Gaining Weight the Healthy Way

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

Given the public obsession with losing weight, trying to gain weight may be the furthest thing from your mind. However, there are those who have incurred significant weight loss from a medical procedure or due to a medical condition. In such cases, maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge. Or, you may have teenagers, particularly boys, that are trying to put on weight or “bulk up.” What is the best way to gain weight, and is it possible to do so in a healthy way?

How to Gain Weight In A Healthy Way

Here are some of the strategies around planning for your meals or snacks when you are trying to gain weight in a healthy way:

  • Eat when you are most hungry.
  • Eat often. Instead of three “square” meals, you may benefit from 5 or 6 small-meal “snacks.”
  • Sip your fluids throughout the day instead of drinking copious amounts all at once.
  • Note: If you’re pregnant and are looking for healthy ways to gain weight, check out our Pregnancy Weight Gain Guide.

​What to Eat to Gain Weight

In a nutshell, gaining weight is about taking in excess calories so your body can pack on the pounds. However, it is still important to make sure the calories coming in are not at the expense of getting enough nutrients from the foods we eat. You don’t want to jeopardize your body by feeding it empty calories or unhealthy fats that can lead to other problems (such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure) down the line.

  • When appetite is poor and sitting down to a meal seems like a chore, all food should be nutrient dense. For snacks, think a variety of individually packed, high-calorie snacks that also contribute vitamins and nutrients such as:
    • cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, regular-fat yogurt and other dairy products
    • nut butters plus crackers, whole nuts and seeds, dried fruits (raisins, dried plums, dried apricots), or granola bars
  • Enjoy 100% fruit juice or milk (including non-dairy milk) alongside water. You can also bump up the calories of hot beverages, such as making hot chocolate by mixing whole milk, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Spread avocado on bread or crackers for snacking or add it to “bulk up” a smoothie. Nut butters and silken tofu are also good additions to smoothies.
  • Drizzle an extra tablespoon or two of flavorful, unsaturated oils such as olive oil or sesame oil on your salad or soup.
  • When buying chicken, opt for “dark” meat such as thigh in place of skinless breast.
  • When eating fish or poultry, enjoy it with the skin on.
  • When eating pasta or pizza, sprinkle extra cheese on as topping. (In the same vein, enjoy extra toppings on your mashed or baked potato, but instead of sour cream and bacon think hearty chili and cheese.)
  • When you make a creamy milk-based soup in place of a clear broth-based soup, extra protein and calorie content can be added by sprinkling in powdered milk.

The Bottom Line

Gaining weight comes down to taking in more calories than what your body needs. However, it is still important to do so by reaching for whole, least-processed foods that are naturally high in calories. Trying to gain weight is not an excuse to overdose on bags of chips, cookies, or other highly processed foods.

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