The Aim is to Gain: Advice on Weight Gain, Whatever Your Reason
A new and updated sticky providing general advice to anyone wishing to gain weight, whatever your reason for it. Now with specific posts oriented at every weight gain group where possible, do note that I address this to everyone and the advice with in does apply on a general basis. So please, read up, I hope this helps, and if you feel anything should be added let me know!
BEFORE WE BEGIN - Doctor, Doctor!
PART 1a - How Many Calories?...: Eating Habits, Health Situations, and Catch-All Aspects of Weight Gain
PART 1b - How Many Calories?...: Restriction, Eating Disorders, and Weight Gain
Part 1c - How Many Calories?...: Special Situations
PART 2 - Food, Glorious Food (includes sample meal plan)
PART 3 - Food As Medicine, Not A Chore
PART 4 - Gaining Weight, Losing Money
IN CLOSING - It's All About You
Other Gaining Stickies:
A note on topics for the Weight Gain Forum: READ ME before posting!
Weight Gainers: What did YOU eat today?
Official High-Cal Foods List
Healthy Weight Gain ... ideas and resources!
Reason: active for linked information; otherwise, not an active thread
BEFORE WE BEGIN - Doctor, Doctor!
Before you make the steps to gain, you must first go for a check-up. This post is meant as general advice and not a professional opinion. There may be factors to your refeeding that, if done alone, will put you in danger. This includes a very low body weight (sub-15) and any deficiencies, intolerances, injuries and similar that may affect your diet. SO WHATEVER YOU DO, WHATEVER YOUR INTENT, GO TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.
Similarly, if you encounter complications while refeeding yourself, such as edema (swelling of extremities), chest pains, palpitations, aches, and so on, GO TO YOUR DOCTOR AS SOON AS YOU CAN.
PART 1a - How Many Calories?...
Eating Habits, Health Situations, and Catch-All Aspects of Weight Gain
How many calories you require depends on your circumstance. In the past, I have simply pushed a 2500/3000 guideline because of the majority of our posters (though certainly not all!) in the Weight Gain forum being those with eating disorders. However, with a recent influx of non-eating disorders, with my personal desire to no longer make this forum look like the "Eating Disorder" forum and not Weight Gain, and with the instating of a brand new tool on Calorie Count this is now being updated.
But next, what to do? Read on to Lala's Eating Habits questionnaire! (Hooray)
a) Firstly: do you have a known complication like cystic fibrosis? A stomach problem? A digestive problem? A known eating disorder? If yes, it is much wiser that you go to your doctor as suggested in the first post and talk to them about your dietary needs. CC is a very general website and we're no replacement for a medical professional, so please, if this applies to you seek doctor's advice. If you have that advice, feel free to scroll down and keep reading.
b) If a doesn't apply to you, look at the amount of calories you take in on your average day. Is it below 1200 for a sedentary woman over 21? Is it below 1500 for a sedentary woman under 21 or a sedentary male over 21? Is it below 1800 for a sedentary male under 21?
If the answer is yes to any of the above appropriate to you, go on to point c.
If the answer is no to any of the above appropriate to you, go on to point d.
c) If the answer to b is yes, and your intake is below your needs, start evaluating your eating habits and your general behaviours. Do you have any symptoms of an eating disorder? If you're unsure, or even just worried, fill these two questionnaires:
Signs of an Eating Disorder Questionnaire
If you find you are displaying eating disordered habits, go to your doctor immediately and show them your results.
If you find you are not showing eating disordered symptoms but have a restrictive intake, please read on to the next post.
d) If the answer to b is no, and you do not have any known health complications, have been to your doctor and are eating a decent amount already, CC has a brand new weight gain tool that can cater to your needs. Simply go to My Account -> Account Settings, then set your goals to "Weight Gain". Then, to find out your caloric needs, click the tag called "Advice". After you input your details, Calorie Count will suggest to you how to gain at a rate of one pound a week. Please remember, if you are under 21 Calorie Count is not accurate for you, and you should add around 300 calories to this number. Also remember that a healthy rate of gain can be up to 2lbs a week. If you feel 1lb a week is too slow, add another 500 calories to this number.
