Expert tips for gaining weight the healthy way

Last Modified: 5/14/2021

Gain weight

This post was written by Amie Dent, RDN, CD, registered dietitian nutritionist, certified dietitian, PPG – Weight Management & Bariatric Surgery.

We hear and read a lot about strategies for losing excess or unwanted body weight, but what about those individuals who want or need to gain weight? Just like with forming a smart and safe diet and movement plan for shedding pounds, we have to do the same for adding them.  

Be realistic

First, we want to be realistic about our body type. Genetics can play a big role in our body’s build. Some people may be thin but healthy. Others could be thin and unhealthy. Look at your parents and siblings and see what their body type is. This can give you an idea of what’s possible for your figure.


Outside of genetics, there are a number of reasons why someone might be underweight.

When feeling unwell, some people may not feel hungry and, consequently, don’t eat. This could be short term, or they could suffer from a serious illness or lengthy hospitalization which could result in losing excessive weight.

Sometimes stress, worry, depression or a busy schedule can also cause someone to skip regular meals and over time become underweight.

Eating disorders can also cause someone to be underweight. If you think you have an eating disorder, or know of someone who suffers from the condition, talk to someone you trust and consider consulting a medical professional. Help is available.

Eating less and unintentional weight loss can also affect older individuals and those with underlying medical concerns. This is another reason why it’s important to communicate with your primary care provider on a regular basis.

Signs of a low body weight

There are many indicators that an individual is underweight. These include:

  • Weakened immune system – When your immune system is not working at 100%, you have a higher chance of catching a cold, flu or other infections.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – If you’re not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, you can develop a risk of osteoporosis. If you’re not getting enough iron, you can develop anemia, which can make you feel tired and drained.
  • Fertility problems – Some women who are underweight stop having a regular menstrual cycle, which can cause fertility issues.
  • Feeling cold all the time, even if the environment is warm
  • Thinning of hair or hair loss, dry skin and/or dental issues
  • Struggle to concentrate
  • Dizziness or fainting spells
  • Slowed or impaired growth
Creating a healthy plan

If you suspect you’re underweight, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or your primary care doctor. Your doctor can examine your medical history and determine if there are underlying causes for your weight loss. A registered dietitian can help you create a healthy meal plan to help you gain weight and help you identify a healthy weight goal.

The key to healthy weight gain is to pick nutrient-rich foods as often as possible. Try to avoid empty-calorie foods (soda, candy, chips) as they are not necessarily a healthy way to gain weight. For healthy weight gain, try to eat foods from all food groups, focusing primarily on nutrient-dense foods.

Meal planning tips:

  • Eat at least five small meals and snacks each day
  • Drink healthy beverages that add calories, such as juice, milk or shakes, and consider drinking nutritional supplements
  • Choose higher-calorie starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas
  • Add cream, butter, margarine, cheese sauce, olive oil or salad dressing to veggies to get more calories
  • Eat fruit canned in heavy syrup, and sweeten foods and beverages with sugar, jam, jelly or honey
  • Choose foods high in protein, like milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry and beans
  • Use protein powders and meal replacement shakes and bars
  • Add high-fat foods to meals and snacks, including butter, regular margarine, vegetable oils, peanut butter and mayonnaise
  • Opt for whole milk, half and half, and cream rather than skim or low-fat milk
  • Choose higher-fat meats and whole-milk cheeses
A healthy mindset

It is absolutely possible to maintain a healthy relationship with food while gaining weight! By setting small goals and making a few changes to your diet and lifestyle, it is possible to gain weight and avoid any negative feelings toward foods.

Things to avoid

If someone has specific medical diagnoses, like diabetes or hypertension, or underlying medical conditions, it is helpful to work with a specialist, like a registered dietitian, to determine the best meal plan to follow.

Also, be cautious of gimmicks and supplements. There are products that market rapid/fast weight gain, which can be very expensive and might not actually work. If it appears too good to be true, then it probably is.


If you have any other questions or concerns, make an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to develop an eating plan that will help you gain weight in a healthy way.



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