, I don't have set proportions. It's cheap to make if you buy the ingredients in bulk, you can mix up a huge batch of it which will last forever, and it's kind-of-vegetarian (though honey sometimes contains bee-parts.)

Eat carbs before you work out for energy, avoid protein before your work-out (protein takes lots of blood to digest. Skeletal muscle takes lots of blood to run. If you place big demands on both of these, you'll get light-headed.) As soon after your work-out as possible, eat your chosen high-protein meal. Don't get discouraged. Check yourself out in the mirror, because better-looking muscles will be easier for you to spot at first than minute gains on the scale, and are encouraging. Good luck.
posted by agentofselection at 2:29 PM on February 24, 2008

Oh, and take jseven's advice about doing low-rep power lifting, and the muscle groups he suggests. I'd also add shoulders and arms because those'll make you look cool. That's optional, though.
posted by agentofselection at 2:32 PM on February 24, 2008


I think we are about the same. I am a little shorter and weigh a little less but the situation you describe sounds very familiar.

I used the fitday calculator today and I am already well over 2000 calories for the day and I still have a lot of evening snacking to do. I think on an average day I easily consume 2,500-3,000 calories. I don't know how much more I can eat. I might just take Gordion Knott's suggestion and assume that I am healthy and start going vegetarian and just make sure I load up on proteins after I work out.

Any other suggestions are welcome.
posted by milarepa at 2:41 PM on February 24, 2008

Milarepa: If you really want to gain weight the key is to eat stuff with TONS of calories that won't really fill you up. Like eat your normal amount and then for desert have a giant ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. It's really easy to make a sundae with 1000+ calories in it.

I would find it trivial to gain 20 pounds in a really short period of time just by letting myself eat the desserts I like. Mmmmm ice cream sundaes.
posted by Justinian at 3:32 PM on February 24, 2008

Perhaps you are just an ectomorph, in which case eating vast quantities of food still won't make much of a difference.

You can look into things like Vega meal replacer/supplement, developed by a vegan Ironman triathlete. It's full of good stuff.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:01 PM on February 24, 2008

FWIW, every vegetarian I know is fat. Maybe it's all that beans and rice.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:33 PM on February 24, 2008

That's funny, Jacqueline. Nearly every vegetarian I know is slim.

Just goes to show you that the plural of anecdote is not data.
posted by acridrabbit at 11:47 AM on February 25, 2008

I agree with others above; don't worry about losing weight at this stage. I'm pretty sure you'll be fine if you follow a good diet with a mix of food groups, just as you would be as a non-vegetarian. Why not make the switch, see how you go, see how you feel, and if it doesn't work out, switch back. I'm pretty confident you'll be fine; the important thing is to find food you enjoy :-)
posted by Lleyam at 12:27 PM on February 25, 2008

I lived with an ovo-lacto vegetarian who was doing a body building routine (in order to become a male stripper). Every morning, he ate a full stack of buckwheat and bran apple pancakes and three eggs. Every lunch he ate a cheese, egg and guacamole sandwich. Every night, he cooked up some variation on four cups of soy protein and green veggies.

This, combined with a pretty brutal workout routine, led to him gaining about 50 pounds, which sure as hell looked like pure muscle (he went from around 130 at 5'6" to just over 190 at peak) over the course of about eight months. He's abandoned all of that now, and just does crew, but hovers around 165.

My advice would be to eat hearty—big chilis, big pancakes, big eggs—and work out like mad.
posted by klangklangston at 12:57 PM on February 25, 2008

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