Many seniors are underweight and find it very hard to gain weight. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. Today we will talk about gaining weight for seniors.
While many people are suffering from being overweight or obese these days, there are always people who suffer from the exact opposite problem, that is being underweight.
Being underweight is unhealthy for several reasons but it’s especially unhealthy for seniors as it means you have less bodily reserves in case of illness or injury.
While most people don’t want to be underweight, gaining weight can be just as hard as losing weight if you don’t know what you are doing.
In many cases being underweight is the result of poor dietary choices, meal timing and simple lack of appetite. But being underweight can also be a sign of sickness.
If you have lost a significant amount of weight without explanation recently and have trouble gaining any back, it’s extremely important to talk to a doctor to rule out any serious illnesses.
The good news is that gaining weight can actually be very easy when you are determined and follow the right directions. I’ll give you some tips in a minute but let’s start by looking at why it’s so important to maintain a healthy weight as a senior and why you tend to lose weight as you age.
Why You Lose Weight As You Age
Age-related weight loss is very common in the elderly. While in many cases there are actual diseases behind the weight loss, most reasons are benign.
Aging can cause among other things decline in appetite and suppression of hunger. When you combine these two factors with reduced activity levels it’s possible to simply never feel hungry. And because of the lack of appetite, you won’t end up eating much when you do feel hungry.
In many cases, economical reasons play a role as well. If you are tight on the money, it’s tempting to cut down on food expenses. While this might be fine if you are overweight it will definitely not be a healthy way to save money in the long run.
To make things worse, aging causes loss of muscle mass and other lean tissue even in normal-weight people. If you are underweight, this loss of muscle will be exacerbated.
Some people can also have otherwise relatively benign but troublesome ailments like trouble swallowing and issues with digestion, including chronic constipation or diarrhea.
Finally, some people simply have trouble gaining weight because they are trying to eat too healthy and exercising too much. This is the other extreme of the spectrum.
If you are one of these people, you will likely be terrified of fried foods, other fatty foods, and simple carbs. For you gaining weight is more psychological than physiological.
Eating “unhealthy” foods like full-fat milk products, hamburgers, pizza, bread, fried chicken, etc. are actually healthier than being overweight.
Why Maintaining A Healthy Weight Is Important
There are a couple of reasons why it’s important to strive to maintain a healthy weight as a senior. The main one being that being underweight is associated with all-cause mortality, i.e. death because of any reason.
This is likely for two reasons. Firstly people with undiagnosed diseases will more likely be underweight but secondly having more body mass allows your body to survive longer when sickness or suffering from trauma. Your muscle and fat tissues will work as energy reserves for your body to heal.
The second reason maintaining a healthy weight is important is because it helps to stave off sarcopenia, also known as old age frailty.
As you age you lose muscle mass and other lean tissue. This is a natural consequence of aging but maintaining a healthy weight will help to reduce the effects.
Maintaining your weight is not enough but you should also do some form of resistance or strength training. Strength training has been shown to be extremely effective for reducing muscle loss in seniors among other benefits.
So having a healthy weight and a strong body will help you live a longer, happier life. A strong body will be more resilient in case of injury and it will survive longer in times of illness or trauma.
A strong body will also help you avoid injuries as well because things like balance, coordination and athletic ability are all dependent on your muscle mass and strength.
How To Gain Weight As A Senior
If you are otherwise healthy and looking to gain weight, I have good news for you. It’s actually very easy. With gaining weight it’s all about calories in vs calories out. Just like with weight loss.
Some people might not want to hear this but if you are not gaining weight, you are simply not eating enough. I know, I know! You think you are, but you are not. I know this because you are not gaining weight.
To gain weight, in any form except water, you will need to consistently eat more calories than you burn. There seems to bee three very common errors people make when trying to gain weight, just like with trying to lose fat.
- They don’t track meals. I.e. eat only when hungry or remember to eat. People who have naturally low appetite can forget to simply eat. When they remember to eat they might eat a huge meal and think that it’s will surely add weight because they are stuffed. But it doesn’t because:
- They don’t track calories. Eating a single meal of 1500 calories will likely make you feel like you are bursting. But if your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is 1900 calories, you are actually in a caloric deficit and losing weight. Which takes us to the las
- They only eat low-calorie foods. Most people have no trouble staying normal weight or actually become overweight because they eat food high in caloric density. Even if you don’t track your meals and track calories, you can gain weight provided that you eat several meals a day and include plenty of high-calorie foods. It’s very hard to gain weight eating only chicken and rice or potatoes and salad for example.
So the solution is to simply go by facts instead of feeling. It’s important to measure your weight, track your meals and count your calories at least when starting. This way you will know if you are going in the right direction and adjust as you go.
Besides eating enough, it’s important to eat enough of all the macronutrients protein, carbs, and fat. High protein intake has been associated over and over again in medical studies with increased muscle mass.
This is why I recommend you include a hefty amount of protein in every meal and if you have to, use protein supplements that are suitable for seniors.
When you combine a high protein, high-calorie diet with a weight training program, you will not only gain weight but you will most importantly gain muscle mass.
While all weight is precious and welcome if you are severely underweight, it’s never wise to simply try and gain fat. Muscle mass is associated with all sorts of health benefits while excess fat mass is associated with negative health effects.
Healthy High-Calorie Foods For Weight Gain
So to gain weight and especially muscle mass, you should consume enough calories and protein. From the three macronutrients fat contains over twice the amount of calories than carbs or protein which have roughly the same energy content.
The easiest way to gain weight is to make sure you eat three large meals a day and include healthy, high-calorie foods in them.
