Oops, I accidentally lost too much weight. Now what?

by | May 20, 2013

Photo by austinanomic

Most people don’t start reading Summer Tomato with a desire to gain weight, but I’ve been surprised to receive more than a few emails over the past few years that read something like this:

“Thanks so much for all your work on Summer Tomato. I’ve been following your advice for about a year and absolutely love my new healthstyle. I’m exploring foods I never knew existed, and feel absolutely great. My only question is, what if I want to stop losing weight or even gain a few pounds? I hardly noticed that I’ve slipped below my ideal weight, and a few friends and family members have mentioned that I was looking especially thin. Is there a way I can put on some healthy weight without resorting to eating unhealthy foods?”

Certainly most people do not have this problem, and it may seem like a dream to those who have been struggling with weight all their lives. But being underweight is no more desirable than being overweight—it is not attractive and can be unhealthy if not monitored carefully.

The question is, how do you gain weight without eating unhealthy foods?

It may seem obvious, but the truth remains that if you’re underweight you need to make a concerted effort to eat more. Your food choices need not be unhealthy, you can put on weight eating anything so long as you eat enough.

The secret is to focus on foods that have a lot of calories. While most junk foods certainly qualify, a few healthy foods fit the bill as well. Foods high in protein and fat are your best options, and can generally be added to your diet easily without having to take in a much larger volume of food.

Meats, fish, eggs, oils and nuts are a great place to start. They are very calorie dense, and can be easily added to almost any meal. You can also focus on oil and protein rich vegetables such as avocados, coconut, legumes, olives and seeds.

Nut butters and spreads can be a particularly rich source of healthy calories, just be sure to buy the natural versions without added sugar. Tahini is a delicious, oily paste made of roasted sesame seeds that is wonderful drizzled over vegetables like broccoli and kale.

Cheeses and other full fat dairy products can also be a nutrient dense source of calories, though be careful to not overdo your dairy consumption, particularly if you’re a male.

Also remember that there’s room for occasional indulgences in any healthstyle. If you’ve been saintly in denying yourself bread, sugar and other delicious treats and then find yourself a tad underweight, it may be time to loosen up a little.

What do you eat to gain weight?

Originally published May 16, 2011.

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42 Responses to “Oops, I accidentally lost too much weight. Now what?”

  1. Rob F. says:

    great post! i’ve been struggling with this for years. the only way to gain weight was to eat poorly. i’m a hardgainer so packing on extra muscle has been difficult so your post definitely gives me some more options to add extra calories to my daily meals.

  2. This is exactly what I needed to read! After breaking my jaw and being unable to chew for 6 weeks, I lost a lot of weight I didn’t need to. I’ve been struggling to gain it back in a healthy manner for the past couple of months. It’s a lot harder than people think!

    • Chasity-Lee says:

      wow I almost felt all alone! so there are others that lost too much too! it hurts to be so skinny really physical pain. I went through 2 jaw replacement surgeries. found a damn tumor in my jaw in 2007 and now finally 2 surgeries and 6 sets of dentures later and now in 2012 it is finally all done but I am left so skinny and in constant pain help! thank you so much for the information it will really help me gain what I lost in all these years fighting to have a jaw again eeeekkkkk thank God it is finally all over.

      Congrats to all that have gained their lost weight back it must feel amazing!!! I can’t wait to be there too!

  3. E. Foley says:

    My company goes on annual trips to tropical locations. While most of us are complaining that we have to lose weight to look better in our bathing suits, we have one girl who complains about how much she has to GAIN to look better in hers. (We all envy her.)

  4. Real Food RD says:

    One other thing to mention is that sometimes people are so used to carrying an extra 5 pounds and seeing others carrying extra too that getting to a healthy weight can feel strange and even scary for a while. These folks may genuinely need to gain weight or want to put on muscle, but it’s worth pausing for a moment to determine what really looks and feels like a healthy weight for you.

  5. Connie says:

    I’ve lost too much weight a couple times in the past due to illness or stress, and it is actually remarkably hard to gain weight when you really want/need to! I’ve been pretty stressed again lately and have been watching the numbers on the scale drop ever lower, so I’ll definitely be keeping all these hints in mind if it drops too low.

