13 Tips for Gaining Weight Safely

While our culture places immense value on thinness, the prevalence of those who are underweight is a significant public health issue. There are a number of reasons people can be underweight, including genetics and fast metabolism, and underlying medical conditions such as thyroid problems or cancer. Women are at increased risk of being underweight, as are adults over the age of 60.

A number of health risks are associated with being underweight including hair loss, dry skin, fertility issues, and poor dental health. In severe cases, people who are underweight may have weakened immune systems or develop osteoporosis. There is an increased mortality risk associated with being underweight.

The good news is there are ways to add nutritious foods that can help you gain weight to your daily diet. Adding meals and snacks, and increasing portion size are all ways to incorporate more calories daily. Consuming beneficial fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water are all ways to help you achieve the right weight for you.

Underweight is defined by a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5; a BMI of 18.5–24.9 is considered normal.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. 

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

Note that being underweight (or overweight) is not always solely measured by BMI, and there are other factors to consider. Some people naturally have less fat than others and could be perceived as underweight due to their low BMI but are otherwise perfectly healthy. The same goes for those who may be considered overweight or obese based on their BMI. That's why it's best to speak with your doctor who can provide an accurate diagnosis.

If you're underweight and it's determined that your health would benefit from gaining weight, your doctor will likely recommend that you eat more foods that are nutrient- and calorie-dense to help you gain weight.

In order to gain weight healthfully, you need to take in more calories than your body burns, ideally with nutrient-dense foods. Not all calories are created equal, and some food choices are more nutritious than others.

Foods to Help You Gain Weight

Some nutrient-dense foods that can help you gain weight include:

  • Whole milk
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Avocado
  • Creamy soups
  • Red meat
  • Juice
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Salmon
  • Protein smoothies

Stock Up on Nutritious Foods

It's important to consume nutrient-dense foods—regardless of your weight status. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends including a variety of nutritious foods in your diet like protein, fruit, vegetables, grains, and dairy products for optimal nutrition.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a 2,000-calorie diet as an example on Nutrition Facts labels. It is not necessarily a recommendation to consume 2,000 calories. The number of calories your body needs may vary based on factors like age, sex, and activity level.

If you're underweight, you'll typically want to consume an additional 500 calories per day. To do this, you might eat extra meals or increase the size of the meals you usually eat. You can also increase calories and fats by adding beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, plant-based oils.

If you don't have much of an appetite, you'll probably benefit from nibbling on small calorie-dense snacks throughout the day. If you're short on time for additional snack prep, you might simply increase the portion sizes of the meals you're already eating.

While it may seem like an easy solution to reach for a bag of salty chips or sugary ice cream since these foods contain a significant number of calories, they fall short on nutritional value. Foods rich in sugar and salt can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated. In addition, consuming these foods regularly and in excess may put you at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Though processed foods are typically associated with weight gain and obesity, they can also lead to chronic health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), autoimmune diseases, colorectal cancer, and mood disorders including anxiety and depression.

Instead, get started with a healthy weight-gaining diet by using the following tips to eat more nutritious, nutrient-dense foods.


Have an Extra Slice of Whole Grain Toast With Peanut Butter at Breakfast

Toast with peanut butter.

Kirk Mastin / Getty Images

Start your day with a hearty breakfast and have an extra slice or two of whole-grain toast with peanut butter, which is calorie-dense and high in fat and protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter have about 200 calories. Opt for natural peanut butter brands over options containing added sugar. Almond butter and other types of nut and seed butters are also healthy choices for gaining weight since they're protein-packed and have plenty of healthy fats.

Whole grains are an important source of dietary fiber. Choose a whole-grain bread that has at least 100 calories per slice. If a bread contains nuts and seeds, it will usually have more calories and healthy fats per serving.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best whole grain breads. If you're looking for whole grain breads, explore which option may be best for you.


Drink Whole Milk, 100% Fruit Juice, or Vegetable Juice

glass of cow's milk

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Wash down your nut butter toast with a glass of whole milk for added protein, calcium, and vitamin D. If you don't like cow's milk or choose not to have it, opt for a nut-based milk alternative. It will contain fewer calories, but should still be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are important nutrients while you're gaining weight.

Throughout the day, choose 100% fruit and vegetable juices that don't contain any additives like sugar. Read the Nutrition Facts labels closely to ensure you're consuming real ingredients you can easily pronounce—the fewer ingredients listed, the better.

Sugary sodas may be tempting—and while they're high in calories they've got nothing to add nutrition-wise. They're loaded with added sugar, which is linked to an elevated risk of chronic disease.

When it comes to beverages, choose whole milk or fruit and vegetable juices to boost your daily dose of vitamins and minerals.


Add Extra Cheese to an Omelet and Use an Extra Egg

Omelette with herbs
Joff Lee / Getty Images

Omelets are usually made with two or three eggs, some cheese, and a variety of added ingredients, so they're already energy-dense. Add extra calories by using a little more cheese and an extra egg in your omelet. But save room for some healthy veggies like spinach, peppers, and onions, or maybe some mushrooms and tomatoes.

