There are more obese people in the world than underweight people. Much attention is given to the ills of being obese but being underweight is just as bad, if not worse. Research has it that individuals who are clinically underweight face higher risk of complications than obese individuals.
According to a study comparing underweight and normal-weight individuals, underweight individuals have nearly twice the risk of death. So you should be worried if you are loosing weight without even trying!
If you are reading this blog, chances are that you would like to put on a little bit of weight. The idea is not to stuff yourself full of junk, you don’t want to be obese and be saddled with problems that comes with obesity. You want to gain weight the healthy way. Now you have come to the right place!
What it means to be underweight
Underweight is having a body mass index below 18.5. It is estimated to be less than the body mass needed to sustain optimal health.
The Body Mass Index(BMI) is the recommended measure of a person’s weight by the Centre for Disease Control and other health authorities. It is a means of determining whether
a person is underweight, healthy weight or overweight. You can calculate your BMI using this BMI calculator.
BMI estimates the body fat by comparing a person’s weight to the height. For example, a person weighing 100kg may be considered overweight if they are very short but may be seen as healthy weight if they are very tall. This may not hold true for athletes who have muscles. Muscles weigh more than fat. A fat person may weigh considerably lower than a muscular person.
The range of BMI are;
Underweight: less than or equal to 18.5
Healthy weight: 18.5 to 24.5
Overweight: 24.5 to 29.5
Obese: Above 30
Health Risks of being underweight
Being underweight has been linked to some health problems and risks, problems even worse than those associated with overweight. Some of the health risks of being underweight are;
Malnutrition: An underweight person most likely do not have enough nutrients in the body for normal body functions. This lack of nutrients may lead to a wide range of health problems.
Impaired immune function: An underweight person may get sick frequently because the body has little or no nutrient materials necessary to fight off infections. The person is more susceptible to all kinds of illnesses because the body’s defense system is weak.
Osteoporosis: Being underweight can cause low bone mineral density. This leads to excessive bone loss, making bones more brittle and prone to fracture. This is mostly common in women.
Irregular menstrual cycle: Women who are underweight may have absent, delayed or irregular menstruation. This may lead to infertility.
Premature births: Research has shown that pregnant women who are underweight have high risk of having premature babies i.e birth delivery before 37 weeks.
Impaired growth and development: Delays in growth and development are mostly seen in underweight children. Children need nutrients for the proper development of the brain and other body organs. Underweight children most likely have delays in their growth and developmental milestones.
Hair and skin problems: As a result of lack of enough nutrients in underweight people, they usually experience hair loss and breakage, dry skin and other skin problems.
Surgical complications: Studies have shown that people with low BMI are at increased risk of surgical and post-surgical complications. This is attributed to infections and delayed wound healing caused by low hemoglobin. Another study linked low BMI with increase in the incidence of post-operative deaths in the first year following a lower extremity bypass surgery.
Heart diseases: Some nutrients such as calcium and potassium are important for a healthy heart. If these nutrients are lacking or there is an imbalance of these nutrients, it can cause irregular heartbeats. According to a study, people who are underweight are more likely to develop heart disorders than normal weight people.
Fatigue: Underweight people tend to feel tired all the time. This is because they lack calories from food that gives energy.
Anaemia: Low blood count is mainly found in underweight people especially when iron is found absent or in insufficient quantity. This can cause a feeling of tiredness, constant headaches and dizziness.
Causes of Being Underweight
- Being underweight can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of the causes include;
- Improper diet: Lack of proper balanced diet can result in a person being underweight.
- Eating disorder: These are mental conditions that result in unhealthy eating habits. They include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, etc.
- Hyperactive thyroid: An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) produces too much hormones that boost metabolism. The body quickly burns calories leading to unhealthy weight loss.
- Celiac disease: Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. When people with this disease eat foods containing gluten, the immune system attacks the lining of the intestine leading to inflammation. The villi, which absorbs nutrients in food, is also affected. Weight loss results and the individual ends up malnourished regardless of a healthy appetite or diet.
