Top tips for weight gain after a period of illness

Sometimes you may be losing weight or having difficulty gaining weight and generic advice such as ‘just eat more’ is just not helpful! Whatever the reason behind your low weight, working towards weight gain is much harder than many people realise. So, read on for some practical tips to help you regain weight.


1. Healthy eating can wait

This is not to say that you cannot choose healthier, nutrient-dense foods such as avocadoes, nuts, vegetable oils etc, to help with your weight regain. However, it is important to acknowledge that if you have lost a lot of weight recently due to illness (which can negatively impact on your health), then the focus right now should be on weight regain to help optimise your wellbeing.  

If that means ice-cream, doughnuts or crisps for the short-term, then so be it!

2. Food fortification

This is the term used to describe making your meals and snacks as nutrient-dense as possible, without increasing the volume of what you’re having. Practical tips include adding milk powder to your milk, yoghurt, stew or soup, grated cheese to scrambled eggs or creamy soups and topping your cereal with seeds, nuts or honey.

3. Make your drinks count

Although water is great for hydration, it doesn’t actually contain any calories or protein. If you find it easier to drink your nutrition rather than eat it, instead of drinking water, tea and coffee, get creative with your blender!

Make nourishing smoothies by combining fruit, nut butters, yoghurt, full-fat milk, custard or ice-cream. The sky really is your limit!

4. Embrace the fat

Fat has received a lot of negative press, but apart from the fact that the media often fails to distinguish between different types of fat, in the scenario of unintentional weight loss, fat can be your best friend.  

Fat contains nine calories per gram as opposed to four calories per gram for protein and carbohydrate. This means incorporating more fat in your meals will make it easier to pack in more calories. So, in the short term, opt for full-fat products.

5. Small, frequent meals

If you are still finding that your appetite is reduced following your illness and you are unable to manage the same amount as previously, then approach your eating with a ‘little and often’ mindset. That means spreading your high energy, high protein meals and snacks or finger foods into smaller chunks throughout the day.

6. Did someone say soup?

Soups can be a good option if you feel that you cannot manage much. However, make sure to opt for creamy based options rather than a broth style soup. You can add in the extra calories and protein by adding milk powder, cream or cheese into your soups.

7. Oral nutritional supplements (ONS)

If you have lost a significant amount of weight, then you can consider purchasing specially made drinks that contain calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to help people who are finding it difficult to eat enough. It is worth speaking with your GP if you have a medical condition as these can be available on prescription. These should not be considered as a meal replacement, but rather as a ‘bonus’ in between meals.

If you are recovering from a long period of illness and struggling to gain weight, then it is worth discussing your goals with a registered dietitian, who can provide you with tailored advice to aid with your weight gain!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW14 & E18
Written by Rania Salman, Registered Dietitian, PgDip (Merit), BSc (Honours), MBDA
London SW14 & E18

Rania Salman is a trained dietitian who uses an evidence-based approach to support you in reaching your goals. Her areas of expertise include cancer care, liver disease, diabetes and weight loss/gain in addition to general health and wellbeing. She has worked in some of the most well-known NHS trusts, in addition to working for the private sector.

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