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Aaron Sta Maria
Written by Aaron Sta Maria

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

Underweight? Learn How to Gain Healthy Weight in 5 Easy Steps

Being underweight can trigger a series of negative effects. Discovering how to gain healthy weight is important for your overall well-being.

Thin woman in distress as she looks at a piece of fruit on a plate

Like excessive weight gain and obesity, being underweight can also affect your health negatively. The physical characteristics of being underweight include a low Body Mass Index (BMI) , fatigue, intolerance towards cold, and a thinning or loss of hair. If you have a BMI that’s lower than 18.5, you may also be at risk of dizziness, insomnia, or fainting spells. Women, too, can experience irregular menstrual cycles.

To gain healthy weight, it is necessary to understand the causes of being underweight and follow more holistic, natural methods to help you reach your goal.

Woman sits at the side of her bed while holding her head in her hand
It’s important to learn how to gain healthy weight to prevent illnesses. 

Causes of Being Underweight

The most likely reason for a person to be underweight is neglect. Specifically, a low BMI can be attributed to irregular mealtimes or not consuming healthy, nutritious foods. On the other hand, there are also other reasons that contribute to a low BMI: 

  • Medical issues: cancer, diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), lung disease, Crohn’s disease, (hyperthyroid) and stomach disorders
  • Mental health conditions: anxiety, dementia, stress, and eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa
  • Genetics: Deficiencies or pathogenic factors that individuals inherit from their parents.

Underweight: A TCM’s Perspective

According to Real Health Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew, a person’s body constitution influences their overall health. Similarly, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that underweight people actually have a very complicated pathology.

“There’s no fixed and purely singular body constitution. Clinically, it’s usually complicated where there is a mixture of 2 or more types of body constitution, such as deficiencies of any of the 5 vital viscera — liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys — in the aspects of qi, blood, yin and yang. Pathogenic factors like dampness, fire, blood stasis, and phlegm are also very often present and responsible for the condition of being underweight. They can either be a causative or consequence of the deficiencies, and a vicious cycle will hence be propagated”, explains Physician Brandon.

Additionally , Physician Yew believes that low body weight is also the direct effect of innate and acquired factors, or other underlying diseases. Innate factors include hereditary illnesses, or pathogenic factors or deficiencies passed down from our parents. These genetics, in particular, can make us susceptible to certain diseases. Our parents’ poor prenatal or pregnancy care, too, can cause these negative factors.

Acquired factors, meanwhile, includes our emotional state, environmental factors, and lifestyle and dietary habits. Therefore, parents have a role in teaching their children the importance of healthy living during the early stages of life 

How to Gain Healthy Weight Naturally

A variety of healthy foods on display Fortunately, you can increase your BMI with a health-focused approach. Here are a few ways to gain weight naturally and safely.
A healthy increase of calories can help with weight gain.

1. Consult a doctor

As highlighted above, the causes of being underweight go beyond eating habits and calorie intake. It could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Therefore, always talk to a doctor to find out why you may be underweight. If you are losing weight and experiencing other issues like menstruation problems, hair loss, headaches, and extreme tiredness, it’s important to get medical attention immediately.

2. Increase your calorie intake

Try eating more than usual – but there’s no need to do it drastically. Focus on a healthy calorie increase by adding nut or seed toppings to your meals. You can also eat nutritious carbohydrates like brown rice or snacks like almonds, fruits, and sunflower seeds.

If you lack appetite because of physical or emotional issues, limit large-sized meals. Consider eating smaller meals throughout the day to ensure you get enough calories daily.

3. Use TCM herbal formulations or ingredients

TCM is a good way to complement a weight gain plan. Herbal formulations like Gui Pi Wan (归脾丸), Jian Pi Wan (健脾丸), and Xiao Yao San (逍遥散), and herbal ingredients like Lingzhi (灵芝), malt (麦芽) Astragalus root (黄芪), Atractylodes rhizome (白术) Chinese dates (大枣), Radix Codonopsis (党参), and Solomon’s seal rhizome (黄精) are effective for improving digestion, boosting qi flow, and strengthening the spleen.

“Bear in mind that the herbs and formulas provided above are meant for generic underweight conditions. Some people might benefit while others may not. As such, don’t self-medicate without getting professional guidance by a TCM practitioner,” cautions Physician Yew.

3D visuals of the Baihui, Shenmen and Zusanli acupoints.
Several acupoints, including Baihui, Shenmen and Zusanli can be stimulated to induce weight gain.

4. Try acupressure

Self-help remedies like acupressure can also help promote weight gain by improving the functions of the vital viscera and relieve related symptoms, including dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, fainting and an intolerance towards cold. The various acupoints that you can stimulate include:

  • Bai Hui (DU 20, on the top of the head, along the midline of the human body, approximately on the midpoint of the line connecting the apexes of the two ears)
  • Shen Men (HT 7, on the wrist, at the ulnar end of the transverse crease of the wrist, in the depression on the radial side of the tendon m. flexor carpi ulnaris)
  • Zu San Li (ST 36, on the anterior aspect of the lower leg, four fingers-breadth below the outer depression of the knee joint, and one finger-breadth from the anterior crest of the tibia)
  • Sanyinjiao (SP 6, on the inner lower leg, 4-fingers-breadth above the tip of the inner ankle bone, just behind the shin bone)
  • Guanyuan (RN 4, along the midline of the lower abdomen, 4-fingers-breadth below the navel)
  • Qihai (RN 6, along the midline of the lower abdomen, 2-fingers-breadth below the navel)

“Do take note that acupressure alone is insufficient to significantly impact and improve the condition of being underweight, as its effects are very mild . It’s still strongly recommended to seek professional TCM help, especially for those suffering from more severe conditions, preferably in adjunction with the opinions of both a nutritionist and medical doctor”, adds Physician Yew.

5. Be cautious about appetite stimulants

If you are considering appetite stimulants or weight gain supplements, always pay attention to the ingredients. Also, consult your doctor before taking them. Not all products are effective or safe – some may even cause adverse health effects.

In a study, the American Family Physician cautions against using prescription appetite stimulants or high-calorie supplements to treat anorexia or cachexia in older adults. This is because megestrol acetate, an ingredient in these appetite stimulants, is shown to offer minimal improvements in terms of appetite and weight gain. On the flip side, these stimulants increase the risk of thrombotic events, fluid retention, and death. Learning how to gain healthy weight is an essential first step towards achieving good health. If you’re underweight, use this guide to reach your ideal BMI weight range and enhance your quality of life.

Learning how to gain healthy weight is an essential first step towards achieving good health. If you’re underweight, use this guide to reach your ideal BMI weight range and enhance your quality of life.


  1. Health Direct. 2021. What to do if you are underweight. [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  2. Better Health Channel. Weight, fertility, and pregnancy health. [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  3. 2020. Underweight adults. [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  4. org. 2020. Healthy Ways to Gain Weight If You’re Underweight. [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  5. American Family Physician. Choosing Wisely. [Accessed 25 November 2021]

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