Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Underweight? See how to add pounds healthfully

What's a good way to gain weight if you're underweight?

Updated: 08-23-2011

Answer

If you're underweight, trying to gain weight can be as hard as trying to lose weight when you're overweight. Although being lean can often be healthy, being underweight can be a concern if it's the result of poor nutrition or a medical condition, or if you're pregnant or have other health concerns. So, if you're underweight, see your doctor or dietitian for an evaluation. Together, you can plan how to meet your goal weight.

Here are some healthy ways to gain weight when you're underweight:

  • Eat more frequently. When you're underweight, you may feel full faster. Eat five to six smaller meals during the day rather than two or three large meals.
  • Choose nutrient-rich foods. As part of an overall healthy diet, choose whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals; fruits and vegetables; low-fat dairy products; lean protein sources; and nuts and seeds.
  • Try smoothies and shakes. Don't fill up on diet soda, coffee and other drinks with few calories and little nutritional value. Instead, drink smoothies or healthy shakes made with low-fat milk and fresh or frozen juice, and sprinkle in some ground flaxseed. In some cases a liquid meal replacement beverage may be recommended. Drink fluids either 30 minutes before or after a meal, not with it, to avoid becoming full before you eat.
  • Add in calorie-dense snacks. Snack on nuts, peanut butter, cheese, dried fruits and avocados. Have a bedtime snack, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a wrap sandwich with avocado, sliced vegetables, and lean meat or cheese.
  • Top it off. Add extras to your dishes for more calories — such as cheese in casseroles, soups and scrambled eggs, and nonfat dried milk in stews.
  • Have a healthy treat. Even when you're underweight, be mindful of excess sugar and fat. Have healthy treats that also provide nutrients, such as bran muffins, yogurt, fruit pies and granola bars.
  • Exercise. Exercise, especially strength training, can help you gain weight by building up your muscles. Exercise may also stimulate your appetite.