Tips To Gain And Maintain Weight
Looking from the outside-in, many people might assume being chronically thin is a positive side effect of cystic fibrosis. That’s what everybody wants, isn’t it? Being effortlessly thin sounds wonderful to the average person. When in reality, it can be extremely difficult and frustrating to deal with when living with CF.
Due to the extra energy required to breathe normally, malabsorption, and chronic infections, people with cystic fibrosis need 1.5 to 2 times as many calories to gain and maintain weight.1 I know from experience how difficult it is to reach a healthy BMI of 22 that the CF Foundation recommends women maintain. (The BMI goal for men is 23.)1 It feels like a constant uphill battle, but there are a few tips that have made gaining weight more achievable in my opinion.
Tips for gaining weight with cystic fibrosis have changed
Many, many years ago the advice from cystic fibrosis dieticians to gain and maintain weight was different than it is today. (It’s a very positive change of advice!) When I was little if I wanted chocolate cake for breakfast, my CF team was supportive because there was a hyper-focus on getting as many calories as possible. Unfortunately, the quality of food choices were often overlooked because longevity (and cardiovascular health) wasn’t a concern at that time.
Thankfully, times have changed! Better treatments and longer life expectancies now add the additional responsibility of filling our bodies with high quality and nutrient-dense foods. Everyone has a specific diet they feel best fuels and supports their body--and is enjoyable to eat! It’s up to you to decide what that looks like.
A healthy, well-balanced CF diet absolutely includes high fat, high protein and high-calorie choices, but it also should be filled with vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats (especially important if you take a CFTR modulator) that pique your interest. Find a diet that best supports your body and makes you excited to eat!
Some of my favorite healthy fat sources include:
- Nut butters
- Full fat yogurt
- Olive oil
- Chocolate (yum!)
What I do to gain weight with cystic fibrosis
Exercise to improve my appetite
I never thought eating could feel so much like a chore until I was severely underweight and being pressured to eat. Man, does that really take the fun out of eating. A lack of appetite is a big problem in the CF community for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to want to eat when you just don’t feel well. However, there are a few ways to boost appetite, and exercise is a very beneficial one for me, personally!
Before I exercise, I usually try to have a small snack with a mix of carbs, fats, and proteins to help hold my blood sugar steady. I get my sweat on, and suddenly, I feel super hungry again. So, I eat and eat and eat. Working out a couple times a week is a great way to increase my appetite when I might not otherwise feel hungry.
Taking the time to sit and plan out our weekly meals has been very beneficial for our family (and maintaining my weight gain). I spend less, waste less, and am reassured that each meal has the calories and nutrients my body needs. Meal planning doesn’t have to be rigid at all. Mix it up and rearrange as you feel it best supports your needs.
Along with meal planning, I make sure that plenty of snacks and quick options are available in our home. I don’t always have the time to make complicated snacks. Having a TON of snack options that are easy to grab really makes a difference in how often I'm actually snacking throughout the day.
Food cravings are beneficial
Let me ask you a question: Do you ever get obsessive cravings for a particular food item or dish that will last for a few weeks at a time? The craving comes on very suddenly, and your thoughts are fixated on eating this item over and over again. Anyone? Is this some weird CF thing?
While those cravings can be mentally taxing and annoying, they may serve a purpose. I have realized that food cravings can add extra needed-calories into my day I might not otherwise get. I try not to be judgemental about what my body is craving and just go with it. If it peaks my appetite interest and makes me WANT to eat, that’s the goal. Go with the cravings and reap the calories!
Do you struggle to gain and maintain weight with cystic fibrosis? What are some of your unique tips for maintaining a healthy weight easier? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
PARENTS: Do you have a hard time finding snacks that your little CFer will eat?
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