Here is some information and advice about maintaining a healthy body weight and healthy ways to keep your weight up.
As you get older, you may start to lose weight, either through illness or loss of appetite. Maintaining a healthy body weight is important, and there are things you can do to gain weight healthily.
If you’re underweight or have lost weight suddenly or for no obvious reason, you should see your GP to ensure there is no underlying medical cause for this weight loss.
Even if there’s nothing wrong with your health it’s quite common to lose your appetite when you get older. So you may be underweight simply because you’re not eating enough and your diet doesn’t give you sufficient energy or calories.
But being underweight can be especially serious when you are older. It increases your risk of health problems, including bone fracture if you fall. Being underweight weakens your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infections, and it increases your risk of being deficient in important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
However, you can take steps to improve your diet and get the nutrients you need.
As we get older, it is common for our appetite to get smaller and we may not feel like eating.
If you’re underweight and your appetite has decreased, it’s still important to get all the energy and nutrients that your body needs. You can do this by:
- Switching to smaller meals and frequent snacks, so that you’re not struggling to eat three large meals a day.
- Increasing your calorie intake by eating foods, like milky puddings and cheesy main courses.
- Avoiding filling up on foods that are high in saturated fat or sugars, such as cakes, biscuits and sugary fizzy drinks.
Ways to boost your calorie intake
You could try these healthy, high-energy meal and snack ideas:
- porridge made with whole (full-fat) milk, with fruit or dried fruit on top
- sardines on toast
- peanut butter on toast
- soups with pulses, pasta or meats
- cottage/shepherd’s pie
- beans on toast with cheese sprinkled on top
- milky drinks as a bedtime snack
- unsalted nuts
You can also add more calories from healthier foods to your diet to help you gain weight:
- Sprinkle grated cheese on savoury dishes.
- Pour white sauce – made with butter, flour and milk – on fish or vegetables.
- Add cheese or milk to soups.
- Replace one cup of tea or coffee each day with a cup of warm full-fat milk.
- Put milk or butter into mashed potato.
Eat with friends and family
If you’re struggling to be interested in food or you’ve lost the motivation to eat, try to eat with friends or family as often as possible. Lunch clubs are also a great way to make mealtimes more social.
If you find it difficult to prepare foods, try the following tips:
- Choose ready meals with less salt.
- Keep some tinned and dried fruit at home. It’s an alternative to fresh fruit, needs no preparation and can count towards your five a day. Tinned fruit is also easy to eat if you have dental problems.
- Keep some frozen and tinned vegetables at home. They’re easy to prepare and can count towards your ‘5 a day’.
- Buy puddings and snacks that come in individual pots, such as yoghurt and rice puddings.
Improve your appetite with exercise
Physical activity can help you stay healthy, mobile and independent. Being active helps keep your heart healthy and lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke – even if you’re underweight. You may also feel hungrier the more active you are.
To find out how much physical activity is recommended and what counts as activity, see:
- physical activity guidelines for adults, if you’re under 65
- physical activity guidelines for older adults, if you’re 65 or over
The amount of physical activity you should do may be different from other people your age if you’re underweight, have mobility problems or a disability. Your GP or practice nurse can advise you about this.
Have your meals delivered
If you struggle to cook for yourself or to shop for food, consider getting outside help.
You may be entitled to have hot and frozen ready-made meals delivered to your home, which is provided by your local council’s social services. There is usually a charge for the service.
Find out more about getting meals at home.