For those who are underweight (BMI < 18.5*), gaining weight can be as hard as losing weight. Being skinny has its own set of health problems ranging from weaker immune systems (making them prone to infections, surgical complications) and slower recovery times for illness. They also tend to have low muscle mass, and less than ideal hair, teeth, and skin composition. They may have disruptions in the ability to regulate hormones and protect bone health, and women could become unable to menstruate
Gaining weight should be a safe process and takes a lot of time and effort. The best way to gain weight without becoming fat and gaining extra harmful calories is to follow a healthy balanced diet, along with workouts and weightlifting/strength training exercises.
The notion that ‘skinny’ or ‘underweight’ people can eat high calorie foods (like chips, cakes, pizzas, cookies, etc) without it adversely affecting their health is wrong. Poor diets can lead to ailments such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Plus, people who gain weight eating anything and everything tend to retain it as fat, and in much more undesirable places.
Here are some healthy ways to add extra calories to your daily diet:
- Eat more frequently: Eat five to six small meals throughout the day rather than two or three large meals.
- Eat nutrient-rich foods: As part of an overall healthy diet, choose whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals; fruits and vegetables; low-fat dairy products; lean protein sources (like egg whites, chicken, fish, soy and soy products, legumes and pulses); and nuts, seeds and dry fruits.
- Watch what you drink: Don't fill up on diet soda, coffee, tea and other drinks with few calories and little nutritional value. Instead, drink smoothies or healthy shakes made with milk and fresh or frozen juice and sprinkle in some ground flaxseed. Drink fluids either 30 minutes before or after a meal, not with it, to avoid becoming full before you eat.
- Add in calorie-dense snacks: Choose calorie-dense foods, such as nuts, dhoklas, idli with sambar, upma with vegetables, usal/ shundal (steamed pulses with a little tadka/seasoning) cheese, paneer, dried fruits, bananas, avocados, figs. Also, have a bedtime snack, such as an omelet/cheese/ paneer sandwich, or a sandwich with banana and honey, or a cup of curd with chopped fruits and honey.
- Mix it up: Add cheese/skim milk powder to soups, scrambled eggs, curries. Add pulses/legumes to dishes like vegetable pulav’s, poha’s, and even to regular sabzi’s (e.g. try adding kabuli channa to the cabbage sabzi/ sprouted moong to aloo matter,etc).
- Have a sweet treat: But be sure to select sweets that also provide nutrients, such as yogurt/curd with fruits/ dry fruits, groundnut chikki’s and milk based sweets like kheer, peda’s, rosugullas, rasmalai .
Besides eating, exercise, especially strength training, can also help you gain weight by building up your muscles and adding more "bulk" to your body. It may also stimulate your appetite and help you eat a little more. Remember that it can take a while to gain the weight you need, but be patient and continue to choose healthy foods until you reach your goal weight. Once you reach your goal, the next step would be to maintain that weight with regular exercise otherwise you could end up being overweight.
[* Body Mass Index (BMI) = weight in kg / height in meters2
If the BMI is:
(Note: The BMI for Indians/South Asians is different from the western population).
1. Equal to or less than 18.5 = Underweight
2. between 19-22 = Normal
3. between 23-25= Overweight
4. 26 and above = Obese ]