Risks Of Being Underweight & How To Gain Weight Safely

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Just as being overweight can results in a number of health issues, being underweight can be just as dangerous and more difficult to assess. When someone is clearly overweight or obese, the need for a healthy adjustment is more obvious, particularly based on societal standards. However, when someone is underweight or skinny, it is often immediately assumed that they are healthy, sexy or “in good shape”. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Some of the major consequences of being underweight include fragile bones, fertility issues, nutrient deficiencies, a weakened immune system, poor growth and development, hormonal imbalances and increased risk during surgery.

What Does Being Underweight Mean?

Being underweight means having a BMI of under 18.5, while a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25. On the other side of the spectrum, being overweight means having a BMI of over 25.

To clarify, your BMI stands for your Body Mass Index, which is a calculation based on two simple factors – namely your height and weight. There are many other complicating factors in assessing a “healthy” weight, including blood pressure, triglyceride levels, waist circumference (abdominal fat), cholesterol balance, smoking habits, and other elements, but BMI is generally accepted as a good measuring stick. You should speak with your doctor about more specific aspects of your personal health that may affect whether you are technically underweight.

Causes of Being Underweight

The most common causes of being underweight are:

Health Consequences of Being Underweight

Being overly thin has its health risks and problems. Weighing too little can cause fragile bones, low immunity levels, fertility issues, among other health problems. Let us look at some of the most important health risks of being underweight.

Fertility Issues

Underweight women often have irregularities in their periods and find it difficult to become pregnant; furthermore, the lack of nutrients in their own diet or body makes it difficult to support a growing fetus. Being underweight often causes hormonal imbalances that could even stop menstruation altogether.

Nutrient Deficiencies

If you’re underweight, there is a good chance that your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to function, which will lead to general weakness, cognitive malfunction, exhaustion, irregular periods, hair loss and other dangerous conditions.

Immune System

Being underweight is linked to decreased immune function but many people believe it is due to the inherent link to nutrient deficiency, which compromises immune strength.

Growth and Development

When you are underweight, your body is struggling to find resources to function normally, let alone repair damage throughout the body and proceed with normal growth patterns.

Surgery Risks

Studies have found that underweight people are more likely to experience an infection or slow healing rates, following a major procedure. Without enough excess nutrients to repair and rejuvenate those areas of the body, going under the knife could be considerably more dangerous.

How To Gain Weight Safely?

Quite simply, weight gain means that your caloric intake exceeds the number of calories that you are burning off each day. Weight gain can come in the form of liquids in the body, as well as fat deposition and muscle growth. When the intake and the consumption of calories remain relatively even, so does your overall weight. When the body has extra fuel that it isn’t spending, it stores it as fat for later use. To put things in perspective, most experts agree that 3,500 calories represent approximately 1 pound of human fat tissue. As a basic example, if you consume 2,500 calories every day, but only expend 2,000 calories, which will be an excess of 500 calories per day. In one week, under stable conditions, you would gain one pound of fat tissue.

Muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, so if you are trying to gain healthy weight, it is best to increase your caloric intake and also couple it with exercise, so you can use those excess calories to build lean muscle.

For people who are underweight and want to increase their size, regardless of the reason, keeping these basic concepts in mind is important if healthy weight gain is the ultimate goal.

Treatment For Being Underweight

It is best to consult a doctor or a nutritionist to gain pounds in a safe and healthy manner. However, you can follow some of these basic tips to gain weight:

  • Eat plenty of carbohydrates and good fat foods like avocados and peanut butter.
  • Have energy-dense snacks like protein bars, dates, raisins, and trail mixes.
  • You can make your smoothies energy dense by adding coconut milk, nut butter, and oats.
  • Choose fattier cuts of meat and include pork and lamb in your diet.
  • Lift heavy weights to build muscle and gain strength.
  • Get the correct hours of sleep as it is important for muscle growth.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, and publisher who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana (USA). He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and calls the most beautiful places in the world his office. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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