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This century is all about being smart and looking even smarter. With men sporting six-pack abs to women clad in the skinniest dresses, lean is definitely in. Unsurprisingly, weight is a major concern of this century. Whereas millions living in developed countries like the USA and UK are struggling with obesity and overweight, a large group of population in less developed parts is struggling with underweight and undernourishment. And this problem of underweight is growing at an alarming rate. Interestingly, women are more commonly underweight than men.

There can be myriad reasons for someone to be underweight. One of the most common reasons is malnutrition or nutritional deficiency. Some people try their hardest but are unable to gain weight. If you are one of those struggling to put on the necessary kilos, look no further. In this article, we will cover all the tips and tricks that will help you to gain healthy weight. So, get your glasses on and read through the entire article to know more.

  1. Do you really need to gain weight?
  2. Causes of being underweight
  3. Risks associated with being underweight
  4. How to increase weight: Tips
  5. Foods to increase weight
  6. Resistance training exercises to increase weight
  7. Consume protein supplements to increase weight

Do you really need to gain weight?

Before assuming things when it comes to your weight, first learn how to gage the correct and healthy weight for your age and height. To ascertain this, you need to know about your BMI or body mass index. What does BMI mean and how does it determine your healthy weight requirements? Let us decipher this below.

As mentioned earlier, it is important to make sure if you really are underweight or not. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is much more important than losing weight unmindfully. So, before jumping from one fad diet to another or taking on a CrossFit or running a marathon, get your BMI reading. Maybe you don’t really need to put on weight at all.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight measurements. Your BMI calculations will tell you the weight class you fall in and if you need to gain weight. The classes are as follows:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
  • Overweight = 25–29.9
  • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

Now, if you belong to the category of underweight, you certainly need intervention to bring your weight to normal.

(Read more: What is metabolism and how to boost metabolism)

Causes of being underweight

Once you have figured out that you need to put on weight, you must acknowledge the various causes that may be responsible for your condition. Some of the most common causes are as follows:

  • Eating disorders: If you constantly obsess over your weight and tend to ditch food often, anorexia nervosa may be the cause of your excessively lean body. It is an eating disorder, in which the person has a distorted idea of a lean body leading to difficulties in maintaining healthy body weight.
  • Malnutrition: Adequate nutrition is the key to maintaining normal weight and good health. Dietary absence or deficiency of certain nutrients and an unhealthy eating pattern may become the cause of the underweight condition.
  • Family history: Some people have a naturally low BMI due to genes running in their family. In such condition, almost all the family member suffers from underweight. Not much can be done when it comes to genes but you can certainly eat healthy and nutritious food to improve the condition.
  • High metabolism: A person with a fast metabolism may not be able to gain weight even after consumption of high-calorie food. This is because their body tends to digest and burn all the nutrients quickly preventing fat deposition in tissues. However, a fast metabolism may also be associated with certain health conditions like thyroid disorders. You can learn about your metabolism through your BMR or basal metabolic rate reading and check in with a doctor if needed.
  • Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease: These diseases affect the digestion and absorption of food in the body, especially the intestines that result in nutrition deprivation.
  • Age: Older individuals have slower digestion and relatively faulty nutrient absorption. Loss of appetite may also be experienced. Loss of teeth makes feeding difficult and cumbersome and on top of that, they also experience loss of appetite. Together, all of these lead to a reduction in weight.

Stresssubstance abuse and illnesses like Parkinson’s diseasecancer, viral hepatitis and COPD are some other causes of the underweight problem.