- Diabetes: Having uncontrolled diabetes (mainly type 1) can lead to severe weight loss. Here, the body cells attack the insulin-producing organ, pancreas. Without insulin, the body can’t make use of glucose leading to high glucose levels. The unused glucose is excreted as urine, and the body burns fat and muscle for energy. This leads to weight loss.
- Cancer: Cancerous tumors often burn large amounts of calories and can cause someone to lose a lot of weight. Weight loss is believed to be one of the earliest signs of cancer.
- Infections: Certain infections can cause someone to become severely underweight. This includes parasites, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: This is simply a severe inflammatory disorder of the digestive tract. It puts the body in a constant form of catabolism(using up energy), leading to weight loss.
If the weight loss is unexplained and unintentional, it is important to pay a visit to your doctor to rule out any underlying health problems.
How to Gain a Healthy Weight
A clinically underweight individual may want to gain weight for health reasons, a normal weight individual may be looking to gain a little bit of muscle mass, and athletes may wish to attain a weight goal. Whatever the reason may be, the same principle applies.
Now, eating too much processed, sugary and fatty foods is not the way to go about it. It is unhealthy and can cause harm to your body in the long run. You want to gain a balanced and well-proportioned muscle mass, and not a flabby, unhealthy fat. The idea is to gain weight the healthy and safe way.
If you want to gain weight the healthy and safe way, the following tips would do you a whole lot of good;
Change Eating Habits
Some eating habits are enemies of healthy weight gain and should be avoided as much as possible.
1. Avoid drinking water or any fluids just before meals. Drinking water or fluid may make a person feel full, lose appetite, or it may leave less room for food. Drink water or fluids at least 30 minutes before and after meals.
2. Eat several small meal portions: Some persons may not have appetite for large meals. Eating several small portions allows you get some calories in, without stuffing yourself full.
3. Use bigger plates to eat: Using smaller plates to eat can cause someone to eat less food. Go for a bigger plate so as to eat more food.
4. Use spices, condiments and sauces: Some people naturally have low appetite for food making it hard for them to eat more. Making your food tasty helps.
5. Eat proteins before vegetables: If you have both protein and vegetables in your meal, eat the proteins first. Eating vegetables first may leave little or no room for the proteins which are crucial for weight gain.
Foods That Make You Gain Weight
There are varieties of foods available to make someone gain weight. However, instead of stuffing yourself full with sweet and unhealthy fat that can cause health problems in the long run, go for high-calorie foods that provide energy and help build muscle mass.
Studies have shown that protein is the single most important nutrient for gaining healthy weight. Muscle is made up of protein. For a healthy weight gain, one should aim for muscle and not fat. Without protein, most calories end up as fat. Whole Milk: Milk is a complete food with a great mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats, calcium, carbs and minerals. Studies have shown that milk can lead to a greater mass gain than other protein sources. It works even better when combined with lifting weights. Milk or milk shakes is highly recommended after a workout if building muscle is the goal.
Whole eggs: This is one of the healthiest foods for building muscle. It contains a balance of protein, healthy fats and calcium. Most of the nutrients are contained in the yolk but it is important to eat whole eggs. They are full of nutrients and one can eat as much eggs as possible.
Red meat: Red meat is a rich source of leucine that is essential for boosting muscle mass. Steak and other red meats contain protein and fat, and are crucial for building muscle and helping with weight gain. Eating red meats is known to help in muscle building and weight gain.
Rice: Rice is an excellent source of carbohydrates that is essential for gaining weight. Rice is a dense-calorie food, a cup contains about 200 calories, and one can get enough carbs in a single meal.
Whole-grain breads: Whole grain bread is made up of complex carbohydrates that promote weight gain. Also, the proteins and eggs as ingredients in bread contribute to muscle growth and healthy weight gain
Dried fruit: Dried fruits are a high-calorie snack with natural high sugar content. This makes them good contributors of weight gain. They also contain antioxidants and micronutrients. One would think that the lack of moisture in dried fruits means loss of nutrients, but the fibers and nutrients remain intact. In fact, the lack of moisture leaves a concentrated mix of nutrients in the dried fruits making it a great source of nutrients.
