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Your Health & Wellness, Iss #025 -- Being Underweight Can Be a Health Challenge
February 16, 2008

(Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle)

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Week of February 17, 2008

Table of Contents

* Help for the Underweight *

Help for the Underweight

Help for the underweight? I know you find it hard to believe that there are actually some people who want and need to gain weight. Though in the minority, they do exist.

The overweight and obesity rate in America is 66% and 33% respectively. And America is not alone. The obesity crisis is global. It has affected all segments of our society including our children and pets too.

Being underweight may simply be the result of an overly fast metabolism and inadequate calorie intake, or it may be a little more complicated. The problem may have a medical basis--such as an overactive thyroid.

I was underweight growing up. As frustrating as that fact alone may be, many times it is further complicated by being the object of name-calling, ridicule, and bullying. I endured all three.

In high school and college I was my present height of 5' 10" and weighed 140 pounds. I looked like a beanpole. I had and still retain a thin bone structure. Anatomically, I would be classified as an ectomorph. Fortunately my problem was not medical in nature. I just wasn't eating enough.

In order to gain weight, calories in must exceed calories out. In other words, you must eat more food calories than you burn in your everyday activities. This is best accomplished by eating larger than normal portion sizes frequently. Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain it, your daily number of meals should be 5 to 6.

I discovered that fact after I began lifting weights. I began bodybuilding in 1978 at the age of 27 because I was tired of getting sand kicked in my face.

The Charles Atlas muscle ads in the back of comic books when I was a teenager made a huge impression on me. You remember them--about the skinny guy always getting sand kicked in his face by a bigger guy.

I knew then that the solution to my problem was to put on muscular weight. I first started with isometrics, and then progressed to free weights (dumbbells and barbells.) My first gym was my apartment.

Eat To Gain

When I was attempting to gain weight, and feeling despondent about not being able to--I didn't care what type of weight I gained. I just wanted to get bigger. I would tell my overweight co-workers who were looking to lose weight to just give it to me. I was really desperate back then.

But underweight individuals (also known as hardgainers)--both men and women, should be concerned with the type of weight gained. Remember, in attempting to gain weight, don't lose sight of your overall health. The majority of the weight gained should be lean muscle--not fat.

Meals should consist primarily of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and turkey breasts, fish, beans, eggs, whole grain, and nuts. In your case, foods should be nutrient-dense and calorie-dense. Nutrient-dense means that the food is literally bursting with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Calorie-dense whole foods are those which are high in calories.

If you include beef such as steaks, and pork in your diet, make certain it is as lean as possible. If at all possible, buy all meats organic.

Snack and fast foods, collectively known as junk food, are notorious for their high caloric value. Avoid them! The calories are mostly from sugars and bad fats. You want to add 'quality weight' not useless fat just to look bulky. Soft drinks and fruit juices should not be a part of this healthy weight gain diet either.

Although most vegetables are nutrient-dense, they are not calorie-dense. Many vegetables are high in fiber which the body cannot digest (therefore their calories are not available.) Many are also full of water. Don't ignore vegetables though. Although you would have to eat a ton of them (which is impossible) to gain weight, they contain essential phytonutrients and antioxidants which are necessary to good health.

Protein and carbohydrates yield 4 calories each when metabolized--fat yields 9. Contrary to popular thought, fat is important not only for overall health, but to gain quality weight too. The only fat that you want to totally avoid is man-made trans fats.

There is one exception however. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a trans fat. But it is a healthy trans fat. You will find CLA in eggs, and red meat such as beef. Due to factory-farming, the amount of CLA is small. I recommend organic, free-range meats and eggs.

The fats that underweight people need to include in their diets beside CLA are saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. Although some health authorities will disagree, my research leads me to believe that saturated fat isn't the demon that many make it out to be.

When the heart disease studies were being carried out, researchers didn't distinguish between saturated fats and trans fatty acids. The heart damaging effects were due to artificial trans fats, not saturated fats. Health authorities throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to regarding saturated fats as potentially dangerous.

Coconut and palm oils are saturated fats. Don't be afraid to include them in your diet (Read..., Read...)

Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pecans are nutrient and calorie dense. This is because they contain healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They are a good source of protein so be sure to include them in your diet.

Be certain that each of your 5 to 6 daily meals include protein. This nutrient is essential for muscle development and growth.

In order to squeeze 5 to 6 meals into your schedule, you need to eat approximately every 3 to 3-1/2 hours. I've been doing this for years. This pattern ensures that your body is kept busy burning calories and not storing unwanted fat. Naturally you won't get hungry either.

Weight Gain Measurements

It takes longer to gain lean body mass than to put on fat weight. Patience is the name of the game here. Depending on your particular genetic makeup, don't look to gain more than 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in a year. However, look to put on a minimal amount of fat along with the muscle too (I don't want you to be a part of the world's overweight statistics.)

Should you count calories? You don't necessarily have to. I let my bathroom scale and tape measure determine my progress. Your primary source of feedback will be the tape measure. If you are a woman, you probably tend to put on fat on your upper arms, hips, upper legs, or maybe the waist. Take initial measurements on each of these bodyparts and keep in a journal.

Measure and weigh yourself on a weekly basis. Although you will put on a certain amount of bodyfat, it shouldn't be excessive. If you find that your are gaining too fast, cut back on your portion sizes.


Exercise is essential for weight gain. It ensures that the majority of the gain is muscle. Concentrate on lifting weights. Don't worry about doing aerobics now. That can be incorporated in your weight training through moving at a fast pace, i.e., minimizing rest period between sets and exercises.


This routine has been successful for me. It took awhile, but I finally went from a thin 140 pounds to a very muscular 208 pounds. It took time though. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will a muscular body be built in a couple of weeks.


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