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Nutrition Notes: The Struggle to Gain Weight

Karen LentnerKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDNThere are often many conversations surrounding diets and weight loss, but what about the person that struggles to gain weight? Many people say, “I wish I had that problem,” but for those who struggle to gain a pound, the problem is challenging and often difficult to overcome. For older people, weight loss may be an issue due to a variety of reasons including increased difficulty preparing meals or lack of desire to cook, limited resources, conditions such as cancer or depression, or decreased appetite related to taste changes or difficulty chewing or swallowing. These factors may all contribute to why someone might not be able to consume enough calories to maintain or gain weight. Obesity may be a risk factor for diseases such as diabetes or heart conditions, but being underweight can contribute to a weakened immune system, malnutrition, and weakness, making it harder to perform daily tasks and recover from illness.

For older people, weight loss may be an issue due to a variety of reasons including increased difficulty preparing meals or lack of desire to cook, limited resources, conditions such as cancer or depression, or decreased appetite related to taste changes or difficulty chewing or swallowing.

There isn’t a one size fits all plan to gain weight, but the goal is to consume more calories than you burn. To gain a pound a week, this may mean consuming approximately 500 extra calories each day.

Consider these tips for gaining or maintaining weight:

*Make the most of each bite and select foods that are nutrient dense or rich in calories and nutrients instead of foods that are empty calories with limited nutrients. Instead of soda, candy or convenience foods, consider nuts, nut butters, avocados, and full fat milk products including cheese, milk, yogurt, pudding, and cream soups. Serve cream sauces with vegetables or pasta, and add cheese, cream and butter to potatoes. Add beans to soups or stews; peanut butter, cheese, ice cream, or cream cheese to baked goods or smoothies; or avocado slices to sandwiches. Choose nutritious carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pasta, or cereal with nutrient rich toppings for extra calories.

*Eat small frequent snacks and/or meals. Try to eat or drink every hour or two, especially if you have a poor appetite. Eating smaller amounts throughout the day and gradually increasing amounts consumed each time, increases your total daily caloric intake, ultimately helping you gain weight. Aim for at least 5 or 6 small meals each day. Consider a nutritious shake, smoothie, or milk as a supplement, perhaps a few ounces at a time instead of an entire bottle at once. Include snacks such as protein bars or drinks, peanut butter, cheese or hummus with crackers, nuts, eggs, or pasta salad with added meat or cheese.

*Consider your beverages. Drinking a lot of water or soda may fill you up without much benefit – select shakes, milk, or smoothies instead. When a recipe calls for water, add whole milk or cream if appropriate.

*Select foods high in protein such as eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and higher fat meats for added calories. Consider ground meats with sauces and extra cheese or cream if whole meats are harder to prepare or eat.

Consider joining us for a nutritious meal at one of our dining centers (find a complete list on LifePathMA.org) or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555. If weight gain continues to be a challenge, speak with your physician and consider a nutrition consult with a dietitian.