We’ve had a lot of conversations about fitness and maintaining healthy body weight in the face of lockdown pressures and restrictions. In fact, when it comes to fitness, body weight is often the first thing on people’s minds. But it seems that while we can talk endlessly about tips and tricks to encourage weight loss, we very rarely discuss the flipside — weight gain. While some people struggle to lose weight, others struggle to maintain the right weight for their height, age, and body type. However, their needs often get lost in the flood of weight loss advice. So let's hop on the scale and understand the impact of being underweight and how you can get to healthy body weight.
What does it mean to be underweight?
There are several reasons that you may be underweight, including:
- Family history — some people have naturally low BMI, it just comes down to genetics
- Physical illness, acute or chronic — certain illnesses such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and digestive conditions like ulcerative colitis can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, or decrease your appetite. This makes it difficult for one to gain and maintain healthy body weight.
- High metabolism — some people have a naturally high metabolism, which means they don’t gain weight even if they eat high energy foods
- Frequent physical activity — some people are always on the move, which means they burn calories quickly. Athletes and other people who engage in high levels of physical activity might find it difficult to gain and maintain weight
So how do you know if you’re underweight?
A good way to check is to measure your Body Mass Index (BMI).
- A normal, healthy BMI is within 18.5 and 24.9. If your BMI measures less than 18.5, you’re likely underweight (Source: CDC)
- These numbers may be skewed a bit depending on your lifestyle and body type. An elite or endurance athlete, for example, might have to adjust to account for the fact that muscle weighs more than fat
The risks of being underweight
When it comes to your health, being underweight can lead to just as many health concerns as being overweight. It is a sign that your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to build a healthy body. Not everyone who is underweight will face these issues, but the chances of experiencing them will be significantly higher. Health complications associated with being underweight include:
- Osteoporosis — Research shows that being underweight can increase a woman’s chance of developing osteoporosis, a condition that leads to brittle, easily broken bones
- Skin, hair, and dental issues — Being underweight often means your body isn’t receiving enough nutrients. These can lead to thinning or dry skin, hair loss, and even poor dental health
- Weak immune system — If you’re not getting enough energy from your diet, your body won’t have the strength to fight diseases and infections, which means you will find yourself falling sick a lot more frequently
- Dizziness and fatigue — Without the right amount of calories to give your body the energy it needs, you may face frequent dizzy spells or increased fatigue
- Poor growth and development — This is a particularly serious issue in children who are underweight. Lack of nutrients can stunt the body’s growth and affect proper development in ways that have far-reaching effects into adulthood
How can you gain weight in a healthy way?
Much like weight loss, weight gain hinges on the proper diet and exercise. It’s important to create a fitness plan that works for you and caters to your personal weight goals. Consider the reason for your low weight and build a workout routine that’s right for your unique situation. And don’t be afraid to consult a doctor before you start, especially if your low weight is a side-effect of a physical ailment. In the meantime, here are some fitness dos and don’ts to get you started.DoDon’tFocus on building mass. Weight-lifting is a good way to go about this, as it helps you gradually build muscle over time. Go for high-intensity cardio workouts. Cardio is important for weight gain, but high-intensity workouts increase caloric burn. Choose a moderately intense workout insteadIncorporate bodyweight exercises. Yoga or Pilates are good choices, as they require minimal equipment and can be done at home. They’re a great way to build core strength and relieve stress.Pile on the junk food. It may help you gain weight, but it won’t give your body the nutrients it needsAdd healthy calories, like the fats and proteins found in nuts, cheeses, and whole grains.Choose empty calories. Foods that are high in sugar and salt may help you gain weight, but they also have excess fats which can harm your health. Choose nutrient-dense food like meals rich in proteins and healthy carbohydrates such as brown rice.Start snacking with healthy, nutrient-rich snacks like peanut butter and protein bars, and fresh fruit!Have more meals. If low appetite is part of the issue, ditch the idea of a few big meals and enjoy a series of smaller portions throughout the dayIt’s now more important than ever to focus on our health and give our bodies every advantage they can get to stay strong and healthy — and for some of us, that means getting those gains. The good news is, with enough dedication and a few changes to your lifestyle, you’ll be fighting fit in no time!