(Read more: How to improve digestion)

Risks associated with being underweight

In today's world, people often want to get thinner and lean to garner praise from society. In a social media savvy world, looking attractive and fit has become a currency to be popular and famous. But getting leaner should never come at the cost of your health. Nobody cares about the risks associated with an extremely lean or dangerously underweight condition. However, one should always be careful about the consequences especially when it comes to your health such as:

  • People who are underweight are at high risk of developing osteoporosis, increasing their vulnerability to bone fractures.
  • Anaemia and nutritional deficiencies are very common. These conditions often exhibit prolonged spells of lethargy and tiredness.
  • Underweight individuals are at higher risk of developing infections and diseases due to their compromised immunity levels.
  • Women who are underweight may have a problem with getting regular mensuration. Often menstruation even stops completely. The condition of the sustained absence of menstrual flow is called amenorrhoea. If you have missed three consecutive menstrual periods then you might have this condition. Since amenorrhoea is a symptom of hormonal imbalance on account of underweight, it can lead to infertility, osteoporosis and other health complications.
  • Some people may also face delayed healing of wounds.

How to increase weight: Tips

Just like any regime for maintaining a healthy weight, weight gain is a journey and not a destination. Only with an improvement in your lifestyle and dietary habits can a healthy weight be maintained. So, get ready to reform and improve your habits if you want to put on some extra kilos. And most importantly keep up the spirits because laziness is just going to make you fat not fit.  Here is an easy step by step guide to healthy weight gain. 

  1. Increase your calorie intake
  2. Go nutrition dense not just energy dense
  3. Eat several meals a day
  4. Other tips for increasing weight

Increase your calorie intake

When it comes to gaining weight, the maths is pretty simple: you need to feed more calories than you burn. This creates a net calorie excess. These excess calories (energy) are then stored as fat or used up in muscle building and repair of the body. To put it simply, you won’t grow if you won’t eat more than your maintenance calories (for normal body functions and regulation).

The net calorie intake for women should be around 1600 to 2400 cal and for men, it lies in the range of 2000 to 3000 calories. To gain weight you need to take more than the above-mentioned amount per day. However, it is best to check in with a dietician to know how much should be your total calorie intake as per your age, physical activity and BMI.

Go nutrition dense not just energy dense

No doubt taking in more calories will help you gain weight quickly. But eating more doesn’t mean you are free to binge on fast food.

Increase your intake of high-quality and nutritious food rather than just snacking over chips all day. While these may cater to your energy requirements instantly, energy-dense foods just add to your total calorie count without providing you with any nutrition. A healthy diet should contain sufficient amounts of carbs, proteins and fats, while at the same time fulfilling your body’s requirements for essential minerals and vitamins.

Fix yourself green salads and healthy fruit salads or just make some lettuce wraps or cheese sandwich for yourself. Add as many colours to your plate as you can. If you like more traditional dishes, try to add healthy spices such as cumin and carom seeds to your curries and go for baking and stir fry instead of deep fry.

A balanced diet ensures that you get proper nourishment to repair and regenerate body cells; so you can gain healthy muscle mass instead of piling up layers of fats.

Eat several meals a day

We all usually eat three meals daily. But if you're someone who's underweight, try to increase your number of meals. According to a study, eating more frequently ultimately leads to increment in your total food intake in a day. This means even if you are otherwise not that hungry you’ll start to be at specific times of day. Make sure that your eat a small portion every time instead of stuffing yourself full every time. This will also spread your total calorie intake throughout the day. For best results, you can take around 6 to 8 small meals in a day.

If it is not possible for you to eat more frequently, at least give yourself a slightly larger portion than you usually eat.

Other tips for increasing weight

Though eating healthy and exercising daily is the best way to gain weight, it is important to take certain points into consideration to hasten this process. Let us have a look at them too:

  • Make a habit of taking proper meals even when you are not feeling hungry. This way, there will be an overall increase in your calorie intake that will eventually help you to gain some extra kilos.
  • Reward yourself in the form of food. This doesn't mean you start eating refined and processed food. Feast on high-calorie food like meat especially red meat. They are rich in proteins, fats and other nutrients and facilitate muscle growth.
  • Eat before and after workout sessions. This could be in the form of protein bars, protein shakes, and smoothies. Don’t forget to take your carbs. They will provide you with energy for your workout so you don’t tire or worse injure yourself and also aid in muscle recovery after a workout.
  • If you are underweight due to age-related issues like loss of teeth. Consult a dentist for denture fabrication. Never ignore the demands of your body even in older age.
  • Consult a health professional for other health-related issues of being underweight. They will diagnose the reason and help you to find the solution. Consider counselling for eating disorders and ways to reverse it.
  • Never skip meals due to stress. It will affect your health and may also increase the stress level even more.

