Yes, you heard me right.
Today we are going to be talking about how to safely gain weight if you have a thyroid problem.
This may sound confusing to some of you because low thyroid states typically cause weight gain, but there are definitely plenty of thyroid patients out there who need to gain more weight and need to do so in a healthy way.
Which is key.
It’s not hard to pack on extra fat mass by consuming loads of unhealthy foods but to gain weight in a healthy consistent way, that requires some patience and no small amount of work.
While we will be discussing ways to gain weight the information and principles taught here will still be helpful even if you are someone who needs to lose weight.
With that in mind, let’s jump…
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Foods to Avoid if you Have Thyroid Problems:
I’ve found that these 10 foods cause the most problems for thyroid patients. Learn which foods you should avoid if you have thyroid disease of any type.
The Complete List of Thyroid Lab tests:
The list includes optimal ranges, normal ranges, and the complete list of tests you need to diagnose and manage thyroid disease correctly!
First: Check to Make Sure Your Thyroid Is Optimized
Before we talk about strategies to gain weight we need to talk about your thyroid.
Your thyroid helps to control your weight because it’s one of the primary drivers of your metabolism.
When thyroid function is high, you will lose weight more easily.
For this reason, if you are having issues with your weight (high or low) you need to evaluate your thyroid function.
Because, believe it or not, even those people who have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low thyroid) can still end up with high thyroid.
This is because thyroid medications contain active thyroid hormones.
And if your dose is too high it may push you into a hyperthyroid state and put your metabolism into overdrive.
If this happens then you will start to lose weight and it will be difficult to gain weight.
How do you check your thyroid function?
By checking your thyroid labs.
If your thyroid medication isn’t optimized correctly, or if you are being overdosed, then it will be evident when you check your thyroid lab tests.
If that’s the case, then all you may need to do is reduce your dose and the problem may be solved.
This is why you should always start by checking your thyroid lab tests before proceeding to the treatments that we will soon discuss.
If after checking your thyroid lab tests you’ve found that your thyroid function is normal, then your inability to gain weight may be caused by something aside from your thyroid.
This could range from things like issues with your stomach to issues with the hormones that influence your appetite to issues with your ability to taste/smell and everything in between.
Regardless of the cause, the strategies we will talk about will help.
Gaining the Right Weight: Muscle Mass vs Fat Mass
I mentioned it earlier in this article but gaining weight is not as easy as you might think.
In fact, it might be just as difficult as losing weight in terms of effort and consistency.
Why is that?
Because, just like when you want to lose weight, if you want to gain weight you need to do it the right way.
Practically, that means gaining muscle mass with minimal amounts of fat mass.
The opposite is true when you are trying to lose weight the healthy way.
In that setting, you want to lose fat mass while keeping as much muscle mass as possible.
And this is why it’s so hard.
It’s not hard to pound down unhealthy foods, sugars, and carbohydrates, to make yourself gain weight but the weight gain you will experience will mostly be fat mass.
And gaining fat mass is incredibly unhealthy for your body and your thyroid.
In fact, it would be better for you to remain underweight than to gain loads of extra fat mass which will only serve to increase your risk for cancer (1), stroke (2), heart disease (3), diabetes (4), and more.
Instead, you want to focus on putting the right types of foods into your body to ensure that your muscles are properly nourished so that they grow while limiting the foods which will cause your fat cells to grow.
How do you do that?
By eating the right blend of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats…
Carbohydrates, Protein, & Fat: How Much Should Do You Need?
Together, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats form the building blocks (5) of your diet.
And when it comes to losing weight or gaining weight, how much of each that you need varies (6).
If you are serious about gaining weight then you need to pay attention to these macromolecules and learn some basics about how you can find them in foods.
When it comes to weight gain, you will need a healthy blend of all three.
Proteins are important for weight gain because they provide the nutrients that your muscles need to sustain themselves and grow.
Aim to get around 20-30% of your total calories in the form of healthy whole food protein.
Protein has a profound impact on your appetite (it shuts it down), so you want to be careful that you don’t overconsume protein as it may make eating enough food throughout the day more difficult.
Carbohydrates are important for gaining weight because they are easier to consume, often taste the best, and tend to be calorie-dense.
Aim to get around 50% of your total calories from healthy carbohydrates in the form of whole foods like starchy vegetables.
Finally, fat is important for gaining weight because it’s the most calorie-dense food you can get, it helps maintain your hormones, and it has great flavor.
Aim to get around 5-30% of your total daily calories from healthy sources of fat like grass-fed butter, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, and/or coconut oil.
You’ll notice that there are ranges provided here for carbohydrates, fats, and protein and that’s because what you personally may need will vary slightly from the next person.
The key is to find out what works for your body and stick to that.