To use some speculative examples,
- If you're 25, female, eating normally, and CC suggests you eat 2300 calories to gain 1lb a week and that's okay for you, you eat 2300 calories.
- If you're 17, female, eating normally, and CC suggests you eat 2300 calories to gain 1lb a week, add another 300 calories and eat 2600 calories.
- If you're 21, female, eating normally and CC suggests you eat 2300 calories to gain 1lb a week, but you want to gain 2lbs a week, add 500 calories and eat 2800 calories.
- If you're 15, female, eating normally and CC suggests you eat 2300 calories to gain 1lb a week, but you want to gain 2lbs a week, add 800 (300 for under 21s and then 500 for the extra lb) and eat 3100 calories a week.
COMMON ASPECTS OF WEIGHT GAIN
In ALL matters of weight gain if you find that you're not gaining, or not gaining fast enough generally, bump your calories up until you see a steady rate of gain. Also be aware that in the first two weeks of beginning on a weight gain diet you should expect to see initial, rapid water gain. This is because, true to name, you're holding water. An increase of carbohydrate, sodium, and food in general all cause water stores to increase. After two weeks, this goes away. So I would either monitor your weight status two weeks after your first increases, or weigh just once a week and follow your weight gain trend, not your actual numbers.
Lastly, as just said, don't weigh in more than once a week and when you weigh, do it under the same conditions on the same day, at the same time where possible. Else, it'll likely not be very accurate.
When it comes to exercise, if your body is underweight, it will stress it all the more to begin working out on top of replenishing it. Thus: if you've not achieved a BMI of 17.5 or higher, if your doctor tells you no, if you are suffering palpitations, pains, edema, or any other affliction while refeeding, or if you have a history of compulsive overexercise my advice is to not exercise at all. Equally, cardiovascular exercise can be detrimental to weight gain. Eat back any calories you burn off. That said, resistance exercise, weight lifting, yoga, pilates and other strengthening techniques can be beneficial in that they help rebuild lost muscle eaten away at.
In regards to weight distribution, it takes time and patience but your weight will even out as time goes on and as you approach a healthier weight. For those who are skeptical, please feel free to consult the before/after picture in my own gallery of myself after a gain of 50lbs from my lowest weight!
And now, moving on to specific requirements.
PART 1b - How Many Calories?...
Restriction, Eating Disorders, and Weight Gain
To start with the obvious: if you're engaging in a restrictive or disordered eating behaviour, your health is in very immediate danger. More so if you're underweight and ESPECIALLY if your weight is sub 15 BMI. Either way, before you do anything PLEASE go and seek medical aid immediately. I know I am saying it a lot, but more and more I am seeing posters who do not seem to fathom the peril they may well be in through their behaviours.
We have had influxes of those with a BMI below 15 who think they're okay to refeed on their own, but the truth is, you're not. Unsupervised refeeding can lead to some very serious health complications including your heart packing up on you. And even then, without an adequate intake, there is equally a risk you'll do more harm than good to your body.
Believe it or not, your body is a very efficient machine when it's treated properly and equally when it wants to repair. With the case of restriction, and with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia nervosa, your body will likely need a great deal more than you realise. Your body will not only need to gain weight but mend damage your restrictive or disordered behaviours will have done. While your regular Joe weight gainer might only need 2200 (generalisation) calories or so to gain weight, a restrictive underweight individual may well discover that's enough to make them lose weight.
So, what to do without hurting yourself?
Firstly, if your intake is below 1200 get to 1200 as quickly as you possibly can but work at a pace that will not trigger you. I do not suggest you do this all in one big jump, but as swiftly as possible is ideal. As in, in the space of two days maximum. Once you hit 1200, then build to 1800, then 2200, then 2500 if you're female. If you are male, continue on to 3000.
For those with restrictive and disordered habits a BMI 20 is a good goal. Why? This weight allows a buffer for both relapse as well as things that might cause unintentional weight loss such as a 'flu. It is also especially helpful if you've lost your period, as around this weight, it's a good deal more likely it will return. However, do remember that return of menses is not a sign of good health and if it comes back at a lower weight it is also unlikely it will remain. You must must MUST also remember that your health and mentality will still be affected even if you become weight restored, so again, seek help for your thought patterns as well as your eating habits.
