Dec 20, 2023 • 12 min read

Can a Nutritionist or Dietitian Help Me Gain Weight?

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If you’re struggling to gain weight, you aren’t alone. While it may seem easy to some, those who are going through it know that healthy weight gain is not always a walk in the park. If this sounds like you, it may be time to consider working with a nutritionist or Registered Dietitian (RD).

Nutritionists and RDs are diet experts who can help individuals with many aspects of their nutrition and lifestyle, not just with losing weight. 

If you’re looking to gain weight, working with a nutritionist or RD is a great way to do so. A dietitian can create an individualized plan that covers how many calories you need, the best foods to eat, and more to help you gain weight.

Not only can they help you bump up the scale in a healthy way, but they can also help make sure it’s easy for you to keep your weight at the right level for the long term. This guide goes over how nutritionists and RDs can help you gain weight in a healthy and sustainable way.

If you’re interested in booking a visit with a Registered Dietitian, you can do so through us here at Zaya Care. 90% of our patients pay $0 for appointments since our providers accept over 100 insurance plans such as AetnaUnited HealthcareEmpire BlueCross BlueShield, and many more. 

Can a dietitian or nutritionist help me gain weight?

If you’ve struggled with gaining weight, you already know that it’s not just about eating more. A lot of calorie-dense foods are also highly processed and contain high amounts of added sugars, fats, and other additives that can be harmful to your health when consumed in excess. 

This is where working with a nutritionist or RD can really help. As nutrition professionals, they can evaluate your current eating patterns, preferences, schedule, and any barriers to help come up with a weight gain meal plan that works for you.

Nutritionists and RDs can help you come up with an individualized diet plan that incorporates nutrient-dense foods so you can increase your weight while maintaining a healthy diet. They can help you evaluate your need for supplements that will help your body get the most out of the foods you eat. 

They can also provide ongoing motivation and support to overcome setbacks and plateaus.

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When you should consider working with a dietitian or nutritionist to gain weight

While nutritionists and RDs are valuable resources, not everyone needs the extra guidance. So, when should you consider working with one?

If you’ve been to the doctor, you’re probably already familiar with body mass index (BMI). This is a screening tool based on your height and weight that places you into different weight categories to determine if you are at a health risk. 

If you have been classified as underweight based on your BMI, you may want to consider working with a nutritionist or RD to help get you into a healthy BMI range to reduce your health risks which include malnutrition, osteoporosis, reduced immunity, and infertility.

The BMI categories are as follows:

  • Underweight: <18.5 
  • Normal weight: 18.5 – 24.9
  • Overweight: 25 – 29.9
  • Obese: 30+

If you aren’t sure what your BMI range is, you can use a BMI calculator to find out.

Additionally, if you’ve experienced unintentional weight loss, which is when you have a reduction in body weight without dieting or increasing exercise, you may be at an increased risk for health concerns.

It’s normal to have weight fluctuations. However, unintentional weight loss is categorized as a loss of 5% or more of your body weight over 6 to 12 months. 

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds and over the past 6 months have noticed your weight decline by 7 or 8 pounds or more, you may be experiencing unintentional weight loss. 

Unintentional weight loss can occur for a variety of reasons, including chronic illness or infection, depression, anxiety, cancer, drug use, digestive problems, or eating disorders.

Below are some specific situations in which you should consider reaching out to a nutritionist or RD to help:

  • You are underweight & struggling to gain weight. Nutritionists and RDs can help you implement the right foods and lifestyle habits to get you to a healthy BMI range and reduce your health risks.
  • You have low appetite. If you struggle with chronically low appetite, nutritionists and RDs can help come up with creative ways to boost your intake so you don’t feel like you’re forcing yourself to eat. They can also help you figure out why you’re experiencing issues that are causing you to eat too little, such as being hungry with no appetite.
  • You have food sensitivities. If your reason for struggling with your weight is related to food sensitivities, nutritionists and RDs can help you find alternative foods that avoid sensitivities and improve your symptoms. 
  • You experience early satiety. Sometimes weight gain is challenging because we get full quickly during meals. Nutritionists and RDs can help you find different eating patterns to avoid feeling uncomfortably full while still prioritizing adequate nutrition throughout the day.
  • You have depression. While those struggling with depression should be seeking treatment from a mental health professional, poor diet and nutrient deficiencies can worsen mental health conditions. Nutritionists and RDs can help you manage your diet to improve your mental health.
  • You have cancer. Cancer and its subsequent treatments often result in unintentional weight loss and an increased risk of malnutrition. Oncology dietitians can help mitigate these effects while supporting overall health for an improved prognosis. 
  • You have an eating disorder. If you suspect you may have or have been previously diagnosed with an eating disorder, it’s important to consider professional help. Disordered eating dietitians can help you identify triggers and coping mechanisms to improve your symptoms.
  • You are losing too much weight due to medication. Some medications can cause unintentional weight loss as a side effect. Nutritionists and RDs can help you navigate these side effects and come up with ways to get back into a healthy weight range. 
  • You have digestive issues. Gut health dietitians can help identify and manage various digestive challenges which may include Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), parasitic infections, and many others.
  • You have a chronic illness or infection. Unintentional weight loss can be a side effect of various chronic illnesses or infections. Working with a Nutritionist or RD can help you manage your symptoms and take back control of your health.
  • You are interested in building muscle. If you’re looking to add muscle, working with a dietitian or nutritionist specializing in bodybuilding can be a big help. These specialists know how to to tailor diets to pack on the muscle with minimal increases in fat.

