“Ugh. I wish I had your problem!!”
-Every person, ever, when I’ve mentioned anything about not being able to gain weight.
Well, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that…
Yes, my “problem,” annoyingly dismissed by so many well-meaning people throughout my life, is that I’ve always been chronically underweight. Stick-thin. Skin and bones. Nothing to me. Size 000. (Okay, they don’t make a triple zero. But I was super jazzed the day they came out with the double so I wouldn’t have to buy clothes from the kids’ department, anymore.)
I never wanted to be this way. When I had high school teachers accusing me of being anorexic, I wished they would have known that I actually probably had the exact opposite type of disorder — an obsession with wanting to gain weight. But I couldn’t. It seemed that no matter how many nasty protein shakes I choked down, no matter how hard I would try to stuff in another peanut butter sandwich between meals, I remained uncomfortably, unnaturally thin.
And, as alone as I have often felt in this struggle, I know that I really am not. Us skinnies are definitely in the minority, but there are plenty of people out there who are underweight and do not wish to be. And lots of families with kids who were just like me, and “failing to thrive.” That was the diagnosis I was given as a child, and the main reason why I decided to give the GAPS diet a try. But I ended up realizing that the diet probably wasn’t what I really needed, and definitely wasn’t helping me meet my weight goals. I changed course, and was finally successful in gaining the weight I needed to feel comfortable and no longer self-conscious of my body’s size. It was quite literally, a dream come true for me. I thought I’d share how I did it, so that anyone else out there reading who’s been in my shoes could benefit from learning about my experience.
How I Gained Ten Pounds in Three Months
I know that’s not a huge number, but I don’t think you really should be aiming for more than a pound or so of weight gain per week anyway. And I also know that if you’re anything like I was ten pounds ago, you would love nothing more than to gain even that meager amount, even if it took three months. You’d probably love five.
This is what I did, and what I’d recommend to people looking to pack on the pounds.
Fix Your Magnesium Deficiency
One of the things I was super excited about when I went on the GAPS diet was noticing a significant increase in my appetite. I thought this was a result of the gut healing going on inside me. But you know what else I started doing at the exact same time that I started GAPS?
Transdermal magnesium therapy. (Real quickly, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, this is just applying magnesium oil which you can make yourself from magnesium chloride flakes, to your skin, instead of taking magnesium orally. Magnesium doesn’t digest or absorb very well in the gut, but your skin does a great job soaking it in.)
It became pretty apparent that I had been deficient in magnesium because not only did I have many of the symptoms of deficiency (poor appetite being a big one), I saw some very noticeable changes soon after starting with the transdermal magnesium. I didn’t smell anymore when I skipped a shower or three, for one thing. But I also think that my sudden increase in appetite was more than likely due to my magnesium supplementation, too.
If you don’t have much of an appetite, try the magnesium oil thing. It just may give you the hungry belly you need!
Check Your Temperature
The crazy thing about being chronically underweight is that the root of your problem often is the very last thing you’d expect — it’s very possible that you have a slow metabolism. Yeah, that wasn’t a typo. I know from experience that skinny people constantly are told that their “high metabolism” surely must be the reason they are so thin.
Sad thing is, most people, including doctors, nutritionists, and others in the medical field, are pretty clueless about metabolic function and its effects on the body. I’m so glad I became more educated on the issue thanks to the research of Matt Stone, that crazy dude I wrote about recently who tells you to eat junk food and not exercise if your metabolism needs some help.
Matt says that those who are underweight commonly have the very same symptomology of those who are overweight. Although manifested in different ways, it’s the same root problem — the rate at which mitochondrial energy is produced and respirated at the cellular level, is malfunctioning.
Slow metabolism doesn‘t necessarily mean you‘re a fatty. The slowest metabolisms I‘ve seen were in the highly underweight people who dug themselves into a deep, dark, vegan or low-carb tunnel (with body temperatures below 95 degrees F, yikes!).
Matt Stone, Diet Recovery
So, how do you figure out where your metabolism stands? Easy. Take your temperature first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed to pee. That’s your basal body temperature, and it should ideally be at the very least, 97.8 degrees.
If your thermometer tells you you’re not doing so hot (har, har), don’t worry. It’s pretty painless to fix. Matt’s book, Diet Recovery, will teach you everything you need to know to raise your temperature and rehabilitate your metabolism.
Change Your Eating Habits
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been told all your life that you “eat like a bird.” You prefer really light meals and snacks throughout the day, rather than big, full plates of food.