HOWEVER, I must stress immensely this forum is NOT THE EATING DISORDER FORUM. We have a problem where people will post issues relating to their eating disorders NOT relating to weight gain in this forum. Please use the Health and Support forum for issues relating to eating disorders not dealing with weight gain. We also have a group run by CC's nutritionist, Mary, called Disordered Eaters in Recovery.
Part 1c - How Many Calories?...
Sometimes, you may have a dietary need, absorption issue or other physical complication that means you are losing weight or not getting all the calories you need. In the event of these situations you need to really be working closely with a medical team. You should also be aware you'll likely have a much higher caloric need. As such, I again suggest 2500/3000 (f/m) or more calories in this event but you really need to work these things out with your doctor.
Equally, please post all posts NOT relating to weight gain but regarding your health in the Health and Support forum.
PART 2 - Food, Glorious Food
Now, high amounts can sound very daunting, I know! And I know the sort of advice, "Go eat a cheeseburger!" can be very, very frustrating. (Though a cheeseburger doesn't hurt once in a while.) It's also important that you DO NOT NEED supplements as a requirement in gaining, but if you feel having one will be easier for you in the long run or if your doctor has set out a plan that includes a supplement drink then do make use of them. It's a matter of personal taste.
However, you can easily make these numbers on a healthy balanced diet with the aid of high calorie, low density food. These wonderful foods provide lots of calories with little bulk. Examples of these would be whole fat dairy, nuts and nut butters, avocado, oils like olive oil and canola (rapeseed) oil as two examples, oily fish, dried fruit and dense fruit like bananas - and that's only a few ideas!
There are two threads stickied at the top of this forum: Support Recipes and The Official High-Cal Food List. The first of these is a list of example recipes that are tasty, high calorie and helpful in gaining. The second is a more general list of foods that will also help in gaining.
A PB and banana sandwich can rack you up 550 calories pronto. One large banana is about 110 calories. Two teaspoons of PB are about 60 calories. Two slices of wholemeal bread will rack you about 90-100 calories per slice. Banana, plus bread? 310. Plus the four teaspoons of PB? 550. Very nice grilled or with a drizzle of honey added in if you're up for it.
You could try making a smoothie with some milk and/or yoghurt, honey, nuts and a banana, and other fruits of your choosing. Smoothies and milkshakes can be bottled and taken places. If you have the time to sit down, an ice cream sundae can be made in the same sort of manner. Oatmeal/porridge is also a good base for denser foods - you can easily stir in nut butters, nuts, and dried fruit into oatmeal and make it with milk and it's still easy on the stomach. Chocolate is awesome too!
Stir fry is easily done. Just do it up in oil and throw in some cashews or peanuts or similar to help bring up calorie content. Peanut sauce works in the same manner, but there are all sorts of nut butters, not just peanuts! Macadamia and cashew are delicious. Pasta bakes can be made calorific. You could also make a grilled cheese sandwich or two!
For portable foods, try making trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, dry cereals and extras like chocolate chips, yoghurty bits and such. Sandwiches, wraps and other similar meals are good for carrying around, as are loaded salads (aka, a salad with a dense protein like oily fish, whole fat dairy or nuts, or certain pulses like lentils and chickpeas as well, and olive oil dressing) in containers. And don't forget to enjoy junkier choices once in a while too. :D
It's a good idea to break up your meals over the day to not only go easier on your stomach but also to help rev the metabolism. In addition to that, anorexia and undereating can rob you of your hunger pangs, and so what is called "mechanical eating" may help you get them back. For an example meal plan of 2500:
And of 3000:
Do not worry about specific nutrition at this point. You will probably have a higher intake of everything compared to others - and really, comparing yourself to anyone else at all isn't the way to go. The only thing I personally think is worth watching when upping calories is salt and trans fat, but as for numbers of other nutrients and food groups? Don't worry about it. Aim for carbs, proteins, fruit or veg, healthy fats and dairy or dairy alternatives in all your meals over the day, get enough fibre, and take a full multivitamin as a buffer, and you'll be fine.
