How to gain weight?

Originally Published: March 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 9, 2011
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Hi Alice,

I am a 22 year old male. I would like your advice as to how to increase my weight. I am extremely thin, and would like to put on weight for both appearance and strength purposes.

I believe that thin people have a very fast metabolic rate. Is there any way of slowing this rate down? Does it fall naturally with age? I have often been told that I should lift weights, but cannot find time on a regular basis to do so. I do, however, have time to do push-ups at home.

Anyway, I'd much appreciate it if you could give me guidelines as to how to increase weight, especially through diet. What kinds of food should I be eating? How many times a day should I eat? How big should the meals be? I hear the soybean is very nutritious — is this true; if so, what could I eat or drink that contains soy?

—Fatty and Skinny?

Dear Fatty and Skinny,

It seems that men are bombarded with messages about being muscular, lean, and ripped. Before you start to make some changes, consider doing a little self-exploration. Do you recognize that body size, shape, muscularity, or weight do not determine your identity as a man? Do you know men who have lots of muscles, yet who are not happy? What's your level of awarness related to the idea that who you are is more than just your body? If you are truly interested in making some changes, consider working toward accepting your current appearance first and know that making changes to your weight in either direction takes considerable energy. If you are interested in adding muscle, you can anticipate that it will take effort, time, and a focused plan.

Your assumption about metabolism playing a role is correct. A person's basal metabolism represents the minimum energy expended to keep a resting, awake, body alive. The energy used in basal metabolism depends primarily on lean body mass. Other factors that influence your basal metabolism include: the amount of body surface (the greater the area, the greater the heat loss); gender (males average higher energy rates because of greater lean body mass); body temperature; thyroid hormone levels (higher levels increase metabolic rate); aspects of nervous system activity; age (metabolic rate falls as we age); nutritional state (eating less slows metabolic rate); pregnancy (metabolic rate increases); caffeine and tobacco use (metabolic rate increases).

You seem to be on the right track in terms of what you can do yourself to gain weight. The reason people suggest weight lifting is because it has a tendency to add muscle mass. If you are not sure how to lift or have concerns about fitting training into your schedule, you may want to invest in a personal trainer to learn the basics. If you are a Columbia student, you can contact Dodge Fitness Center to schedule a consultation; and you can use Columbia's free CU Move initiative.  CU Move encourages members of the Columbia community to engage in active lives that include regular physical activity. The program provides participants with motivation and incentives to be active throughout the year.  Additionally, for tips on weightlifting, check out the list of related questions below.   

As far as food choices, in addition to meeting with a nutritionist or registered dietitican for guidance you might try gradually increasing your consumption of energy-dense foods, especially those higher in protein such as low fat peanut butter, nuts (cashews and peanuts), lean cuts of chicken, turkey, and fish such as salmon and tuna. The Choosemyplate.gov site contains some protein suggestions which may be beneficial, you can check out to tools on Columbia's Get Balanced website, and make an appointment for a free nutrition consultation at Medical Services by calling x4-2284 or logging into Open Communicator.

Remember that anyone undertaking a weight changing venture can expect body composition and size to change gradually. And, while you're waiting for the effects of your efforts to kick in, remember to flex all of your muscles — your heart, soul, compassion, humor, patience, and intelligence — you just might find that you are already bulging and ripped. 

Alice