While it’s a problem that many people are envious of, gaining weight can be a frustrating and challenging undertaking for those who are too thin. Sure, you can load up on deep-fried foods and sugary drinks; but the healthier way is to follow these weight-enhancing strategies.

Body build and weight are determined mainly by genetics and the food and activity choices you make. While you can’t change your basic body type, with some perseverance it is possible for most underweight people to gain weight.

Being too thin comes with its own set of health risks, especially when it is the result of undereating. Underweight people may have: weaker immune systems, which make them more prone to illness; lower muscle mass and strength; hormonal disruptions which affect menstrual cycles and bone health; and a greater likelihood of nutrient deficiencies like anemia.

Person standing on scaleTo gain one pound of weight, you need to eat 3500 calories more than your body burns. In other words, to gain a pound per week, you would need to eat an extra 500 calories a day. Focus on adding nourishing foods rather than just loading up on high calorie “junk” foods. Here are some suggestions:

  • Follow Canada’s Food Guide recommendations and Include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lower fat milk products, died beans and peas, nuts and seeds, lean protein and healthy fats and oils.
  • Eat frequent snacks: nuts, dried fruit, whole grain granola bars and yogurt are nutritious choices.Orange, bowl of yogurt, granola bars
  • Include a snack before bed, such as a bowl of cereal with milk and berries or toast with almond butter and a banana.
  • Add healthy sources of fat to meals and snacks; spread peanut butter on apple slices, sprinkle peanuts on a stir-fry, top yogurt with almonds or oatmeal with walnuts. 
  • Stir-fry or sauté foods with canola, olive canola or peanut oil; each teaspoon of these healthy plant oils contains 45 calories. Try to avoid saturated fats, found in fatty meats and high fat dairy products like cream, and trans fats, found in many packaged foods.
  • Add sunflower seeds, olives, avocados or chick peas to a salad.Smoothies
  • Drink nutrient-rich beverages like milk, real fruit juice, fruit shakes or smoothies.
  • While you do have room for “discretionary calories” that come from having “treats” like pastries, candy, chips and pop, try to limit these to no more than 10% of your total diet.
  • Stay moderately active, which will help you to build strong muscles and increase your energy level. Aim for about 30 minutes of daily activity.
  • See a nutrition counsellor at Health Services for guidance on choosing healthful foods for weight gain.

Do you have a poor appetite?

A person may lose his or her appetite for many reasons, including illness, stress and fatigue. If this happens to you, you may be less likely to feel or recognize hunger. Include five or six small meals per day, at three hour intervals, using colourful and appealing foods. Avoid filling up on beverages with meals; instead include them a half hour before or after you eat. A short walk can also help to stimulate your appetite.

Be sure to see your doctor if you experience unexplained weight loss or your appetite remains poor for more than a week or two.

How can you build more muscle?

There is a lot of misinformation around this topic; however the only proven and safe way to build muscles is to exercise them. Carbohydrates, including grains, fruit, vegetables and milk products, are your muscle’s preferred fuel and will help you recover from a workout. Commercial protein supplements will not help you gain weight, are expensive and may add too much protein to your diet. A glass of chocolate milk makes a perfect post-workout recovery snack and contains an optimal balance of carbohydrate and protein for your muscles.

300-400 calorie snacks

  • ¾ cup yogurt, ½ cup fruit & ½ cup granola
  • ¼ cup almonds, an apple and a whole grain granola bar
  • 1 cup chocolate milk and ½ bagel with 1Tbsp peanut  butter
  • 2 ounces turkey  on 2 whole wheat bread with 2 tsp  mayo
  • Smoothie: 1 cup milk, ¾ cup frozen yogurt, a banana and 2 tbsp chocolate syrup
  • One slice veggie pizza and 1 cup fruit juice

Extreme meal makeover - High energy editions

*Source: Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods: 2008

Average day (Energy - calories)


Cornflakes (1 1/2 cups) (155)
1% Milk (1 cup) (108)
Orange juice (1/2 cup) (58)

Morning snack

Apple (72)
Kashi granola bar (150)


Turkey (60g) Sandwich, 2tsp mayo (390)
Celery sticks (6)
Grapes (20) (69)

Afternoon snack

Crackers (8 Ritz) (120)
Mini carrots (1 cup) (56)


Baked chicken breast (75g) (119)
Rice (1 cup) (218)
Steamed broccoli (1/2 cup) (29)
Margarine (2tsp) (68)
Tossed salad (with 1Tbsp vinaigrette) (61)
1% milk (1 cup) (108)

Evening snack

Vanilla togurt (175mL) (183)
Berries (40)

Total calories: 2010
*based on average daily energy requirement of 2000 calories for 20 year old female.

High energy day (Energy - calories)


Raisin bran (1 cup) (187)
1% Milk (1 cup) (108)
Banana (105)

Morning snack

Almonds (1/4 cup) (208)
Kashi granola bar (150)


Turkey & Swiss cheese sandwich (485)
Grapes (20) (69)
250 mL orange juice (116)

Afternoon snack

Crackers (6 Triscuits) (106)
Hummus (2Tbsp) (47)
Mini carrots (1/2 cup) (28)
Chocolate milk (1 cup) (166)


Chicken breast sautéed in 2tsp oil (203)
Rice (1 cup) (218)
Stir fried broccoli (1/2 cup with 1tsp oil) (66)
Tossed salad (with 1Tbsp vinaigrette & 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds) (95)

Evening snack

Vanilla yogurt (175 mL) (183)
Berries (1/2 cup) (40)
Granola (2 Tbsp) (57)

Total calories: 2575


Health Services offers free nutrition counselling! To book an appointment call 519-888-4096.