A good ratio to aim for is 55-60% carbs, 10-15% protein and 25-30% fats. If you are also missing your period, I would go for the upper rung of that percentage range in fats (aka, 30%).
A SAMPLE MEAL PLAN OF 3000 CALORIES
BREAKFAST - 750
Two slices of wholemeal toast, thick slice  with a tbsp of butter (unsalted, ideally) or margarine between both [100 - no light stuff!] and a tbsp of jam on each slice [90 on average]. Two rashers streaky bacon  and two large fried eggs  using a tbsp of olive oil . Sauce of your choice to accompany.
SNACK AM - 250
An ounce of almonds [160 or so] and an ounce of raisins. 
LUNCH - 800
A large wholegrain pitabread  stuffed with 40g whole fat feta cheese , 60g sundried tomatoes packed in oil (but drained off) , and salad leaves [negligable]. Greek yoghurt parfait - 150g whole fat FAGE total (no 2% or 0%!) or other whole fat greek yoghurt , topped with 35g of granola .
SNACK PM - 200
80g hummus  and 60g baby carrots 
DINNER - 620
Tuna Pasta Bake at 492 calories a serving, having a slightly larger serving to take it up to . Make sure you use whole fat cheese in the recipe. A side of mixed vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, carrots... pick your favourites [negligable], and dress them with a tbsp of olive oil .
SNACK EVENING - DESSERT - 380
60g rolled oats  made with a mix of 100ml whole milk and 200ml water , topped with a small sliced banana .
Even if you're vegetarian, lactose intolerant, coeliac... etc, this is still proof you CAN make totals like 3000 without having to cram food, with balance of nutrition and still enjoying what you're eating.
To take that to 3500, you could:
Have 50g each of almonds and raisins, not an ounce, at the morning snack. [+185]
Make the evening porridge with entirely 300ml whole milk, and not with any water. [+120]
Have a 500ml glass of 100% juice with your pm snack. [+220]
Those ideas add an extra 525 calories alone. It's easy to come up with more ideas to add calories fast, though.
PART 3 - Food As Medicine, Not A Chore
Eating so much can be very daunting for many reasons.
Firstly, in the event of disordered eating there can often be "fear foods" that factor into your diet. The best way I can suggest of tackling these? Face them. Embrace foods of old that you loved as a kid. Get involved in the cooking again and make sure you actually eat what you make. Get your hands dirty; one of the best things I have done so far in recovery is to spend a day babysitting my younger cousins, making fajita pizza faces and fruit "tarts" (um, more, puff pastry with a lot of syrup and fruit on top). They didn't look great but they were so much fun, and this is what restricters need to regain - a fun, happy relationship with food, rather than the negative connotations such as "weight", "fat" and "unhealthy".
Bingeing is also a common fear, as far as I have seen, but if you are worried about eating too much remember this: there should be no upper limit in weight gaining within reason. That said the important thing is to regain a normal relationship with food and binges are not a part of that. This is where mechanical eating is very important as planning your day out should help prevent the onset of a binge episode.
You shouldn't be out to be the "healthiest" gainer. Nutrition doesn't matter beyond the basics and beyond your personal needs. Obviously, I am not going to tell someone with a nut allergy that they should eat peanut butter galore, but if there is no valid reason for you not to consume a food then do not cut it out of your diet.
If you have an intolerance, absorption problem, and similar, make sure you work with your doctor as well as trying to find good high calorie alternatives. Soy milk can be bulked out, and most dairy-alternative soy products are still quite high calorie. For gluten, there's foods like rice pasta and breads that still come out pretty high calorie. But again, chat with your doctor.
As I said in the previous post supplements are NOT neccessary to weight gain. However, in the event of:
- extreme diet or absorption issues
- extremely high calorie needs
- severe malnutrition
The these sorts of formulas can be very helpful. They should not replace food, however, so where applicable drink these sorts of mixtures on top of your meals and snacks. Try and work them into food where you can, like adding them to milk and cereal.
