So I feel like this morning’s rant was too beneficial to not get it on the blog permanently! I get this question all the time! I guess at this point, it’s safe to say I’ve mastered the “how-to gain weight healthily” thing. Ya feel me?
If you’ve been watching me for some time time, you know that my ultimate goal in recovery was obviously to recover mentally & to get over my ED but also to recover physically and restore my weight. The approach that I chose to take was to put on weight but in a healthy way.
I had two options:
- Scarf anything in sight down (fast food, Big Macs, process defines foods, sugar) or:
- Take a healthy approach towards eating & reincorporate foods I had eliminated but also new foods I had never experienced with (that’s where my nutritionist came in).
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that my approach towards gaining weight in recovery was to do it in a healthy way. Obviously, because the food I chose to eat as part of my meal plan was healthy, wasn’t processed, refined or filled with chemicals I couldn’t pronounce, the process took a lot longer. But I got there. I think I can speak from first-hand experience & give you guys some tips about how you can put on weight in a healthY away.
First off, you don’t have to be suffering from an ED to have issues with gaining weight. There are so many people who suffer from an array of issues that may hinder weight gain or trigger weight loss, such as: excessive stress or anxiety (some people stress-eats others don’t have an appetite), thyroid issues, IBS or other gastrointestinal diseases, or people who, by choice, are vegan or vegetarian but who don’t supplement for the nutrients (iron, B12 etc.) in the foods they are lacking (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy etc.). There are also just people who have really fast metabolisms; they eat but don’t manage to put on enough weight to keep them healthy, to sustain them and to stop them from feeling tired & getting energy slumps.
So, if you deal with one of the above or another issue that may be getting in the way of your weigh gain or rather, of you feeling your healthiest & best, what can you do to fix it?
Incorporate healthy fats into your diet
It sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it. Due to the fact that companies market “low-sugar”, “low-fat”, “low-everything”, “fat-free” etc., a mentality has been born that healthy fats & fat is general is bad for you & is going to make you gain weight. Obviously, foods that are high in fat will help optimize weight gain, but they will help attain this goal in a healthy way, all while providing you with so many vitamins, nutrients & minerals you can’t get in such large quantities from other foods, such as omega fatty acids. By reducing or completely eliminating fat from your diet, you’re preventing your body from getting nutrients that you can’t necessarily find in such large volumes elsewhere (for example: you won’t get the same amount of B12 from cheese, milk or yogurt than you would from salmon, chicken or almonds).
Believe it or not, when eaten in the right proportions & quantities, healthy fats will also help you maintain a healthy weight. So they really work in both ways: weight maintenance & weight gain (& yes, EVEN weight loss!).
Some foods rich in healthy fats that you may consider incorporating are avocado, hemp, flax, chia, sunflower seeds, healthy oils (coconut, avocado, olive oil), nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans), eggs etc.
What’s good about incorporating healthy fats into your diet is that a lot of the time, you don’t really feel them in your foods. In my meal plan, we established that every meal & snack would include healthy fats so that I wouldn’t even feel they were there & in turn, so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed by portion size. Portion sizes can be overwhelming whether you are trying to gain or lose weight. A small portion might overwhelm you in the sense that you feel like you are being deprived or like you aren’t eating enough of what you want to eat, whereas a larger portion might overwhelm you in the sense that it might feel like a lot of food & shock not only your mind or your body.
What I found really helpful throughout recovery, in order to incorporate all these healthy fats, without necessarily shocking my body or mind & without feeling like I had enough food for three people on my plate (which I did, sometimes!), was incorporating nuts & seeds. The same thing goes for oils. Fry your veggies in oil, instead of using vinegar or water, add oils to your dressings, throw flaxseeds into your bowls, salads or baked treats! Protein powders are good too. Some contain more fat than others. You can add them into oatmeal, smoothies & Greek yogurt & you won’t even feel that they’re there, but you’ll be getting tons of protein, good fats and in turn, an energy boost & fuel!
