How to Gain Weight if You're Underweight, Says Doctor – Eat This, Not That

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For some people, it can be just as difficult to gain weight as it is for people who are trying to lose weight. There are various reasons you might be looking to gain weight, like if you want to put on muscle mass when strength training, or perhaps you’re underweight.
If you have a BMI—body mass index—of less than 18.5 kg/m², you’re considered underweight, according to Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro, a certified nutrition coach, certified personal trainer, and a member of our Medical Expert Board. If this applies to you, he warns that it’s crucial to put weight on in a healthy, safe way, explaining, “For most people, it can be fairly easy to put on extra pounds by eating a lot of extra food that’s high in calories but low in nutrients—like junk food, soda, and candy. If you do this, though, you’ll mostly (or entirely) be increasing your fat mass, which can be bad for your overall health.”
Dr. Bohl stresses the importance of keeping your body composition healthy while putting on some weight, along with gaining lean muscle mass. Although the process can be time-consuming, the effort you put into it will result in so many benefits.
To help make the process easier, Dr. Bohl provides us with some healthy ways to gain weight if you’re underweight. Learn Dr. Bohl’s top-recommended tips for how to gain weight if you’re underweight below. With consistency, you can put on some healthy weight in no time. Keep reading to learn more, and next, check out The 5 Best Diet & Exercise Tips To Regain Muscle Mass.
The first step you should take if you are underweight and find it difficult to gain extra pounds is to try to figure out the reason. “If you haven’t already, you should talk to your healthcare provider about this,” Dr. Bohl says, adding, “Certain diseases, such as hyperthyroidism and some gastrointestinal diseases, can cause weight loss, so it’s important you’re evaluated for these conditions in case you need to be treated.”
Simply being underweight does not necessarily mean there’s an underlying reason. But learning if there is a potential issue is important so you can diagnose and address the problem head-on.
It’s important to maintain the right diet for you and map out each meal. “It’s easy to eat ’empty calories,’ and yes—these will help you gain fat. But to gain weight in the healthiest way possible and make sure you’re building lean muscle mass as well, you need to focus on nutrient-rich foods,” Dr. Bohl tells us.
Be sure to shop for healthy fats, whole-grain carbohydrates, and proteins that are high-quality. “Healthy fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish,” Dr. Bohl tells us.
In addition to practicing smart shopping, you have to consume more calories than you torch every day in order to put on the weight you desire. Dr. Bohl says,  “You can do this by having larger portions during each meal, eating more meals in the day, or a combination of both.”
RELATED: 5 Eating Habits To Regain Muscle Mass as You Age
If you’re taking the right steps in your diet and gaining weight is still challenging, you may consider taking weight-gaining supplements, such as a mass-gaining protein powder. “These powders can be mixed into smoothies and are calorie-dense due to their high concentration of protein and carbohydrates,” Dr. Bohl explains.
It’s important to “stimulate your body” in order to build up your lean muscle mass as you put on weight. The simplest way to accomplish this is by exercising. Resistance training should be a priority. Dr. Bohl suggests hitting up the gym a minimum of a few times every week, with a concentration on resistance bands, selectorized machines, free weights, or performing bodyweight workouts.
Dr. Bohl points out, “While exercise is very important for your body composition, remember that working out burns calories, so make sure you factor this in when you’re figuring out how many extra calories you need to eat each day.”
RELATED: 5 Exercises Men Should Avoid To Regain Muscle, Expert Says
Last but not least, be sure your goals are realistic ones. If being underweight is and always has been typical for you, putting weight on can be a long process. But note that it’s not a good thing to gain weight too fast, as that could be indicative of gaining fat mass.
Typically when individuals are exercising with the sole intent of building lean muscle, an estimate of what they can gain is somewhere between 0.5 to 2 pounds every month, according to Dr. Bohl. He informs us, “In people looking to gain overall weight inclusive of both muscle mass and fat mass, a rough estimate of expected weight gain is 0.5 to 2 pounds per week.”
If you have any concerns about the pace at which you are putting on weight, it’s always smart to check in with a healthcare professional.
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