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).
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!)
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.
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.
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.