Family life, Healthy Living

Three things I’ve learned about motherhood in the first three months

I have no idea how we got here, but here we are. We have had our little boy for nearly four months. Becoming a mum has been an amazing journey so far, and while parts of it are a total blur already (probably for good reason!), there is no better feeling in the world than seeing those shiny blue eyes stare back at me and a smile creep across his face.

I appreciate everyone has their own individual journeys into parenthood, and every person and couple will have their own challenges. This post certainly isn’t about giving advice to anyone and it’s not even strictly related to diet or health! However, I wanted to share this in the hope that my honest account of how having a baby impacted my lifestyle in the first few weeks provides you with something that you may be able to relate to, and may even find amusing.

  1. Breastfeeding is HARD
    Before baby was born, I lost count of how many people asked “are you planning on breastfeeding?”, my go to answer would be “I hope to.”

    I guess as a dietitian, I felt an added pressure to abide by the ‘breast is best’ campaign. However, from working with new mums previously, I knew that it wasn’t always possible for people to breastfeed for so many different reasons. I understood that I might not have enough milk, I knew that baby and I might have trouble getting the latch right, I knew baby might not gain weight, and I was prepared to have to work hard at it, BUT I was not prepared for how much it would hurt.

    Why does no one tell you this?! All those antenatal classes, midwife appointments and even mum friends, I kept hearing and reading that it shouldn’t hurt, but it did. Day and night. I was careful with the latch, tried several different positions and baby even had a minor tongue-tie issue corrected but it still hurt. My other half sat with me holding my hand for moral support while I fed our baby and sobbed. I thought I was doing it wrong, I didn’t feel it would ever get any better, how long would I have to put up with this pain? If it wasn’t for my fabulous mum friends and a wonderful  midwife at Cheltenham hospital acknowledging that it hurts, but it gets better, I’m not sure we’d still be breastfeeding today. I think it took about 6 weeks of this pain until it clicked; our latch improved, my sore, cracked nipples healed, and I started to enjoy feeding him.

    Many mums put so much pressure on themselves to breastfeed, but I have a new-found appreciation for how difficult it can be, and those mums I know – whether their baby is breastfed or formula fed – are all doing an amazing job and their babies are happy and thriving.

    2. Are post birth cravings a thing?!
    I never really had pregnancy cravings, but after having baby, in the early days especially, I craved sugar. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but it was for me. Whether that was because of the sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, hormones, irregular eating habits or a mixture of several different things, our normally healthy eating habits more or less went out of the window for the first 4-6 weeks. We had biscuits with our 2am and 4am cuppas, slices of cake during the day and our dinners might have included some veg if we had our hands free long enough to peel some carrots.

    I think in those early days you just do what you’ve got to do to get through each day, and worrying about getting your 5-a-day in doesn’t really come into it! However, a big help was having a freezer full of prepared meals I’d made when pregnant that we could just stick in the microwave (this was one of those helpful pieces of advice I mention below!)

    3. Only you know what is best for you and your baby
    It’s so cliche, but this has been (and continues to be) my mantra. So many people have advice and feel that their way is the best way; some of these people haven’t even had babies, (and I now realise I was probably guilty of this too – sorry friends!). Don’t get me wrong, some advice I’ve received has been great and really helpful, but I try to remember that every baby is different, so what worked for one won’t necessarily work for another.

    Whether you choose to co-sleep or not, breastfeed or formula, swaddle or not, introduce a routine or not, even down to how many layers of clothes you dress your baby in. Every choice we make as parents is made in the hope that we are doing what we believe is best for us and our baby.

    And that’s just it. We are all trying our best.

    Go easy on yourself.

baby1

 

Healthy Living, Recipes

Oaty Apple Crumble

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I am so pleased with how this recipe turned out!

Apple crumble has to be one of my all-time favourite desserts, and this is a great healthy version made with oats. The crunch you get from using walnuts means you can omit the butter and it’s much lower in sugar than other versions too. Let me know if you try it and what you think!