In doing this, you won’t be overwhelmed by the quantity of the food, but you will get quality. That’s the whole mantra here: quality over quantity. It’s not so much about having a plate full of food but rather about what’s in your plate & what nutrients, vitamins, minerals & macros are found in the food that’s on your plate. It’s about eating for benefits.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s not enough to stuff your plate with a bunch of food & think that because it weighs more, you will gain weight. In fact, this is something that a lot of people in recovery struggle with (& something I personally struggled with at first) when they are not mentally ready to incorporate foods they eliminated. They think if they load a plate with veggies, spinach & other greens that they are eating a full meal & yes, they are getting nutrients & vitamins from all these veggies, but they aren’t going the fat & fuel they need to put on the weight (P.S. Dr. Joseph Marcela’s book “Fat For Fuel” is a must-read!).
Supplement for meat/fish/poultry/dairy with plant-based protein to make sure that you are getting enough B12, iron & other vital nutrients
This is more particular to people who are vegetarian or vegan: If you aren’t eating meat/fish/poultry or dairy, you need to make sure that you are substituting for the vitamins, minerals & nutrients that you would otherwise get from meat. In my opinion, the most important ones are B12 & iron.
Yes, you can find B12 in certain other foods, such as nutritional yeast or salmon, and iron in dark leafy greens & tons of others foods, but it’s just not enough. You aren’t getting the same amount that you would be getting from animal protein & fats. This is why if you’re not eating meat, fish, dairy etc., rich in these vitamins, that give you energy, prevent fatigue, weakness & fainting spells, you have to make sure you are supplementing for these foods with plant-based protein.
Need some plant-based protein inspo? It’s 2017: Let’s Plant-Based-Protein-It-Up! Ya Dig? (No Pun Intended!).
Do not be afraid of carbs!
I wrote a full blog post on the difference between good & bad carbs HERE: Carbs Are Not The Enemy!
Carbs are the primary source of energy & fuel for our muscles. If you’re not fuelling your muscles with good carbs, your muscles will feel weak, overworked, tired & you won’t be able to function at your optimal level or do everything you want your body to do. This is especially true if you’re exercising! (And there is nothing wrong with exercising if you are trying to gain weigh, as long as you’re not compensating for the food you are eating).
Whole &/or sprouted nutrient-rich grains, oats, starchy veggies & other foods rich in good carbs are CRUCIAL for your existence, literally. They are necessary to function, to sustain you throughout your day, workouts & the general hustle & bustle of everyday life. It makes no sense to eliminate an entire macronutrient, whether it be protein, carbs or fats. It’s all about finding your balance!
Watch how much you drink & when.
Hydration is super important but a lot of people will scarf down an entire water bottle before a meal or during it. Doing this will often trick the body into thinking that it’s full when it’s not. Yes, its full of water, but eventually, once you get rid of it, you’ll realize that you’re not actually full & that you didn’t actually ingest any vital nutrients.
All this to say, be mindful about how much you’re drinking. Stay hydrated, but don’t overdo it with your meal or right before. Ideally, you want to teach your body to be able to notice & act upon its hunger cues. If you scarf down a bunch of water before your meal or during it, your stomach will feel overly full & bloated, when it’s actually NOT & you hardly ingested any nutrients.
Make every bite count by adding healthy fats whenever you can!
If you’re having a fruit, have a tbsp. or 1/2 tbsp. of nut butter on the side with it. In doing this, you are adding fats but you still get the refreshing feeling of having the fruit. If you’re having pasta, drizzle some parmesan, vegan cheese, olive oil, pesto or another food that has fat content & that won’t add too much overwhelmingness or quantity. Basically, don’t just eat to eat – eat for fuel & for benefits & make sure that everything you are putting into your body is nutrient-dense!
Don’t exercise to compensate for the food you are consuming.
Exercise is important whether you are trying to gain or lose weight. BUT, you have to make sure that you are not working out to compensate for the food you are eating. It’s counterproductive.
As long as you aren’t doing that and you have a healthy relationship with food & you develop an exercise routine that you are able to sustain, you have nothing to worry about! Exercise is actually crucial & can help you gain weight (muscle weighs more than fat!), tone & contribute to your overall mental & emotional wellness & stability. It boosts mood & energy & releases tons of endorphins!
