Expert Q&A

Too skinny? Suggestions for gaining weight

I have been skinny all my life. How can I gain weight?

Weight gain can be as frustrating for thin people as weight loss is for the overweight. Some people are genetically thin, whereas others have diets and lifestyles that promote very lean body types. Successful weight gain is a slow and meticulous process, regardless of your age or medical situation.

Teenagers trying to gain weight

Many teenagers, particularly male adolescents, often have trouble gaining weight. This underweight usually accompanies puberty and a rash of hormonal changes. Some teenagers live for junk food, eating mega-meals at fast food outlets trying desperately to increase the quantity of calories their diet. However, teenagers should work on improving the quality of their diet before they go piling on the useless calories. To do this, try eating five to six small meals per day. Include one fruit or vegetable at each meal. Drink juice and smoothies made with ice cream and fresh fruit between meals for extra calories. Snack on dried fruit and nuts throughout the day. If you are an avid exerciser, eat before, during and after workouts, and hydrate in-between meals and snacks. 

Adults trying to gain weight

Adults who are chronically underweight often try a variety of weight-gain techniques. If weight loss is persistent or weight gain is impossible, consider investigating the source of your problem. Talk to your doctor about possible conditions that may be resulting in malabsorption and an inability to gain weight. You may also have an endocrine or thyroid disorder that needs to be diagnosed before treatment can start. If necessary, see a gastroenterologist or endocrinologist to seek out the root cause of your low body weight. 

Older adults often suffer from low body weight and struggle to gain back pounds lost over the years. In the later stages of life they may not be able to consume the recommended amount of small, frequent meals. Instead, attempts should be made to increase the fat and calorie content of each meal in their diets. Add butter and cream to sauces and soups. Use full-fat milk products and dense, energy-rich whole grains. Avoid empty-calorie foods such as sodas and sweets and try to add eggs, meat and cheese whenever possible.

A safe weight gain 

Safe weight gain can be achieved in the range of 1-2 pounds per week, more or less, depending on your initial weight and age. Avoid foods and supplements that promise to “pack-on-the-pounds.” They are usually costly and insufficient. Instead, focus on weight-building exercises to build lean body mass. Also, consider meeting with a registered dietitian for a personalized approach to safe, healthy meal planning for weight gain.

Katie Clark, MPH, RD
Contributing Expert

Have a question for our Experts? Send it in!