Gaining Weight With Clean Eating

I’m surprised just how often I get asked about gaining weight with clean eating. I’ve been so focused on losing weight that it never occurred to me that others might be in the exact opposite predicament.

The main thing to remember here is that the basic principles of clean eating still apply. You should still eat small, frequent meals consisting of whole foods.

Gaining Weight With Clean Eating

While I’m not a dietitian (yet), I will share what I’ve learned in my nutrition class with you here. Please note that you should also consult with a doctor or registered dietitian about this. I cannot possibly account for your individual needs. This is just general information. Please also understand what I’m about to say here is assuming that you are healthy. I have no idea (yet) what kinds of diets are appropriate for different medical conditions. This is in no way a prescription or medical advice.

So, let’s get down to the very basics of weight loss or weight gain. We’ve all heard it, but not everyone understands this very basic concept.

“Calories in / calories out”

While the quality of our food makes a huge difference in our health, weight gain and loss also includes the number of “calories in and calories out”.

So, for those trying to gain weight, you then have to look at how to get extra calories without adding a bunch of junk to your diet and ruining your health altogether.

Let’s get started…

If you eat frequently, your metabolism is revved up several times a day. Add exercise to that, and well… it can be a little tough to put on weight. But with a little careful planning, you can put on weight (and hopefully muscle, too!).

While a huge number of calories may translate to a huge amount of food for some people, it doesn’t have to. You just have to pick healthy, calorie-dense foods. What are some of those foods?

  • Avocados
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Rice and other starchy, whole grains
  • Bran muffins
  • Granola
  • Whole eggs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit
  • Dried fruits
  • Potatoes and other starchy veggies
  • Healthy oils such as olive, avocado, and walnut
  • Meal replacement shakes

So, working just off this list, you might have a nice omelet for breakfast or a bowl of granola with nuts, dried fruits, and full-fat milk.

Meal 2 might be a bran muffin with some peanut butter to top it off (yum!). Add to that a meal replacement/protein shake.

Meal 3 could be a piece of chicken with a baked potato (and a bit of butter and/or cheese over that), and some broccoli sautéed in olive oil. Add a piece of fruit to that, too.

Meal 4 could possibly be some dark chocolate and nuts, such as pecans.

Meal 5  might be a meal replacement shake and a handful of nuts.

Meal 6 could be a bowl of brown rice with salmon and veggies mixed in. Again, cook with healthy oils, and then add a clean dessert!

Please understand that this is not a meal plan I have designed for weight gain specifically. I have no idea what the calorie count on this is. I simply created a list off the top of my head using the above list of foods. I can’t vouch for how nutritionally sound this plan is. So please discuss any dietary changes with a qualified professional.

I hope this helps you see that you don’t necessarily have to eat a lot more food than the average person (though, in some cases, you may need to). But you do need to consider the calorie density of the foods you eat.

It may be tempting to pour on the cream, eat tons of garbage, or devour an entire slab of beef for dinner. But honestly (and this is just my personal opinion based on no research at all), I just don’t see how you could maintain heart health with those kinds of foods. Remember, calorie quality makes a lot of difference in our overall health and in how we feel.

Article is an original work and is © Tiffany McCauley. It may not be reproduced for any reason without written permission by the author.

P.S. I find it inspiring to read about weightlifters because they are so good at gaining weight. Following a weight training regimen can really help you gain weight, but you have to make sure you eat right during the process. Here is one such story I find interesting about Eddie Hall.

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  1. Hi Tiffany,
    I have been trying to gain weight all my life……so some of the problem is just my metabolism maybe? But I so eat alot of the foods you do mention in this article. However, I have gone to alternative Dr. who says I have
    “malabsorbption”. They give me lots of supplements, which do no good! I have also had the test for food allergies, and have gone off many foods for up to a year at a time, with no change in my weight…..for example I was found to be “gluten sensitive” so I went off all gluten for 1 entire year…….that was very hard to do……I was actually losing more weight because there were so many things I could not eat…….so I dropped the “gluten free” diet……anyway, being unable to gain weight can be a real challenge………I don’t want to gain alot of weight, just 10 to 15 lbs. Get this…….someone actually sent me one of those “survey” things on facebook that said they thought I needed to “gain weight”. People are so stupid….they think because you are thin they can say anything to you without hurting your feelings… sisters friend asked me “what size do you wear…..negative 0?” No lie……..

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Linda – Oh dear. I’m so sorry! Sadly, that is our culture. People think that if you are skinny, you have it good. But sadly, that’s definitely not always the case! It can be just as hard to gain weight as it is to lose it.

