*I am not a fully qualified nutritionist in a position to give medical advice. This post is just based on what has worked for me. As always please consult with your doctor if you are underweight or think you may have an eating disorder.
Since I’ve started blogging about my health problems I’ve had several comments and emails from readers asking about my weight gain. I have to say this is a post I never thought I would have to write, but it makes me very happy that I’m in a position to do so!
I’ll just give a very quick background to this post in case some of you are catching up. After my initial healthy weight loss I found that I was continuing to lose weight. Towards the end of 2010 and during much of 2011 I lost quite a bit of weight and eventually I started to feel like I was getting too skinny – although it must be noted that I have never had an under weight BMI or an eating disorder – however I do think I have suffered from disordered eating. I honestly didn’t think that I had a major problem as I felt fantastic, didn’t feel hungry and was enjoying my food. In August last year I saw some photo’s of myself and realised that I really didn’t look great. Having been obese, I never believed I would be in the position of looking too thin! I think that was why it took me so long to really address it. I started relaxing my eating a bit and gained some weight back, but it was when I started to experience my lady problems that the alarm bells really started to go off. Since February I have made a concerted effort to gain weight to help address that problem. I’ve completely accepted that my body is just not healthy at a lower weight, despite my BMI being officially healthy. I have gone from a BMI of about 19.5 (in August last year) to now being just below a BMI of 23 and I intend to make sure I maintain this weight.
There’s all sorts of reasons why some people may be looking to gain weight rather than lose it, and some of these tips could also be helpful for people that are looking to maintain their weight after losing weight. Some people may be looking to increase their energy intake if they’re training very hard or may just feel that they want to gain some weight to add more curves to their frame. After all, not everyone is after that ultra slim physique I’ve certainly learned to re-appreciate my curves and wouldn’t go back to my lowest weight if you paid me! I think we all have different aesthetic ideals but we need to be able to rationalise them within what is healthy for our own body. I’m also not saying that I’m anti thin, I think that all natural and healthy body shapes should be accepted. Its ok to be slimmer or more curvy if your healthy and happy too!
I wouldn’t say that my weight gain has been done in a perfectly healthy way, I have had my fair share of evening over eating episodes which have contributed to it. However over the last couple of months I’ve been making a concerted effort to eat more calories as part of my daily meals and generally enjoy my food more!
I think a lot of people believe that to gain weight you need to start eating lots of junk food and other crap. I knew that I never wanted to go down that road again because eating like that makes me feel lethargic and generally run down. Don’t get me wrong, if you need to gain weight then eating some calorie dense junk isn’t something that should you avoid or feel guilty for, but for a lot of us eating like that would make us feel worse instead of better.
My favourite healthy foods for weight gain
Coconut products – I just can’t get enough of coconut right now! My favourite is full fat coconut milk, coconut yoghurt, coconut butter and coconut oil. Coconut products are high in fat including saturated fats, however these fats are in the form of medium chain fatty acids which some research has shown the body processes in a different way to other fats. I’ve been making my own coconut ice cream, lots of my favourite Thai curries and just enjoying coconut butter straight up from the jar!
Avocado – Oh how I love avocados, again these are rich in healthy calorie dense fats. I’ve started trying to buy at least one a week and adding it to salads and Buddha bowls. I also need to get back to adding them into smoothies – they make them insanely creamy!
Nut and seed butters – Need I say more? I have a slight obsession with nut butters they are probably my favourite food in the whole world! Again, they have lots of healthy fats and are nice and calorie dense. My favourites are tahini, almond butter, sunflower seed butter and I have a special place in my heart for Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut butter! In fact when I initially started my focused weight gain I bought myself a jar and ate it in less than two weeks, delicious! I use my nut butters by making them into dressings for salads, sauces for stir fries, toppings for smoothies in a bowl, in oats, in yoghurt bowls, on rice cakes, pretty much everything!
