I have been thin all my life. Standing at 5 feet 6, I was only 49 kg when I was at my heaviest. But being thin wasn’t a problem. In fact, it gave me modeling gigs and had no problem fitting into clothes. So I was never conscious about the number shown on the weighing scale. That is until I drastically lost 7 kg in a few years due to overworking, stress and irregular eating hours. I became painfully skinny.
I didn’t even realise anything was wrong until more and more people came forward to me to tell there’s a problem. Instead of the usual “You look great!”, I got “What happened to you?!”. When I finally stop to look into the mirror and sat down to research my weight from old documents – I realise my weight and health is on a downhill. That was when I decided to regain the kilo and energy I have unknowingly lost.
I overhauled my hectic lifestyle and adopted a healthier one. While it had great impact on my health, it doesn’t show on my flesh. I’ve tried many ways to gain weight but most of them didn’t work. Finally, last year I managed to gain 3 kilos in a year…naturally and healthily. While it might seem little to most people, it’s a big deal for a skinny breed who can never seem to put on even a pound not matter how many cakes I ate. Here’s what worked for me:
1. See a medical doctor
Pay a visit to the doctor to see if there’s any underlying reasons as to why you are underweight. I found that I had stomach flu and indigestion.
2. Consider consulting a traditional medical practitioner
Besides western doctor, I also seeked opinion of a reliable traditional medical practitioner. Medical doctor only prescribed medicine, but traditional medical practitioner also suggest a lifestyle change. I believe it works better in something chronic such as being underweight. I was advised to eat smaller meals and easily digested food to aid digestion and food absorption.
3. Look into your habits
I realised that I have habits that kept me in my skinny state e.g my favourite food and drinks are low in calories (Read: 18 habits of naturally skinny girls). So I started to try more variety of food. Find out yours and work from there.
4. Improve your appetite
To gain weight you need to eat. If you don’t have a normal appetite, do something about it.
5. Have regular eating hours
One of the many culprits that caused my dwindling appetite is irregular eating hours. When I have my first meal at lunchtime and have dinner an hour before midnight, my stomach cannot predict when it should work and not (Digestive enzyme released when you are eating helps with digestion and mine wasn’t secreting when it should)
6. Schedule your meals
Having regular eating hours is easier said than done; I know that from experience. So I schedule and plan my meals. A night before, I would plan and write in my daily to-do what I will eat or cook tomorrow. E.g ‘Breakfast: chicken congee, kimchi and kiwi’.
7. Get into a regular sleeping and waking hours
To have regular eating hours, you need to have a regular sleeping hours. If you sleep at 10 pm one day and 4 am at another, it is harder to have breakfast at the same time.
8. Do light exercises
This might seem counter-intuitive but it is not. Exercise improve general health that help regulate your weight. It also helps you build muscle from the eventual weight gain. For me, I have voracious appetite after every swim. Regular exercise also gives a boot of energy which allows me to do things that are requires to gain weight (e.g cook).
9. Aid your digestion with ginger and fermented food
I personally was struggling with poor digestion. On top of eating at regular hours, I research for food that helps with digestion. I regularly use ginger in my cooking and eat fermented food like kimchi with my meals. I have shared many of them in JewelPie. Do check out the recipes.
10. Eat food that can be easily digested
My digestive system was so poor that my body cannot effectively absorb nutrients. No matter what amount of food I eat, I wouldn’t be able to to gain weight. To combat this problem, I was told to eat food that are easily digested such as rice congee and oat porridge.
11. Track your food intake
To gain weight, you need to have enough calories. Until I consciously track my food intake, I didn’t realise that I eat a lot less than I do when I’m busy. I rely on an app, MyFitnessPal to ensure that I eat well. Note that I treat it as a guideline to help me eat better and enough. Getting obsess about counting calories or eating well can backfire (see point 17).
12. Track and record your weight
You won’t know if you’re on the right track of gaining weight if you don’t regularly monitor your it. I weight myself a few times a month on a digital weighting scale. Lucky for me, it came with a wifi function which send my latest weight to my MyFitnessPal app. I am able to see my progress in form of a graph.
13. Identify high-calories food that you like
I naturally enjoy food that are low in calories. To gain weight, I have to achieve 1800 calories in a day which proves to be very difficult for me. To beat this, I identified some high calories food that I enjoy and stocked them at home. It includes dark chocolate, cheese, nuts, oat biscuits and sweet potatoes.
14. Learn to cook and nourish yourself
To gain weight healthily and naturally, you will need some knowledge on a healthy diet and lifestyle. I believe that cannot happen if you outsource it to restaurants and people who are more interested in your wallet than your weight. Learn to cook and nourish yourself with nutrient-dense, homemade food. Again, there are a lot of simple and healthy recipes on JewelPie. Perhaps start with making your own almond butter.
15. Learn to manage your time
By now, you should realise that gaining weigh naturally and healthily requires patience and time. Unfortunately, time is a luxury many of us do not have. Try to be productive and manage your time better. Doing that allows me to squeeze in cooking and exercise into my busy schedule, both which help in my goal to gain weight.
16. Overcome eating disorder
While I did not experience eating disorder like anorexia or orthorexia, I know people who do and I think it’s worth mentioning in this article. If you have any medical problem, do seek help. Weight is never as important as health. Also, being obsessed about being healthy is not healthy.
17. Understand there’s a difference between being healthy and being a health-freak
Having great interest in food and health, I read uncountable books on these topic e.g Food Rules by Michael Pollen. At one point, I was reading every food label and refused to eat any kind of processed food. Be aware that your goal to keep fit does not turn into orthorexia nervosa, an extreme preoccupation of avoiding food deemed to be unhealthy (wikipedia).
18. Enjoy all kinds of food
To me, eating healthy means eating fresh and natural food which are not overly processed. It doesn’t mean eating salad and giving up red meat. I think it’s important to be able to enjoy all kinds of food – even if they are not particularly healthy. Eating oily burger by the roadside once in a while is okay because I know I eat healthy more of the time. If you are too picky and afraid of eating certain food, you will not gain weight and life can be miserable.
19. Accept yourself and do not be too harsh on yourself
I used to have a healthy appetite and not being able to enjoy good food in the quantity that I used to be able to makes me feel very bad. At one point, eating stresses me out as I cannot finish food that’s on my plate. Gradually, I learn to accept that I have a small appetite and wouldn’t be able to stomach all the food food that I wish I can eat. It’s okay as long as you know you’re taking positive steps to improve the situation.
20. Eat with people who care about you
My work involves me eating many meals on my own. I realise that I eat much less when I eat alone. If you are like me, try to enjoy your meals with people who care about you and have them encourage you to eat more.
21. Get support from a good friend or a family member
As gaining weight is a long process, get someone to encourage you in your journey so that you wouldn’t give up. When I was too busy to cook, my sister make frozen burger patties and send snacks to me. She would tell me I look better and tell me to continue doing what I’m doing. Encouragement really helps.
Whether you want to gain or lose eight, you must know by now that nothing comes easy. Through discipline and patience, I managed to acquire a balance: better lifestyle and positive view on food. I hope you will be able to do the same. Good luck!