Weight gain: why it’s important to be a healthy weight

Sophie Edgington - Nutritionist | 02 Apr, 2021

Gaining weight can't be hard, can it? Surely you simply eat more, right? If only it were that simple! Anyone who is underweight and tried to gain weight will know.

The concept of eating more can be overwhelming for many people. So much media focus is on the benefits of weight loss, it can feel counterintuitive to purposely put on pounds, even when it is in your best interest. Add to this less evidence-based advice on weight gain, and it can be unclear which is the best approach to take. This blog aims to provide practical advice on how to gain weight healthily and safely.

Healthy Heart

There are a variety of reasons why somebody might want or need to put on weight.

These include:

  • To be within a healthy BMI range.
  • Improved fertility.
  • To support increased exercise or sport participation.
  • Body confidence.
  • Counteract weight loss resulting from health conditions including overactive thyroid, coeliac disease and type 1 or 2 diabetes.
  • As part of a multidisciplinary treatment approach for a mental health condition that may have affected the person's weight, including eating disorders, body dysmorphia and depression or learned behaviours including food aversion.

What's wrong with being underweight?

If your BMI is lower than 18.5, you could be underweight. Weight naturally fluctuates, but being vastly underweight as an adult for a significant period could be as detrimental to health as being overweight. Despite this, worryingly, up to 70% of undernutrition in the UK goes unrecognised and untreated. If you are concerned that you may be underweight, speak to your GP first to explore any possible underlying causes that may help explain your low weight – before then looking at how to start gaining weight through positive dietary changes.

Externally, an underweight person may appear 'healthy', but there is a range of serious health issues that can come with being at a low weight. These include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies – it is unlikely that people with a BMI of less than 18.5 will have been following a healthy, balanced diet, and therefore their diet is likely to be lacking in certain key nutrients such as iron which plays an important role in transporting oxygen around the body, and calcium which is essential for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth.
  • Osteoporosis – having a low BMI increases the risk of low bone density and increased bone loss, especially in post-menopausal women.
  • Fertility problems – eating less than your body needs can lead to irregular or missed periods (amenorrhoea) as hormone cycles are disrupted, increasing the risk of fertility problems if not reversed.
  • Low mood and impaired concentration – the limited energy available is redirected from the brain in order to support your vital functions at a low body weight.
  • Compromised immune system – a low BMI may indirectly impair your body's ability to fight off infections.
  • Hair-loss associated with low body weight.

Increasing and maintaining your weight so that you are within a healthy BMI range (18.5-25.0) will help to reduce your risk of the above complications significantly.

3 ways Nutracheck can help your weight gain journey

1 By setting a realistic target

Although the majority of our members use the app for weight loss purposes, Nutracheck can easily be used as a tool to aid healthy weight gain too. Nutracheck calculates a calorie target for you based on your personal information and weight goal. This gives you a calorie figure to aim for and helps give you the confidence that your targets are healthy and achievable.

2 By helping you choose healthy calories

The most important thing for gaining weight is that you eat more calories than your body needs. Trying to gain weight without the app or a food diary is possible, but it may mean that although you are consuming the extra calories you need to gain weight, you have no idea if you're eating a balanced diet.

It is essential to eat not only calorie rich foods but also nutrient-rich foods. Foods such as takeaways, crisps, cakes and chocolate will increase your calories, but they will significantly increase your saturated fat and sugar intake too – so this is not the best approach in terms of overall health. So you need to make food choices that add calories but also provide good nutrients.

Nutracheck tracks up to 7 essential nutrients – carbs, protein, fat, saturated fat, sugar, fibre and salt – so you're able to keep a close eye on the quality of your diet. You can check your daily progress in the summary bar chart to see how you are tracking against the recommended daily amount for each nutrient. You can find this in the app by tapping the white chart icon in the top right corner of your diary. On the website, it is displayed to the right of your diary.

Weight gain should be approached in the same way as weight loss – sensibly and gradually.

3 By tracking your progress

We recommend you weigh in weekly or fortnightly and enter your figures in the 'Progress' section of the Nutracheck app. Our advice is to weigh yourself first thing in the morning on the same day of the week before eating or drinking anything to get the most accurate reflection of your weight over time.

It is essential for motivation to document your weight gain success – even if it only seems minor, such as 0.5lb a week. Providing your bar chart is moving upwards, you are heading in the right direction!

It's equally important to consider how your clothes feel and how you generally feel about your body as a good indicator of weight gain. In addition to your weight, you can also record 13 other body measurements, including waist, chest, hips, body fat % and muscle mass.

Links for further reading:

10 tips for gaining weight healthily

Eatwell Guide

How can I gain weight safely?

10 strength exercises to do at home

Nutritionist Sophie Edgington (ANutr), BSc Nutrition is passionate about practising evidence-based nutrition and debunking the multitude of inaccurate myths that so readily surround food and health information. Her goal is to ensure we are all able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding our health.

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