  2. While I am just trying to maintain my weight right now, I can totally sympathize with Linda. Everyone wants to be thin because that’s what the media portrays as sexy, beautiful, etc. So I think some people make themselves feel better when they aren’t able to live up to that standard (which isn’t always healthy anyhow) by criticizing those of us who are thin. But let me tell you, being small isn’t always so great. For example, I pretty much have to shop in the juniors section to find clothes to fit me. Add to that that I look younger than I am to begin with, and I end up looking 15! I actually had a woman tell me the other day that she thought I was 12 and that my 2 yr old was my brother & my mom was his mom not his grandma. There’s other reasons being small isn’t always great, but they’re really personal, let’s just say “bedroom” reasons, that I won’t get into.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ashley – I’m sure there are many reasons that it’s hard to be very thin. I would never presume to imagine them all, but I’m sure there are just as many issues with being thin as with being large.

  3. Great post, like the ladies above I struggle to keep weight on and people can be very nasty. I’ve been clean eating now, with some other restrictions – no wheat or dairy, very little red meat, for nearly 2 years and have gained and maintained an extra 6kg, lean muscle and body fat!! I eat tonnes & tonnes of whole grains, veggies, legumes and nuts. I also supplement with protein powders & good multi vitamins. Don’t worry, I see a registered nutritionist and can’t recommend strongly enough making that investment and getting the advice of an expert. Good luck with your studies Tiffany, you are truly an inspiration – studying, maintain this fantastic blog AND raising a little one WOW

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jo – Thanks! I guess I like to keep busy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. I am not struggling with weight gain at this point in my life (opposite, trying to loose 10 pounds ๐Ÿ™‚ ) BUT when I was a teenager (20+ years ago) I was very very thin (5’9″, 110 lbs, maybe). I actually had somebody come up to me in public and ask if I was anorexic! I was mortified and upset to say the least. My HS principle also had a special meeting with my mom because I was too thin in his opinion. WTH?!? It was just my metabolism. People can be very cruel and don’t realize that being thin is not always a ‘gift’ and your feelings can be hurt just as easily as somebody overweight.

    Now I just need to get those pesky 10 pounds off and I will be a healthy 150 ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good luck to you all, and what a great site! LOVE IT!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Nicole – Thanks for sharing your story! Kids can be so cruel, but so can adults!

  5. Gaining fat is “easy” — gaining lean muscle mass is difficult. I have managed to do this but it takes some effort. I found when I increased my protein intake (quite substantially) it helped a lot.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kelly – It’s a balance. Because overconsumption of protein will lead to fat gain as well. If you are training a lot, then yes, you need more protein.

  6. Anonymous says:

    No. Those kinds of comments are not okay. And it’s okay to let people know that in whatever way you feel comfortable! This is just my opinion, but I think you should write that blog post. Often times, comments like that are from lack of understanding the struggle behind the very thing they are commenting on. If you write it in a ton that tries to help people understand, I think it will be well accepted. And let’s face it. It’s your blog, your rules. If somebody leaves a nasty comment, you can either delete it, or respond in whatever way you feel comfortable. But again, just my opinion. I wish you all the best in whatever you decide to do.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Lisa – It’s so hard. While I’m at the other end of the spectrum, I can totally relate. People say things and look at me funny every time I take a bite of food. People can be cruel, and often without meaning to be. It’s a sad commentary on our society when anything other that “normal” is ridiculed. I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I wish you all the best.

  8. I am also slightly underweight, and have been for some time. I have always been small, but I guess it just never occurred to me that I might be too small. It is nothing intentional; I enjoy eating healthy and I enjoy exercising. While I realize that I am a bit small, I enjoy my current lifestyle and don’t particularly want to change it. I am trying to consume a bit more at each meal/snack, hoping that this might work, but so far it hasn’t had much effect. It is definitely a struggle, and I completely understand what other people have said here about feeling like they are being watched every time they eat. I find people are always scrutinizing and it actually does hurt sometimes. Weight is very much a personal issue and I think people need to pick up on that and let others be themselves.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Guest – You are right. It is a VERY personal thing. I don’t believe it’s fair at all when people comment. If you really get finicky, you could pick out a “bad” trait on just about anybody. People need to look to themselves before they pick others apart. I’m sorry you’ve experienced the things you have. Just remember, when people judge, it says more about them than it does about you.

  9. graciouspantry says:

    Robyn – That’s great!!! Good for you! Congrats!!!

  10. graciouspantry says:

    Jaima – I strongly suggest talking to a registered dietitian. They will be able to help far more than I can.

  11. graciouspantry says:

    I’m glad you found it helpful! It’s disgusting that people judge each other no matter what size they are. But I supposed in our society, it’s second nature to judge. Anything different than what’s in “your” world just can’t be right I guess. Blah. People just need to mind their own business. If they spent as much time focusing on themselves as they do on other people, this world would be a much, much better place.

  12. Jennifer Hoffman says:

    Thankyou for this post! I am underweight and know that it is better to gain eating clean rather than just eating unhealthy foods. But it has been a struggle to do so because I am not able to eat large amounts due to health problems. Your website has been a huge blessing!

