How To Gain Weight in a Healthy Way

We often talk about how to lose or maintain a healthy weight, but an underestimated challenge for many people is how to increase their weight in a healthy way. It’s not as easy as you might think to consume a high number calories with a good mix of balanced nutrients, but read on for tips on how to do this and succeed.

How to Gain Weight: Step 1 - Understand the Basics

Usually people want to increase their weight for one of three reasons:

  1. You are currently underweight and want to reach a healthy weight and BMI
  2. You are looking to increase size and/or muscle mass to improve your body shape and image
  3. You want to increase your size as part of gaining extra strength and physical power

Each goal will require a slightly different approach, but the nutritional theory behind how to gain weight remains the same: you will need to be in a calorie surplus consistently until you reach your goal. The trick is to do this safely without sacrificing your physical and mental health.

For the purposes of this post we are going to concentrate on the diet, nutritional and mental aspects of gaining weight. If you are looking to build muscle then clearly the right exercise is also going to play an important role and we will provide separate content specifically for this very soon.

How to Gain Weight: Step 2 – Have a Clear Goal

Have clear weight gain goals

First you should be very clear on what your weight gain goals are. Be specific. Targeting a specific weight you want to reach will make it easier for you to be able to put together a tailored plan.

Be realistic with your goal. You can refer to this BMI table if you want to get an indication of what weight is classed as healthy for your height. This table may not be as relevant if you are looking to put on significant muscle mass through bodybuilding.

Having a specific weight target is going to be more difficult if you are judging progress by how you look aesthetically, but still set yourself a reasonable and specific goal – you can always adjust it if turns out it wasn’t quite right.

How to Gain Weight: Step 3 – Create Daily Targets

Now that you have a specific goal, the next step is to break down how many calories you will need to eat each day in order to reach your goal in a healthy way.

It’s much better to have patience and get there steadily and safely rather than trying to force your body to get somewhere quicker that it can without issue. There is no magic potion for instant weigh loss and the same applies for weight gain.

So how do you find out how many calories you are going to need? Well you can use this calculator as a starting point. Enter your details and it will help you understand how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your target weight.

Make sure to be realistic with the time frame you enter – getting there eventually is much better than trying to do it too quickly and failing.

The good thing about this calculator is that it also takes into account your level of physical activity throughout the week. Being in a calorie surplus means also factoring in how many calories you have burned and understanding the net number of calories you need to consume.

How to Gain Weight: Step 4 – Know What Foods are Best to Eat

If you are going to gain weight healthily and successfully then preparation is key. It’s crucial for you to understand the types of foods that are beneficial for you to eat. You should also stock up on them before you begin your plan.

In order to increase your weight in a way that provides your body balanced nutrients, you have to understand that even though all calories provide the same level of energy, not all calories are nutritionally equal. You can read more about this at our post on what is a calorie.

So what foods are good for weight gain? Well whilst this is not an exhaustive list, you can find a great selection of foods below which are going to help you gain weight without filling your body full of everything you don’t need.

Foods To Help You Gain Weight:

