Eating for Weight Gain

This is a topic that I get asked about often. This is something I’ve helped many clients with. This is something I’ve gone through and experienced myself.

Eating to gain weight, specifically weight restoration in eating disorder recovery, is NOT easy. It’s uncomfortable, time consuming, and exhausting. But, it’s also 100% necessary.

I’m not going to get into the science or data behind why complete weight restoration is so important for recovery, but I will say this:

If you are not fully weight restored, your chance of relapse is increased significantly.

You’re also far more likely to have serious medical complications that may or may not be reversible with weight restoration.

A few things before I get started:

  1. Not everybody that struggles with an eating disorder will have to complete weight restoration. Eating disorders do not have a “look”, and you cannot always identify somebody struggling based only on their appearance. However, regulating eating patterns and creating a healthy relationship with food is always a part of recovery.

  2. This advice does NOT take the place of or override working with a professional. If you are struggling, I strongly suggest working closely with a team (therapist, registered dietitian, doctor, etc.) to monitor and guide your recovery.

    • If you’re in need of a dietitian, I’m happy to chat and see if working together might be a good fit! I am accepting new clients, and I can work virtually with individuals nationwide. Contact me here!

  3. Though this post is geared toward eating disorder recovery, these suggestions are applicable to anybody in need of weight gain, if other medical conditions do not cause contraindication.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business!

Like I said, restoring weight in recovery is HARD. There are a few key concepts to practice during this time, and then I’ll discuss some ways to apply them.

It’s tough to list all of the possible options for increasing your intake and applying the concepts below in a single blog post. SO, I put a lot of time into creating guide to go along with this post that discusses each point further and lists more tips, food swaps, and meal and snack ideas.



    • Your eating disorder probably tends to choose foods that are very voluminous (i.e. low calorie; vegetables, fruit, rice cakes, etc.). This is the opposite of what you need during a period of weight gain. Choosing foods that are more dense might be scary, but your body will appreciate having less volume to digest. You’ll feel less full and bloated, and you’ll probably begin to expose yourself to some different foods inevitably.

    • I’m not saying that you need to eliminate fruits and vegetables from your diet, because you don’t. Just be mindful of how much you’re consuming. 1-2 servings of each per day is more than enough to get the nutrients you need during this time if you’re eating adequately from the rest of the food groups.


    • Picture a jar filled with golf balls. This is your stomach after you eat food. Now, pour some juice into the jar, and it’s going to fill in all the little cracks and crevices. This is how liquid calories can help to increase your intake, so utilize them!

  • meal timing

    • Eat frequently, and incorporate multiple snacks throughout the day. I’m not talking about eating yogurt at 8am, a salad at 12pm, an apple at 3pm, dinner at 6pm, and popcorn at 8pm. Three hefty meals and three nutrient-dense snacks, minimum.

    • When you’re not use to eating this much, it can feel like you’re eating all day. Your body really will start to get used to this type of schedule, and it won’t feel so difficult. Just be consistent, and remember that weight restoration doesn’t last forever.

  • MORE, not less

    • Rather than the restriction, deprivation, “less” mindset, think MORE. Yes, more food, more snacks, larger portions, that extra cookie, more toppings, but also just more LIFE. Your eating disorder wants to keep you trapped in this cycle of feeling not good enough, but you are worthy of recovery and you deserve MORE.

So how can you start to apply these things?



    • The best way to debulk is to utilize the most dense foods: fats. Always cook with oil. Use dips with fruits and vegetables, such as hummus, nut butter, or ranch dressing. If you eat a salad, use a generous amount of full-fat or oil-based dressing. Use half of a large avocado on your toast instead of a quarter.

  • condense

    • Another part of debulking— think COMBINING. Put a lot of items into one thing. For example, make a big shake with frozen fruit, milk, oats, nut butter, flax seed, protein powder, and honey. Put a sauce and sunflower seeds in your stir-fry. Never eat anything ‘plain’. Add, add, add, because every little bit can help make a difference to reach your goal.

  • dense swaps

    • Really try to stay away from extra voluminous foods during this period of high caloric intake. Pick the more DENSE foods. For example, have rice instead of cauliflower rice. Use bagels instead of English muffins or rice cakes. Instead of fresh fruit, have dried fruit.

  • liquids

    • Other than water, try not to drink things with zero calories. These will provide extra fullness that you want to try and avoid. Also, yes you should drink water, but only as much as you need. The rest of your liquids should come from caloric beverages.

    • Add milk, cream, sugar, and/or honey to coffee or tea. Drink fruit juice and milk with meals. Select the regular sodas or beverages rather than the ‘diet’ versions.

  • meal timing

    • Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve found 3 meals and 3 snacks to be the most effective meal structure during weight restoration. This could look something like breakfast at 8am, snack at 10am, lunch at 12pm, snack at 3pm, dinner at 6pm, snack at 9pm. Whatever your schedule looks like, make sure you’re not waiting longer than 3-4 hours between meals and snacks.

  • try new things!

