Close Menu

Eating to Gain

It occurred to me in the last couple of weeks that, even though I write quite a bit about what my life is like now, as someone who’s mostly recovered from an eating disorder, I haven’t written much about the early stages of the recovery process.

If you’ve been through recovery from anorexia, you may know that one of the most regarded recovery approaches, the Maudsley method, has three stages:

  1. Regaining weight
  2. Returning personal control over food to the patient (often, this involves learning to eat intuitively)
  3. Forming a new, ED-free identity

While these stages overlap, to a degree, the first few months of my recovery were really focused on weight gain. So I thought I might do a short series of posts about gaining weight, particularly for any readers who might currently be in that stage of recovery or facing that stage of recovery, to see what eating for weight gain looks like.

And for the first one, I thought it might be an interesting spin on What I Ate Wednesday to show the specific kinds of things that I ate when I was gaining.

Each day, I ate a substantial breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a substantial snack both in the morning and afternoon, and a dessert or additional snack in the evening. I ate at least this amount whether or not I was hungry.

Eating for weight gain =/= intuitive eating. You must eat to your minimum every day.

I also tried to eat foods that were pretty calorie-dense; in other words, they were high in calories without being super-filling. It was surreal; after years of going to the grocery store and thinking, “I can’t eat this; it’s too high in calories,” suddenly I was thinking, “This would be really filling and too low in calories.”

In addition to showing readers who are looking to gain weight what that looked like for me, I thought other readers might find it interesting as well. A lot of the foods I ate on a regular basis while I was trying to gain are “fear” foods that a lot of people consider pretty decadent. In our food-fear culture, lot of people think, “Oh, no! I ate macaroni and cheese, which is a rich food! I’ll gain weight!” A couple years removed from eating for weight gain, I often find myself thinking this.

But thinking back on my meal plan from my weight gain days gives me some perspective on this irrational thought. Sure, macaroni and cheese is a relatively calorie-dense food. But in order to actually gain weight, I had to do more than just eat macaroni and cheese for dinner once in a while. I had to eat comparably calorie-rich foods for all three meals, plus three or more substantial snacks and desserts, every single day to gain a pound a week–and I was exercising as little as possible.

In other words: a couple bowls of mac & cheese a week–not enough to gain on, irrational food fear brain.


So this post gives you a general sense of how much even a relatively small, sedentary person had to eat from day-to-day to put weight on.

Disclaimer: What I ate to regain weight and recover is different from what you or anyone else might need to eat. Some people actually need a lot more than this to gain.

  • Two large, dense pieces of toast with butter and jam, two eggs fried in oil
  • A large bowl of calorie-dense granola with milk
  • A large, bakery-style muffin, two eggs fried in oil
  • A large bowl of oatmeal, cooked in 2% milk, topped with nuts, fresh or dried fruit, and brown sugar
  • A tuna sandwich on two large, dense slices of bread with real mayonnaise, an apple or chips on the side
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on two large, dense slices of bread, an apple or a Greek yogurt on the side
  • A large serving of rice and beans topped with cheese and avocado, chips on the side
  • Two large pieces of pizza, or half a medium-sized pizza, a glass of juice
  • Pasta in a cheesy sauce (mac & cheese, Alfredo, etc.), peas and carrots, a glass of juice
  • Spaghetti and meatballs topped with cheese and pasta sauce, a glass of juice or milk
  • A large salmon burger topped with mayonnaise and greens on a bun, a glass of milk or juice
  • Two corn-and-bean quesadillas topped with guac
Morning & afternoon snacks
  • A Luna bar
  • Crackers & hummus
  • Trail mix
  • A large glass of kefir
  • Peanut butter and celery or an apple
  • A smoothie
  • A muffin, a piece of quick bread, or another baked good
Desserts/evening snacks
  • A large bowl of ice cream
  • A couple large cookies (or three or four smaller ones)
  • A piece of pie
  • Popcorn and a glass of chocolate milk

Thanks to the lovely WIAW hosts Laura and Arman for letting me share. Hope my approach here isn’t too unorthodox for WIAW.

Have you ever had to make a concerted effort to gain weight? What were staples of your recovery diet?

Do you ever find yourself thinking: “I’ll gain weight if I eat this?”


