Recently a reader asked me “What can I do to put on weight when I am a picky eater?”
Now I almost hate to have to write about this because I am incredibly jealous that there are people out there that actually struggle to gain weight, but in all reality people with super fast metabolisms, picky eaters, children, elderly, convalescents and the chronically ill will all benefit from adding healthy calorie dense foods in their daily diet.
First of all before we get started, would you like to gain muscle mass or fat? Or do you need to gain both?
If your body fat percentage is within a normal range, then you more likely need to gain muscle mass. If you are under-body fat I highly recommend for health reasons that you gain body fat to ensure optimal health. Most gyms will test your body fat. Measurements by pinching or using calipers are less accurate than scales that measure weight loss. Total submersion however is the most accurate measurement to determine percentage of body fat. Always use the same machine to maintain consistency when monitoring weight gain.
The body begins to take fat from our vital organs such as our heart and kidneys (results in a condition called “kidney drop”) when we are under the normal range of body fat.
To gain one pound of body fat you must consume 3500 calories in excess of your daily calorie requirements. Now most people need between 1500-2500 calories daily, which depends on if you are completely sedentary or if you are extremely physically active. Most cardiovascular activities such as running, biking, swimming, and what not will burn about 500-1000 calories per hour depending on intensity. If you exercise a few hours a day you are more likely in the upward 2500 calorie requirement.
When I advise people to lose weight I recommend they eat 500 less calories than they typically need in a day. For the average active person this will be about 1500 calorie a day diet in order to lose one pound a week. For weight gain we need to do the exact OPPOSITE of that.
We need to add 500-1000 extra calories to a 2000 calorie a day diet in order to gain a pound a week. Some people with extremely fast metabolisms, especially if they are highly active or engaging in body building will need upward of 3000-4500 calories a day.
Before worrying about counting calories though, I would first worry about remembering to eat more frequently and eating calorie dense healthy foods. If weight is still not gained from eating more frequently and eating higher calorie foods, then calorie counting will be necessary.
Red Flags for Weight Loss:
Many people have been brainwashed from the “Low Fat Diet” fads in the past that eating fat is “BAD” for us. Actually the converse is true. The optimal functioning of our bodies is dependent on the consumption of healthy fats. Our brain and nervous system cannot function without the good fats known as omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. I strongly advise against a no fat/low fat diet unless used for therapeutic purposes under the advisement of a licensed physician or nutritionist.
Even people on a therapeutic low fat diet for cholesterol or PMS still need a source of healthy fat in their diet otherwise they run the risk of becoming deficient. Please read my article on “Flax Oil vs Fish Oil” to further understand the importance of fat in our diet and the common signs of essential fatty acid deficiency.
Healthy High Fat Foods for putting on weight: Avocados, olives, olive oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, raw nut butters such as: peanut butter, almond butter, macadamia nut butter, tahini, any nuts, nut butters or seed butters, raw nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, pecans, brazil nuts; coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Keep in mind the roasting process of nuts destroys their delicate oils and turns them rancid. Rancid fats are unstable molecules in our bodies that create inflammation and clog our arteries.
Healthy Protein Choices for building muscle: Chicken, Turkey, Alaskan Wild Salmon as well as any seafood, eggs, beans, raw nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds. Ideally any lean meat is a great choice, just eat high fat cuts of red meat in moderation as the elevated arachidonic acid content will result in inflammation. Whey protein powder is the best for putting on muscle mass. I like the vanilla or chocolate flavored Designer Whey protein powder.
High calorie milks for smoothies, soups and sauces: coconut milk, whole milk, 2% milk, soy milk, and almond milk.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates for weight gain: Rice, oats, cream of rice, cream or wheat, bananas, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, brown rice syrup, honey, agave, organic maple syrup, brown sugar, succinat, and turbinado sugar.
Weight Gain Diet Basics:
You can try making my favorite snack I invented “Coconut Butter Balls” I love coconut because the monolauric acid in the coconut inhibits viral cell walls from replicating and thus supports a healthy immune system! The medium chained triglycerides “good fats” found in coconut are also great for diabetics and athletes.
Tips for underweight adults that forget to eat:
Tips for Elderly, Ill, and Convalescent patients in need of gaining weight:
Please leave your favorite tips or high calorie recipes for picky eaters in the comments. I know what a frustrating problem this is for many parents, so every bit of advice helps! If you or your child are still unable to gain weight based off of basic “Weight Gain Diet” self help recommendations I would highly recommend seeing a nutritionist for your own individualized eating plan.
~Dr. Nicole Sundene