By Lara Rondinelli-Hamilton, RD, LDN, CDE
Yes, you read the title correctly—there are people with diabetes that are actually trying to gain weight. These people are underweight and need to put on a few pounds without creating extremely high blood sugar levels.
Note: If you have diabetes and are losing weight or having difficulty gaining weight, your first step is making sure the issue isn’t due to high blood glucose levels. Uncontrolled hyperglycemia, which is typical with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes (or misdiagnosed type 2), can lead to weight loss and is a dangerous state for your body. If your weight loss or inability to gain weight is unexpected, make sure to discuss it right away with your doctor. It may be that your medication needs to be adjusted for better glycemic control.
If, on the other hand, your blood glucose levels are controlled, here are few tips to help you gain weight without spiking your sugar.
1. Eat three meals a day.
Don’t skip meals. If you are trying to gain weight, you need to increase your daily caloric intake. If you skip breakfast (or any meal), you could be missing out on an extra 400 to 500 calories per day, which if done consistently could lead to a one-pound weight loss per week. So, even if you are not a breakfast person, find some foods that you can eat for breakfast, such as a fruit-vegetable smoothie (you can add flax seed and coconut oil to increase calories, fiber, and satiety). A quick smoothie could be a few handfuls of spinach, 1 cup frozen berries, ½ banana, 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil, 1 tablespoon ground flax seed and ½-1 cup coconut milk. Serve the smoothie with a side of egg and chicken sausage. You might also try an egg, cheese, and avocado sandwich on a low-carb wrap or tortilla.
2. Eat snacks.
Snacks and small meals are another way to help increase your caloric intake and can be helpful if you are someone who gets full quickly. You could eat a small breakfast at 8:00 a.m., a planned snack at 10:00 a.m., lunch at 12:00 p.m., another snack at 3:00 p.m., and dinner at 6:00 p.m. Then, one last snack around 8:00 p.m. Your dietitian or certified diabetes educator can help you determine how many carbohydrates to have per snack. Here are some snacks that contain 15 grams or fewer of carbohydrates, but also provide extra calories from protein and/or fat.
• Five 100% whole grain crackers with 2 tablespoons (no added sugar) peanut butter or almond butter
• Five 100% whole grain crackers topped with cheese
• ½ cup berries and ½ cup full-fat cottage cheese
• Sliced turkey or ham rolled up in slice of cheese
• ½ a small apple with large handful of nuts or 2 tablespoons (no added sugar) peanut or almond butter
• ½ low-carb wrap or tortilla filled with turkey and avocado slices
3. Eat many servings of healthy fats daily.
Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are good for your heart health. These fats are also high in calories and will help with weight gain. Healthy fats include olive, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and nut butters (almond, cashew, or peanut). Here are some tips on how to incorporate more of these foods in your daily diet.
• Add nuts, seeds and olives to salads to increase calories
• Add avocado slices to salads
• Snack on almonds, walnuts, or pecans and add these to no-sugar-added yogurt.
• Add large amounts of olive oil or coconut oil to vegetables when cooking and to salads.
4. Eat from a variety of food groups.
Make sure that you are eating from a variety of food groups for good nutrition and to keep up your calories. If you are having a dairy product, add a plant food. If you have an apple, add peanut butter or cheese. Think about your mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
If you still experience difficulty gaining weight, despite good efforts, make sure to discuss this with your doctor as he or she may want to run additional tests.
Lara Rondinelli-Hamilton, RD, LDN, CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with 20 years of experience. She has appeared on several radio and television programs promoting healthy eating including ABC Chicago news, WGN Channel 9 news, and NBC Chicago news. Lara is the co-author of the American Diabetes Association’s best-selling Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking, The Healthy Carb Diabetes Cookbook and Gluten-Free Recipes for People with Diabetes (2004, 2012, 2013).