Dying to put on?

If you are skinny and hate being so, use these heavy tips to add some kilos to your frame

People who are on the slimmer side are envied by all. They can get away with eating anything without bothering to count calories, shopping is not a chore because it’s easy to find clothes of their size and they are not the butt of jokes. Being slim is good, but being skinny? Perhaps not. This is for those of you who have traversed the line of being slim and crossed over to the side of being skinny.

If you have a BMI [Body Mass Index] of less than 18.5, you are underweight. [To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in square metre.]

Problems of being too skinny

Low on stamina: Inability to wake up refreshed and excessive tiredness even with mild physical exertion is a common companion if you’re underweight. Due to low percentage of lean mass, the body lacks basic strength and hence day-to-day activities may feel like a challenge.

Poor immune system: Low BMI equals low immunity. This means you will frequently be getting bouts of cough and cold. The body’s ability to handle stress is greatly diminished and it tends to give up with the mildest exertion.

Infertility: Being grossly underweight may cause absence of menstruation, infertility and even if the woman does conceive, complications during pregnancy are highly possible. Lack of sufficient body fat affects ovulation.

Osteoporosis: Low levels of sex hormones can also cause osteoporosis and if a woman suffers from menstrual irregularities, she is likely to have hollow and brittle bones.

Additionally, loss of bone mass can also result from less weight on the weight-bearing joints considering that the body weight is very low.

Anaemia: High metabolism, low food intake, inability to absorb nutrients from food, either one or a combination of these results in low haemoglobin and anaemia. The skin looks pale, nails turn spoon-shaped and there is excessive hair loss.

Other concerns: In more severe cases, being underweight can cause cardiac irregularities and vascular diseases. This happens as a result of the body’s inbuilt mechanism to conserve energy when the supply is low. The heart begins to beat slower, which causes a reduction in blood pressure. If left unattended, the slowed heartbeat and blood pressure can permanently damage the heart.

Poor body image: For obvious reasons, it is known that the overweight and obese may suffer from low self-esteem. But those who are struggling with weight gain may also have their share of woes and discontentment.

A poor body image can cause anxiety, distress and low self-esteem. Also, since such people fall ill frequently, it affects them not just personally but professionally too.

What makes you skinny

Skinny genes: Being skinny runs in families. Genetics also determine metabolism. So if you have a high metabolic rate, you’ll find it hard to put on weight. If you are fidgety and are always on the move, no matter how much you eat, there will be no spare calories to be converted to muscle or fat.

Under-eating: If you are physically active, and don’t consume foods that are hyper-caloric, you’ll stay skinny.

Lifestyle and eating habits: Those who strive to gain weight are most likely to be picky about food. Often, such people choose to stay hungry and eat later if they don’t get what they like. This, in time, shrinks appetite.

Disease: Hormonal disturbances such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes can prevent weight gain. Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the digestive system and liver disease can also impede weight gain. Disease causes low weight due to faulty metabolism or poor appetite, which leads to lack of nutrients.

Mood: Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia cause low body weight. In anorexia, the person is unable to eat normally, resulting in excess weight loss or inability to gain weight. In bulimia, a person eats a lot of food and then expels it by using mechanisms such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, laxative abuse or fasting. Chronic sadness and depression are other psychological factors that hinder weight gain.

Medications: Some medicines hinder absorption of nutrients as they alter the acid-base balance of the gut. The system is either too acidic or too basic to break down foods.

What to do

Seek professional help

Under the guidance of a physician, rule out possible diseases, which may be a hindering factor. A routine blood examination may be all that is needed. It is also imperative to watch out for signs of a possible behavioural issue, eating disorder, depression or high levels of physical or mental stress that may be a factor.

Change your diet

Your emphasis must be on eating a high-caloric diet. However, choose foods that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates and not only high in fat and sugar, a mistake lot of people make.

Consuming junk foods and fat/sugar in excess may increase your total body weight and BMI, but that gain is fat mass, which is unhealthy and detrimental to health.

Exercise

Yes, you read that right. You need to exercise to gain weight as well. An ideal weight gaining exercise regime includes a combination of light cardiovascular and muscle building, with emphasis on the latter. Where too much aerobic exercise can cause further weight loss, moderate aerobic activity of up to two hours per week will help keep the heart and lungs in good shape. Include muscle-building exercises in your regime to help build lean muscle. Train for muscle gain on alternate days and work each muscle no more than once a week. Without adequate rest and proper nutrition, muscle fibres are unable to respond to the stress placed on them via exercise and this causes muscle loss.

The weight gain diet

BED TEA 1 cup tea [optional]
BREAKFAST
  • 1 cup upma/poha/dalia /2 dosas/ 1 paratha/
  • 1 cup muesli or flakes with nuts and honey
  • 1 cup milk with added protein supplement
  • 4 egg whites, 1 seasonal fruit
MID MORNING Handful of nuts/chana/peanuts
LUNCH 2 chapattis, 1 cup rice, 1 cup pulse/curd/ 4 – 5 pieces of paneer, 1 cup vegetable, ½ cup salad
EVENING SNACK 1 cup milk with added protein supplement/4 egg whites/1 cup sprouts/1 cup mixed nuts with 1 cup tea [optional]
DINNER 2 chapatis/2 idlis/dosas/1 whole wheat pizza/1 cup cooked pasta/1 cup khichadi, 1 cup dal/sambhar /curd/ pulses/ 4 – 5 pieces of paneer, 1 cup vegetable/soup and ½ cup salad
NOTE: The above diet is for presentation purpose only. Each person’s individual requirement varies and we request you to have your personalised diet planned under the guidance of a professional.

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Venu Hirani
Venu Hirani is a Mumbai-based nutritionist and fitness consultant who specialises in weight management, antenatal and postnatal fitness. She is also the proprietor of Bodyworks: Weight Management Specialist

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