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How can I gain weight without eating unhealthy foods?

Written by
Brittany Rogers, MS RDN
July 14, 2022

A client asked "How can I gain weight without eating unhealthy foods?". 

This is a great question that we hear from our clients often. Research suggests that 20-85% of people with IBD experience malnutrition (1,2) which is primarily responsible for chronic weight loss (3).

Malnutrition is one of the most important factors associated with poor clinical outcomes in patients with IBD (4,5) and it can be caused by a variety of factors including reduced oral food intake, malabsorption, chronic blood and protein loss, and intestinal bacterial overgrowth (6). Regaining weight that has been lost due to IBD is therefore important for improving clinical outcomes.

But how can you gain weight without eating unhealthy foods? Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Eat Often

Eat your three meals a day and then add in a few snacks in between. Some healthy snack ideas include: banana w/nut butter, energy balls, loaded oatmeal, or yogurt parfait

2. Drink Some Calories

Drinking calories is easier than eating them. So, if you're struggling to consume enough food during the day, try drinking some of your calories with oral nutrition supplements such as Kate farms, Ensure, Boost, etc. You can also make nutrient dense smoothies & soups.

3. Eat Protein-Rich Foods

When you're in a flare, you require more protein so make sure to include a protein-containing food with every meal/snack. Healthy protein-containing foods include: lean poultry, fatty fish, tofu, plain nonfat yogurt, plain non-fat kefir, nut butters, seed meals & butters, etc.

4. Eat Nutrient-Dense Snacks

Some healthy snack ideas include: banana w/nut butter, energy balls, loaded oatmeal, yogurt parfait, a nut butter & banana sandwich, egg avocado toast, yogurt toast topped with fruit, homemade baked goods, etc.

5. Don't Worry About Only Consuming “Healthy” Foods

This goes against what this person asked, but I think it's actually a really important point to make. Malnutrition contributes more to poor clinical outcomes than eating an inflammatory food here and there. So, put some maple syrup on your homemade pancakes or whatever you need to do to prevent weight loss.


  1. Goh J., O’Morain C.A. Review article: Nutrition and adult inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 2003;17:307–320. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2036.2003.01482.x. 
  2. Clare F., Donnellan L.H., Simon L. Nutritional management of Crohn’s disease. Ther. Adv. Gastroenterol. 2013;6:231–242.
  3. Scaldaferri F, Pizzoferrato M, Lopetuso LR, Musca T, Ingravalle F, Sicignano LL, Mentella M, Miggiano G, Mele MC, Gaetani E, Graziani C, Petito V, Cammarota G, Marzetti E, Martone A, Landi F, Gasbarrini A. Nutrition and IBD: Malnutrition and/or Sarcopenia? A Practical Guide. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2017;2017:8646495. doi: 10.1155/2017/8646495. Epub 2017 Jan 3. PMID: 28127306; PMCID: PMC5239980.
  4. Jansen I., Prager M., Valentini L., Büning C. Inflammation-driven malnutrition: A new screening tool predicts outcome in Crohn’s disease. Br. J. Nutr. 2016;116:1061–1067. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516003044.
  5. Takaoka A., Sasaki M., Nakanishi N., Kurihara M., Ohi A., Bamba S., Andoh A. Nutritional Screening and Clinical Outcome in Hospitalized Patients with Crohn’s Disease. Ann. Nutr. Metab. 2017;71:266–272. doi: 10.1159/000485637.
  6. Balestrieri P, Ribolsi M, Guarino MPL, Emerenziani S, Altomare A, Cicala M. Nutritional Aspects in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 31;12(2):372. doi: 10.3390/nu12020372. PMID: 32023881; PMCID: PMC7071234.
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