 

 

Ingredients
(for the filling)
Approximately 5 large apples
1 tsp cinnamon
(for the topping)
50g + 20g oats (or 50g oat flour + 20g oats)
50g walnuts
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200’c.
2. Cut the apples into bitesize chunks (no need to peal if you don’t want to!). Add the cinnamon and place in a pan with a lid on a low heat. Leave to stew for 5-10 minutes.
3. Using a food processor, blend 50g of the oats until you have a flour (this can take a while!).
4. Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil in the microwave.
5. Once the oats are ground, tip the honey and coconut oil into the food processor. Mix together.
6. Add the additional 20g of oats, the walnuts and cinnamon and blitz it all together until the nuts are chopped. You should have a mixture that resembles a crumble topping.
7. Tip the stewed apples into a dish and cover with the topping. Pop in oven for approx. 20 minutes, or until the crumble topping has gone slightly golden.

IMG_0201Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt or custard!

Nutritional info per portion
(based on above serving 6 people)
Calories: 218kcal
Fat: 10g
Saturated fat: 3.5g
Protein: 3.5g

Healthy Living, Nutrition

Red meat and cancer

You may have noticed that there’s been a fair bit in the news lately about how eating lots of red and processed meat causes cancer. This latest media frenzy was caused after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report in October stating that processed meat is a ‘definite’ cause of cancer, and red meat a ‘probable’ cause.

What are red and processed meats?
Red meat refers to all mammalian muscle meat, including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat. Note that this list includes pork, and minced meat would also come under this classification.
Processed meats include any meat that has been salted, cured, smoked or other processes used to enhance flavour or preserve. For example; bacon, salami, sausages, ham and canned meats.

What did the IARC report investigate?
Actually, this report didn’t investigate anything new, it was an evaluation of existing evidence and research. They evaluated over 800 studies that involved the relationship between intake of red and processed meats and cancer. According to this evidence, they then worked on grouping foods into certain classifications.
(An important thing to note is that the categories in the infogram below represent how confident the IARC are that something causes cancer, not how much cancer it causes).

151026-IARC-Meat-rating-TWITTER

Basically, what this chart is telling us, is that the IARC found sufficient evidence to conclude that high intakes of processed meats definitely cause cancer. The evidence for red meats was not as strong or clear, so is classified as a ‘probable’ cause of cancer.
Most of the evidence was linked to bowel (colorectal) cancer, and stems from a meta-analysis of 10 studies published in 2011. A key finding from this paper was that processed meat was more strongly linked to bowel cancer than red meat. They concluded that:
Every 50g/day of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
Every 100g/day of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%.

However, this doesn’t mean that eating red or processed meats increases your risk of bowel cancer by 17/18%, as this is a measure of relative risk. In other words, someone who eats 50g of processed meat every day has a 1.18 times increased risk of developing bowel cancer when compared to someone who doesn’t eat processed meat. To put this into perspective, compare it with smoking (the most important avoidable cause of cancer in the world). Men who smoke 15-24 cigarettes a day have a 26 times higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers.

So should I still eat red meat?
Red meat is fine in moderation, and is a valuable source nutrients including protein, iron and zinc. But, what exactly is moderation? This is much harder to quantify.
In general, the Department of Health recommends that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red meat per day should cut down to 70g or less. Try to keep processed meats such as sausages and salami as ‘occasional’ foods rather than things you eat every day. You could also try having alternative sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, lentils and pulses (kidney beans, chickpeas etc.)

In conclusion, having a diet that is high in red meat is not good for you, but the occasional bacon sandwich is still fine. And importantly, the risks are much lower than other things associated with cancer risk, such as smoking.

More info:
IARC Press release
IARC FAQs

Cancer Research, UK: Processed meat and cancer
NHS Choices: Red meat and bowel cancer
Cancer Research, UK: Smoking and lung cancer

Healthy Living

FAQs – session 1

I’m opening up my brain to you guys!
Do you have a burning question about food, diet or nutrition that you’ve always wanted to know the answer to?
No matter how random, get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer in my new series of FAQs.

