Around 60% of Australian adults are classified as overweight or obese, and more than 25% of us fall into the obese category. This makes it hard to believe that there are people out there who actually want to and need to gain weight.

But they’re there. In fact, you might be one of them.

“Why would anyone want to gain weight?” those of us who are on the heavier side might ask. It is, however, not uncommon for people who are too thin to get desperate because they too want to look attractive – with well-defined muscles and sexy curves.

Causes of underweight

There’s a variety of reasons why some individuals are very thin and struggle to gain weight. Possible causes include:

    • A very rapid metabolic turnover

    • Very high stress levels

    • Problems with nutrient absorption

    • Hyperactivity

    • Excessive exercise

    • Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia

    • Hyperthyroidism

    • Depression

    • Wasting illnesses

    • Inadequate dietary intake – just not eating enough

    • Unbalanced eating patterns – eating too much of just a few foods


If you’re underweight, rest assured that there’s much you can do to counteract the problem. The solution will, however, depend on the root cause:

Rapid metabolism

If you were born with a very rapid metabolic turnover, you need to increase your daily healthy food intake to compensate for the rate at which you burn energy.

Eat six or more smaller meals a day, increase your intake of carbohydrates to replenish the energy you’re burning and, if necessary, take a carbo-booster formula.

Very high stress levels

If you constantly experience a lot of stress and anxiety at work or at home, you should try to address the underlying problem by consulting a clinical psychologist or counsellor. He or she will help you cope and reduce your stress levels.

Other solutions are relaxing forms of exercise such as yoga, or standard forms of exercise such as walking, running, cycling or swimming. Exercise is one of the best stress relievers and will also help you to sleep better, lift your mood and generally make you feel more relaxed.

Problems with absorption

Many clinical conditions can lead to poor absorption of food. People living with coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis or steatorrhoea (the inability to absorb fats from the gastrointestinal tract) are often underweight and have difficulty gaining weight.

If you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions, your medical doctor will prescribe medication to aid digestion. Because of the complexity of these absorption illnesses, it’s always a good idea to consult a clinical dietician, too. He or she will work out a balanced diet tailored to your specific nutrient needs.


In children, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the conditions that can make gaining weight a problem. These children are so physically active that they consume energy at a much higher rate than other kids.

It’s essential for the child with ADHD to follow an energy-rich, yet balanced diet. ADHD kids need snacks between meals, especially in the late afternoons when they often experience a dip because of a drop in blood sugar levels.

Don’t tell your ADHD child that he or she will be having supper in an hour or two, and that he shouldn’t spoil his appetite with a snack. Rather give him something healthy, such as a whole-wheat sandwich with peanut butter, along with fresh or dried fruit and a glass of milk. You’ll find that he is much calmer afterwards and that he probably still manages to enjoy his supper.

Always ensure that your child doesn’t skip meals.

Excessive exercise

Exercise is good for you, but some of us tend to overdo things. We push ourselves mercilessly until we reach a point of exhaustion. If we don’t make quite sure that we then replenish the energy we’ve used up, we struggle to gain weight.

If you’re a compulsive exerciser, you need to slow down. Take a day’s break between bouts of exercise and start eating more healthy foods, including carbo-boosters, to replenish the energy you’re pumping out.

Bear in mind that this kind of relentless exercise might be a manifestation of an eating or body-image disorder. If you think you have a problem, it’s best to consult a clinical psychologist or a support group in your area. The Butterfly Foundation’s National Support Line provides confidential support. Give them a call on 1800 ED HOPE / 1800 33 4673.

Nothing in excess is good for you – not even exercise.

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