    • Alex says:

      Stress can really ruin everything. It’s obviously very hard to control that aspect of your life, but it’s so important. If you can find a way to manage it better, your weight gain will be that much easier. Good luck!

  6. Alex says:

    Its important to know that there is a bit of a genetic limit to how quickly you can gain muscle. With fat loss, its very possible to ‘increase the rate’ of fat loss, but you can’t ‘increase the rate’ of muscle gain without pro-hormones or steroids. Muscle gain is limited to your own body chemistry, so without altering it with drugs, it has a maximum rate at which it operates. Fat loss (and muscle loss) obviously can be accelerated to infinity because you can just increase your physical activity to infinity. Anyone can gain any amount of muscle they desire, but for some it comes faster or slower, regardless of your calorie intake/training routine. If I consumed 30,000 calories every day for a month, that doesn’t mean I’ll gain more muscle than if I consumed 10,000 calories. I’d just be storing that much more fat.

    The solution: Find the perfect diet that you can gain steadily at while minimizing fat gains and keep at it! Weight lifting is essential. For women too!

  7. This is a great post. I really like that you help people at both ends of the spectrum! Glad I found you on Twitter (@jennymo57) =)

  8. Chris says:

    I’ve had a problem with this since eating my ultra-healthy cancer-fighting diet. I learned to eat more of all the good food I eat to keep my weight at 118. I don’t worry about stuffing myself anymore either. Adding goat cheese to my diet has helped too.

  9. Jayson says:

    I have been waiting for a post like this for quite a while now. It really is unfortunate that there is such a lack of quality information out there on how to put on some healthy pounds. I had struggled with this issue myself in the past and went about gaining weight completely the wrong way (ex tons of pasta, bagels, creatine supplements, weight gainers mixed with milk) all while lifting weights frequently and skipping all cardiovascular work. Needless to say I had some success but I certainly didn’t feel great eating all those unhealthy calories and the minute I stopped supplementing and eating all that junk I lost weight rapidly.

    However about a year I ago started looking into healthy eating and shifted my focus to just improving my diet and health and ignoring my weight for a while. I started cutting out most processed grains, cut down on dairy, and shifted my focus on more fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, and low glycemic foods like quinoa. Once I made that shift I was astonished that I was not only able to gain weight but I felt a million times better doing it. My weight has slowly increased due to more muscle mass but I ALSO have been losing fat to the point where I can really start to notice my abs now.

    I am very excited to try some of these tips especially Tahini on top of my vegetables which I think is a great idea. I hope to see more posts like this in the future!

  10. bobcat says:

    I once was taking a drug that had to be taken with fat, so I was doing anywhere from 2 tsp to 1 tablespoon of olive oil, twice a day. I did gain weight this way. Just put it on the spoon, put it in your mouth, and swallow. You can add a little water to your mouth too before swallowing and swish, then swallow, if that helps the texture.

    I am not sure if that is a healthy way to gain weight or not, because it is quite a bit of fat. I wanna say at least 20 grams of fat each time. I think one consequence of doing this for awhile is that I became sort of “addicted to fat”, to the point that I had to have enough fat with my meals, all of a sudden, or I felt hungry. So I do believe even good fats can be addictive, or at least change what we feel is an appropriate level of fullness.

    But if you are actually trying to gain weight, I think it would work. Because I have been on the other side too, where I got used to not eating a lot of fat, and I was too thin, but never wanted more food than what I was eating. So at that point, I was used to not-a-lot-of-fat, and that felt normal. So you can change what you are used to. It’s a balance to adjust it all. At first something will feel weird, but then your body gets used to it.

  11. bobcat says:

    Also just want to say, that the olive oil might just make you gain flab (that’s what seemed to happen to me, in tummy and thighs), so maybe the nut butters or tahini are better ideas. Just put some of that on a spoon, or on toast, and eat it twice a day.

    If you aren’t lifting weights regularly, go ahead and do that, and lift for strength, not endurance. So try to lift higher weights with time, not higher repetitions. When I started doing that, it was a long time ago, when I was too thin. After starting, I figured out really quickly what I HAD to eat so that I could perform in the weight room (and I am female, ya’ll, so it’s not just a boys’ game). When you are pushing yourself like that, you lean to stick your nose up at fluff, and consume what your muscles need to lift those weights. So changing what you do will change how you eat, and then you’ll realize all of a sudden that you are begging for that nut butter a couple hours before you know it’s lifting time, because without it you are just flopping around.

