Gaining Weight Healthily

Last week I wrote about the pressures to lose weight. This may be for health reasons or simply to conform to society’s expectations when it comes to our physical attributes. But whilst most people are trying to lose weight, some are struggling to gain or even maintain a stable weight. The temptation may be to go for Calorie dense biscuits, chocolate or crisps but this is not going to do anything positive for your  blood sugar or cholesterol levels.

Like losing weight, the best approach is to do it gradually; allow your body time to adjust and learn to appreciate real food. Just as I would not advise starving yourself to lose weight, forcing yourself to eat more than you want to can make weight gain a difficult and unpleasant battle.

The key is to eat little and often whilst choosing calorie and nutrient dense foods (avoid diet, low fat or ‘light’ foods). This way you don’t have to go for huge portions that fill you up, making your plan backfire. I would recommend 3 meals and 3 snacks a day; regularity is vital.

Here are tips to help you along the way:

Whole milk

I am a huge fan of dairy because it provides so much more than Calcium. Milk for example is also a great source of protein, Vitamin B12 and Iodine, all of which we need to stay healthy. Swapping your usual semi-skimmed (2% fat) or skimmed milk (0.1% fat)  for whole milk (4% fat) in your breakfast cereal, porridge or daytime drinks is a very easy way to boost your Calorie intake. Adding a warm milky drink at bed time can also help relax you before bed and enable better sleep.


Like milk, cheese is also a great way to boost your Calcium and protein intake. It’s energy dense too so adding some to pasta, having with crackers or fruit or going back to good old fashioned cheese on toast is a tasty way to top up your energy intake.


It’s really important we include heart-friendly, healthy fats in our diet and watch the levels of saturated fats. Avocados are rich in ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats (the same type we find in olive oil) as well as Potassium (even more than bananas!), fibre and loads of antioxidants. Avocados provide around 160 Calories per 100g and are hugely versatile; you can do so much more with them than turn them into guacamole! Make smoothies, spread them on toast, add to pasta and salads – here are some new fabulous recipes from BBC Good Food.

Olive oil

One of the reasons the Mediterranean diet is considered so healthy is the use of olive oil. Associated with a longer life expectancy and lower risks of high blood pressure and stroke, it just goes to show not all fats are ‘bad’. 1 tablespoon provides around 12o Calories and including 2-3 tablespoons in our daily diet has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.


Nuts are amazing little power houses; full of protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Here’s a previous blog that will fill you in on all their nutty goodness! So why not make your own trail mix by adding your favourite nuts seeds and dried fruits together in a Tupperware container – try a mix of cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, golden raisins and dried pineapple. And we can’t forget peanut butter! In fact there are loads of nut butters (almond, cashew and walnut for example) that you can add to smoothies and all sorts of savoury dishes as well as spread it on toast or as I do, eat it straight out of the jar 😉

So I will leave you with a delicious nutritious energy bar recipe, made with oats nuts and dried fruit by Emily Angle. These are so much more nutritious than many of the commercial bars available.



  • 120g/4oz rolled jumbo oats
  • 30g/1oz unsweetened puffed rice (not crisped rice cereal)
  • 75g/2½oz toasted flaked almonds
  • 25g/1oz mixed seeds
  • 130g/4½oz stoned dates, chopped
  • 50g/1¾oz dark chocolate chips (optional)
  • 40g/1½oz raisins or dried berries of your choice
  • 100g/3½oz crunchy peanut butter
  • 90g/3¼oz honey


  1. Line a 23cm/9in square tin with baking paper.

  2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.

  3. Spread the oats out onto a baking tray and bake them for about 10 minutes until they smell nice and toasty. Set aside to cool. (You can skip this step, but it makes the bars crispier.)

  4. Mix together the toasted oats, puffed rice, almonds, seeds, chopped dates, chocolate chips, and raisins in a large bowl.

  5. Melt the peanut butter and honey together in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. Stir until the mixture is smooth and thoroughly combined. While still warm, stir the peanut butter and honey into the oat mixture (you may need to get your hands in there) to completely coat all the oats, nuts and fruit.

  6. Tip the mixture into the lined tin and press firmly to make an even layer. Damp hands make this less sticky work. Place the tin into the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up before cutting into 15 bars. Wrap each bar in cling film to keep them fresh, and they’re ready to pop into a your bag.

Recipe Tips

You can customise these with your own blend of nut butters, dried fruits or seeds. Toasting the seeds, nuts and oats will add a stronger nuttier flavour.

If you have a nutritious and energy boosting recipe you’d like to share below, please do!



Fancy being Skinny?

Most of what we read about and hear in the media is focused on weight loss. Everything seems geared to burning Calories and losing the flab but what about the folk that really struggle to keep weight on, never mind gain weight?  The health implications of being underweight are different but just as serious as those linked to  being overweight but because only 2% of the adult population are underweight, compared to >60% being overweight you can see why the focus lies on weight loss.

