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Increasing Calories

Updated 09/20/2018
Category: Diet

Increasing calories may be recommended for persons who are underweight, athletes who want to gain weight to enhance performance or those whose calorie needs are increased due to a poor health condition. Underweight can be caused by heredity, a serious illness, not eating enough, or a combination of intense ongoing exercise and insufficient calories in the diet. Severe depression can also affect the appetite, resulting in weight loss.

To gain body weight the number of calories consumed in the diet must exceed the number of calories the body needs to maintain its current weight. Medical problems such as depression or eating disorders must be addressed and treatment underway before weight gain will occur.

Nutrition Facts

The nutrition considerations of a healthful diet still apply when gaining weight is desired. The goal is to increase the number of calories in the diet while making healthful choices from a variety of foods. Choose dairy products, meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, breads, rice and pasta.

Where serious underweight is a problem, weight gain can be best achieved by concentrating on foods with either a higher calorie or fat content. Ounce for ounce, fat has more than twice the calories of either carbohydrate or protein. Preferably, fat sources should primarily be from plant sources such as vegetable oils, margarines not containing trans fatty acids, and nuts or seeds. After weight gain goals are achieved a healthy but lower fat diet is recommended.

An increase of at least 500 to 1000 calories each day will promote a one to two pound weight gain per week. It takes an extra 3500 calories to gain one pound of body weight. The chart on page 3 provides suggestions for increasing calories by 500 to 1000 each day. The Nutrition Facts panel on the food label can also help with choosing nutritious foods to supply the extra calories needed for gaining weight.

Special Considerations
  1. A basic vitamin and mineral supplement, providing 100% of the RDA may be necessary depending on current nutritional status. Ask your physician about the need for supplements.
  2. Plan for regular eating times, including three meals and several snacks throughout the day. The need to eat even when experiencing a lack of hunger can be overcome with encouragement from others.
  3. Stimulate a poor appetite by socializing and eating with friends; or by enjoying favorite foods, enticing aromas like freshly baked bread, soft dinner music, flowers on the table and relaxed, pleasant mealtime conversation.
  4. Eating larger amounts of foods at mealtimes will increase the calorie content of the meal. If larger meals are not tolerated, try increasing the serving sizes gradually or eating small amounts more often throughout the day.
  5. For those who drink alcoholic beverages,”a drink before meals or wine with meals can increase the appetite. Remember(that alcohol does carry “empty” calories—calories with no nutritional value. However, it is not wise to start drinking alcohol simply for this benefit.
  6. To increase calories, select higher calorie nutrient dense foods and beverages. Beware of filling up on low-calorie or no-calorie foods and beverages. Instead of diet sodas, water, coffee or tea; drink fruit juices, milk and milk shakes. Dried fruits and canned fruits packed in heavy syrup will supply more calories than fresh fruit and are no more filling. Dry milk powder can be added to soups, casseroles and mashed potatoes to increase the calories and nutrients, especially protein.
  7. A canned liquid supplement such as Ensure or Sustacal preferably taken between meals is effective when there is a lack of interest in food and eating. Many stores carry their own effective brands at a lower cost. Liquid supplements are a convenient way to consume extra calories.
Weight Gain Tips
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Fill up on food, not low-calorie beverages
  • Make mealtime pleasant — set an attractive table, play soothing music
  • Get regular exercise — check with physician first
  • Get together with friends or neighbors to share cooking duties and delights
  • Take advantage of community programs to provide ready-made meals
  • Have nutritious snacks convenient
  • Use substitutes to increase calories, try adding dry milk to fluid milk, soups, or mashed potatoes
  • Plan mealtimes around energy levels — eat a larger breakfast if you feel better in the morning
Suggestions for Increasing Calories
500 calorie snack





1 bagel – 3 oz


1 cup ready-to-eat cereal


2 Tbsp peanut butter


1 cup low-fat 1% milk


1 cup 1% milk


1 cup canned pears


6 dried apricot halves


1 oz cheddar cheese






1,000 calorie snack





5 oz can vanilla pudding


1/4 of a 14″ cheese pizza


4 graham crackers


1 cup grape juice


1 small banana


1 cup soft serve ice milk


1 cup pineapple juice


10 vanilla wafers


1 cup tuna salad


1 oz roasted peanuts


1 slice wheat bread







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