Well, I learned that one important aspect of supporting healthy metabolic function is to always eat to appetite — no snacking or “bird” meals! Again, if you’re like me, you might get full very fast and easily “spoil” your appetite. That’s okay. What I did was just eat until I did not desire one more bite, try to eat that one extra bite, and then be done. No need to make yourself sick stuffing your face — eating needs to be a totally positive experience, always.
And then, the next time I so much as thought about eating something else, I’d do it all over again. Eat til I was completely full. Rinse and repeat. This is the process of overfeeding, a major part of the program outlined in Diet Recovery, which I highly recommend reading to really understand how it works and why it’s necessary to fix a sluggish metabolism.
Quit Being a Health Food Freak
Going into a grocery store used to be one of the most depressing, self-defeating experiences I could encounter, just a short time ago. I’d walk in there and just pout — no raw, grass-fed milk, no pastured, soy-free eggs, no organic meats or produce… wah, wah, wah!! All I could see was aisles of crap masquerading as food, and processed packages full of poison. I would maybe find one or two things I could stand to actually purchase, and leave, eyes rolling, disgusted at the sorry state of our food supply. Granted, I had been living in the worst place ever to find quality food. What was available to me, and what I could afford, definitely wasn’t the healthiest by most people’s standards.
Here’s the thing, though. I now think my complete refusal to buy or eat any of it was because I was beginning to become orthorexic. That’s a topic for another day, but to sum it up, I was not eating enough food and was becoming malnourished because of my obsessive need to eat perfectly. Not. Healthy. And definitely not good for gaining weight!
After I read Diet Recovery and realized that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by severely restricting my diet and being afraid of the food around me, I calmed the heck down and started eating things that sounded good to me again. I ate white flour croissants and ice cream that wasn’t homemade. Juice that had been pasteurized. Bread that wasn’t sprouted. I just ate. And it felt really, really good.
Don’t get me wrong, I still cared about including as many healthy and nutrient-dense foods into my diet as I could. I just came to the conclusion that it was more important for me to just get more food into me than it was to have a diet with a Sally Fallon stamp of approval. Health is more important than health food. Words to live by, y’all.
Some Ridiculous Amounts of Sleep!
Sleep deprivation is a huge culprit of a malfunctioning metabolism. That’s because a primary function of sleep is to shut down your stress hormones, and when that doesn’t happen, metabolic rates plummet. But increasing sleep effectively diminishes chronically-elevated stress hormones, which is highly supportive to the metabolism, which improves sleep quality, creating a happy little cycle of an anti-stress system in the body.
So, much in the same way that providing more food than your body wanted can help boost the metabolism, so can providing more than enough sleep. It can serve as a bit of a “reset” button for regulating those hormones and getting things back on track.
I just started sleeping as much as possible. Napping whenever I felt tired, if I was at home. Going to bed earlier, and sleeping until I felt completely rested and wanted to get out of bed. That’s all a part of the Diet Recovery program, too. Some days I would get more than 12 hours of sleep, and my temperature eventually reached 99 degrees!
A Tip from the Bodybuilders
You wanna know what some of the biggest meatheads in the body building world will tell you is a great way to gain weight? The GOMAD diet.
Yes, a gallon.
Never would I ever encourage anyone to consume an entire gallon of fluids of any kind in a day, but there is a good point to be made here from this practice. Milk is an ideal weight-building food because well, it’s pretty much just an ideal food. It has a great macronutrient ratio, and if you think about it, milk is what sustains baby animals’ lives while their bodies are spending all the energy they can to grow and build tissues. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.
So what I did, was drink about a quart of milk a day. I took a pint-sized mason jar, and drank it full, twice a day (not necessarily all at once—I drank to quench my thirst, and put my cup in the fridge for the next time I wanted a drink, usually with food). This is an extra 600 calories, which technically, is enough in itself to put on more than a pound of week, since it supposedly takes a surplus of 3,500 calories to build one pound of body tissue.
Speaking of calories, you might even want to try to jot down a food journal for a while. I don’t exactly buy into the whole calorie thing, as in, I don’t think it’s something to obsess over if you’re on the other end of the scale, but I do think it’s valuable for those who are trying to gain to have some idea of their caloric intake, just to make sure they’re simply eating enough food. Once again, if you’re anything like me, you can easily slip by eating way too little food in a day without even realizing it. And if you are eating too little, you can drink your way to consuming enough calories like I did with this GOMAD thing. Er, QOMAD. It’s helpful when you get tired of biting and chewing and feeding all day long.
Magnesium supplementation, metabolism rehab, and milk. It does a skinny body good!
What about you?
Have you ever struggled with being underweight? Or do you have a child who’s “failing to thrive” like I was? Were you able to overcome it?
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MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.