BOREDOM, LACK OF TIME, AND SIMILAR SITUATIONS
It's understandable that eating often might make you feel bored, or like you're eating non-stop. This is where low density high calorie food is very helpful. You won't feel like you're eating so much if your snacks are low density, such as nuts, dried fruit, or granola bars. Equally, these are very portable foods and do well for people who are on the go or very busy. And if all else fails, take a caloric drink along wherever you're going or for busy times to sip on while you're doing whatever you do.
If you're completely burnt out on food then my advice to those scared of food applies here too: make it fun! Get your hands dirty! Make some finger foods or an interesting meal like a mini mexican buffet. Or try a cuisine you've never had before. And make sure you don't get stuck in a food rut; mix up your diet. Write a list of new foods to introduce each week with your meal plans and work them into your dishes.
Lastly, do keep to your meal plans. This is why mechanical eating is very important: set yourself times that work for YOU for eating and stick to them. Weight gain is as hard as weight loss and you have to go at it 110%!
PART 4 - Gaining Weight, Losing Money
I've seen a lot of you all saying how hard food costs are hitting you. I, too, know your pain, but I have greatly reduced some of my costs a few ways.
First of all, and I know this might not be so viable for some of you, we already grow a few things in our back garden. Namely, squash, blueberries, strawberries, chillies and peaches. The squash and chillies are the only things in season right now but we have been using the little squash that are actually growing nicely. It is a good investment in the long term. You might not have a garden, but you can still grow some things in windowboxes. x]
Aim for fruit and veg that is in season and make regular trips. Only buy the fresh produce you know you are going to use within the next two to three days and make sure you use it. For dry staples and cupboard stores, try finding a local wholetrader and buying in bulk as it saves money long term. Do not get picky about brand labels and organic food. Some things it is not worth paying organic for anyway as there is little difference in content of pesticides and what have you. I understand wanting to be eco-friendly and things but it isn't always an option when money is tight.
My dad being someone in a warehouse, he can also confirm that many things that come in a "Value" or cheap line of a store (for Britons, an example of this would be Asda Smart Price, Sainsbury's Basics ranges) come off the same trucks as their better foods. For example we have Value frozen sweetcorn and value cocktail prawns in my fridge/freezer and Value dried fruit right now that I know of that are as good as any from a more expensive line.
If you're buying fish and seafood tinned fish is still good. One thing you can afford to do is look for sustainable, seasonal fish and meat when you shop. If there are worries about mercury look at sardines and pilchards in particular - they are oily fish, contain calcium and vitamin D, and have one of the lowest mercury contents of any fish.
One of the big reasons why I eat mostly cleanly despite having to eat so much is because it costs a lot less to make your food from scratch than to buy lots of processed goods. Look at the cost of a tin of soup and then try to think how much cheaper it would be to just make a massive pot of it that you could freeze and would last you a longer time.
Invest in a crockpot, a deep baking dish for casseroles, bakes and desserts, and/or a large pot for stews and soups. It is remarkably easy to make a large pot of something terrifically calorie dense, a calorific pasta bake, a rich and delicious rice pudding... and to then freeze the leftovers to eat them over a few days, at a comparitavely minimal cost of ingredients. In stews, for example, you can use cheaper cuts because the meat becomes tender as it cooks. Chilli con carne (or non carne, for you veggies out there) is a brilliant example of a cheap dish that can last for days.
If you can get buy one, get one free type offers on cupboard staples particularly stock up, but if it is on fresh produce stick by the rule that I posted above: are you really going to use that in the next two to three days, before it goes bad? With how much we have to eat we can't afford to waste food - literally.
http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/ - What is in season
http://www.fishonline.org/advice/eat/ - Sustainable fish and seafood list
http://www.healthcastle.com/organic_foods.sht ml - "What should you buy organic?" Article from healthcastle.com
IN CLOSING - It's All About You
Being underweight for any reason can be just as much a struggle if you are not suffering disordered eating as much as if you are. The frustrations, the costs, the outward hisses and accusations of an eating disorder that might come with, ridicule, bias - even unwanted admiration in a society that is seemingly distorted on a grand scale towards thinking that anything above a US size 4 is large. Never feel alone in this no matter your goals in gaining. We're all here for the same reason - to gain weight - and you have support no matter the cause.