Nutritionist vs. dietitian for gaining weight: what’s the difference & which is better?

If you are considering seeking professional help, you may be wondering what the differences between dietitians and nutritionists are and which one may be better for you. You may also wonder how they are different from doctors.

A nutritionist is a general term that can include someone who is a nutrition coach, someone who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics, an RD, or someone without any credentials at all. The title nutritionist is not protected. This means anyone can call themselves a nutritionist even if they don’t have any training to back it up.

A registered dietitian, on the other hand, is a protected title that can only be used by those who have specific qualifications. To become an RD, one must obtain a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics, complete 900 to 1200 supervised hours of dietetic practice, and successfully pass the examination to become nationally registered.

While both nutritionists and RDs can help, RDs have a more extensive training and knowledge base compared to nutritionists and are likely the best option for those with complicated health concerns.

It’s also important to note that RDs can be considered nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are RDs. This doesn’t mean choosing a nutritionist is a bad option, but rather you should be aware of the qualifications of the nutritionist you are seeing.

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How a nutritionist or dietitian can help you gain weight healthily

Nutritionists and RDs can help support a healthy weight gain in a variety of ways aside from just telling you what you should be eating. Below are some specific ways nutritionists and RDs can provide guidance. These include, but are not limited to: 

1) Provide personalized meal plans 

Nutritionists and RDs can help provide you with personalized meal plans based on your food preferences and goals to give you a clear picture of what your intake should look like.

2) Evaluate calories

Gaining weight requires a calorie surplus, but this can be challenging if you don’t know how many calories you need. Nutritionists and RDs can provide personalized ranges so you know if you’re meeting your needs for weight gain.

3) Help you time your meals to eat a calorie surplus

Meal timing also plays a role in reaching a calorie surplus, especially if your appetite is low. Nutritionists and RDs can help you figure out a meal schedule that works for you to meet this surplus comfortably.

4) Inform you about portion sizes 

When trying to gain weight, portion size recommendations will be different. Nutritionists and RDs can provide guidance on recommended portion sizes to ensure you are getting the right balance of nutrients.

5) Suggest appropriate supplements 

Nutritionists and RDs can recommend supplements that may benefit you while trying to gain weight, particularly if they suspect you may be suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

6) Assist with grocery planning 

Grocery planning can be overwhelming. Nutritionists and RDs can help you navigate planning meals and grocery trips to stay on track and make sustainable changes.

7) Encourage mindful eating strategies 

Even when trying to gain weight, it’s important to listen to your body. Nutritionists and RDs can help you practice mindful eating strategies to reach a calorie surplus while still honoring your body’s hunger and satiety cues.

8) Help overcome weight gain plateaus 

Just as with weight loss, weight gain plateaus are a normal part of the process that requires assistance to overcome. Nutritionists and RDs can help provide you with ideas and support to push past a plateau.

9) Monitor progress regularly 

Nutritionists and RDs provide regular monitoring and support to help keep you on track and ensure you are progressing as you should be.

10) Provide emotional support 

Making dietary changes can feel overwhelming. Nutritionists and RDs can provide emotional support while trying to gain weight and meet your goals. 

Best foods to incorporate into your diet if you’re trying to gain weight

Most people think gaining weight is easy—simply consume all the foods you love in excess. However, this can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Instead, it’s important to focus on whole foods that are both calorie and nutrient-dense.