Due to my hectic work schedule, I sometimes eat really late at night, will this lead to weight gain?
Research shows that it’s not the time at which you eat the food, but the total amount of food consumed throughout the day that matters.

It’s not like by eating just before you go to bed you’ll immediately store those calories all as fat because…(prepare yourself! Shock…horror…!)…you still burn calories when you sleep! I know, it’s great! If you think about it, it makes total sense. You still need your heart, your lungs and even your brain to work when you’re sleeping, right? All of these processes require energy.

The one downside of eating just before going to bed might be that some people get an upset stomach from going into a horizontal position so soon after eating, but in terms of weight gain, the balance of what you eat through the day is much more important.

Are carbs fattening?
I have lost count of how many times I have been asked this question.

First of all, scientifically speaking, the term ‘carbs’ or ‘carbohydrates’ doesn’t just apply to starches, it applies to all ‘sugars’, so this includes the sugars found in dairy products, fruits, vegetables and chocolate. Fibre is also a type of carbohydrate. However, when people ask me this question, most of them are referring specifically to starchy carbs such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.

Starchy carbs are an important source of energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre – (fibre is important in disease prevention and some types have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, see my post on fibre for more details).Per gram, ‘carbs’ contain the same number of calories as protein, so no, they on their own are not fattening. Carbs have got their bad reputation because people often eat much more than they need, and because we tend to add fats to them. A large number of processed products are also carbohydrate based, and these often have fats added to them to enhance their flavour. Rice, pasta, potatoes, bread or cereals in sensible portions are healthy foods to include in your diet (select brown/wholewheat options to up your fibre intake).

I’ve heard that I shouldn’t eat fruit after a meal, is this true?
The short answer here is…..NO!

People have asked me this stating that they have read that eating fruit straight after a meal interferes with the digestion of food eaten.  Well I’m not quite sure where this comes from, but the truth is fruit may actually HELP with the absorption of some nutrients after a meal. As mentioned in my vitamin C post, fruits containing vitamin C may help absorb iron from foods, especially non-meat sources. Rich in nutrients, fruit is a completely healthy thing to have as a dessert.

Do I need to go gluten free to lose weight?
No. Unfortunately, the media has a big impact on what diet is perceived as ‘healthy’. Gluten free does not automatically mean less calories, sometimes it can even mean more…as well as more added sugar…!

Some people have a true intolerance to gluten and have to cut it out from their diet. Given that gluten free produce is (generally) more expensive, harder to get hold of, there is less choice available, I tend to advise people not to go gluten free unless they need to. That said, of course, health is about the bigger picture, so yes, it is possible to lose weight and be healthier by going gluten free, but do you need to do it? Certainly not.

How many eggs should I have in a week?
People are often concerned about the egg and cholesterol debate. Eggs are a great source of nutrients, quick to cook and easy to make a meal from. Egg yolks do contain cholesterol, in fact 1 egg contains around 55% of your daily recommended amount. However, it is not as simple as eating more cholesterol = higher cholesterol levels*. It has been found that saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature, mostly from animal sources) have a bigger impact on your total cholesterol level than cholesterol contained in foods.

There is currently no recommendation in place regarding a maximum number of eggs per week, but bear in mind that we should try and eat a variety of foods – so don’t rely on eggs as your sole source of protein.

*For people with familial hypercholesterolemia (a hereditary condition causing high-cholesterol), there is a recommended limit on eggs and other foods that contain cholesterol. For more information, download this comprehensive leaflet from the British Heart Foundation.

Healthy Living

Is planning the key to eating healthily?

how_to_magnetic_meal_planner

“Planning is the key to success”

People associate planning with success in many aspects of life, and it is often something that is also associated with food too.

There’s no doubt that planning can help make eating healthily easier when work gets busy or when you get tired, and I strongly believe that some degree of thinking ahead is necessary for a healthy lifestyle. However, the extent of planning needed can vary, and you need to find something that works for you. The idea would be that, to whatever extent you choose to plan, it eventually becomes normal and you’re able to incorporate it into your routine without even thinking of it as planning!