Foods to help you gain weight in a healthy way

  • Brown Rice – a whole grain that is a great source of fiber and protein and low on the glycemic index. Studies suggest brown rice can help lower cholesterol and prevent blood clots from forming.
  • Nuts – most nuts are packed full of healthy fats, fiber and protein as well as a solid number of vitamins and minerals. They do contain some saturated fat but overall they are one of the healthiest snacks to eat and a good tool for healthy weight gain.
  • Nut Butters – if you can avoid the ones full of added sugar, nut butters provide most of the same great benefits as nuts
  • Homemade smoothies – making them at home means you know what’s going into them and can avoid unnecessary added sugar. Mix in whole fruits, vegetables, nut butters, natural yogurt and even whey protein to give you a great, healthy calorie boost suited to your taste buds.
  • Potatoes – sweet potatoes usually get the positive health PR, but white potatoes also offer their own nutritional benefits. Sweet potatoes give you more calories, fat and carbohydrates, but white potatoes offer more protein. The mix of vitamins and minerals also differs slightly between the two, so you are best of including both in your weight gain diet.
  • Red Meat - they are a fantastic source of protein and one of the best types of food for building muscle. The fattier the meat you eat then the more calories - just try to take a common sense approach to how much fat (particularly saturated fat) you consume overall.
  • Oats – perhaps the best whole grain available and also one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. They are packed full of fiber, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, folic acid, Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B5. Phew! Opt for rolled or steel cut oats if you can – they contain the whole grain.
  • Quinoa – a complete protein that is also high in fiber and key minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc and manganese. A great addition to your shopping list.
  • Oily fish – this includes salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and trout. Oily fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. There is also evidence to suggest that eating them regularly reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. On top of this, a single fillet of something like salmon can give you around 350 calories depending on size.
  • Avocados – loaded with nutrients, healthy fats and fiber, avocadoes should be a staple fixture in any healthy diet. A whole avocado can contain around 300 calories (depending on size) so they are particularly beneficial in a diet intended for weight gain.
  • Whole grain bread – the main benefit of including whole grain bread is that it provides you with a great accompaniment for great protein sources like meat, cheese and eggs. Going whole grain is the healthiest choice for bread.
  • Eggs – eat as many eggs as you want and don’t skip the yolk. Most of the nutritional benefits are contained in the yolk and you are looking to gain weight, so the additional calories are a benefit. As a whole, eggs are one of the best foods you can eat for gaining healthy weight and building muscle.
  • Healthy Oils – this includes things like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil. They are high in calories and contain antioxidants and healthy fats that help lower bad cholesterol.
  • Cheese – a great way to add in calories whilst consuming protein and calcium. Opt for full fat cheeses to help you on your weight gain mission.
  • Yoghurt – another great food to boost calories if you go full fat. Natural yoghurt is dense in protein, calcium and B vitamins, as well as many other important vitamins and minerals. There are also studies to suggest it could help improve digestive health and there is even evidence to suggest it may benefit your heart despite its saturated fat content.
  • Dark Chocolate – a good cheat food when it comes to healthy weight gain. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content and you have a food packed with antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc and selenium. Eating a 100 grams will give you approximately 600 calories.

How to Gain Weight: Step 5 – Positive Mindset

Have a positive mindset to gain weight

Change is not easy for most people, and changing your diet and your habits are no exception - particularly if you have been set in your ways for a long time.

You are going to need a positive mindset to keep you motivated, disciplined and focused on your end goals. Some days you will find it easy, other days may be a real struggle, but know that the biggest part of the battle for success with this is a mental one, not physical.

Here are a few tips to help you maintain a positive mindset:

  • Be proud of yourself for the positive changes that you make. Even reading this article and starting this journey are positive steps you are taking. There may be many obstacles along the way, but don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for everything that you do well.
  • Use affirmations to motivate yourself. Lose any skepticism as there is genuine scientific evidence such as this report to back up the fact that affirmations help healthy behavioral change.
  • Learn from your mistakes. You are going to make them and that is ok, but if you can learn from them then the mistakes are worthwhile. Are certain triggers making you eat the wrong food? Then try to avoid them moving forward. Does stress stop you from eating properly? Then take some positive steps to reduce your stress. You can read our post on how to reduce stress for example.
  • Get support from someone you trust. Someone who will be happy to go through these kinds of journeys with you and give you the pep talk you need, when you need it. Someone that is not going to judge you, but also not afraid to tell you the truth so you can get to where you want to be.
  • Use humor to help. Everything is easier and more fun when you add humor to the equation. Science also supports it’s impact on things like stress, anxiety and depression in studies like this. Try to see the funny side in difficult situations. Keep smiling and keep going.
  • Be grateful for the good things. So maybe you are not the weight you want to be right now, but there will undoubtedly plenty for you to be grateful so take the time to practice a little gratitude and stay positive.

How To Gain Weight: Step 6 – Be Patient

Change is not going to happen overnight. You want to gain weight steadily and consistently for it to be safe, healthy and also significantly increase your chance of maintaining it when you reach your goal.

They say that patience is a virtue and I would have to agree. Patience is hard, but it’s an amazing tool for you to master – it will help you in many walks of life.

Above all else, never, ever, ever give up on your goals. Especially the goals that you are more than capable of achieving and will have a positive impact on your life. You got this – now hustle and get to where you want to be.


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