For women in this situation, eating more can seem daunting or overwhelming. But there is a healthy way to do it.
While every person is different, adding anywhere from 200 to 500 more calories a day to your diet has been shown to result in a weight gain of about a few pounds a month. That provides healthy, slow weight gain. But just like people trying to maintain or lose weight, people who want or need to add weight should stay away from focusing on calories only, experts said.
Focus on healthy fats
Australian dietitian and blogger Lyndi Cohen said the key is to add more healthy fats to your diet.
“Donuts and chocolate, you could gain weight that way ... but you won’t feel great,” said Cohen. “A better way is to add healthy fats, things like avocado, yogurt and cheese, full-fat dairy or plain Greek yogurt.”
Focus on “calorie-dense, nutrient-dense foods,” added Cohen.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietitian and author, said that in addition to adding more fats, patients can add more whole grains.
She works on weight gain with several clients, some of whom have cancer. She said that these patients may find it difficult to eat most solid foods, since nausea is often a side effect of treatment. If that’s your situation, she suggests trying puddings low in sugar or even creating your own food like mashed peas or sweet potatos with a bit of salt and butter.
You can also add coconut cream to white rice or lentils to add more nutrients. Adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil when possible can also add a few hundred calories to your meal. For dessert, try a bit of peanut butter or chocolate for extra calories, she suggested.
Eat more frequently
You don’t have to sit down with a huge plate of food to gain weight. In fact, people with smaller appetites or who eat less often have smaller stomachs, so eating a large meal at once might be very uncomfortable.
Instead, Cohen recommends having small, frequent meals. You might even consider putting alerts on your phone to remind you.
“Often someone who’s underweight forgets to eat, and their appetite doesn’t remember to eat. So creating a routine is really really important,” Cohen said.
Lifting weights and circuit training can increase your muscle mass which can result in a heavier weight. While you can do any exercise you enjoy, avoid long-distance running, as that burns a high amount of calories.
You can still jog or run from time to time, but avoid exercising for more than an hour, Kirkpatrick added.
Rethink what weight gain means to you
“I always tell my clients to think about the goal of getting back into clothes they wore when they were a healthier size,” Kirkpatrick said. “The goal is to maintain a healthy BMI, despite the pros and cons. It’s one way to start off and see if you're progressing.”
You could also think about this process not so much about weight gain, but about giving your body more nutrients and muscle, Kirkpatrick suggested.