I got a question from a reader - you are telling us how to lose weight, but how does an underweight person put on weight – healthily?
It's easy enough to put on weight in an unhealthy manner. Liberally eat French fries, coke, ice-cream, lots of milk, cheese chicken, eggs - and no exercise. You will put on weight, add inches to your waist, and up your cholesterol and risk of heart disease, diabetes and so on. But that's not what we want to do. We want to gain weight without losing our health.
Going back one step, to lose weight, we try and eat a lot of healthy foods with low-calorie density, such as fruits, vegetable and green leafy salads. These foods have 70-90% of water and are full of fibre and are naturally low calorie. They fill you up and add minimal calories to your diet. So to put on weight, we should go about this in reverse.
We should continue eating a reasonable quantity of these foods – they are very healthy – and they provide vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that we need. But we have to ADD ON healthy foods that are high in calorie density – nuts and seeds, avocado, dry fruits, coconuts, tofu, whole wheat bread and so on. The objective is to consume more calories than we spend. Eating more of cooked food rather than raw food helps because cooked food is relatively more calorie-dense. So go easy on the salads and focus more on the cooked veggies, beans, rice, bread, pasta etc.
It's not enough to eat more. . So that we add on muscle rather than fat; we have to incorporate a fair amount of weight-bearing exercises into our daily routine. It's not just weight training, but even freehand exercises can help. Just don't overdo the cardio. Some expert advice from physical trainers may help here, but don't listen to them when they tell you to start having protein supplements! The powers of nature cannot be condensed into a powder or pill, so get what you need from natural foods.
A couple of points to keep in mind. It's not what we eat, but what we assimilate that will help us to put on weight. So need to build up our digestive capacity. Eating a plant-based whole foods diet and avoiding unhealthy foods like refined sugar, animal products, and dairy products will help. Secondly, all of us have our genetics and body type. We could be stocky bodybuilders, lean marathon runners or wiry sprinters. We can't be all of these and switch from one to the other easily either. If our body type is more of long-distance runner type, we should be modest in our goals and not try to go to the other end of the spectrum.
What is more important than weight is our health, our strength, stamina, flexibility and overall fitness levels. If all these are fine, then do the best you can and leave the body to its own devices. Let it figure out what your weight should be. It knows better!!
Image Credit: :Edgar Chaparro