Healthy Weight Gain for Older Adults

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Are you an older adult who is losing weight without wanting to? There are many reasons why you may experience unplanned weight loss. With a little planning, you can help maintain your weight and avoid the negative health effects that weight loss may cause.

What causes unplanned weight loss in older adults?

Below are some common reasons why you may be losing weight without intending to:

  • Eating too little food
  • Not having enough money to buy food
  • Not being able to go grocery shopping or cook or feed yourself
  • Feeling depressed, sad, isolated and eating alone most of the time
  • Having swallowing problems, mouth or tooth problems
  • Not being able to smell, taste, chew or digest food properly  
  • Having an illness or a medical condition like cancer, heart conditions and digestive conditions such as ulcers or gall bladder disease
  • Taking medications that may cause nausea and vomiting, difficulty swallowing, taste loss and poor appetite
  • Drinking 3 or more alcoholic beverages every day

When should I be concerned about my weight loss?

Unplanned weight loss can lead to serious health effects. Speak to your doctor:

  • If you have lost 4% to 5% or more of your body weight in the past 12 months without trying to or
  • If you have lost 10% or more in a 5 to 10 year period or longer without trying to

What can unplanned weight loss lead to?

Unplanned weight loss may:

  • Limit your ability to do day-to-day tasks
  • Make a medical condition worse
  • Increase your risk for muscle loss, infection, illness, depression and death

How can I avoid weight loss?          

Making small changes to your eating habits throughout the day can help you avoid the health effects of unplanned weight loss. Read on for helpful nutrition tips.

Eat enough food

Many older adults don’t eat enough food. This can increase the risk of weight loss and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  Try the following:

Eat smaller meals more often.

  • Choose high calorie and high protein foods at every meal and snack. Include full fat foods like cheese with 20% or more M.F. (milk fat) and 3% M.F. yogurt.
  • Choose eggs, meat, poultry, fish and nut butters. Try Baked Chicken and Potato Dinner or Protein Bars for a snack.
  • Add healthy fats or oils to your usual foods such as drizzling olive oil on your steamed vegetables or adding non-hydrogenated margarine to your brown rice.
  • Drink high calorie or high protein fluids after your meal or snack. Try a milkshake or whole (homo) milk with added milk powder for more calories.

Eat foods with the right texture

  • Dentures that don’t fit or missing teeth can make it hard to eat foods that you usually enjoy. Changing the way food is made or choosing different foods may help. 
  • Grind your food with a food processor.
  • Cook your food longer to soften foods such as meat, vegetables and grains.
  • Eat soft foods such as yogurt, meat loaf, avocado and eggs. Click on Eating Soft Foods for menu planning ideas.

Increase your appetite

Will a nutritional supplement help?

Your doctor or a Registered Dietitian may recommend a nutritional supplement if you have lost too much weight.

A nutritional supplement may be a powder, liquid or pudding and provides added calories, vitamins and minerals. If taking a liquid nutritional supplement, take it between meals to leave more room for solid foods, at mealtime. For a home-made, liquid nutritional supplement try the Sunny Orange Shake.  

Bottom line

Making small changes to your eating habits can help you avoid unplanned weight loss. If you have had unplanned weight loss in the last 12 months, speak with your doctor.

You also may be interested in:

Increasing Your Calorie and Protein Intake for more ideas.

Your Emergency Food Shelf for food ideas that can help in cases of poor health, bad weather or emergencies. 

Cooking for One or Two: Easy Meals to Make

A Matter of Taste to learn about ways to keep the flavour in foods.

Seniors Nutrition for more great articles on healthy eating and aging well.

Last Update – May 16, 2022

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