Let’s face it.. gain weight is pretty easy when you put the numbers down on paper but it’s the behavior that limits people. If I told you to eat X number of calories per day for your body weight, the math is the simple part. It’s the following behaviors that must change in order for you to make changes. For instance…
When somebody who is under weight is not eating enough but knows they need to eat a certain amount of calories per day to put on healthy weight, it’s not that math that trips them up, it’s the inability to follow thru with a plan. Eating more, shopping more, preparing food is foreign to most. It takes hours to days to form a habit and roughly 21 days to break a habit. Did you know…
It can take 12-18 months for a behavior pattern to form to the point where it’s seamless!
Here’s the most common factors that can affect your ability to gain weight. You make these into daily behaviors and break your current patterns and you are guaranteed to pack on muscle and weight. So let’s begin.
Mistake #1: Not Eating Enough Calories
Just like gaining too much weight by eating too many calories for the energy expended, the same is true for the person who wants to gain weight. They rarely eat enough. It’s most likely because you aren’t eating enough calories to support long term weight gain.
This is really true for skinny guys who are “instinctive” eaters (they eat when hungry only) and do a lot of activity. They stay skinny because in their minds they want this magical weight gain but haven’t formed the habitual eating pattern to get in the required calories.
This is where a weight gainer or a weight gain homemade shake can be helpful. It’s far easier to drink more calories than it is to eat enough clean foods. It can be extremely filling and for somebody who’s new to the process who’s trying to eat only healthy, clean foods, they are so full they find it impossible to continue to eat.
Getting in some liquid calories can ease the process of not consuming enough. While I’m not a huge fan of counting calories, it’s helpful in the stages of weight gain or weight loss to have a number to shoot for on a daily basis. Once you become more of a habitual eater (eating on a schedule as opposed to when you are hungry) the weight will come. Then you can switch back to instinctive type eating when you have put on more weight.
Eating like a 200 lb bodybuilder when you are 130 lbs now is darn near impossible! But over time, you’ll easily be able to eat that much as you grow, put on muscle and your body needs the fuel.
I’m not advocating over eating or putting on excessive weight. But if you are trying to gain weight and you aren’t eating enough to support that effort, the weight will not magically happen.
Mistake #2: Bare Cupboards
If you don’t stock up on high protein foods and other such items, then opening up the cupboards to find them empty will really put a damper on your weight gain efforts. It will be impossible to create healthy but high calorie meals. You’ll find that eating more frequently won’t work if you open up the cupboards and find nothing to eat.
Grocery shopping will become a routine and allow you to have a variety of foods to choose from, make quick meals, create high calorie snacks and get your pre and post workout nutrition quickly and easily.
Looking at dorm rooms, college kids living off campus, you chuckle because all that lame grocery shopping your mom did to keep the house full of food is now on YOUR shoulders and it’s a routine and chore you must bear. If you can’t keep food in the house, go online and have it delivered on a regular basis if possible.
Opening up the fridge, cupboards or pantry and finding nothing to eat puts you right into the daily spiral of not eating enough to support your training. And over time, you’ll end up at square one again. Making this mistake leads to the meal planning problem.
Mistake #3: Meal Planning is Non-Existent
Not enough calories is obvious as to why people don’t gain weight. Not having the food is a given but failing to plan what to eat will limit your choices when it comes to meal time and it makes it more difficult to get in the required calories.
If you are opening up cupboards full of food (good) but have to do this several times a day (bad) it gets real old. Eventually you fall back to old habits that create less stress and are easier for you to cope.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult . You can cycle between a couple of routine plans each day that give you the food you require. Sounds boring? It is! But it’s planned and easy to follow. If you are one of those people who wants a new, fresh, exciting meal every day, then I hope you either love to cook or have a chef. Otherwise, you’ll need to have some type of plan.
What’s for breakfast, snacks, dinner, post workout, bedtime? If you continually have to hunt around for food or try and devise a meal 6 times a day, you’ll go back to grazing not eating. It becomes too much effort and it’s a recipe for failure.
Get a couple of basic, no-brainer, nothing fancy meal plans that hit your targets. Adjust them as necessary and eat to a schedule. When you go to pack you 5-6 meals for the day, you know exactly what to eat, you have it in stock and that’s how you gain weight.
