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Dr. H, Column Writer

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Dear Dr. H, “I’ve never been able to gain weight. I’m afraid I’m underweight and unhealthy. How can I solve this?”

First, I want to start by saying that I am not a nutritionist and, while I have some thoughts and tips about your situation, I do encourage you to see one, as they have much greater expertise in this area.
That said, I’m sorry about your fear over *potentially* being underweight and unhealthy and I’m glad you’re taking a pro-active role in your health; that’s an important first step.
Determining whether we’re underweight should really be done by a professional.
We often use BMI charts to help us figure out if we’re in the “right” zone, but these charts aren’t entirely appropriate to assess the body weight that is healthy for you.
“Health” does not come by way of a number on a scale – whether we’re carrying a few extra pounds or think we’re not carrying enough.
People metabolize at all different rates and right now, at your age, genetics, activity level and life stage, you may be in a high-burn rate.
If this is the case, it is especially important to get extra fuel to maintain proper function. I know breakfast isn’t always high on the average student’s priority list, but eating breakfast – everyday – is a great way to make sure you’re getting enough calories.
Eggs and toast, granola and yogurt, even a PB&J that you can eat on your way to school, are all good options. Sometimes people say they aren’t hungry in the morning.
I suggest starting small and working up to a full meal. If you’ve never eaten breakfast, you may think you’re just not into it.
But, your body can adapt and it’s hard to get enough calories throughout the day if you’re skimping in the morning.
I won’t go into too much detail about lunch and dinner options, but I will say that, again, eating a range of healthy, protein-packed, calorie-dense foods will help you gain weight. It might seem like a good idea to “eat whatever” or focus on fast food and junk, but those aren’t foods that are a part of a healthy diet in the first place because those calories are almost always “empty.” The same goes for calorie-rich beverages.
It’s hard to have an appetite for your turkey sandwich if you’re drinking soda, energy drinks or grande caramel frappuccinos all day.
Between class and work and all of the other things you have to do all day, it’s easy to forget to eat (or so I hear because this NEVER happens to me). Pack whole food snacks to bring with you, like crackers and cheese, or nuts and fruit.
A healthy diet includes a range of carbs, fats and protein, so avoid focusing on just one area to increase your weight.
But if, with your doctor, you’ve determined you are, in fact, underweight, having ice cream or a few cookies for dessert (after a healthy, whole foods dinner) can help you reach your calorie goals, too.
Gaining healthy weight is a combination of both diet and exercise.
People might wonder why I’m suggesting you exercise if you think you’re underweight, but resistance training can help build lean muscle mass, which is great for everyone, not the least of whom are people interested in looking to increase healthy weight.
Muscle weighs more than fat, so strength training through lifting weights can help put a few more pounds on. Plus, it’s just great for overall fitness. Again, I suggest consulting a professional about a specific training program.
With increased lean muscle mass, you will likely increase your metabolism, too, so making sure you’re getting enough fuel is, again, especially important.
Call the CWU Student Medical and Counseling Center to visit with a professional about your weight and health.
They can point you in the right direction for additional tips on gaining weight and starting a resistance training program. Good luck!

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Ask Dr. H