Below are some healthy foods to include while trying to consume a calorie surplus:

  • Olive oil. Olive oil is a healthy fat source that includes heart-healthy monounsaturated fats along with a rich source of calories. One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains 120 calories and can be easily added during cooking or as a salad dressing or marinade.
  • Avocado. Avocados are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as well as calories, healthy fats, and fiber. A medium-sized avocado contains 320 calories.
  • Nuts and nut butter. Nuts and nut butter, such as peanut butter, are versatile, calorie-rich, and contain good sources of healthy fats and protein. A two-tablespoon serving of natural peanut butter contains 190 calories and seven grams of protein.
  • Seeds. Seeds are very versatile and can be easily incorporated into meals such as granola, salads, and baked foods. They are rich in calories, protein, and fiber. A three-tablespoon serving of hemp seeds contains 165 calories and 9 grams of protein.
  • Cheese. Adding cheeses to meals is an easy and nutritious way to boost calories. Cheese is calorie and protein-dense and provides a good source of calcium. A one-ounce serving of Swiss cheese contains 110 calories and 8 grams of protein.
  • Fatty fish. Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, is an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, calories, and protein. A six-ounce serving of Atlantic salmon contains 240 calories and 34 grams of protein.
  • Whole eggs. Eggs are a convenient, affordable, nutrient-rich food you can easily add to snacks or meals for extra calories and protein. An extra-large whole egg contains 80 calories and seven grams of protein.
  • Whole milk Greek yogurt. Full-fat dairy products can be an excellent source of additional calories, protein, and calcium. A 100-gram serving of whole milk Greek yogurt contains 100 calories and nine grams of protein.
  • Whole grains. Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain bread, are an excellent source of nutrition, providing essential B vitamins and fiber. A one-cup serving of cooked quinoa provides 220 calories and eight grams of protein.
  • Dried fruits. Dried fruits, such as apricots, are an easy way to boost calories, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Easily incorporate them into snacks such as cereals or trail mix for a nutrient boost. A one-cup serving of dried apricots provides 313 calories.

Guidelines for how fast you can gain weight

While working on healthy weight gain, it’s important to recognize that the process will take time. Putting on weight quickly, even when incorporating healthy food sources, can have negative health implications.

A healthy rate of weight gain is 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you are seeing weight coming on a lot quicker than that, you may need to reduce your calorie surplus. 

Keep in mind that it will not be the same every week. Some weeks, you may gain 2 pounds while the next week you may not gain anything. This is perfectly normal. The exact amount of time it will take to gain weight will vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors. 

Questions to ask your dietitian or nutritionist about gaining weight

If you are trying to gain weight and are considering working with a nutritionist or RD, below are some questions you may want to ask to help you with the process.

  • What should my calorie range be while in a calorie surplus?
  • What can I do if I have a very low appetite during meals?
  • What are some easy foods I can add to help me meet my calorie surplus?
  • What are some natural ways I can improve my appetite?
  • Are there any foods I should be staying away from?
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What to expect in your appointments with a dietitian or nutritionist

There are many benefits to working with a dietitian, but it can be especially helpful for someone trying to gain weight. If you have never met with one before, you might be wondering what to expect in your appointment with a dietitian.

Some people think they will be judged on what they eat or told that they can never have their favorite foods again. However, you can expect your dietitian to listen, educate, support, and motivate you to adopt healthy nutrition habits and achieve your goals.  

Initial appointment

During your first appointment, your dietitian will ask several questions to get a clear understanding of your health history, food habits, and current nutrition needs. This appointment typically lasts 45 minutes to one hour. The goal is to gather enough information to provide you with the best food recommendations for you. 

You can also ask any questions you have for your dietitian that may help them tailor your care and make sure your concerns are addressed.

You and your dietitian will also discuss your long-term and short-term goals. By the end of your first appointment, you should have a clear plan of action for how you are going to achieve your weight gain goals. This may even include a meal plan to follow, depending on the dietitian you work with.

Because developing life-long nutrition habits can take time, your dietitian will most likely schedule a follow-up appointment. The number of times you need to see your dietitian will depend on your situation, which your dietitian will discuss with you. 

Follow-up appointments

During your first follow-up appointment, you and your dietitian will discuss how well you were able to implement your nutrition plan. Your dietitian will assess your progress with your goals and any other progress you made.

If you face specific challenges that prevent you from achieving your goals, your dietitian may provide you with additional resources to help you through those challenges. Your dietitian may also change your plan if necessary or add more goals to keep you progressing toward your long-term goal. 

How Zaya Care helps you book registered dietitians covered by your insurance

Here at Zaya Care, we’re dedicated to helping people find dietitians based on their preferences, needs, and insurance.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

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Looking for expert nutrition care?

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Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.