Share this post: Pinterest Share Goggle+ Share


  1. Kat says:

    I love this post girl. Thanks for sharing what you have done and what worked for you. Though I never needed to gain back weight [exercise addiction and binging was my thing – my body was more broken down physically than thin], I did go through the entire mental game of eating this or that and weighing my options for calories. When I began learning that my “fear” foods were just that – a fear – it was a huge obstacle for me to tackle and heck, sometimes I still need to really push myself in that area! Recovery is a daily thing in my opinion. Glad you are on the right track!! 🙂

    1. Joyce says:

      Man–that must have been a really tough recovery process, too. You are so right that recovery is a daily thing, and a very long process.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us! I have been having to think more like this now that I’m pregnant. It’s been harder for me to put on weight than I thought it would be, to be honest.I think its because I eat foods that are lower in calories naturally like fruits and veggies! I want to gain what I’m supposed to gain so I’m being intentional and picking dense foods! So far, it’s working!

    1. Joyce says:

      Yeah, I guess you’re eating for two now. That sounds actually quite difficult–I know you’ve been posting about how you actually lost weight in the first trimester. But I know you really try to take care of yourself, though, Heather, and in doing so, take care of your little guy/gal too. 😉

  3. OH I used to have SO many fear foods, but never had to try to gain weight! Now I really try to focus on what makes my body feel good, but I know I could always improve with this. And I’m lucky I truly enjoy healthy meals and vegetables!

    1. Joyce says:

      Eating in a way that makes you feel good is a great way to eat. I find I enjoy healthy foods like vegetables even more when I don’t have fear foods–that way, I know I’m eating because it truly makes me feel great, not just because it’s the only thing I’ve “allowed” myself.

  4. Alyssa says:

    I think people who need to eat to gain weight ( me during my recovery!!) have to realize it is uncomfortable at times, but it is SO necessary. Like you said, dense foods are a life saver for sure. This post will definitely be helpful for a lot of people Joyce!

    1. Joyce says:

      It is uncomfortable, so uncomfortable! And, yes, so necessary and worth it.

  5. Evangeline says:

    I remember the weight gaining stage so clearly. It felt like no matter how much I ate, I could never gain weight, but in reality, I still wasn’t eating enough. Weight gain came when I finally realized that our bodies need a certain number of calories to survive and do normal everyday things, and if I wanted to gain weight, I had to eat a lot more than that base number of calories. That was a big mental adjustment. My staples were peanut butter, full fat dairy(ooh that was scary), and chunky bagel sandwiches.

    Your thoughts and guidance are so spot on here. I think the mental aspect of recovery is often stressed, but we forget about the initial stages. The very unexciting, frustrating process of gaining back needed weight. Thanks for sharing <3

    1. Joyce says:

      It is actually really hard to gain–it takes a ton of fuel, and as you’ve said, a big mental adjustment. I’m glad that you’re at a healthier place now, Vangie. <3

  6. Cora says:

    This is great, Joyce. I’m actually working on a post outlining what I ate in the hospital as an ED inspatient, so it will be interesting to see if you see similarities with your process. Do you think you Have you been able to continue with these foods even after gaining the weight, or have they now been plagued as “weight gain foods?” I’ve had people tell me they don’t want to connotate something they love as a “weight gain food” so that they don’t “ruin” it for themselves when they are restored. I kinda wish I had never heard that. So far this hasn’t happened to me but I do fear that possibility. I hope we all remember that as long as it is mindful and in moderation NO one food can cause you to gain weight.

    1. Joyce says:

      Absolutely that’s happened to me. In fact, I kind of hesitated to write/publish this post because I didn’t want readers to walk away from it thinking–“I shouldn’t eat that. That’s what people eat to gain weight.” I’m glad you haven’t found yourself thinking along those lines too much–I definitely still do sometimes. And you’re 100% right–it’s so important to remember that no one food, meal, or even a whole day is going to make that much difference in the long run, especially if our bodies are already at a healthy weight that they naturally want to maintain.

  7. I know I say this a lot, but I do really really like this. The emphasis on calorie dense is huge, because you can fill up your stomach with a huge salad, but it won’t often help you gain weight. I still love lots of these foods after regaining weight; I just don’t eat as much of them as I did.

  8. Leo Tat says:

    This is an interesting topic, Joyce. There are lots of articles on how to lose weight but not many on gaining weight. I think the idea would be to eat calorie rich foods and also in a way that helps our body to store it as fat. Carbohydrate foods increase our insulin to store fat, so I would think a bulk of our plate would need to consist of carbs during this weight gaining time.

    1. Joyce says:

      Yes–carbs are also easier to digest that protein, so eating a carb-rich diet is definitely a good idea when you’re trying to gain. I’m planning to have a short series on weight gain for the blog, with future posts to come.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top