Q. “My mother is in her 70s and has lost weight due to an illness. She doesn’t have a big appetite. How can she put on weight again?”
A. The key to putting on weight is higher-energy foods. With a small appetite, however, it may be easier to eat little and often rather than trying to have bigger meals.
For older people with smaller appetites, it’s even more important that all the food they eat is packed with nutrients to make sure they get the nutrients they need. This means basing her diet on the four main food groups: meat, fish and other protein sources; vegetables and fruits, breads and cereals; and lower-fat dairy products. Just adding high-fat or high-sugar foods is not a good idea as they won’t have the other nutrients your mother needs. Encourage your mother to include protein-containing foods at each meal and snack. These include: lean meat, poultry, fish, dried or canned beans and lentils, cheese, yoghurt, milk
Strategies and tips for weight gain
If you can, aim to eat slightly larger portions of higher-energy foods at each meal, or add an additional portion, eg:
- Don’t rush breakfast – and after your cereal, add a slice of grainy toast with peanut or almond butter.
- Pasta salad at lunchtime – add extra tuna, avocado and vinaigrette.
- Potato salad – add extra mayonnaise and chopped boiled egg to your serve.
In addition to your three meals each day, aim to have three high-energy snacks, eg:
- Generous serve of nuts and/or dried fruit.
- Banana smoothie with (reduced-fat) ice cream and added milk powder.
- Avocado on grainy bread.
Increase your intake of healthy fats:
- Add lashings of vinaigrette to salad. Make your own vinaigrette with three parts oil (using healthy oils like olive, canola, rice bran or avocado oil) and one part vinegar.
- Use avocado in salads and sandwiches.
- Add generous amounts of nuts, seeds, olives or raisins to salads and couscous.
- Add nuts and dried fruit to baking and desserts.
- Even for people wanting to gain weight we recommend using low-fat dairy products and trimming fat from meat so you are not adding saturated fat to your diet.
Don’t drink too much with meals as this can limit how much food you can comfortably eat:
- Replace some water with higher-energy fruit juice and milky drinks between meals.
Don’t fill up on bulky, low-energy foods:
- Snacking on carrot sticks and apple slices is great for people who want to lose weight, but not for you. You may also find it helps to keep a food and exercise diary for a week or two until you get into the habit of your higher-energy diet and resistance training regime.
This advice is for healthy people wanting to gain weight. People who have lost weight suddenly and do not know the cause, or people with eating disorders, need to seek personal professional advice.