If you are trying to gain weight, and you are working out to gain and tone your muscles, you might actually find that you have to eat more:
1) because your muscles need to restore their glycogen stores to fuel you for your next workout (or simply to get you through your days!) &
2) because when you work out, inevitably, you are burning calories. If you’re trying to gain weight, logically, you want to keep the calories in! So it’s fine to exercise, but if you are, you have to either eat more or at least, make sure you aren’t compensating for the food you are eating with exercise because then you’ll find yourself back at square one (& maintain or even lose weight).
Eat frequently throughout the day & try to develop an eating schedule!
Eating frequently throughout the day is crucial for many reasons. I would suggest eating five to six small meals, as opposed to three large ones as this will allow you to really experiment with new foods, to not get too accustomed to or bored of certain foods & to pace yourself. And again, this ties into what I said before, especially if you’re in recovery, you don’t want to be pushing yourself to have 3 huge meals that might overwhelm you physically &/or mentally/emotionally. Sometimes, it can be hard to grasp having to consume all that food in just one sitting.
Whereas, if your meals are spread throughout the day, and if they are healthy, nutrient & calorie-dense, not too large in terms of quantity & rich in healthy fats, good carbs & protein, they will keep you full until the next time you eat, but not overly full or bloated. All this to say, whether you’re gaining weight in recovery or for whatever other reason, you need to pace yourself!
It also helps if in the beginning, you associate certain times with eating. This will allow you to develop reflexes & eating at those times will become routinely for you! You’ll also notice that you will begin to feel hungry at those precise times. For example: I know that around 3:00-4:00PM everyday, I have a snack & some Kombucha. This is something I do everyday & it’s usually the time around which I start to get tired, or feel a little energy slump coming on! So, I need my refuel!
All this to say: Pace yourself, take it slow & ease into it. Don’t just rush into weight gain, even if it’s necessary or crucial. Ease into the idea & then let it happen. Believe it or not, gaining weight is not easy (I realized this when I was trying to). It’s a lot harder than you think, you need a lot more food than you think & you might hit roadblocks or plateaus! But, eventually, you’ll come out of them if you change up your foods & make an effort to monitor your progress. At the end of the day, IT WORKS! It will take time & longer than it would if you were eating cr*p, but it’s worth it!
Ditch the fat-free, low-calorie, sugar-free, low-carb, low-fat labels & foods.
Fat-free, low-cal, low-sugar etc. products are laden with chemicals, ingredients you can’t pronounce, artificial sweeteners & tons of processed and refined ingredients that will do you more harm than good. All of these ingredients are used in order to compensate for taking the fat, sugar or carbs out of the foods. IT MAKES NO SENSE TO NOURISH YOUR BODY WITH THOSE THINGS. I don’t even think it can be considered nourishing, tbh. You want NUTRIENT-DENSE & RICH FOODS (& this applies whether you are trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight!).
If you are contemplating having fish for dinner and your options are white fish or salmon, go for the salmon. If you’re contemplating making a dressing or using a store-bought low sugar or low-fat one, make your own using healthy oils! Believe it or not, cooking at home is actually a really good way to gain weight (You’d think restaurants were, right? But you don’t actually know what’s in the food!). Want cereal for breakfast? Swap it for muesli or granola! It’s higher in fat, but lower in sugar, higher in protein & good carbs & made with nutrient-dense foods, such as oats, grains, sprouted seeds & nuts.
LASTLY, TREAT YOURSELF!
Gaining weight healthily does not mean that you can never treat yourself, step out of your comfort zone & eat something that isn’t considered healthy. You can afford to. Do it. Not only will you feel great & happy, but it’ll also help you in your process towards gaining weight because whatever you treat yourself with will obviously be something that you don’t necessarily eat everyday (higher in carbs, refined sugars, packaged or processed).
BUT, every now & then, it’s not a bad thing! ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE TRYING TO GAIN WEIGHT & EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT! We all get cravings & there’s nothing wrong with giving into them in moderation! They are literally your body’s way of communicating with you that it wants & is lacking something. So, enjoy & indulge every now & then and in moderation (obviously not every day) and so do, knowing that it will help you in your ultimate goals towards weight gain!
To read my post all about cravings, click HERE: When A Craving Hits, Listen To Your Body. It’s The Only Way It Can Communicate With You!