    It’s kind of like, when you start running distance, all of a sudden your body wants less and it wants lower fat, because it is gearing up to keep itself lean for the distance. So this is the opposite of that, hitting the weight room, then seeing what your body starts begging for food-wise. You will be surprised! :)

  12. bobcat says:

    One more thing about weight loss…..if you are a female, and you stop menstruating monthly from being so lean, you need to do whatever you can to reverse the situation, ASAP! Eat more, plenty of fats.

    This happened to me, and I made the mistake of thinking it meant I was just in really good shape, like some kind of Olympic athlete. I let it go on for awhile, thinking it was no biggie. Well, I have since read that you loose bone during that time, because of the hormonal shifts associated with the stopping of menstruation (similar to the bone loss that starts with menopause!). I was horrified to read this. The situation will reverse hormonally, but I think at that point, you have damaged your bones, and it’s not like you can undo that. I wish back then I would have known, and eaten a flipping cheeseburger everyday to get my period back. Please don’t do this to yourself, ladies!

  13. Lucy81 says:

    Thank you for your article. After having my daughter I tried for over 3 years to drop the “baby” weight. I am a skinner person by nature and with my previous 2 children dropped the weight almost immediately. My husband and I started going through a separation in April and I’ve went from 138 (for the past 3 years) to 105 in a few months time. I wouldn’t be able to eat at all and sometimes just smelling food would turn my stomach. Meal time has been even worse since I eat with my children and I would have to “force” myself to eat so they wouldn’t know anything was wrong. I’m still loosing weight and have heard all the comments from friends and family about how skinny and sick looking I am. My clothes look terrible on me and even though I’ve been skinny most my life I can’t stand being this small. And as a female dropping weight this fast has had terrible effects on my assets. It’s not from lack of trying to gain weight because I have been trying. I’ve been eating more calories, drinking sodas and even drinking milk, my meals are very small and I snack all the time.
    I really appreciate the healthier information, I thought that I might have to start eating fast food every day to start gaining weight. I hope your advice helps!
    Thank You Again

  14. Sohail says:

    Thanks for responding and that too so quickly!
    Its great to get a share of others’ expirences. Some of the things that i do to strive for an ideal weight is to drink plenty of water, sleep early & do mild excercise along with proper diet.

  15. Kathy says:

    I am getting to low for my size 14 kid jeans to stay on my hips. I know that I need a change. I cook and put olive oil in all my food way eating at least 3-6 tablespoons a week depending what I cook, can I safely eat more? I did get a MGB from close.net and started a weight loss journey from 238 to 122 as of today. At 120 I will be seriously thinking I may need to reverse. Which is not what I can afford to do at this point. So I really need to gain weight.
    I will try the Avocados and more peanut butter and I can stomach some dairy like cheese and cream. Most dairy has been the bane of my existence since my surgery. Please add some more ideas and maybe some reciepes.

  16. A valid issue that some deal with, but still…how obnoxious! Some people are naturally skinny with high metabolisms who have to struggle to put any meat on their bones, but how can someone who has struggled with losing weight not understand how to gain it? Exactly as you answered it, duh. lol.

    When I thought I was getting a bit on the thin side I also pulled back on my exercise routine a bit. I was doing 5-6 days a week, but I started doing just 5 days. It wasn’t a huge change, but it made a small difference, which is all I wanted.

  17. Kris Miller says:

    I have been skinny all my life. I stopped being active and didn’t gain much weight even though I ate lots of junk food and drank many sodas a day 3.5k calories a day. I had a little extra bulk in the stomach and minor love handles. I have recently become more active and kicked up my metabolism beyond what I can input verses what I burn off. Now I have a hard time putting weight back on while I work out to build muscle, because of my boosted metabolism. I am going to turn to protein shakes because I can’t seem to eat enough to gain any weight no matter how much I eat, junk food or proteins. I normally eat about 3.5k calories a day, but I am going to kick it up to 4k – 5k and see if that works to help build mass and gain muscle. Its been tough… :(

