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.
“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. 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.