Dried fruits – as they are dried they are a more concentrated form of fruit sugars and therefore calories. I really like them added to salads for sweetness and a couple of handfuls with some raw nuts makes a great snack. I also love dipping larger pieces of dried fruit like apricots or figs in nut butters. My absolute fave thing is dried figs dipped in tahini with honey or black strap molasses (for the iron), holy yum!
Nuts and seeds – not quite as calorie dense as nut butters because they have more volume, but still a great calorie dense healthy food. Raw or roasted they are great as snacks, added to salads and stir fries and of course, made into raw desserts!
A slice of my raw salted caramel pecan cake
Hummus – I include hummus because it contains both oil and tahini, make sure you get a full fat one (or make your own!) and its a great calorie dense dip for adding to all sorts of meals. You can add it in addition to your usual salad ingredients, in wraps, on toast, on top of baked potatoes etc.
Baked treats – I love baking but I have to admit I used to avoid it for fear of the additional calories, not any more! Indulge in lots of your favourite baked treats – I still like to bake my own things so that they are free from artificial chemicals and what not, but I no longer worry about cutting out the fat or sugar like I used to. Although I want to maintain my weight, I don’t want to end up overweight again so I usually store some of my baked goods in the freezer to enjoy later.
Processed but still wholegrain carbs – I’m thinking bread, pasta and noodles here. They are more calorie dense than their wholegrain counterparts such as rice and quinoa but still contain fibre and most are low GI so shouldn’t give you a sugar crash.
Chocolate – Chocolate is quite simply good for my soul! I still ate it when I was losing weight but now I just eat a whole lot more of it! I still go for the less sugary dark chocolate and raw chocolate so I don’t get a sugar crash and skin breakouts, but I certainly don’t limit it like I did.
Of course if you are not vegan you can go for full fat dairy such as Greek yoghurt and cheese (I would go for organic). I guess my main tip is to not fear the fats, even so called ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats – as long as your not going crazy with them, a small amount found naturally in coconut products and organic diary is fine in my opinion.
I’m not going to lie, gaining weight has been hard for me. I’ve had to donate all my ‘skinny’ clothes to charity, and I don’t feel like I fit into the fit, slim and muscular body ideal that is certainly popular as part of this whole ‘strong is the new skinny’ trend right now. I’ve often felt like my weight gain has been out of control, and I’ve worried that I’m going to become overweight again. I’ve also worried about what other people think – that I’ve ‘let myself go’ or lack the self discipline to keep the weight off. However what I have experienced has been the complete opposite. James absolutely adores my curves, and without going TMI on you he really appreciates them if you know what I mean ;-) Also most people have commented that I look a lot healthier now than I did. My beloved boobs have come back and some of the sagging that I had has actually firmed up quite a bit, although that could be due to the increase in weight training I’ve been doing instead of the cardio. Aesthetically speaking, I have to be honest and say I would probably be more comfortable with how I look if I was just a couple of lbs less than I am right now, but my health trumps my vanity!
One final thing on my personal experience, after unintentionally dropping a couple of pounds over the last two weeks I decided to calorie count for a day just to see where I was, and oh my god I had no idea how little I was eating in relation to my new size and energy expenditure. I know I’ve experimented with calorie counting in the past and I thought I had a rough idea of what I was eating but I’ve been so far off. Its almost like I need to re learn how to eat the right amount, which considering that I’ve spent most of my life either dieting or eating too much is understandable. I’ve started to use My Fitness Pal to track my intake to ensure that I’m eating enough. I would definitely not recommend this for everyone, it could be extremely triggering for anyone recovering from an ED but it is working beautifully for me right now. I love the amount of food I can eat and I feel so much more satisfied, the evening overeating has stopped and I’m generally feeling much happier in myself. I don’t plan on calorie counting for long, just until I get a feel for what my intake should be, especially while I’m training for the Great North Run. Food is more than a number after all!
Have you ever been in the position of needing to gain weight?
If you’ve lost weight, how have you managed your weight maintenance? Did it take you some time to find a balance?
What are you favourite calorie dense but still healthy foods?