  13. I am trying to gain weight(something I never thought I’d hear myself say) as I had been overweight most of my life..and now have plummeted down to the underweight category! I’ve recently started a weight lifting program to try to increase muscle mass…so not only am I trying to gain weight, I’m trying to gain muscle..I’ve been eating nuts, nut butters, healthy fats such as coconut oil(do you ever use coconut oil? is it actually clean?), and lots of protein..but its been a real struggle! Thanks for shedding a light on this! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. graciouspantry says:

      Yes! Coconut oil (the virgin variety) is fantastic stuff. And clean!

  14. Thank you for this blog!! Since having my daughter (who is 1 now) I have had less time to work out which has caused me to have less of an appetite, lose some muscle tone and lose a lot of weight. People keep telling me to gain some weight, “eat a cheeseburger”, but I do not want to eat things I know are bad for me. I love everything I am reading about clean eating. I have also discovered how different foods make me feel and clean eating always makes my body feel great! With my schedule working now to get back into a good workout routine, I’m excited to combo that with the things I’m reading and get my healthy muscular shape back instead of my scrawny shape now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. I’m a teenage girl recovering from anorexia, and gaining back the weight that my doctor says I need to is HARD. It’s one thing to stop starving yourself, it’s another to actually GAIN weight. People assume that it should be easy to just load up on junk food and stop exercising, and that I will magically be healthy again. First of all, junk food is terrifying to someone scarred by an eating disorder. Second of all, I need to gain weight to be physically stable, but filling my body with unhealthy sugars and salts and the wrong types of fats that are in so many junk foods is not the way to go about it. I’m trying to accept and love my body and myself, and clean eating (but NOT restricting) makes the battle a little bit easier to fight. Thank you for this post.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Morag – Good for you for regaining health with healthy foods. You’re right, gaining any kind of weight with junk just leaves junk in your body. You get no nutrients which is something your body probably needs. I wish you all the best! ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. morag…as i read your comment my eyes filled with tears. my daughter, who is 17, is also suffering from this. she is 5-11 and at the moment 136lbs. march of this year she was admitted to the hospital. she was 114lbs and was on a heart monitor for 5 weeks. she is also the textbook type A personality, with an academic average of low 90’s and a high level soccer player with 2 scholarships on the table. i strongly believe that she is not at your place as yet, as she always says that she does not have a disorder anymore, but she continually loses weight. …6 weeks ago she was 150. …stay strong morag!!, you are beautiful and truly deserve health and happiness…tiffany, if you are reading this, im pretty much desperate for all advice. i need suggestions for cookbooks, as there is nothing out there for healthy weight gain, recipes, meal plans etc. she will not have dairy of any type, as she feels that it will give her acne, and whole eggs( alone but in foods such as baked goods are ok) upset her gut. also refined sugars are pretty off of the table as well…bringing her to a dietitian is tricky right now as she feels that its just another adult trying to ‘control’ her. thank you for for having a site as this…michele

      1. The Gracious Pantry says:

        Michele – I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Such a tough situation. But if she wants to get healthy, she absolutely can and will with help. It’s not something I can really give guidance on because I don’t know anything about it. Plus, I can’t give advice on a medical condition. But if you think quality over quantity where food is concerned, it can help a great deal. I updated the article to reflect what I now know about clean eating. These days, I would never advocate for reduced fat milk. That being said, if that’s all she’ll drink, then do what you can. If she won’t visit a dietitian, maybe you can go once or twice in her place and get advice on what to do for her. At least you’ll feel more empowered in how to help her. Just be aware that there are a lot of dietitians out there who who “prescribe” something that looks very similar to the Standard American Diet. Like most things, there are good dietitians and not-so-good ones. So shop around if you don’t feel comfortable with the advice you are getting. But it is definitely important to get the advice of a medical professional. Doctors know almost nothing about nutrition, so a good dietitian can give YOU support so you can help her. I wish the best of luck for you both.

  16. So I’m a 100% clean eater, but I’m also an exercise junkie! I have to workout everyday otherwise my body feels off! This has caused me to lose a lot of weight, and therefor lose my period for 4 months! I feel amazing!!! And I love my body and only want to work on muscle growth and maintenance, but would this still stop me from getting my period? I’m 16

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Neda – I have no medical training, but in my personal opinion, if you have lost your period at only 16 years old, that could cause you problems down the road. Your body is still growing and developing. Those periods and hormones are critical. If you are working out that much, you absolutely need to eat accordingly. Honestly, this really sounds like something you need medical advice on. Try to find a holistic, registered dietitian. They will know about clean eating and how to bring your body back into balance.

  17. Thanks for the post! I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one! My husband and I both recently started eating clean to get healthy. He has been losing weight and is thrilled about it but I’m underweight as it is and have also been losing weight. I can’t afford to lose weight! I guess I just need to alter my clean eating to higher calorie-dense foods..

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Fallon – If you can work with a dietitian, I highly recommend it. Also be sure you don’t have anything else going on physically. But beyond that, clean, calorie-dense foods are a good way to go.