Foods to increase weight

Now you know about calorie density and nutritional value of foods and have an idea about how much you can eat. The question remains, what all you can eat? This section will tell you all your food options in every macronutrient category. Got a notepad yet?

  • Carbohydrate: Carbohydrates give you that instant source of energy needed to keep you going throughout the day and they are known for promoting weight gain. However, all that weight gain is in the form of stored fats, which is not healthy. Instead of gorging on sweets and refined flour, take in complex carbs such as whole grains, green veggies, oats and legumes. Complex carbs don’t spike your blood sugar levels and provide you with a steady source of energy. So you can be up and going throughout the day.
    Try to cook your cereal in milk rather than water, add lots of nuts and seeds into it to make it more tasty and healthy for you. Making these small changes in your eating habit can take you a long way.
  • Fats: When it comes to weight gain, most people just go generous with their fat intake. However, not all fats are good for health and it is important to keep a balance between your intake of saturated and unsaturated fats. Try incorporating more healthy (unsaturated) fats in your diet with foods like avocado, nuts, olives and fish. Garnish your salads with healthy fat oils like olive oil and seeds like sunflower, pumpkin and chia seeds. You can also add nut butter like almond butter and peanut butter to your diet.
  • Proteins: Proteins handle all the building and repairing processes in your body. They aid in increasing your total muscle mass. But as always, there is a catch to it. You need to practice strength training exercises along with extra intake of protein to make sure that it is properly metabolised in the body and not adding up to your blood uric acid. Don’t want joint pains now do we? Again it is best to talk to a dietician or your trainer to know the right amount of proteins you should take in daily as per the amount of physical activity you do in a day. Some of the easily available sources of proteins include pulses, eggs, lean meat, chicken and soy. Cottage cheese, milk and yoghurt are some sources of dairy proteins.

Resistance training exercises to increase weight

First of all, let's know, what is exactly is resistance training? This is a kind of exercise in which your body works against a resistance force. Some example of resistance training includes the use of weight machines, free weight and resistance bands. You can also use your own body weight for this type of exercise. Strength training promotes muscle growth by promoting the formation of entirely new muscle fibres and by increasing the size of your muscle cells. The latter is called muscle hypertrophy.

  • Do a strength training exercise of your choice at least 2- 3 times per week. This will give time to your muscle to recover. Interestingly, muscle growth occurs only during the recovery period.
  • Choose an exercise that involves multiple muscles of your body rather than focussing on only hand or leg muscles.
  • Keep your workout short and intense if you want good results.
  • To avoid injuries, it is best that you do your daily workout under the observation and guidance of gym trainer or physiotherapist.

Consume protein supplements to increase weight

Protein supplements are usually one of the first things that come to mind when one talks of weight gain and building muscle mass. Unsurprisingly, supermarket aisles are loaded with various protein supplements suited to different age groups. But before you decide to buy a pack, its important to know a little about it.

Protein supplements are dietary proteins comprising of various types of proteins such as whey protein, soy protein and casein. These are usually advisable for individuals whose dietary protein intake does not suffice their body's requirement. One drawback of taking protein supplements is that it doesn't provide you with other beneficial nutrients that a whole protein source can. On the other hand, the advantage of taking protein supplements is that it increases muscle mass and enhances performance. But this will happen only when you incorporate strength training exercise in your daily routine while taking protein supplements.

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