For instance, you might find that it’s easier for you to consume foods that are higher in fat than it is foods higher in protein because you simply don’t like the flavor of meats.
If that’s the case then stick to a higher fat intake and adjust your protein intake as necessary.
Making these small adjustments are important because it will allow you to be consistent which is key to success as you will soon find out!
Tips to Help Thyroid Patients Gain Weight:
With some of the basics out of the way, let’s talk about some practical tips that you can use to help with your weight gain journey.
Combining these practical tips with the recommended intake of protein, fat, and carbohydrates is key.
#1. Increase your consumption of quality whole foods while avoiding processed foods.
I’ve mentioned this a few times throughout this article but it’s worth going into more detail here.
It’s key that you consume as much whole food as possible during your weight gain journey.
Real whole foods contain more nutrients compared to processed foods, are healthy for the body, and will not result in “bad” weight gain in the form of pure fat mass.
What are real whole foods?
Any food that you can identify with a single ingredient.
If you can physically look at your food and identify what it is with a single ingredient then you are good to go.
Apple, almonds, chicken, salmon, chia, avocado, eggs, coconut, coconut oil, pineapple, etc.
These are all examples of real whole foods.
What’s not whole food?
Bread, pasta, snack foods, cereal, cakes, biscuits, etc.
Pretty much anything that comes in a box that has more than one ingredient is not whole food.
When you are gaining weight, consuming only whole foods will ensure that you gain healthy weight and not unhealthy weight!
It will also naturally keep your diet in check and prevent you from overindulging in foods that you shouldn’t be eating anyway.
#2. Choose calorie-dense foods for snacks.
Naturally, there will be times when you don’t feel like cooking and want to grab a quick snack.
When these times come up, make sure you are eating foods that are naturally calorie-dense.
For instance, it’s far better for you to eat some cheese and dried fruit than it is to grab a handful of popcorn.
The popcorn will fill your stomach just the same but will contain far fewer calories in the process.
Instead, if you need a snack, use some of these options listed below:
- Cheese (if you tolerate dairy)
- Nut butter
- Dried fruits
These snacks are naturally high in both calories and fats.
Just make sure that you don’t spoil your dinner by eating too close to your next meal!
#3. Add healthy fats to your diet whenever possible.
Another strategy that you can give a try is to sneak healthy fats into your diet whenever possible.
Adding extra fat can enhance the flavor of whatever you are cooking and can be hidden pretty easily.
Here are a few examples:
- If you are making a smoothie or a shake then add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil.
- Add avocados to meals like salads or eat them on the side with your meal
- Add extra olive oil or coconut oil whenever you are cooking on the skillet or hide it in meals like scrambled eggs
- Add coconut cream to soups
Just pay attention to recipes that call for fat and don’t be afraid to add in an extra tablespoon here and there.
Because of how calorically dense fats are it’s easy to sneak in an extra several hundred calories each day if you just add a little extra fat here and there.
#4. Be consistent day after day.
When it comes to gaining weight, you have to be consistent.
That means using these strategies, focusing on your diet, and doing it day after day.
Don’t expect to gain a bunch of weight because you ate as much as you could for a couple of days.
Believe it or not, the body is quite good at adapting to one-off situations such as these and your efforts will have minimal impact on your overall weight if you try this strategy.
Instead, use a daily and consistent approach of aiming to get in an extra 200 to 500 calories every day.
Over the course of weeks to months, you will see your weight creep up and your muscles fill out.
But, if you are having issues keeping on track don’t be afraid to take a food holiday.
#5. Take food holidays as needed.
Most people think that gaining weight is easy, but it’s much more difficult than most people give it credit for.
Along your journey, there will be times that eating will feel like a chore and that you will want to stop.
To prevent you from crashing on your “weight gain” diet, you can take what I refer to as food holidays.
A food holiday is a break from your regular heavy eating schedule to something a little lighter and easier to manage.
A schedule of 4-6 weeks of heavy eating followed by 1-2 weeks of lighter eating can make the heavy eating schedule more manageable.
If you do opt to take a food holiday just make sure you eventually get back on your heavier eating schedule or you risk falling off the ‘bandwagon’ so to speak.
#6. Get your calories from smoothies and shakes.
Here we can take a play from the bodybuilding playbook.
Bodybuilders are notorious for packing on pounds and pounds of lean muscle mass and one of the ways that they do this is through the use of protein smoothies or protein shakes.
In the body-building world, these are often referred to as weight gainer shakes.
The reason they are so effective is simple:
It’s easier to drink your calories than it is to actually chew and swallow the same amount of food.
It’s also easier to mask the flavor of certain foods and provides you with an easy way to sneak more fat into your diet.
You can also put pretty much anything you want into your shake which means you can alter the flavor to your liking.