Our body weight will naturally fluctuate over days and weeks but unintentional weight loss of more than 5% of your body weight over 6 to 12 months could be a sign of an underlying health problem. Stress and depression can certainly be a factor, as could an overactive thyroid, uncontrolled diabetes, digestive problems or even cancer. The rule of thumb is go and see your GP if you are not sure.

Particularly with media influence, being skinny is  often viewed as the idea of perfection. For women a waif-like appearance (albeit airbrushed) is the most desirable attribute, yet a models weight is 23% less than the average woman.  For men, it is often about having a 6 pack and a chiseled jawline and the expectations to achieve a particular physique are equally unrealistic.


I am one of those annoying skinny people – often I am told ‘it’s OK for you’ followed by ‘you don’t need to worry about eating that‘ or ‘I wish I could eat what you do‘ and you know what, they have no idea.

I was a very tall and lanky child growing up. I then hit the mid teens and shall we say filled out somewhat. With my parents getting divorced and leaving home to go to uni, my weight plummeted. Life later settled down as did my weight, until I had my son. From that point on, my metabolism seemed to rocket to that of a marathon runner. Ever since then it’s been a battle to stay on an even keel. There’s nothing going on, it’s just hard work to make progress and stay there!

Feeling well, healthy and happy in your skin is certainly not all about weight. It’s about being content with who you are, embracing the bits we are less happy about. The image of perfection is not real, our lumps and bumps are what make us, make us human but it’s so often a challenge to get to a point where we feel comfortable in our skin and achieve a level of acceptance.

Just eat more!


I hear this a lot! Yes of course it can be done but how many of us can stick to it? Christmas seems a doddle as you are surrounded 24-7 by the richest, most calorific foods but aren’t most of us sick to the back teeth of it after a month of having ‘a good go’?

Probably the most famous example of an actress gaining weight (twice) to play a role is Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones but she did report how hard it was (although who wouldn’t do it for a few million quid?). It takes constant commitment.

Some of my clients may say ‘so-and-so could eat a horse and they never put any weight on’ or ‘how can xxx eat the same as me and not out an ounce on?’ The thing with these statements is we just don’t know what is really going on when people make claims about their food intake. Almost invariably, when you track these ‘big eaters’, they really aren’t eating that much. Research has routinely shown that overweight individuals tend to under-estimate food intake (e.g. they think they are eating much less than they actually are) but in my experience ‘hardgainers’ are doing the opposite: vastly overestimating how much they are actually eating in a given day, or over the span of a week. To be honest, I’ve done this myself. Partly because I easily get distracted and don’t take a mental note of what I’ve eaten so it doesn’t occur to me to eat more. I’ve resorted to setting an alarm on my watch to remind me when it’s snack time!

The other issue that makes weight gain hard is that we usually compensate for those high-caloric intakes by lowering calories on the following day (or even in the same day). So while I might do well with a hearty lunch, I simply won’t feel hungry until later that evening. Again there is no trigger to eat. Having to over ride the signals that say you are not hungry, because our body is attempting to retain a level of balance, to eat when you don’t want to literally goes against your gut feeling. My head says don’t eat until you want to but the voice on my shoulder says you need to eat to gain some weight. Literally one or two days of listening to my body and ignoring the nagging voice means any previous hard work and gain is lost. Arghhh it’s hugely frustrating and it’s really no different if you are wanting to  lose weight; you are just as uncomfortable eating less than you desire, I’m just approaching this from the opposite end of the spectrum.

To add something else into the mix, I don’t want to get heavier for the sake of getting heavier. I want to feel better, to look better. For me this means gaining muscle, not just fat. I don’t believe there is any real evidence to support that gaining weight is harder than losing it as it all comes down to our personal experiences. What I can say from my personal and work experience is that it’s flippin’ tough!

Train to gain

Funny skinny guy lifting weights

Exercise builds muscle but it has to be the right type of exercise. Excessive calorific burn is the last thing I need in order to put on weight yet I also want all the additional benefits of being active; the time out, the endorphin hit, the general sense of satisfaction and well being so this makes my choices a little tricky. Especially now that I’ve signed up for a 10K run and have just started to get back to regular training.

Building muscle requires something called “progressive overloading”. This is just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to strength train with an increasingly high weight, reps, or volume during subsequent sessions. This enables muscle growth,not that I want to or will end up looking like Arnie but when my weight is low I certainly feel weak and weedy. So if I can suss this, it will result in an increase in healthy weight. Easy right?

Please join me next time when I will be providing some tips on weight gain, for anyone else out there who might be in the same position………….so it’s not just me?!