A good example of nutrient-rich, relatively healthy high-calorie foods include:
- Nuts and nut butters. A handful of nuts or a couple of teaspoons of peanut butter can contain over 500 calories and makes a great snack for gaining weight.
- Avocado is a high-fat fruit with high-calorie content. Include it in all your salads and on bread.
- Olive oil. Olive oil is a very healthy form of fat with proven health benefits. Use generously in salads.
- Chocolate is full of energy and very easy to overindulge. You don’t even have to worry about the sugar content if you are underweight. Especially dark chocolate is associated with positive health effects.
- Cheese and fatty milk products in moderation. Milk products that contain fat are relatively healthy in moderation and full of nutrients, calcium, protein, and fat. The fat is saturated so don’t go overboard.
- Salmon and other fatty fish, fatty fish is great for health because of the Omega 3 content as well as high protein content.
- Oats. Combine a full bowl of oatmeal with berries and a good chunk of butter or vegetable oil and you have a delicious, healthy, affordable and nutrient-rich meal! Just make sure you eat some extra protein with it.
These are just a few examples. You can find out the caloric content of virtually any food either from the packaging or online. So use your imagination, don’t be afraid to use foods with some saturated fat or sugars in them and above all choose foods you like to eat!
There is no point in stuffing your face with foods you don’t like. You simply won’t be able to keep it up for long. If you have to eat snickers bars to be in a caloric surplus you can! I won’t take any responsibility for the health effects though 😉
To make gaining weight super easy without counting calories, follow this three-step guide:
- Eat three large meals a day consisting of high-calorie foods like salmon and potatoes, peanut butter sandwich or oatmeal with butter, berries, and protein.
- Eat a small handful of mixed nuts for snacks twice a day
If you follow these three steps consistently I promise you will gain weight. It’s possible this example is way too many calories for you if you are relatively small framed. If you find you are gaining
I hope you found these simple tips for gaining weight for seniors useful and will try them yourself. Tell me what you thought of them in the comments section below. I will also answer any questions you might have to the best of my ability.
Gaining weight can definitely be as hard for some people as losing weight is to others. That said the solution is relatively simple to both of the problems but the execution is the difficult part.
But with a bit of determination, education, and self-control anyone should be able to do it. The great thing about gaining weight is that you can put it to use by performing strength training as this will result in increased muscle mass which is extremely beneficial for seniors.
When compared to losing weight you don’t have to worry about food cravings or feeling cranky either. I understand that eating enough can be a real problem, to the extent of phobia to some people so please understand I’m not underestimating your problem.
That said, many people simply forget to eat because they are not hungry. That’s why it’s important to track your meals. A great way is to set a reminder in your phone for example every four hours to eat a meal and keep track of what you actually ate. This way you don’t just have to trust your gut (pun intended).
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See you next time!
6 thoughts on “Gaining Weight For Seniors [Simple Tips]”
This is a very enjoyable read and a reminder to me that I need to focus on 3 full meals a day! It is so easy to skip a meal when we get caught up in doing things, or just grabbing a quick snack so that we can continue what we are working on. I like the idea of setting a timer as a reminder, I’m going to do that.
Glad you liked it Deborah! Eating consistently is definitely the most important part of gaining and maintaining a healthy weight. Just like keeping a consistent calorie deficit is for weight loss. The problem is that people simply forget to eat. When they think about their actions they can only remember maybe the two last meals. If they were big ones it might feel inexplainable why you are not gaining weight when in reality you are on a caloric deficit on the long term. The timer is a great way to remind you to eat so I definitely recommend it! Just make sure you actually make a habit of following it.
Very interesting. It is not often you come across a weight-gain article. Everybody wants to lose weight. But you are right. There is such a thing as being too thin, especially in the elderly. One tip you might give concerning the elderly who simply forget to eat because they do not feel hungry would be to invest in a watch or some device that sounds an alarm at set intervals reminding them to go and eat something. Also having some readily available, quick and easy, will help too.
Thanks for the tips, Elden! It’s definitely true there aren’t much weight gain article, especially for seniors and middle-aged people. There are some for young skinny guys looking to gain muscle but that’s about it. That said, being underweight is seriously dangerous for your health as a senior. I actually did mention setting a timer to remind you daily, but it was in the very end, probably should have made it stand out more. The point about having always food available is a good one! It’s much easier to skip a meal if you have to go to the store and cook before eating.
I’m definitely looking for a starting place to gain weight at 74. After being an athlete all my life, I had open heart surgery at 63. While the surgery couldn’t have gone any better thanks to the Cleveland Clinic, my active lifestyle literally ended. I dropped to 120 pounds after spending most of my life around 140-145 pounds. I weigh 130 now, way too sedentary, and don’t have much of an appetite. I eat to to survive and not much else. If you saw this 5’9” skeleton walking toward you, what advice would you have for me? I am a golfer by sport now and have 5 small grandchildren. Thanks in advance. John
Sorry to hear about your struggle with weight gain John. I can’t give you specific dietary or medical advice of course, but here are a couple of ideas. First of all, I think it’s important that you talk to your doctor about your trouble keeping weight. It’s important to rule out possible medical conditions that could be causing the weight loss. After that maybe talk to a nutritionist who could set you up with a specific diet. You are clearly struggling with lack of appetite so it’s probably a good idea to eat high caloric density (lot’s of energy per weight) foods when you do eat. The problem is that many high caloric foods can be unhealthy, like processed pastries and cookies, cold cuts, ice cream etc. But you can definitely eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet consisting mainly of high caloric density foods. High fat and protein and dense carbs are what you should look for. Eggs, salmon, nuts, yogurt, cereals etc. Peanut butter is an example of extremely high caloric density food that’s easy to add or eat as is. I hope this gives you some direction and good luck!