How to Gain Weight with Whole Foods

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Unknown 13 1 | How To Gain Weight With Whole Foods

 

Weight loss articles, tips and tricks are a dime a dozen out there.

 

Pick up any health and beauty magazine on a newsstand out there, or Google-search the term ‘weight’ and you are guaranteed to find an overwhelming amount of advice pertaining to weight loss.

 

I suppose this is warranted in part due to our society’s obesity and weight management epidemic with nearly 78 MILLION adults and 13 MILLION children in our nation alone struggling with this issue.

 

[kad_youtube url=”https://home/laurynlax/public_html.youtube.com/watch?v=0DLTpnybuNs” ]

 

However, a topic that is rarely discussed, explored or advised upon is the topic of WEIGHT GAIN.

 

What about those individuals who need to gain weight or are seeking to be a healthier weight than that which they are?

 

While the numbers are astronomically much lower—Fewer than 2% of people in the US are classified as ‘underweight’ (defined as having a body mass index of less than 18.5)—the complications can be just as astounding as those complications for those whom are overweight.

 

Being underweight, particularly significantly underweight is associated with issues, such as increased morbidity, depressed immunity (difficulty fighting disease), amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle), infertility, hormonal imbalances, hair loss, anemia (low iron in blood), digestive issues (leaky gut for instance), adrenal fatigue, depression and more.

 

Speaking from experience, for over a decade, I thrust my body through a ‘concentration camp’ of its own—forcing it into a ‘fight or flight’ survival mode in a subpar state of being, dangling by a thread in an unhealthy weight range for my 5’4’’ frame.

 

While I do not believe in one number defining your being or being ‘the answer’ to all happiness and optimal wellbeing, it is safe to say that your body was meant to thrive in a ‘happy place’ where your organs, cells, heart, brain, hormones and all around energy level are able to function—not merely hang on.

 

That being said, in my practice, I have the opportunity to work with individuals on all ends of the spectrum—desiring health for their bodies, and sometimes, that involves the topic of weight gain.

 

First and foremost, regardless of a person’s weight or weight related goals, one of the first steps we take is having them throw out the scale.

 

More times than not, I find when a person’s goal is weight related (weight loss or weight gain), the scale can become a seemingly necessary ‘evil’ and consequently, an unrelenting ‘handcuff’ in the process. A number begins to define the identity of the client who so desperately desires it to change.

 

By throwing out the scale, instead of focusing so much on a number itself, the focus instead becomes on the lifestyle and nutrition modifications necessary to see ‘gains’ or ‘losses’ for the optimal health desired.

 

While I may occasionally check in with the measureable weight goals myself, I think, for the client or for the one trying to make the weight shifts, it is better to focus on other measures—such as the fit of one’s clothes, your energy levels, strength gains, hormone, blood work and vital sign regularities.

 

Moving forward, the focus then shifts to what you are currently consuming, followed by education around the body’s fundamental nutritional needs—protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.

 

  • Proteins are the ‘building blocks’ of life— We are literally made of protein from our bones to our muscles, arteries and veins, skin, hair, and fingernails. Our heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs are built of tissue made of proteins. Protein is needed to “carry” fat and cholesterol throughout the body, digest our food, synthesize essential substances, and break down waste products for elimination. In short, to lack protein is to be lacking in the very substance of life.

 

  • Carbohydrates-Despite the low carb craze in our country, carbohydrates are a source of energy to your body—particularly for women. Going too low carbohydrate may be problematic for supporting healthy female hormones. (Check out this post for more insight)

 

  • Fats-Important for all systems of the body! Fat is necessary forenergy, helps our body to make hormones, makes you feel satiated after you eat, helps our bodies to absorb certain vitamins, cushion our organs, some very important fats actually increase our metabolism and make us lose weight!  Fats are important for our skin, hair, and blood and crucial for proper brain function. Good essential fats do not make you fat! Some of these include: avocado, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, cold water fish, wild game, coconut oil, coconut butter, and extra virgin olive oil.

 

  • Water-At least half your body weight in ounces, and if you are active, at least ¾ your body weight in ounces if not your body weight. The body is over 60% water—meaning it needs water to keep your cells and organs nourished and functioning.

 

 

All of these macro and micro nutrients are necessary for building upon the foundation of your weight-related goals and knowledge is power when you know how particular foods can impact the results you desire.

 

And, I also acknowledge that while weight gain may be a goal for some individuals (such as those in recovery from eating disorders), I also do acknowledge that the topic of weight gain can be downright scary and unnerving for some.

 

Ironic as it may seem, a person can desire weight gain, and in the same breath be terrified of the body change, clothing size changes and uncomfortable process that comes along with it.

 

I am here to tell you today though, if you are in need or desiring to gain weight in order to improve your health and move forward in your recovery journey, it does not have to be such a ‘scary experience.’

 

If you can think of it as a nourishing experience, building into your body to be in a place where you are able to thrive in your life—and keep that at the forefront of your mind, then the weight gain can be more readily accepted.

 

I am very passionate about empowering others to find empowerment in this process.