Avocados: Avocados contain more calories than most fruits and this makes it a good choice for a person who is looking to gain healthy weight. It also contains healthy fat, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants
Healthy fats and oils: Healthy fats and oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oils and avocado oils contain high calories. Incorporating them in foods help one to gain weight fast.
Fatty and Oily fish: Salmon is rich in healthy fats and excellent for weight gain. Omega-3 fatty acids present in these fishes is significant for weight gain. Salmon and oily fish also contain proteins that can be used to build muscle.
Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and has many health benefits. It has high calorie density. It is recommended that a person looking to gain weight should opt for dark chocolates that contain at least 70 percent cocoa.
Cheese: Cheese is high in calories and fat. It is also a good source of proteins. Full-fat cheese is best for someone who wants to gain weight.
Nuts and nut butters: These are great choices if weight gain is the priority, especially if there are no added sugars or oils in the nut butter. As a matter of fact, the only ingredient in the nut butter should be the nuts itself. If in doubt, raw nuts are better options. They have the most health benefits.
Healthy cereals: Processed and high sugar cereals should be avoided as they contain unhealthy fats. Healthy cereals such as granola is a high calorie-dense food and rich in antioxidants, fibers and protein. When making choice of cereals, go for the ones with most fibers.
Other foods to include in your diet in your quest to build muscle and gain weight the healthy way are;
Potatoes and starch.
Some lifestyle factors may have effect on your ability to gain weight faster. You may want to;
Avoid smoking: Smoking suppresses appetite. If you must, avoid smoking at least two hours before meal. Smokers tend to weigh less than non-smokers. Avoiding or giving up smoking may lead to weight gain.
Limit caffeine intake: Limiting caffeine is a good thing if you are on a journey to gain weight. Caffeine may suppress appetite, making one not to feel hungry when the person should be trying to get in as much high-calorie, nutrient-dense food, as possible.
Avoid fasting: To gain weight, one should be about eating more calories than the body burns. You may not achieve significant weight gain with fasting.
Get enough sleep: Proper sleep patterns is important for muscle building. Get as much sleep as you can.
This may seem counterproductive as exercise is known to burn calories, but it is essential if you are looking to add muscle. This way, the extra calories are used to build muscle and not end up as fat cells. Some exercises help build muscle mass which in turn helps in weight gain. Exercise also increases appetite.
Weight lifting: The use of dumbbells to perform some type of exercises like squats, help to build muscle. The extra calories from foods can be used to build muscle and not just fat. This should be done with the help of an expert trainer to prevent one from taking on more than one can handle. Over time, the weights can be increased.
Don’t over exercise: Keeping track of routine exercise is important so as not to have the opposite effect of burning calories, leading to weight loss. Eating more helps to strike a balance.
Limit Cardio: If the goal is to build muscle, one should go easy on the cardio. Cardios are important for general health and overall circulation but they burn fat. According to a study, cardio helps to burn calories and limits the potential for muscle growth.
Increasing your calorie intake is important for weight gain. It means that you are taking in more calories than you burn. A calorie calculator helps to estimate the calorie needs of a person. It may vary by a few hundred calories but it gives an idea of whether you are eating too much or too little.
Gaining weight is not as easy as it seems, it can be very challenging. The body has a certain measure of weight and as such, the body tries to resists changes by regulating appetite and metabolism rate.
If you are looking to gain weight, you should expect that the body may try to resist changes by reducing appetite and boosting metabolism. Weight gain requires conscious efforts as one may need to try to eat despite not feeling hungry.
In all, eating sufficient high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods and doing regular exercises are the best ways to go about gaining weight safely and fast.
If a person is not able to gain significant weight after weeks of religiously following this guide, a visit to the doctor is important to rule out any underlying health problems.