While health conversations predominantly revolve around weight loss, there is a frequently overlooked group whose goal is to achieve healthy weight gain. This includes athletes or fitness enthusiasts, patients recovering from illness or surgery, some elderly individuals, people with medical conditions that contribute to weight loss (e.g. cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, hyperthyroidism) and those who are underweight due to naturally fast metabolism. The journey to healthy weight gain requires a thoughtful approach that prioritizes nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits.

Healthy weight gain isn’t merely about consuming more calories. It’s about gradually increasing your body mass in a way that promotes strength and vitality while minimizing the risk of health complications. This is done by emphasizing whole-food ingredients and focusing on adequate protein intake. 

Begin by consulting with a health care professional, such as a naturopathic doctor or nutritionist to determine your ideal weight gain range and individualized dietary needs. Establishing a clear plan will help track and keep you motivated throughout the process. Daily protein and calorie intake totals should take into account your height and weight, activity level and weight gain goals. Specific food choices and dietary requirements should be prioritized based on underlying health conditions, nutrient deficiencies and even personal skill level and time restraints.

It’s essential to focus on nutrient-dense foods rather than empty calories and ultra-processed products. Whole foods are rich in protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that fuel biochemical processes in our body and keep us feeling nourished. Highly processed foods contribute to inflammation, lack the micronutrients that our bodies need to maintain health and hinder balanced digestive function.

Protein plays a pivotal role in muscle development. Muscles are essential tissue for maintaining strength and function, healthy blood glucose, preventing injury and bone health. Adults need approximately 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for muscle mass gain. Top sources of organic protein include chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh, lean beef, legumes and dairy products for those who tolerate it. Protein shakes or bars can also supplement daily intake, however it’s important to read nutrition labels and opt for the cleanest sources possible. Clean products have minimal additives, artificial ingredients, and fillers and are as close to the whole-food source as possible.

While nutrition might be the most critical component of health weight gain, lifestyle factors also play an important role. Chronic stress can hinder weight gain efforts by suppressing appetite, so incorporating relaxation techniques like breath work, meditation, yoga and journaling can help reduce cortisol overload. Daily movement is a crucial player in reducing stress, and strength training at least three times a week increases muscle mass. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night and stay hydrated to support overall health and muscle recovery.

Healthy weight gain is achievable through a balanced approach that prioritizes nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits. It’s not solely about the number on the scale, but rather about building a stronger, healthier version of yourself. Embrace patience, consistency and positivity in this journey, knowing that the effort invested in a healthy weight gain will yield lasting benefits for your overall well-being.

Dr. Delaney Quick is a primary care naturopathic doctor at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. For more information, call (760) 771.5970 or visit www.livewellclinic.org.

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