Ask the Tufts Experts May 2023: Purposeful weight gain


Q: Following a recent illness, I need to gain weight. How can I do that in a healthy way?

A: Jillian Reece, RD, a dietitian with the Tufts Medical Center Weight and Wellness Center, answers:

“To gain weight, you need to increase your calorie intake. To support overall nutrition and health, try to get calories from nutrient dense foods rather than eating empty calories. For example:

Add nuts/seeds to yogurt, oatmeal, or whole grain cereals.

Use extra oils such as olive or soybean oils in cooking and dressings. A teaspoon provides 40 calories.

Add extra protein to meals or snacks in the form of eggs, salmon, beans, or poultry. An extra ounce of protein is approximately 50 calories, depending on the source.

Blend nutrient dense, calorie dense foods, like nuts/nuts butters, avocado, and full-fat yogurt, along with fruits and vegetables into smoothies.

Spread nutrient dense nut butters, mashed avocado, guacamole, and bean dips on whole grain breads or crackers.

“Add snacks between meals and/or after dinner utilizing healthy, high-calorie foods like the ones I’ve already discussed. The nutrient- and calorie-dense smoothies mentioned above are a good choice (commercial meal-replacement or calorie-boosting nutrition shakes are available if making your own is not an option). Drinks like milk, plant-based milk substitutes, and small amounts of 100% fruit and vegetables juices instead of water will up calorie intake but may make you feel prematurely full. Limiting liquids at meals and instead drinking between meals may be more effective.

“Consider adding strength-building activities like weight training, yoga, or bodyweight exercises (for example squats and push-ups) along with nutrition changes to ensure the weight you gain includes muscle mass, not just fat.”

Jillian Reece, RD, LDN, is a dietitian with the Tufts Medical Center Weight and Wellness Center. She counsels medical and surgical bariatric patients on diet, lifestyle, and behavior modification. See her comments on eating to gain weight on this page.


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