Planning is something I talk through with my patients, and below I’ve included some ideas I commonly suggest. These suggestions range from more drastic to small changes that could help make healthy eating easier for you. Try applying some of these to your life, depending on what you have time for.

  • Ensure your cupboards, fridge and freezer are stocked with basics to make a healthy meal. I suggest that people at least have the following, these are food items that have a relatively long shelf life and can be used to make a balanced meal:
    • Starchy carbohydrates: oats, pasta & rice
    • Proteins: eggs, beans, lentils, tinned tuna/salmon, maybe some yoghurt
    • Fruit & vegetables: tinned tomatoes, dried fruit, frozen vegetables of choice, onions, garlic, salad items
    • Spices & herbs
  • Make in bulk. Whenever you’re making a meal, make extra and freeze it.
  • Take the time at a weekend to design a menu plan for the week. You can choose whether to detail every meal, or just write down evening meals if you find this is when you struggle most.
  • Spend an afternoon at the weekend preparing all meals for the following week
  • If you prefer to buy fresh vegetables, but hate the time it takes to prepare them, try chopping in bulk and freezing. This will save you the prep time next time.
  • Have a ‘go-to’ list of meals that are quick to prepare and that can be made from ingredients you usually have in your cupboards. Examples might include:
    • Vegetable omelette with some rice
    • Tuna & sweetcorn pasta salad
    • Rice with kidney beans in tomato sauce

So is planning essential to have a healthy diet?
…I’m not saying that everyone should sit down on a Sunday, plan every meal for the following week and then spend hours preparing it all (although that may work for some)! However, having in enough ingredients to make a healthy meal is a big helping hand when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, and even that requires a little planning!

Healthy Living, Recipes, Weight Loss

Overnight Oats

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Rushed in the morning; no time to make breakfast?
Want something quick, convenient and tasty that will keep you going till lunch?
Enjoy porridge in the winter but not so keen on hot breakfasts through the summer?

It’s your lucky day!

This recipe can be prepared the night before, saving you loads of time in the morning! It’s healthy, tasty and can be varied by adding different toppings so you don’t get bored.

INGREDIENTS
Porridge oats (40g) (use gluten free oats if necessary)
Milk (120-150ml) (The nutritional values below are for semi-skimmed cow’s milk, but you could also use soy, almond or any other milk!)

METHOD
1. Put the oats into a bowl (or a sealable jar if you have one!)
2. Pour over the milk.
3. Cover with cling film or close the lid, and leave the oats in your fridge overnight.
4. The following morning, choose the toppings of your choice and enjoy. (You can also pop the bowl in the microwave for a minute if you prefer it warm.)

NUTRITIONAL INFO:
Calories
: 220kcal
Carbs: 33g
Protein: 11g
Fat: 5g
Saturated fats: 2g

20140730_083037 (2)Topping ideas:
– Banana (or just about any other fruit!)
– Frozen berries
– Chopped apricots
– Yoghurt
– Chopped nuts
– Seeds
– Honey
– Peanut butter

Healthy Living, Weight Loss

Portion Distortion

Did you know….?

  • Dinner plate size has increased an average of 6.5cm over the last 50 years – that increases the area on your plate by up to 70%!
  • Choosing extra thickly sliced bread over medium increases the amount you eat of it by 60%
  • Fast-food chains used to serve just one size of fries, this is now the portion size provided with the kids meals

Given these facts, it’s not surprising at how many people now struggle with obesity across the world. It has become the norm to expect larger portions when eating out, and this (together with increased plate size) often leads to eating more at home. Our bodies have not adapted and cannot keep up with the pace at which food technology and environments/situations in which we eat are evolving.

This is portion distortion.
The norm becomes bigger and bigger until the bigger is the new ‘normal’.

Obviously, everyone is different and will need different amount of foods depending on your appetite, body size, how active you are and your current situation.

However, there are some simple tips you can apply when cooking and when eating out that will help you get your portion sizes back in check – and there’s no need for weighing scales or any special equipment!

This reference guide groups food into different types to make it easy to see what a typical portion* should be.