Still, this is a process very much about what you want for you. Wonderfully selfish, right? But, at the end of the day, this IS about you. Do not worry what others may think of you, or if you're eating when no one else is. If someone comments on your food, on your appearance, on you - who cares? Because you ought not to. So with all this advice put forward to help you along, remember: this is for your health and your life, and the sooner the gaining gets going, the sooner you will be able to get back on the path to happiness whatever the cause. It really is all about you.
And whatever your weight gain is a target for, whether a holiday, for your family, for your doctor, to avoid inpatient, whatever - take pride in how far you have come, how hard you are trying, and even if you don't manage the full gain in that time but put on something you should be happy for even the smallest jumps. And never ever ever beat yourself up for not seeing a gain! It's as bad as when you may have kicked yourself for not seeing a loss.
"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end."
Good luck with gaining!
Calorie Count Volunteer Moderator
Thank you for the tips and some inspirational words. It wasn;t what exactly pushed me but I am starting. I will make things different and finally do something about this.
I will be a better me.
Yeah, thanks for sharing this tips, actually I've been experiencing depression this last few weeks, how I wanted to gain weight, I'm so thin because I got sick, since then I can't bring back my normal weight.
As a teenage girl (14) at a height of 5'6 and still growing would a weight of 115-120 be healthy?
While i agree with everything stated i am a 17yr old girl who does not exercise (i do very light pilates twice a week) and while the post says i would need about 2,600 calories to gain i am on 12,000kj which is about 4000calories a day and i only gain about 500-900g a week. I have no history of a fast metablism or anything like that. If your affraid of gaining weight trust me after an eating disorder your body goes into whats called 'hyper-metabolism' which means we need ALOT more than 'normal' people. But hey in the long run did ive always evnied those people who could eat more and not be really huge! REMEMBER: food is your medicine and just think how great this will be when its over!
this is great, the best advice I've read.
I have a question please , I was training to look like a power-lifter/ strong man , & I was also consuming 3700 Cal a day for 6months , but I gained no weight , & I had to stop my diet & exercise for a lot of reasons , I wonder if I can gain good weight without supplements , & if there's any type of exercise you recommend .... Thank you very much & Sorry for the trouble I might cause ..
Fantastic info here! A bit too complex, but then again, worth while!
Just wanted to share something of my experience about fast metabolism.
It does slow down...
It kinda took me 1-2 years, but eventually it will slow down.
After eating a lot of calories year after year, i realize that the body tends to gain weight faster now.
Just wanted to let people like "muasculerwal" know that you don't have to 3700 calories for the rest of your life.
Thank you so much for this!!
For a long time I was fighting my weight gain! Fight reality! I was so stupid, it was skinny or dead.
Now I am embracing it and reading this is so inspiring and so motivational to read that other people are in the same boat as me and are struggling and have struggled.
Such a great post.. thanks again : )
I had had stomach issues on and off for a few months. Been back and forth to different doctors and none of them really have an answer for me. I started losing weight very rapidly a few weeks ago and I put a couple pounds back on now that my stomach issues are somewhat under control but really would like to gain at least 3 more pounds. I try to eat as much as possible but sometimes I am just not hungry enough it seems to eat the amount I need to. I'll eat something sometimes and then really feel overly full and not be able to eat enough the next time. I have tried to eat less at a time and eat more often but that doesn't always work out either. Any suggestions. I thought about some type of weight gainer shake.
Thanks to lalabanana, very beautiful suggestion. I admit her. Before starting a wait gain program and whole body medical check up is must. Then one must consult a diet consultant and a physical trainer. Then he or she has to exercise and eat properly.
Thanks for the advise..can't wait to start exercising and gaining weight
Sounds a lot like me, I had a stomach illness a few months ago, then jumped into a hectic two months working 9,10, 12 hour days in 34 degrees heat. I have stopped from that job now, and have noticed a little weight loss. I still have slight stomach problems, could be IBS, so I don't always feel like a huge meal. we see what happens now...