Shaun Ward MSc ANutr
Science is clear in showing that excess amounts of body fat is not ideal for human health, however the same can also be said for not having enough body fat.
With modern culture constantly pushing unrealistic ideas of “ideal” physiques, many people often find themselves being underweight and suffering the consequences.
As much as weight loss is necessary for overweight populations, dramatic weight loss has the potential to cause serious detriment to one’s health .
Despite the prevalence of obesity continuing to rise, there is also an increase in the amount of people who are underweight .
Under-nutrition is associated with a range of chronic conditions such as sarcopenia, cardiac and renal dysfunction, immunological defects, and is responsible for millions of deaths each year – especially in children .
Based on this, although the common goal is to eat foods that increase levels of satiety (feeling of being satisfied after a meal), certain subgroups will find benefit in dietary methods to increase their appetite and hunger throughout the day.
Especially for those are classified as underweight on a body mass index (BMI) scale, it may be worth implementing some nutrition protocols to directly or indirectly increase daily food intake to reach a healthier bodyweight.
Here are the best ways to keep hunger levels high throughout the day to support weight gain:
1. Eat Less Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber is a term that is used for the portion of plant-based carbohydrates that are “indigestible”. Unlike other carbohydrates, such as sugar and starch, fiber cannot be digested in the small intestine and therefore passes on to the large intestine where they feed healthy populations of gut bacteria.
In most cases this process is linked to various health benefits such as reduced inflammation, lower blood sugar levels, and improved gut health .
In epidemiologic studies, high fiber consumption is also linked with lower body weights as it is able to reduce hunger levels .
Therefore, on weight loss diets there is usually a focus on typical high fiber foods such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli), wholegrains (oats, quinoa, barley, wholegrain bread), and legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas).
However, for people wanting to possibly gain weight the opposite mentality may be ideal to facilitate increased hunger levels throughout the day.
In this scenario, it would be ideal to switch carbohydrate sources to those that are lower in fiber and less likely to increase satiation. Better options for this will be low-fiber cereals, bananas, white rice, white pasta, white bread, crackers, and pancakes.
It is worth mentioning that these foods are clearly not ideal for human health, however in a situation where weight needs to be increased for health reasons, the pro’s will outweigh the cons until a healthy weight has been reached.
2. Schedule Frequent Meals
There are a lot of physiological, behavioral, and sociological factors that play a critical role in the regulation of food intake.
One of the most important stimulators of appetite is the consistency of a persons schedule. Quite simply, eating lots of meals per day will eventually cause a person to become hungry multiple times per day, whereas routinely eating one meal a day will achieve the opposite.
To some extent, the body will psychologically adapt to the feeding schedule that is placed upon it.
Researchers suggest that eating less frequently, no snacking, consuming breakfast, and implementing 18 hour fasts per day are effective methods for preventing long-term weight gain .
Vice versa, getting in the habit of scheduling frequent main meals each day, along with snacks in between meals, is an effective strategy for promoting long-term weight gain.
Especially in children, a higher number of main meals is positively associated with a greater “enjoyment of food” and “food responsiveness”, which may help to increase daily food consumption .
3. Incorporate Liquid Calories
In general, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is heavily linked to rising rates of obesity, explained by the lower levels of satiation achieved from liquid calories versus calories from solid foods .
The fluid consistency of liquid calories obviously requires less, if any, chewing, and therefore travels faster through the digestive tract leading to a lower satiating effect.
In addition, liquid calories have lesser impact on satiating hormones such as leptin, and have a larger impact on “hunger hormones” such as ghrelin.
Interestingly, this physiological effect probably relates back to evolutionary times, as the body never needed to adapt to receiving calories from liquid sources.
A lot of evidence shows that incorporating in calories from liquid sources will lead to a positive energy balance and thus weight gain .
This is especially apparent when beverages are consumed as snacks in between meals, as they fail to impact on the amount of food eaten at proceeding meals .
To make the most of this, it is advised to utilize some sort of high-calorie smoothie recipe to be consumed between meals. This may consist of milk, bananas, peanut butter, protein powder, and avocados, for example.
Alternatively, there are plenty of “weight gainer” shakes on the market that are typically made with maltodextrin (carbohydrate powder that is extracted from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat) and protein powder which are very convenient to consume as snacks in between meals.
4. Use Larger Plates
This trick may sound rather silly, but it works!
A key factor reported to influence the portion size of a meal is the size of the dishware used to serve food .
It can be viewed as a psychological trick.
Larger dishware increases the idea of an appropriate perceived portion size and reduces the ability to monitor food intake, which ultimately increases the amount of food eaten during a single eating occasion.
Now serving a bigger portion size does not necessarily mean more food will be consumed, however there is a clear relationship seen between increasing portion sizes and consequently increasing the calories eaten from that meal .
This may not be a necessary tool to use for those wanting to gain weight, but it could certainly help those that are really struggling.
Nearly all public health recommendations are focused on preventing weight gain, but this ignores certain individuals who actually need to gain weight for health and/or performance.
Many of these people struggle to eat enough food, and should look towards different nutritional protocols which easily allow for more calories to be consumed.
The main things we think are beneficial in this scenario are to eat less dietary fiber, schedule frequent meals, incorporate liquid calories, and to use larger plates.
Hopefully such strategies will lead to an increase in hunger and a switch in food choice to more calorie-dense options.