    • Expanding the kinds of foods that you eat is another really important part of recovery and creating a healthy relationship with food. Buy foods that are scary or “off-limits”, go out to eat, eat things that aren’t prepared by you, whether that’s something at a social gathering or purchasing a prepared item. It can be helpful to plan these things with intention. For example, go out to eat with a friend or family member for support and accountability. Set manageable goals for buying and eating fear foods, such as purchasing 1-2 new things each week to incorporate into meals or snacks.

I know that all of these things are much easier said than done, and more than the physical discomfort is the mental strength needed to actually DO IT. This is somewhere that having a professional team and a strong support system can really make a difference.

Don’t forget to download the more comprehensive guide I’ve created with all of this information, plus further tips, meals, snacks, and ideas.

If you are currently in the process of or needing to begin weight restoration, I hope that this post was helpful. I hope that you can begin to apply some of these concepts and move forward in your journey. It’s hard, but you’re strong. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Please never hesitate to reach out to me for any reason!

Effects of Malnutrition

Today starts National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 2019.

Eating disorders are such complex illnesses that involve a multitude of factors. The side effects and conditions that often come with these disorders range from anxiety to depression to malnutrition to amenorrhea to negative body image and low self-esteem to suicidal thoughts… and that list is just getting started.

Today I want to talk about some of the effects that an individual may experience due to the lack of nourishment that comes from an eating disorder. Not only does malnutrition cause physical effects and changes, but the brain is also being deprived, causing numerous mental and emotional responses as well.

This list is not all encompassing, but I hope it begins to give you a sense of the severity eating disorders involve.

1. Cognitive capacity.

Eating disorders and malnourishment have a profound effect on cognitive function. The ability to concentrate, focus, and process information dramatically declines as health deteriorates. Individuals are often irritable, apathetic, and very disengaged from life. All of their thoughts are focused around food, eating, how not to eat, exercising, and weight, and this doesn’t leave room for normal thinking. The body and brain need food to survive, so thinking about and seeking it at times is a means of survival.

2. Hair, skin, and nails.

Without proper nutrients and hydration, the body is not getting enough vitamins and minerals to transport to all of our different tissues. Hair starts to fall out and lose its shine, nails become brittle, and skin becomes dry and cracked. The body is using any nutrition that it does have to try and keep vital organs working, leaving these other bodily processes incomplete. Very fine, light hair, called lanugo, begins to grow all over the body as a means of insulation because fat stores are being depleted.

3. Organ damage.

A lack of nutrition has an effect on all of our organs—heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, etc. As the body slows its processes in an attempt to conserve energy, heart rate decreases, blood pressure decreases, and irregular heart rhythms may occur. Nausea, dizziness, and fainting are common. The body has a difficult time staying warm, resulting in the lanugo I mentioned earlier. Dehydration can be especially damaging to our kidneys, and after too much strain on any organ, it will lead to failure.

4. Decreased white blood cell count.

Without sufficient energy intake, the body cannot sustain normal bone marrow function. A low white blood cell count makes an individual more susceptible to disease and infection, and a malnourished body will have a difficult time fighting that off. Red blood cells are also affected, often leading to anemia.

5. Osteoporosis, stunted growth and/or development, and other conditions.

Insufficient nutrient intake and/or absorption will lead to deficiencies and subsequent conditions. Bones become hollow and brittle when calcium and vitamin D levels are low. The body will actually begin to breakdown muscles and organs to use as energy when there is no supply coming in. In a teen or individual that is still growing, their growth can be very stunted or delayed, temporarily or permanently.

6. Hypothalamic amenorrhea and infertility.

Females often stop menstruating when the body is becoming malnourished and under a significant amount of stress. Estrogen levels drop, which can lead to night sweats, loss of sleep, irritability, and increased depletion of calcium from bones. This hormonal imbalance can have lasting consequences.

7. Suffering relationships and social life.

Eating disorders don’t only affect the individual suffering, but those around them as well. Relationships suffer as a person becomes withdrawn and uninterested. Eating disorders want to be alone and isolated, so individuals avoid social affairs and experiences. A serious lack of energy also contributes to extreme fatigue and lethargy.

8. Death.

Ultimately, eating disorders can and will lead to death if left untreated. Somebody dies every 62 minutes as a direct result of an eating disorder, and anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. (1) Too many people are left suffering and without treatment, and too many precious lives are taken by these fatal diseases.

All of these effects are real, possible, and, unfortunately, common. The good news, however, is that many of them can be reversed or improved with proper treatment and restoration. Brain fog can go away, hair can grow and be shiny again, growth and development can resume, menstruation can return and a woman can conceive, and relationships can be healed and restored.  

Something that is very important to note:

An individual does not have to be “underweight” or look malnourished to be suffering the consequences. Eating disorders do not discriminate; they affect men and women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds.

Help is available. You are worthy of getting the help you need. Please reach out if you are struggling. Send me a message or use one of the support resources below. 

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Here’s a screening tool to help determine if professional help may be needed.

If you’re fighting, stay strong. If it’s a loved one, support them. There are resources from the National Eating Disorders Association on how to navigate this slippery slope: I’m linking a brochure here.

Recovery is possible, and I promise it’s worth the hard work.

Love to you. xox