Yes, you can be too thin, and for people who are underweight, it may be as hard to gain weight as it is for overweight people to lose weight.
David Rueben, author of "Quick Weight Gain Program," writes, "The single most serious hidden (health) problem in America is ... being underweight."
Standard weight charts give a range of weights for different body frames. To determine your frame size, take your thumb and middle finger and encircle the opposite wrist. If your fingertips overlap, you have a small frame, if they meet, you are medium size and if your fingers gap apart, your recommended weight is the high number of the chart for your height.
Underweight people usually have a higher basal metabolism, the rate at which the body burns energy to maintain basic functions when awake but inactive. Exercise increases metabolism.
For someone trying to gain weight, more is not better. Moderate exercise, however, helps the body assimilate nutrients and may improve appetite. The body builds and repairs muscle while at rest. Getting enough sleep helps with weight issues, because certain hormones produced during sleep regulate appetite.
A realistic weight-gain program aims for more lean muscle mass, not just more weight from eating unhealthy fats and sugars.
Dr. Rueben suggests eating 2,500 to 3,000 calories daily, 300 from healthy carbohydrates, 100 grams of protein and 30 percent of calories from "good" fats.
Other experts recommend gradually adding 500 more calories per day above your usual intake.
When increasing protein, be sure to also drink more water and increase fiber, to avoid constipation. People with poor appetites may prefer eating smaller portions more often.
To gain weight, eat more starchy vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes and squash, and consume dense bread, avocadoes, nuts and nut butters, full-fat dairy products, dried fruits, legumes and bananas.
High fiber snacks include carrot cake, oatmeal cookies and banana bread. Try adding 1/4 cup of whey protein powder to a cup of yogurt for between meal or evening snacking.
People with poor appetites may have a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is common among the elderly, vegetarians and anyone who takes antacids regularly. Consider taking sublingual B12, as well as amino acid supplements and fatty acid capsules along with B complex vitamins, probiotics and digestive enzymes to help compensate for missing dietary nutrients.
A deficiency of the mineral zinc has been associated with eating disorders. Zinc is important for normal senses of smell and taste. Traditional herb teas to soothe the stomach and help appetite include fenugreek, ginger and chamomile.
The young and
old are more vulnerable to weight loss, unintended glandular disorders, thyroid or adrenal problems, malabsorption syndrome, anemia, parasitic infections, hypoglycemia and side effects of medications. Small-boned, intense and overworked people often suffer from chronic underweight.
When children are not eating normally, it may be a temporary phase, soon to be outgrown. If a child is sickly, lacking energy and suddenly stops gaining weight, consult your healthcare practitioner.
"An inability to gain weight is frequently caused by nothing more than faulty digestion," wrote Adelle Davis in her classic book "Let's Get Well."
Patricia Bragg, author of "Apple Cider Vinegar," adds: "Underweight persons usually are deficient in enzymes and therefore cannot use or burn up the food they consume."
She recommends adding two teaspoons of distilled water each morning and taking digestive enzymes with each meal.
Since digestion begins in the mouth with enzymes produced in the saliva, it's especially important for underweight people to eat slowly and chew their food well. Avoid drinking icy liquids at mealtime because they interfere with enzyme production.
Gaining (or losing) weight takes time. Remember the lesson of the fabled tortoise: slow and steady wins the race.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.