Vegetables

Guiding-Hands-ArtWhen you’re looking at how much of what to put on your plate, the vegetable part of your meal should take up around 1/3 to 1/2 of your plate, and roughly fill your hands like the picture opposite.
Recommended portion size of vegetables is larger than other foods because they are low in calories and provide us with minerals, vitamins and fibre.

Guiding-Hands-ArtFruits

A portion of fruit would be what you could fit in one hand, or roughly the size of your fist. The exception here is dried fruit, in this case you need to think of it in its hydrated form to get the right portion size. For example, 2-3 apricots would fill your hand, therefore 2-3 dried apricots are a portion.

Starchy Carbohydrates

Guiding-Hands-Art

Starchy carbs include foods like; pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, cereals and cereal products. You should look at having a source of starchy carbs with every meal. Good choices are oats, wholewheat pasta, brown rice and wholegrain bread as these are higher in fibre and release energy more slowly. Depending on how active you are, you could have between 1-2 portions (or 1-2 clenched fists) of starchy carbohydrates with every meal.

ProteinGuiding-Hands-Art

The amount of protein someone needs can vary depending on their weight and what their aims are, but for the general population a portion is around the size of your palm. This would be equal to a small chicken breast, two eggs or a few tablespoons of beans/lentils. Aim to have 2-3 palm-sized portions every day.

Fats & Oils

Guiding-Hands-Art

As it’s the most calorie dense nutrient, a portion of fat or oil is considerably smaller than the other foods. There are some fats that are beneficial for heart health, but when it comes to calories a fat is a fat! More info
When you’re cooking with oils, spreading butter or using oil as a dressing, try to stick to no more than a thumb-print (or teaspoon) size portion.

In addition to the above, you should also try to have 2-3 portions of dairy products per day. A portion is a matchbox size of cheese, a standard yoghurt pot (~125g) or a 200ml glass of milk.

 *Serving or portion?

A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or 100mls of juice. A portion is the amount of food that you put on your plate to eat, you choose whether this is a big or a small portion. Take soft drinks for example, they will often quote a serving size on the label that is less than the amount within the bottle.

Healthy Living, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Fibre

Dietitians and other healthcare professionals can often be heard talking about how we should eat more fibre. You may understand that it is “good for you” to have fibre in your diet. But have you ever thought about why?

This post explains the different types of fibre, looks at some of its benefits and suggests how you can include more of it in your diet.

Types of fibre

Fibre-rich foodsAn easy way to remember foods that contain fibre is that they all come from plants. Meat, fish and dairy foods do not contain fibre.
Fibre can be split into two different types, soluble and insoluble. Both have different health benefits, so we should try to include both types in our diets.

  • Soluble fibre
    As the name suggests, soluble fibre dissolves in water. In the gut, this helps soften your stools. Consequently, if you suffer from constipation, gradually increasing your intake of soluble fibre can help make it easier to go. Soluble fibre can also help lower cholesterol levels.
    Foods such as oats, pulses, lentils, golden linseeds, potatoes and vegetables are all good sources of soluble fibre.
  • Insoluble fibre
    Insoluble fibre cannot be digested, instead it is used as a ‘food’ source for good bacteria we have in the gut, helping keep our gut healthy. Insoluble fibre also acts as a sponge, helping keep us fuller for longer and move food through our digestive system.
    Good sources of insoluble fibre include; bran, wholegrain and wholemeal foods, skins of fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds.

To help differentiate between the two different types, think about making porridge (or oatmeal) on the stove, the oats ‘dissolve’ into the liquid. When cooking brown rice, the rice does not dissolve, but rather absorbs the water and goes soft. This is because the oats are high in soluble fibre, whilst brown rice is high in insoluble fibre.

Benefits

As fibre can help you feel full for longer, it can be a useful tool when trying to manage your weight. It can also help control your blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Having a diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

How much?

According to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) adults should be aiming for around 25g of fibre per day. The British Guidelines recommend 30g a day. Most people aren’t eating enough. On average, people manage to eat around 14g of fibre per day.

