I’m not going to lie, I was really apprehensive about posting this. In fact, I had an alternative post titled “Easy Ways to Cut Calories Without Sacrificing Nutrition” that was all set to go instead (don’t worry, I will still post it eventually!). But, the goal of this blog is not to conform to the calorie-cutting, obsessive, restrictive, perfectionist ways of our society. No. My goal when I started this blog was to be candid, personal and real.
Within the past few months I’ve unintentionally lost weight from both stress (hello new job + end of grad school) and stomach issues (hello Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I know most people likely envy me for this, but don’t be so quick to judge. Although I am naturally a smaller, thinner person, this additional weight loss has resulted in some negative consequences. When I look in the mirror I don’t like that I can see protruding bones, my nails are brittle and weak, I’m always cold and my workouts have been lack luster. I’ve been focusing on gaining more strength and muscle mass through weight training, but have not been seeing the results I know I should be.
In sum, I need to gain some weight for my health. This needs to come in the form of muscle AND some additional fat. Again, I know a lot of people will sarcastically remark “Oh, your SO unlucky you have that problem” and roll their eyes. However, no matter what your goal is, whether it is gaining OR losing weight, it is scary, frustrating, uncomfortable and downright HARD. Although I love food and eating is one of my favorite things to do, I DO NOT like eating when I am not hungry or forcing myself to eat just for the sake of getting more calories in. This is especially challenging when you work in an industry that touts low-calorie, fat-free everything, intuitive eating and veggies instead of French fries. While these things are great, it’s hard not to compare yourself to the health nut next to you and feel like you shouldn’t be eating that high-calorie/larger portion of whatever it is.
Likewise, having a past of disordered eating myself, makes it even more challenging to mentally fight all the negative thoughts that arise based on what society says is “healthy”. Things like “only eat when you are truly hungry”, “get the kiddie-sized ice cream when you go out” and “switch from bagels to bagel thins” need to go out the window for me for the time being. Right now, my “healthy” involves gaining some weight, eating MORE calories and exercising LESS. This decision was not easy and was ultimately based on my health. I need some extra padding for warmth, to build the strength I want and (perhaps most important of all) I don’t want my future ability to have kids to be compromised.
Although I debated talking about this and sharing such personal information, I know I am not the alone in this struggle. I have read multiple blogs from women who have gone through the exact same thing and whose stories have helped so many others as a result. Again, that is why I started this blog and that is why I am sharing this with you all.
So, how am I going to do this? What i’m not going to do is sit around and eat chocolate all day. While I do want to gain weight, I don’t want to gain heart disease in the process. Here’s my plan of attack and some tips if you are in the same boat:
1.) Switch to 1% milk
If I didn’t despise the thick texture, I would even up it to 2% or whole, but growing up on skim milk this tastes like cream for me. Thus, 1% it is.
2.) Add healthy fats to EVERYTHING
Avocado on sandwiches, soups and eggs; nut butter on anything and everything (which I do already); and sautéing vegetables in oil instead of steaming them. Don’t fear the fats, as they are nutrient dense, heart healthy ways to add calories.
3.) Stock up on higher-calorie snacks
Good options include smoothies, Cliff bars and trail mix. These things pack a high amount of calories and nutrients into a small portion. This can help prevent you from feeling stuffed.
4.) Eat larger amounts & more often
My goal is to eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks throughout the day regardless of whether or not I’m actually “hungry”. Although this may be a burden and you may feel uncomfortably full, your metabolism will eventually adjust and you will naturally become hungrier. I also plan on eating larger portions at each eating occasion. For instance, instead of ½ cup of beans, I’ll have ¾ c and will continue to adjust from there as my stomach and mind become more comfortable with it.
5.) Throw traditional “food rules” out the window
As a dietitian, food rules are ingrained in my skull. Things like “1 cup of pasta is a single serving”, “only eat 3 oz. of red meat at a time”, “never go back for seconds” or “choose red sauce over cream” are what I talk about everyday. However, it’s important to remember that these are just guidelines. Everyone is unique and therefore calorie needs are different. Obviously I need more calories than I am taking in right now, so these rules need to be ignored.
6.) Honor & indulge your cravings
Give yourself some leeway. Want ice cream three nights in a row? Go for it and go for the full fat varieties. I’m talking Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Daz here people! Now is not the time to restrict yourself. Plus a secondary goal of weight-gain is oftentimes to develop a healthier relationship with food. This includes stopping the habit of placing certain “bad” foods off limits.
7.) Limit cardio, up the strength and relax
I’ve been limiting my cardio to basically teaching spin once a week and, instead, have been focusing on strength training. It’s a long slow process to build muscle, but upping the calories will help. Additionally, never force yourself to workout because you feel like you have to in order to be healthy. Right now, limiting the high-intensity activities ARE healthy.
8.) Surround yourself with supportive people
Those who will remind you the importance of eating that snack even when you don’t want to. Those who won’t push cookies in your face all the time or tell you how “lucky” you are for being skinny. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who have a healthy relationship with food themselves.
Like every lifestyle change, this is just a starting point and I’ll have to play around and adjust this plan to find what fits best for me. Although these are great tips, if you are someone who needs to gain some healthy weight, I encourage you to find and meet with a registered dietitian in your area to develop your own personalized plan.
I will keep you posted on my journey throughout this process and how I adjust it based on what I find. In essence, I’m my own nutrition experiment! Remember, there are a lot of women (and men!) who could benefit from adding some healthy L-B’s to their frames. Supporting each other (both in person and online) can really help. As a result, I encourage any comments or questions you may have on the topic. You never know who it might help. Thanks for reading!