Nutrition for the Underweight: Expert Advice on How to Gain Weight in a Healthy Way

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 out of every 3 individuals is either overweight or obese. With 2.8 million yearly deaths, there is no denying that obesity is one of the world’s biggest health problems. However, being underweight comes with its own set of risks which may be just as bad for your health. According to a study conducted in the US, being underweight was associated with a 100% greater risk of early death in women, and 140% in men. Underweight people may also suffer from impaired immune function, fertility problems, raised risk of infections, and osteoporosis.

The society’s obsession with being thin has contributed towards the ill-health of underweight people. Manisha Mehta, Clinical Dietician and Sports Nutritionist weighs in, “The mindset ‘slim is better’ stops many people from even acknowledging that they need to increase their weight. People are not made equipped with the right information about the body composition i.e. the amount of muscle and fat that they have in their body, that’s why they feel their weight is healthy even if they lack the healthy component i.e. lean muscle mass.”

Commenting on how mainstream media and conversation about fitness and nutrition disproportionately focuses on losing weight, Manisha said,” It is easier to play on the insecurity people face because of obesity. People miss out on the avenues for research-based nutrition advice in the giant pool of health experts because of the mere reason that the preventive health care industry lacks the minimum criteria for someone to practice.”

Manisha answers a few important questions and shares top tips on nutrition for underweight people.

What are the main reasons behind being underweight?

1. Not having enough food
2. Not having enough right combinations of healthy food
3. Not challenging the muscles which prevents the muscle from growing
4. Medical issues like Diabetes and HyperThyroidism
5. Not enough Rest or too much stress (which increases their cortisol levels, preventing muscles from growing)

Can gaining weight be healthy?

Being skinny is not the same as being healthy. People can be thin and yet have a fat percentage much higher than the optimum i.e 10-20 percent for males and 15-25 percent for females. If someone has less of the bone and organ support system which is muscle mass then surely they need to gain that, in the process, they might gain weight but that would be absolutely healthy.

Which healthy foods can we consume to gain weight?

A good combination of unprocessed whole grains, high-quality protein sources and soluble and insoluble fiber to aid protein absorption will help anyone achieve their body goals. But, as I always say there is no list of magical foods that will yield magical results. 

What should lactose intolerant people eat or drink to gain weight apart from supplements?

Most of the lactose-intolerant people can still digest curd, which will make for a good source of animal protein (if the person is a vegetarian). However having a good amount of properly cooked pulses, dry fruits and seeds will help people having bodyweight lower than normal

How to increase appetite?

Appetite is a subjective attribute and is different for everyone and this is the exact beauty of it, you can train your body to eat more, by eating in a uniform routine manner, staying away from hunger suppressants like tea and coffee, and eating more hunger boosting foods like fruits.

How to build muscle?

Muscle building is the body’s natural way of fixing what’s broken in a way that it doesn’t break again that easily. So when we do a calculated damage i.e. workout and follow it up with a quantified raw material for repair i.e. nutritious diet, our body rebuilds the broken muscle fibers while we sleep and we come out stronger. Doing it regularly helps us not only gain muscle but also achieve a body that not only looks good but also feels good.

Do underweight people need to slow their metabolism down?

Absolutely not, having a high metabolism is a blessing, however, what many skinny people fail to realise is that it’s not the metabolism that is to be blamed. Many times they have an excess of fat but because of lack of muscle, it doesn’t appear so. Manisha shares more valuable information about metabolism here. 

Should people seeking to gain weight exercise? How much?

Absolutely! They should focus on resistance and weight training with controlled movement over impulsive exercises. Consistency is more important than duration, though the upper limit should be 75 min per workout session.

Do fresh juices help in weight gain?

Yes, the challenge which underweight people might face is a calorie surplus. In each meal, fruit juices will pack the calories of four fruits in just one glass, which is easier to consume.

How can underweight people detox without losing weight?

Detox is actually is a hoax/marketing strategy which has been created by the propagators of fancy diets. What we need to understand is that our body comes with a preinstalled fully equipped detoxification system in the form of kidney, lungs, and skin. All we need to do is to not mess up with it by eating junk, sleeping late nights, and being a couch potato all the time.

What are some healthy snack alternatives?

Nuts, Fruit yogurts (self-made), fruits, fruit slushes and smoothies, dry fruits all these make great snack options for underweight people.


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