  18. Jennifer G says:

    I lost “too much” weight once on a very well-known diet. I was attending a large meeting and kind of got lost in the shuffle. I felt really good and energetic, and was eating a somewhat healthy diet…no fried foods, lots of grilled meats & seafood, healthier snack choices, baby carrots were my go-to snack, though I was probably not eating as many other fruits & veg as I should have been eating. My husband and I both thought I looked good. It was amazing, though that as soon as the “professionals” told me I was too thin, under my “safe” healthy weight, I immediately (literally within minutes) started feeling weak. It is sad what the power of suggestion can do to me. I then began eating to compensate for this “weak” feeling and put on about 20 lbs in a matter of weeks. I have to find a happy medium and also learn to listen to my body (for real) instead of people who supposedly know more about it than I do. I am hoping that by learning from blogs like this one, and truly incorporating the advice into my life, I can make healthy long-term changes to my lifestyle by focusing on my health and wellness rather than just on the number on the scale.

    • Darya Pino says:

      It’s actually particularly hard for dieters to get back in tune with our bodies, since we’ve trained ourselves for so long to ignore them. It is possible to relearn though. Also keep in mind that the BMI is not a very reliable method of determining health.

  19. Unknown says:

    Hi, I’m 24 years old. I never been big but thick. So, after my 21st birthday I gave up sodas completely. It wasn’t hard at all, cause I never been a soda person from the beginning. Done pretty well with my weight lost and kept it off for three years just by drinking water ONLY. About five months ago I went online and was searching for how to have a normal bm. Mine was irregular, so the site said to increase your water intake and drink (Please, don’t do this at all, I’ve just learn the hard way) more water and only drink water every two hours, which for me was a total of 181 oz of water a day. well, I’ve tried that and my clothes were really falling off of me, on Sunday, my mom found this old dress of hers and she wanted me to try it on, which I did, I’m smaller than my mom when she used to wear the dress, she asked me when was the last time I weighed myself, and I haven’t since I started to lose the weight. I was round 130 something before I started on my journey, so I got on the scale, and it read 113.5 …. now, yesterday, I ate a balanced breakfast, and basically been eating like crazy and on Sunday afternoon, I started to cut back on my water intake by only drinking one jug of water a day, going back to my program that I started, and will be continuing this path for the rest of this month and on November 7, 2012, I am going to get back on the scale to see what my results be. I like how my legs and thighs look now, and the rest of me, I was trying to get my stomach flat as a pancake, but it does look a lot better than what it used to look like and I am thankful that God woke me up to tell me that I look just fine and to stop all of this crazy every two hour water plan because, I really do think that all of that water I was drinking a day for five months was really harming my body, Lord knows what would happened if I would continue that. So, yesterday and the rest of the week I’m taking things slow with going back to one jug of water a day and from now on just taking sips of water. (I have eight jugs of water in the fridge some have the same amount and some are different.) Praying to God that he will keep me on this right track and don’t have me going back to where I was five months ago… everyone else who is struggling with weight, place it in God’s hands.

  20. Dave Taddeo says:

    what is healthy weight? i know there are charts and graphs but what do they all mean?
    i went from 170 (5′ 11″) to 135 when i started eating properly. i’ve hovered between 135 and 145 for the past 5 or 6 years. throughout those years i’ve been inactive and active including back country camping a couple of times per year where i hike 3 to 5 miles in to a site with 45lb in my pack. the trails ranged from intermediate to advanced. as long as i brought enough of the proper calories with me i was good to go.
    so when i’m active or inactive and eating properly i assume 140lb is a healthy weight. i haven’t seen any adverse affects (nor has the dr.).

    • Darya Rose says:

      Healthy/ideal weight is very very difficult to judge, and is largely individual. I don’t put much credence in charts such as the BMI. Moreover, some studies have suggested that given proper nutrition and adequate muscle mass, lighter is almost always healthier. On the other hand, some recent studies have shown those with slightly higher body fat to live slightly longer. My take is that this means there may be an age component, but I don’t think we have enough data at this point to say anything conclusively. Some people, especially men, have aesthetic reasons for not wanting to be too slender, but I don’t think it is necessarily unhealthy.

      • Steve says:

        I agree with the above.