Cook your omelet with a tablespoon of avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil. This will add extra calories and monounsaturated fat. You can also add a dash of whole milk or half-and-half to the egg mixture for even more calories and added creaminess. On the side, try a slice of whole-grain bread topped with avocado for a big dose of healthy fat.


Top Your Avocado Toast with an Egg

Poached Egg On Toast with avocado

Getty Images

Avocados are widely known as a superfood since they're loaded with healthy fat and fiber and a great source of protein. They're a great choice for a weight-gaining diet. Take your avocado toast game up a notch with a fried or poached egg for a double dose of protein and additional calories.


Slice an Apple and Serve With Nut Butter

apple slices and chunky peanut butter on a plate

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Many people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, and although they're lower in calories, you don't want to give them up since they're also an important part of a balanced diet. Boost your snack-time calorie intake by slathering some almond, peanut, or cashew butter on apple slices. You'll get plenty of nutrients along with your calories to help you gain weight.


Add Chopped Nuts, Oats, Fruit and Honey to Yogurt

Yoghurt with dried apricots, rolled oats & honey
Joff Lee / Getty Images

Enhance your Greek yogurt with a generous portion of walnuts, almonds or pecans, plus oats or granola and your favorite dried fruit. Top it off with a spoonful of honey, and you'll have a delicious and healthful snack or dessert.

Yogurt has friendly bacteria that help keep your gut healthy, and nuts have beneficial fats and add the calories you need for a weight-gaining diet.


Carry a Bag of Trail Mix for a Convenient Snack

Glass of trail mix

Westend61 / Getty Images

Trail mix is a mixture of nuts, seeds, cereal, and dried fruit. You can buy trail mix in grocery stores or make your own. In fact, you can tack on a few more calories by adding chocolate chips. Keep your trail mix in a plastic bag or container and carry it with you on the go, so you have something to nibble on throughout the day while on your weight-gaining diet.


Increase Protein Intake (and Calories) With Protein Bars

a bunch of cut protein superfood bars on a table.

 McKel Kooienga / Nutrition Stripped

Protein bars are similar to trail mix, ingredient-wise. You can make your protein bars or purchase any number of bars in any grocery or convenience store. Check out the Nutrition Facts label to see how many calories you're getting per serving and if it meets the requirements for your weight-gaining diet. Be on the lookout for hidden added sugars, too.


Use Sour Cream as a Go-To Topping

sour cream in a bowl with spoon

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Sour cream adds some calcium along with the extra calories needed for healthy weight gain. You can also add calories with cheese, gravy, full-fat Greek yogurt, or grass-fed butter.


Eat Larger Portions of Starchy Vegetables Like Potatoes

Vegan Oven Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

Fcafotodigital / Getty Images

Potatoes often get a bad rap because they're high in carbohydrates—but your body uses carbs for energy and potatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Amp up the calories by adding sour cream or yogurt—and bonus points for cooking with healthy fats like olive oil.

Potatoes are on the starchy side, so they're also higher in calories than green veggies. While you don't want to give up on Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale, you should feel free to load up on potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, winter squash, and even sweet corn.


Choose Creamed Soups Over Clear Soups

corn chowder in bowl

Elizabeth Watt / Getty Images

Creamed soups are higher in calories than clear broth-based soups. A big bowl of creamed soup and crusty warm bread can make an excellent energy-dense meal on a weight-gaining diet. Boost the nutrition of your creamed soups by including veggies. Do this by choosing cream of broccoli, cream of mushroom, or similar types of cream-based soup.


Add Cheese Sauces to Green Veggies

Broccoli With Easy Cheese Sauce

Diana Rattray

Green and colorful vegetables like broccoli are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But, they're also low in calories. Up your energy intake by adding cheese or cheese sauce to your favorite green veggies.

If you don't like cheese sauce, consider roasting your vegetables in olive oil, then tossing them with some seeds for added crunch, fiber, protein, and fat.


Eat Red Meat (and Choose Lean Cuts for a Healthy Heart)

Getty Images

While fattier cuts of meat are higher in calories, they're also associated with an increased risk for heart disease when consumed in excess. If you choose to incorporate fatty cuts of red meat into your weight-gaining diet, be sure to do so in moderation.

Lean cuts of steak, lean ground beef, or bison are great options that still contain plenty of nutrition for optimal body function. If you don't eat red meat, you can also get your protein from chicken, pork, fish, and even plant sources like meat substitutes and legumes.

Whether you choose lean animal protein or plant-based sources, there are plenty of possibilities to ensure you're getting enough protein while you're on a weight-gaining diet.

What About Appetite Stimulants to Gain Weight?

Doctors may prescribe medications to help improve appetite for those who need to gain weight, especially those who have a health condition that affects their hunger. These can include some anti-depressants, steroid medications, and cannabis. Another commonly prescribed appetite stimulant is oxandrolone, which is often given to cancer patients to stimulate hunger.

