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Keeping lean on 17,500kj a day

Date
When too much is not enough ... some people struggle to gain weight.

When too much is not enough ... some people struggle to gain weight. Photo: Janie Barrett

Gain six kilos in six weeks- yes, you can! That’s one cover line you won’t see on the front pages of glossy magazines – at least not while so many Australians are overweight.  Yet putting on weight – the opposite of what most people want to do – can be tough too, as journalist Clementine Johnson discovered when she set herself a goal of gaining six kilos in six weeks. After three weeks of eating bigger meals and increasing healthy fats like nuts, avocado and olive oil, she gained only 200 grams.

A petite (159 centimetres) runner who weighed only 43 kilos, 27-year-old Johnson is what Sydney sports dietitian Rebecca Hay calls a ‘burner’ - someone whose metabolism torches kilojoules so efficiently they don’t have chance to turn into fat.

It surprises me how some people feel it's okay to say 'you're skinny - you really should put on some weight', while it's not okay to tell someone 'you're fat and you need to lose weight'. 

“If you’re a burner, it can be as hard to put weight on as it is for others to lose it,” she says.

Super fast metabolism ... Clem Johnson strives to gain weight on 17,500kj a day.

Super fast metabolism ... Clem Johnson strives to gain weight on 17,500kj a day. Photo: Janie Barrett

This, along with running 11 kilometres every  second day at 4.5 minutes per kilometre, is why Johnson can  eat big meals – and demolish everyone else’s leftovers - and gain only grams, not kilos. But while close friends know dietary restraint isn’t the cause of her tiny frame, Johnson feels that others look at her and inwardly murmur ‘eating disorder’.

“People who don’t know you well misjudge you,” she says. “It surprises me how some people feel it’s OK to say ‘you’re skinny - you really should put on some weight’, while it’s not okay to tell someone ‘you’re fat and you need to lose weight’.”

Another reason for wanting more kilos was the possibility of losing weight from gastroenteritis - with a new job starting in Uganda in September, Johnson needed extra fat just in case. 

Determined to add those six kilos, Johnson upped her daily kilojoules to 17,000 – almost twice the average daily intake of 8,700 kilojoules.  Breakfast was five Weet-Bix, half a litre of full fat soymilk and fruit. Lunch was four thick slices of grainy bread with half an avocado, tuna, full fat ricotta, and vegetables dressed with olive oil; dinner was three or four serves of rice, 300g of fish, meat or poultry, a corn cob, half an avocado, two cups of vegetables and more olive oil. Dessert was two pieces of fruit with yoghurt or ice cream and nuts. Between meals were more nuts and homemade muffins.

After three weeks she finally added four kilos – but only after dramatically reducing her running. It was a hard decision - having come third in Tasmania’s City to Casino 11 kilometre run earlier this year, Johnson was keen to improve as a runner

So why were those four kilos so hard to gain? 

“The issue for burners is that it’s difficult for them to gain weight without eating so much food they feel like a Strasbourg goose,” says Rebecca Hay. “Volume becomes a problem – you can’t fit any more in.

“Clem has been eating good foods, but my advice to anyone who wants to add weight is to include more liquid foods - they add kilojoules without bulk.  Juices or drinks made with powdered nutrition supplements like Sustagen or Ensure are good. So is adding skim milk powder to reduced fat milk for tea or coffee or on cereal – this adds extra protein and kilojoules. Concentrated kilojoules in foods like honey and dried fruit help too.

“Another tip is making main meals smaller and snacks larger – this makes it easier to fit more food in.”

Running can be another obstacle to weight gain - good news for anyone keen to lose kilos, not gain them, is that intense exercise that raises your heart rate can burn fat more efficiently.

But if, like Johnson, you want to add weight and keep exercising, Hay suggests a small easily digested snack like a banana 20 to 30 minutes before exercise – this prevents the body from dipping into its fat stores.

Have you ever had to work at putting weight on? 

76 comments so far

  • Yes and it is not as much fun as it sounds, you never feel nicely hungry, and food becomes a medicine rather than a pleasure. Once I reached my target weight (gained at the rate of about 1 kg a month) and started to eat to suit my appetite, my weight plateaued, and has been stable ever since. I know very well that this seems to be a talent that my friends envy, but I really try to listen to what my appetite tells me to eat, and never pig out on anything. I do agree, the milk drink with powdered milk, sustagen, banana, honey etc is a good way of getting painless calories.

    Commenter
    Janette
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 8:02PM
    • Don't get too relaxed ... I could not put on weight all of my life ... tried to bulk up - ate heaps lifted heavy weights, but just got skinnier and stronger...

      However, at about 45 years of age I started to gain weight, now I'm up 14 kg at 54 years, but it is all on my stomach! Every time I eat an extra mouthful I put on one kg!

      Commenter
      markx
      Date and time
      August 15, 2012, 2:41AM
    • When I was younger I was really skinny, regardless of food. I remember dating this girl who, despite also being thin, had thicker arms than me, and boy, the jokes were relentless!

      Commenter
      Bob
      Date and time
      August 16, 2012, 9:02AM
    • Also, I should add that for men, being skinny isn't exactly something that you aspire to. Maybe for women, but not for men.

      Commenter
      Bob
      Date and time
      August 16, 2012, 9:08AM
  • Maybe she can try drinking soft drinks, lots of alcoholic beverages and other sources of kilojoules/calories that for most people don't take away much appetite rather if anything are addictive.

    Commenter
    Gizza
    Location
    St. Ives
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 11:46PM
    • Just to clarify,

      So if you do a lot of exercise, you can eat a lot of food without putting on much weight.
      And if you eat a lot of food but don't exercise, you rapidly start gaining weight.

      OMG Why haven't doctors, nutritionists and dietitians been telling this for the last 50+ years???

      Here I was thinking that 99% of the obesity in Australia wasn't because people eat too much and exercise too little, but because they just can't help it - that's just how they are. They have um...thyroid issues or something.

      Commenter
      Christian
      Date and time
      August 15, 2012, 1:12AM
      • Not so for everyone Christian. I did very little to no exercise, had a sedentary job and ate a ridiculous amount of carbs and whatever I wanted really and weighed 42kg for over 10 years. No doctor was able to diagnose any medical conditions, I just had a VERY fast metabolism. I had to eat A LOT of food and even tried those shake supplements between meals just to maintain that weight. My metabolism changed in my 30s, as it does, and I have a much more nutritious and simple diet, do more exercise and am a much more 'normal' weight now but keeping weight on was a real struggle in my 20s and I hated the comments I would get from people about my weight. I thought people were quite rude really.

        Commenter
        Mel
        Location
        Fitzgerald
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 8:51AM
      • the article was about people unable to put on weight, possibly due to too muche exercise, not people unable to take weight off without exercise. So your point is irrelevant and really neither clever nor witty. Try gardening rather than trolling instead.

        Commenter
        StBob
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 8:52AM
      • Mel - sure, as I said not everyone is obese because of poor diet and/or exercise. Some people have a legitimate medical reason.

        That leaves us with about 99% of the obese who are obese only because they prefer to beobese , or because they choose not to do enough exercise and/or eat too much.

        Commenter
        Christian
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 9:36AM
      • I love it when people pull statistics and percentages out of you know where...

        98% of people do that!

        Commenter
        Alex
        Location
        Geelong
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 5:05PM

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