Increase your fibre intake

If you want to increase your intake of fibre, it is important that you do so gradually. Increasing your intake too rapidly can result in stomach cramps and leave you feeling bloated. You should also make sure you drink plenty of water, aim for 6-8 glasses per day.

You can increase the amount of fibre in your diet by ensuring your diet contains plenty of fruit and vegetables, opting for wholegrains (brown rice/bread/pasta over white), leaving the skin on potatoes and adding beans or lentils to your soups and salads. Ensuring a vegetarian meal once per week is a great way of upping your fibre intake #meatfreemonday!

What does 25g a day look like?

fibre in a dayIBS

People who have digestive problems or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) may need to adjust the type and amount of fibre they have in their diets depending on their symptoms. This is something that needs to be assessed on an individual basis. You should see your doctor or dietitian for more advice regarding this.

More information

Fibre-rich foods
General information on fibre from patient.co.uk
NHS information on constipation
NHS information on diarrhoea
NHS information on IBS

Healthy Living, Weight Loss

Hydration, hydration, hydration!

As featured in my April newsletter, this is a post all about the importance of keeping hydrated.

Sooo many clients I see tell me “oh, I know I need to drink more” or “I don’t drink enough”. Consequently, we often focus one of their goals around finding a way to get more water into their day.

Of course, drinking enough water is important all year round, but as the weather gets warmer, the amount of water your body loses increases, which means that more needs to be replaced.

waterWhy do we need water?

It is very easy to take the humble tap, hose or water cooler for granted. We typically use water for so much of our daily routine; watering the garden, washing clothes, showering, cooking and drinking. Water plays an important role in many aspects of life, and our body is no exception; we could not live without it.

Most of our body is made up of water; our cells, muscles and blood all contain it. Water plays a part in controlling our body temperature, metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure as well as removing waste products and ensuring the concentration of minerals in the blood stays balanced. When this balance is disrupted, processes in the body cannot function properly.

As well as the critical role water has in our general health, drinking plenty can also help with weight management. This is because occasionally our brain mistakes the signals of thirst for hunger. So next time you feel peckish, think about when you last had a glass of water before reaching for food.

What happens when we don’t drink enough?

If you lose more fluid that you drink, you will eventually become dehydrated. You lose fluid through breathing, sweating and urinating. However, the amount of fluid that you lose can vary a lot depending on how active you are, your environment and your current state of health.

Signs that you are not drinking enough may include: dark coloured urine, not needing to urinate as often as usual, dry mouth, thirst,  tiredness and lack of ability to concentrate.

How much to drink

This varies depending on how much water you are losing. The hotter it is and more active you are, the more you will need to  drink.

A loose guide is around 1.2-1.5 litres (or 6-8 glasses). However, the best way to tell if you are drinking enough is by the colour of your urine. It should be a light, straw colour.

NB: Try not to wait until you are thirsty to drink as by this point you are already dehydrated!

What to drink

Water is always best to rehydrate you. Milk, diluted squash, fruit juice and soft drinks also count, but watch out for the calories and sugar in juices and sugary sodas and the caffeine in teas and coffees (which can have a diuretic effect). Green or herbal teas are a good choice if you prefer something warm.

How to drink more

Sometimes, people are well aware that they should be drinking more, but it is a habit that is difficult to get in to. People find different ways that work for them but here are some suggestions:

  • Drink from a big bottle
    This is a handy way of measuring exactly how much water you are getting through on a daily basis. If you are sat at a desk and have the bottle handy, you are much more likely to take sips throughout the day. It is surprising how far away the water cooler is when you are in the middle of writing that report…!
  • Always carry water with you
    If you are often out and about it is very easy to go hours without drinking. So, it is always a good idea to take a bottle of water with you, especially when on holiday somewhere warm.
  • Have large glasses with meals
    If you really struggle to get into the habit of drinking water through the day, having a large glass of water with every meal is a good start.
  • Develop a schedule
    Start the day with a large glass of water, drink every time your kids do, set a reminder on your phone to leave your desk every hour for a drink…Find something to set a schedule to and stick to it. It will soon become a habit.
  • Mix it up!
    If you get bored with the taste of normal water, try adding a slice of lemon, lime or even mint leaves! Green teas taste great too!
Healthy Living, Nutrition

How to gain weight

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday which reminded me of my initial idea I had months ago for this post. Dietitians don’t just work with people who want to lose weight or in health promotion. Actually, before I came to Belgium, a lot of my work was helping people gain weight. Especially for dietitians who work within hospital settings, a lot of the time we help build up those who are struggling, for whatever reason, to maintain weight.