It becomes routine.
Mistake #4: Lack of Food Variety
A huge mistakes is limiting the number of calories you’re eating dramatically and limiting vitamin and mineral intake…nutrients which are necessary for GROWTH!
At some point you will hear that you should increase the variety of your nutrition plan and there’s some very good reason to do so.
Meal plans can be routine and boring (in terms of different foods every day) but you need to include lots of different foods (colors help) to ensure you are getting a well balanced diet and offering up all the nutrients for optimal growth.
Americans eat somewhere along the lines of 50 different foods in their lifetime vs. other societies that eat upwards of 80 various foods!
Take the suggestions for a couple of meal plans per day, and ensure they have enough variety that you are eating a fair amount of foods that provide different minerals and vitamins. You will want as many nutrients as possible and you won’t get that if you stick to the same things every single day without any variety.
Have a couple of plans that offer up enough variety will be easy to follow, easier to shop for but provide the nutrients necessary for growth.
Many of us are creatures of habit. Especially those who don’t know how to cook! And as such (if you grew up eating convenience foods) you leave out certain nutrients because you didn’t know about them or you never learned to cook a variety of foods. If you overeat in one food group, you leave out essential nutrients necessary for full muscular development.
You can easily accomplish this by having different lean proteins, fruits and vegetables (color), whole grains and healthy fats at most meals. Variety is the spice of life and the athlete who has a lot of variety will fair better than the one who does not.
Mistake #5: Infrequent Eating; Skipping Meals
Now most fitness experts will blast you for skipping meals saying it will put you into some catabolic state and muscle will be broken down. It’s a huge sin to skip meals! I’m here to say that’s not really the case. You can eat 3 meals a day and gain muscle and gain weight but the real problem is… most people who are eating 3 meals a day probably aren’t enough enough calories and you may not be controlling your blood sugar levels.
There’s some pretty big debates on if eating six meals a day is necessary but beyond the fact that meal frequency has worked for decades for many bodybuilders, the issue with trying to gain weight is getting enough calories.
For example, let’s say you need 3500 calories or more a day to gain weight. That’s roughly 1166 calories per meal! For most of us, including myself, there’s no way I can eat 1000+ calories in a single sitting of decent food. It’s much easier and realistic to break that up into 6 meals and eat around 583 calories per meal.
Eating frequently and not skipping meals is essentially to avoiding Mistake #1 which is not eating enough calories to support weight gain. So unless you are following the classic bodybuilders and eating 3 1000+ calorie meals of steak, potatoes and such, you are going to need to split those meals up to meet your requirements.
Why do people skip meals? Especially skinny guys and gals? More often than not, they are instinctive eaters and eat when hungry and stop when full. Which is perfect to maintain your current weight but you’ll need to break that habit if you want to change your eating patterns.
Mistake #6: Emotional Eating; Instinctive Eating
There’s 3 types of eating: Emotional, Instinctive and Habitual. Many people eat based on emotions (bored, sad, angry, tired, depressed). Those end up with unwanted weight gain. People who are looking to gain weight usually are very good instinctive eaters. They feel hungry or they lose mental focus and they eat. They stop when full. They have a hard time packing on weight because they aren’t used to forming the habit of habitual eating.
Counting calories in the long term is a not a recipe for success but it does provide awareness and a useful tool to modify behavior. The person who wants to gain weight will become a habitual eating. Eating to a schedule. Once they get to their target weight and it’s easy to maintain, the goal is to become an instinctive eater once again. This time, you’ll eat more and probably more frequently at your new weight than before.
Eating as an athlete should follow the mantra “Eat to Train.” Eating to allow your body to grow and produce muscle is vastly different from eating to curb hunger or out of emotions. Performance Nutrition is an entirely different realm than eating for survival.
Your goal, should you choose to accept it is to become a habitual eater and then learn instinctive eating by listen again to your body’s cues.
If you can avoid these weight gain mistakes, you have a really good chance of gaining the weight you desire. The process is simple but not always easy as it requires behavioral modifications.
Marc David – CPT
PS - Here’s an additional 6 Weight Gain Tips for you to follow.
PPS - Here’s a collection of the Worst Weight Gain advice that I sincerely hope you don’t follow.