Making a weight gainer shake is easy, you just need to include 4 basic ingredients:
- The liquid base: if you are trying to gain weight then substitute water for calorie-rich options like fruit juices, and non-dairy milk like almond milk or coconut milk. If you tolerate dairy then you can also try things like cream or regular milk.
- Carbohydrates: Use your favorite frozen fruits! Things like frozen bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple work great. You can also easily add 1 tablespoon of natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or dates to sweeten your shake.
- Fats: Easy sources of healthy fats include nut butter, peanut butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, chia seeds, and flax seeds. These add thickness and flavor to your shake.
- Proteins: The easiest way to add protein to your weight gainer shake is with the use of protein powders. For patients with thyroid disease, that usually means using a vegan protein powder but if you are someone that tolerates whey then you can use that as well. You can also try adding greek yogurt which is very rich in protein.
These shakes count as an entire meal and are easier to get down compared to eating the non-blended version of each food.
#7. Avoid drinking lots of water before meals.
This is sort of a no-brainer mention but make sure that you are avoiding drinking water before any of your meals.
Water, while essential and necessary for life, can fill up your stomach and reduce your appetite!
This is why one strategy that people use for weight loss is drinking lots of water throughout the day.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that water is your enemy if you are trying to gain weight but it can make eating as much food as you need more difficult.
Drink plenty of water, just make sure to drink it at least an hour away from your meals.
#8. Get enough sleep each night (8 hours)
Getting enough sleep is often a very underappreciated and overlooked strategy when it comes to weight gain (and weight loss, for that matter).
It’s important for weight gain because sleep is necessary for muscle growth and hormone balance.
If you get enough sleep then you can be sure that your body will be properly utilizing the healthy calories that you are consuming to build up your muscles.
Not sleeping enough is a recipe for hormone imbalances, changes to your appetite, and inflammation (7).
For muscle growth, try to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night (or as close to it as possible).
If you need help getting more sleep then check out these strategies.
#9. Choose strength training over high-intensity exercise plans
Last on the list is exercise.
I know what you are thinking:
Why would I want to exercise if I want to gain weight? Isn’t exercise supposed to help with weight loss?
Well, yes and no.
Exercise can definitely lead to weight loss but it can also help with weight gain, provided you are doing the right exercises.
And when it comes to weight gain that means strength training.
In other words, lifting weights.
Lifting weight (more than your own body weight) stimulates your muscles to grow.
As you do this, you will also find that your appetite increases and that you have more energy.
It is absolutely necessary for healthy weight gain to lift weights.
You don’t have to go crazy heavy but you should be lifting weights at least three times per week with weights that are heavier than your own body weight.
Small dumbells will do the trick, just add something beyond the weight of your own arms and legs.
Exercises like high-intensity interval training, or cardiovascular activities like running are probably not a good idea because then you will just have to eat more food.
They are still healthy, and you can choose to do them if you’d like, just realize that doing them will be slightly counterproductive to your goal of putting on extra weight.
Weight training is the best of both worlds because it provides you with a boost to your metabolism and a stimulus for muscle growth at the same time.
What to Expect
Just like losing weight, it’s helpful to know what to expect when you are trying to gain weight.
And, just so we are all on the same page here, gaining weight the right way is a slow and steady process.
It’s not something that you will see results with overnight.
Instead, it will take weeks and weeks of dedicated and consistent effort to see the results you are looking for.
Remember when I said that gaining weight is just as hard (if not harder) than losing weight? Well, I wasn’t kidding.
Often the hardest part is setting a schedule and being consistent with the size and spacing of your meals.
Eating when you are not as hungry as you are used to is actually pretty hard.
For this reason, it’s best to set a goal to consume an extra 300 to 500 calories each and every day while you are trying to bulk up.
This will set you on a course to gain around 0.5 to 1.5 pounds each week.
If you are underweight and your muscles are malnourished (smaller than they should be) then you can sometimes gain weight more rapidly than this.
This can occur up until the point where your body wants your muscle mass to be at which point your weight gain will slow down.
While you are trying to gain weight make sure you keep an eye on both the scale and your measurements.
If you find that you are gaining more than 2 pounds a week for 3 or 4 weeks in a row then it’s time to back down on your calories as you are likely gaining more fat mass than muscle mass.
This process of balancing your calorie intake and your body weight as measured by the scale will help you reach your goal.
If your thyroid has caused you to lose more weight than you’d like then using these strategies can help you bring your body weight back to the ideal range.
Doing this is important for your future thyroid health as well as the health of your other hormones and body!
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you struggling to gain weight with your thyroid condition?
If so, what type of thyroid condition are you suffering from?
Have you had your thyroid function recently checked?
Do you know why you are underweight (is it from your diet, hormones, or some other factor)?
Share your questions or comments below!