Of course this doesn’t just go for ill people in hospital, some people find it difficult to maintain weight generally. For some, maintaining or gaining weight is as difficult as it is for others to keep it off.

Energy-dense foods such as chocolate, cake and pastries may help us gain weight, but they’re not going to be providing us with many other nutritional benefits. So, how does one go about gaining weight in a healthy way?

Little and often
Small frequent meals (or SFM, for those of us dietitians who like our acronyms!). This technique is particularly helpful if you don’t have a very big appetite, or aren’t able to manage a large meal. Some people naturally prefer to graze all day rather than concentrate calories into three meals, and that’s fine, whatever suits you and your stomach!
If you are already managing three meals per day, you should try and incorporate snacks between each meal to up your calorie intake (see below for some healthy snack ideas).

Snacking
Nuts, seeds and dried fruits are all healthy snacks that are easy to pick at and convenient to have at your desk. A handful of nuts will provide you with micronutrients, unsaturated fats, protein and those much needed calories, so get snacking! You can also add seeds or nuts to your meals, they taste great on porridge and in salads. Try having peanut butter on toast as a snack or, if you haven’t already seen, check out my healthy flapjack recipes.
Of course fruit is a healthy component of any diet, but dried fruit especially is useful when trying to increase your calorie intake. Not just because it’s easy to store in your desk drawer, but compare eating 5 plums to 5 prunes…I know which I’d find more manageable!

Think full fat dairy
Sweets, cakes and goodies aren’t the only foods that are fairly energy dense. Dairy products are convenient snacks and a good source of protein and calcium. A 30g portion of cheese contains around 100 calories. Sprinkle on top of your meal, snack on some cheese and crackers, add it to your salads…the choices are endless!
If you currently use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk switching to full cream could make a difference to your total calories. Half a pint of full cream milk contains around 100 calories more than skimmed. Incorporate into your diet through making fruit and vegetable smoothies or hot, milky drinks. You can also try adding full cream milk to soups, curries or other sauces (a little cream and coconut milk may also work well here, depending on the dish!)

Good fats
You may know that there are unsaturated/’good’ fats and saturated/’bad’ fats, but do you know that calorie wise, all fats are the same? Fats are the most calorie-dense nutrient, containing 9 kcals per gram. Naturally, it would seem more healthful that rather than upping your calorie intake using saturated fats, you increase your intake of unsaturated fats, right? Well I’ve already mentioned some sources of unsaturated fats (nuts above) but the fats found in avocado, oily fish and olive or rapeseed oils will provide you with the calories and a dose of other nutrients too. Try making a guacamole dip or adding avocado to your lunch, aim to have oily fish 1-2 times per week and add an olive oil dressing to your vegetables.

Cooking methods
When I’m talking health promotion, there are certain cooking methods that I recommend to reduce fat and calorie intake. For people who are struggling to maintain or gain weight, certain cooking methods will increase the calories found in that meal. Using unsaturated fat oils, such as olive or rapeseed, and adding them in when cooking will increase the amount of calories in that meal. For example, consider frying fish or roasting vegetables, rather than baking or boiling them.

Adding in
Think about your current routine, and reflect on where it may be possible for you to add something extra in. Think about your meals, snacks and drinks. Even making those 3 coffees milky ones could make a difference. You may be able to try something relatively simple such as increasing the portion sizes of the food you eat, topping it in cheese or serving it with a side of avocado, having a snack of cheese and biscuits or even introducing something for dessert.

Not all of these tips will be suitable for everyone, and if you’re really struggling to maintain your weight I’d recommend that you seek out personalised help from a dietitian.