        Most people keep focusing on weight, when they should be focusing more on body fat, because muscle it’s denser than fat.
        Around 10% body fat is a good target for guys, or less if involved in competitive sports (less than 5% is dangerous). Add another 10% or so to the above for females.
        Body shape is also important. Aim for your ideal waist line, because fat around the mid section is particularly dangerous because that’s where most of the vital organs are.

        Also, don’t listen to overweight or other unqualified people telling you that you’re too skinny. It’s all relative. You’re slim, so be proud of it!

      • Steve says:

        Can you please post a link to those studies you mentioned above, because the devil’s in the details?
        Thanks

  21. I have a 16 year old daughter who is desperate to gain a few pounds. She has been a eating a lot of dairy but is quite a fussy eater, apart from junk food it has proved very difficult finding her an appropriate diet. Currently she is having a lot of toast and cereal products, but its not making much difference.

  22. Andy says:

    I feel like this article was written for me specifically! I have always been underweight. It caused me a lot of confidence issues and I got picked on in school for being “anorexic” I would love to incorporate more protein and weight training so I could gain some muscle. I had a baby earlier this year and was finally able to pack on some pounds so hopefully with your advice I can bulk up. Thanks so much!

  23. Antoniette says:

    Stop smoking. You’ll put on weight and gain health. ;)

  24. Namaste says:

    Hi,

    Just wanted to say thanks for this article. It cleared up a lot of my questions. I started working out a year ago, dropped from 190 to 158, which I love, but people have been telling me that I look too skinny. Checked my BMI thanks to this article and I’m dead center, right where I’m suppose to be. I do want to add more muscle and lowering my reps (so obvious, but didn’t think of that) really will help. Thanks!

  25. Henny says:

    Thanks for this great post! I too am currently “struggling” to gain back a few pounds that I lost. I went from 126lbs to 99lbs in a span of 5months by cutting back on calories. I have low energy levels, and people have commented to me that I look “malnourished” and “too skinny”. None of my pants/jeans fit me. I’m 5 feet 4inches tall and 46years old. My appetite is not huge currently but I’m forcing myself to eat more snacks in between my main meals as well as eating more nut butters. Weight has always been an issue in my life…grew up a “chubby” kid, struggled with weight loss in early adulthood, then became a relatively “healthy” wt. til this most recent loss. It definitely is a challenge for me finding that “happy medium” weight where I feel healthy and comfortable with my body.

  26. Laura Jane says:

    I was 97 lbs. and on my way to 100 lbs. at 5′ 2″, but lost six lbs in three weeks from moving from a one bedroom apartment into a four bedroom three story home.
    I was concerned it was the vitimin B-12 that was causing the weight loss I cannot aford to lose.
    Thank you for the information about what to eat. I do eat all you suggested but not enough. Will get started on that asap!
    Thank You!
    Sincerely,
    Laura Jane

  27. Jericho Rae says:

    Before, I weigh 130-135 pounds. And my height is 5’3. I want to get back in shape again. Or t6o be exact, to gain my weight again. My weight now is 100- pounds. What should I do I feel so stressed on my weight either? I hope you could help me. Thank you!

  28. Jericho Rae says:

    Thank you so much for that response! Yes I want to regain my shape again, appetite as well. And I will do my very best to work hard and focus to that matter. It really helps me a lot

  29. Sue says:

    It was hard to find this motivational article! I’ve been feeling alone for the past month trying to gain weight after a heartbreaking break up with the love of my life of 3+ years. I had lost 20lbs in 3 weeks due to loss of appetite, stress of studying for finals at a university, and extreme sadness. Since then I’ve been trying to gain back my weight and it’s really not easy! I’m hopeful to get back to my old self, stronger physically and mentally!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Awwww, you can definitely get back on track. I had a similar thing happen to me in college–lost 17 pounds in a week or two. It was really tough, but I must say that I’m so glad it happened so I could find the real love of my life 8 years later. Hang in there :)

  30. Brey says:

    I lost a about eight pounds last semester due to stress from tough classes at my university. I didn’t even really notice until just recently because some of my clothes and bras didn’t fit as well. I’m pretty petite, only 5’2″, but I am down to only 99 pounds and it is hard for me to put on weight. I hope some of this will work for me!

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