 

Throughout my personal recovery journey, trying to gain weight off and on, over the course of 13 years, time and time again, I would go into treatment in an undernourished state, and, instead of finding empowerment in the weight gain and recovery process, I encountered messages of condemnation:

 

“She’s too skinny—put some weight on her bones.”

 

“She needs to eat a cheeseburger or pizza.”

 

“Just eat!”

 

These are the messages I intercepted and, instead of a nourishing experience, the food served on my plate felt like punishment for the time spent out of treatment that I had deprived my body.

Consequently, as doctors, nutritionists and nurses attempted to plump me up (yes, a nutritionist at a treatment center actually point-in-blank stated, “I want to plump you up”—that did not go over well), my body struggled in an opposite way.

 

I remember being plated Pop-Tarts for breakfast, and my body rejecting them—not knowing what to do with the refined carbohydrates;

 

Cheesy pizza nights with milkshakes only to be in the bathroom 30-minutes later, being monitored by a recovery coach outside the door who had to flush for me after my stomach ache dissipated;

 

Platefuls of shrimp fettucini alfredo or microwaved frozen dinner lasagna, and again, lots of stomach aches.

 

Trying to sleep, but the fried chicken nuggets, French fries and Coca Cola I had been served for dinner keeping me up at night.

 

To say the least, it was a tough process.

 

I also remember all too well the feeding tubes that were stuck down my nose, feeding me formula for extra ‘nourishment’ to keep my body progressing towards weight gain, but once again, my body rejecting the foreign substance—lots of gas, bloating, constipation, queasiness.

 

Today, much of the ‘hardships’ of weight gain have become a blur and I think more than anything, I have blocked them out, now happier in a healthier place. I do know, however, the most successful—and lasting—the weight gain process was and has ever been was when I began learning about—and incorporating a whole foods approach to my nutrition.

 

Nope, not a diet. Not an orthorexic holistic outlook on food (ie. ‘I will ONLY eat organic XYZ’). But simply: Eating real food my body—and your body—was meant to THRIVE upon.

 

I obviously could talk for days about this—and would be more than happy to give you some more personalized insight into how a whole foods approach could work for your body to function optimally (not just weight gain, but hormone balance, digestive regulation, brain function, anxiety and stress management and MORE).

 

Here are a few key tips I have found in gaining weight with whole foods (and I don’t mean Whole Foods’ Market):

 

  • Incorporate more quality starch! Sweet potatoes, potatoes, even rice or quiona with 2-3 of your main meals. You don’t need to count grams. But adding starchier vegetables are helpful for weight gain.

 

 

  • Adding fruit 1-2x per day. It may seem strange, but in my eating disorder, I was terrified of fruit. Sugar, sugar, sugar—I thought. As I began to buy into my body’s health though, I began to incorporate fruit with breakfast and/or in a smoothie I’d make for a snack (almond milk, protein powder, berries and almond butter)

 

  • Fats with every main meal! I stopped fearing fats too—even though I had to ‘fake it til I made it’ at first. Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil and olive oil on my veggies, even grassfed butter, skin on chicken, red meat and egg YOLKS! Crazy talk, right? What I discovered? I felt better! And I did not get ‘fat’ from the fat—I did not see it visually store on my body. Instead my food and metabolism began to regulate and digest appropriately.

 

 

  • Protein-amp it up. Those in eating disorder recovery often times neglect protein. Vegetarian based diets are commonly intertwined with eating disorders, with individuals not knowing which came first—the chicken or the egg (did they become a vegetarian because of the eating disorder or before the eating disorder?). In addition, portion sizes are often skim if protein is consumed. Maybe 1 egg at breakfast, 5 deli turkey meat slices or a tablespoon of peanut butter (peanut butter is actually more of a fat than protein). A serving of protein is at least a palm size (of your hand) if not two.

 

 

  • Add a smoothie. These can be really effective and helpful when you’re trying to gain weight, for the same reason that liquid calories are best avoided when you’re trying to lose weight.  Smoothies are not liquid calories in the way that a soda is, but it’s still easier to eat more when you’re drinking it as a smoothie than it is to eat additional whole food. A couple recipes to throw in the blender include: Coconut milk or almond milk, avocado, ½-1 banana, and spinach. Or my favorite: unsweetened vanilla or chocolate almond milk, 2 scoops chocolate protein powder, handful frozen blueberries and 1 tbsp. almond butter.

 

  • Don’t neglect your veggies. While veggies are not as dense as other foods—there is no getting around the vitamins and minerals they deliver. Incorporate a veggie or two with your main meals. If you steam or cook them, they are more easily digested too to leave room for other food.

 

 

  • Supplement. I do not recommend a ton of supplements for the masses, but the ones I do include: a high quality probiotic (promotes digestion), high-quality fish oil (I like Pure Pharma or Stronger Faster Healthier), and at least 400 IUs of Vitamin D (Pure Pharma-Vitamin D).

 

 

  • Don’t fear the weights. Strength training is empowering from the inside out! Find a supportive trainer (I am available for in-person, group and distance coaching) or check out this book: Starting Strength to find out a little more info about navigating the weight room.

 

Like I said, I could go on for days it seems about this all. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

 

You CAN achieve your goals and weight gain does not have to be such a scary thing—it actually can be a life giving thing.

 

One day at a time—moving forward.

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