There are also some natural products that claim to be appetite stimulants. A 2013 study published in Appetite found that fish oil supplements successfully increased appetite in healthy adults. Additionally, some research shows that zinc supplementation can help regulate appetite in those with zinc deficiencies. Similarly, a thiamine deficiency can be supplemented with vitamin B-1 to help increase appetite.

Medications and other natural products may help facilitate healthy weight gain, but it's best to consult with a health care provider to figure out the best treatment for you.

A Word From Verywell

The best way to healthily gain weight is to consume more calories than you're burning by eating a variety of nutrient-dense healthy foods. Even though processed foods are high in calories, they don't have the health benefits and nutritional value compared to real, whole foods.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of a healthy lifestyle, and it's all about what works best for you. If you're concerned that you may be underweight, be sure to consult a healthcare provider.

27 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Prevalence of Underweight Among Adults Aged 20 Years and Over: United States, 1960–1962 Through 2007–2010.

  2. Boutari C, Pappas PD, Mintziori G, et al. The effect of underweight on female and male reproductionMetabolism. 2020;107:154229. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2020.154229

  3. Kossioni AE. The association of poor oral health parameters with malnutrition in older adults: A review considering the potential implications for cognitive impairmentNutrients. 2018;10(11). doi:10.3390/nu10111709

  4. Dobner J, Kaser S. Body mass index and the risk of infection - from underweight to obesityClin Microbiol Infect. 2018;24(1):24-28. doi:10.1016/j.cmi.2017.02.013

  5. Lim J, Park HS. Relationship between underweight, bone mineral density and skeletal muscle index in premenopausal Korean womenInt J Clin Pract. 2016;70(6):462-468. doi:10.1111/ijcp.12801

  6. Borrell LN, Samuel L. Body mass index categories and mortality risk in US adults: the effect of overweight and obesity on advancing deathAm J Public Health. 2014;104(3):512-519. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301597

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Adult BMI.

  8. Shmerling RH. Harvard Health Publishing. How useful is the body mass index (BMI)?

  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition.

  10. The New Nutrition Facts Label. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  11. Gupta L, Khandelwal D, Dutta D, Kalra S, Lal PR, Gupta Y. The twin white herrings: Salt and sugarIndian J Endocrinol Metab. 2018;22(4):542-551. doi:10.4103/ijem.IJEM_117_18

  12. Limdi JK. Dietary practices and inflammatory bowel diseaseIndian J Gastroenterol. 2018;37(4):284-292. doi:10.1007/s12664-018-0890-5

  13. Manzel A, Muller DN, Hafler DA, Erdman SE, Linker RA, Kleinewietfeld M. Role of “Western diet” in inflammatory autoimmune diseasesCurr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2014;14(1):404. doi:10.1007/s11882-013-0404-6

  14. Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, et al. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: Results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohortBMJ. 2018;360:k322. doi:10.1136/bmj.k322

  15. Firth J, Marx W, Dash S, et al. The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychosom Med. 2019;81(3):265-280. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000673

  16. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Peanut butter.

  17. Cleveland Clinic. Your Guide to the Best Nut Butters and Other Creamy Spreads.

  18. Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Relationship between added sugars consumption and chronic disease risk factors: current understandingNutrients. 2016;8(11). doi:10.3390/nu8110697

  19. National Institutes of Health. Eating red meat daily triples heart disease-related chemical.

  20. Wu G. Important roles of dietary taurine, creatine, carnosine, anserine and 4-hydroxyproline in human nutrition and healthAmino Acids. 2020;52(3):329-360. doi:10.1007/s00726-020-02823-6

  21. Avena-Woods C, Hilas O. Antidepressant use in underweight older adultsConsult Pharm. 2012;27(12):868-870. doi:10.4140/TCP.n.2012.868

  22. Childs DS, Jatoi A. A hunger for hunger: a review of palliative therapies for cancer-associated anorexiaAnn Palliat Med. 2019;8(1):50-58. doi:10.21037/apm.2018.05.08

  23. Wang J, Wang Y, Tong M, Pan H, Li D. New prospect for cancer cachexia: medical cannabinoidJ Cancer. 2019;10(3):716-720. doi:10.7150/jca.28246

  24. Osmolak AM, Klatt-Cromwell CN, Price AM, Sanclement JA, Krempl GA. Does perioperative oxandrolone improve nutritional status in patients with cachexia related to head and neck carcinoma? Laryngoscope Investig Otolaryngol. 2019;4(3):314-318. doi:10.1002/lio2.268

  25. Damsbo-Svendsen S, Rønsholdt MD, Lauritzen L. Fish oil-supplementation increases appetite in healthy adults. A randomized controlled cross-over trialAppetite. 2013;66:62-66. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.02.019

  26. Baltaci AK, Mogulkoc R. Leptin and zinc relation: In regulation of food intake and immunityIndian J Endocrinol Metab. 2012;16(Suppl 3):S611-616. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.105579

  27. Liu M, Alimov AP, Wang H, et al. Thiamine deficiency induces anorexia by inhibiting hypothalamic AMPKNeuroscience. 2014;267:102-113. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.02.033

Additional Reading

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.