How to Gain Weight on Your Diet

I may have more compassion and understanding of people who struggle with their weight and their diet than anyone else on the planet. I’ve dealt with it literally all my life. My parents went on diet after diet. Even at seven or eight years old, I’d often diet with them. By the time I was eight, I could make a mean, fat-free, apple pie with a Grape Nuts crust, and I often ate Melba toast, celery, and cottage cheese for lunch in middle school.


The diet would always start on a Monday, and that decision always meant, “We’ll never eat pizza, ice cream, Captain Crunch, or drink Coke, ever again!” On Sunday, we’d eat everything we knew we’d be deprived of for the rest of our lives.

Sadly, the diet would usually last only two–three days. As a matter of fact, sometimes the pressure would be too great, and the diet wouldn’t start at all. All told, this would give us a net weight gain of approximately five–six pounds as a result of all of the food we ate on Sunday, before it started.

I was a personal trainer in my late teens; this is before we were even called “personal trainers.” I was just that guy at the gym that helps you work out. At that time, nearly all of the people that approached me had the same goal: “I want to lose weight for—spring break, a trip to Hawaii, or my wedding—which is coming up in two weeks.”

Like you’d expect, this approach rarely worked. While some of them would really suck it up, work hard, and starve for those two weeks, they’d gain back every ounce and more immediately following their event. Like my parents’ diets, in the end, the result from the start of the diet was weight gained, not lost. By the way, there’s something not quite right about a man or woman dropping weight just for the wedding and then gaining more back.

That’s like false advertising. My experience with failing diets continued. In order to graduate with my degree in nutrition, I had to assist in a nutrition and weight-loss clinic. My first patient was a woman who was dating a friend of mine. She was beginning to put on a lot of weight, and she wanted to get it under control. Or, more likely, since he was the one who called, he wanted her to get it under control. I gave her the standard diet program recommended by the nutritional science world at the time. It consisted of following a point scale. Each carbohydrate, protein, and fat gram was worth a certain number of points, and you were allowed only so many points per meal and per day. The object of this point system was to make sure you got the nutrients you needed while taking in only a certain amount of calories. One obvious problem with this method was that if you ate a cookie that was it for food for the day.

Despite the fact that she handed in a diet diary every week showing that she was abiding by the system, every time she came in to see me, she had gained weight. At the end of her second week, she had gained eight pounds.

About that time, my friend called me and began to question what I was doing. In fact, he said, “You obviously have no idea what you are doing!”

With the painful reality that his girlfriend was packing on pounds at an alarming rate while under my care, and that the other clients I had started on the program also were gaining weight, I began to wonder if maybe he wasn’t right.

The next day, as I pulled into the weight-loss clinic parking lot, I noticed my friend’s girlfriend had arrived before me. I pulled up right next to her car to park, and as I got out of my car, I couldn’t help but notice that her passenger seat was covered with colored sprinkles. As it turns out, part of her nutritionist appointment included a trip to Dairy Queen. This snack had not managed to make its way onto the weekly diet diary.

Great job, I thought to myself. As a result of your care, she now not only has an eating disorder, she’s also become a pathological liar!

After watching all of my weight-loss patients gain an average of four pounds a week, and having all my diabetes patients end up doubling their insulin, it became clear that the standard methods of weight management the clinic was recommending weren’t measuring up.

All of these diet plan failures sent me to the lab for the next several decades to find good science and plans that work. Now, I can look at a new fad diet or weight loss program and know in about four seconds whether or not it will work—or if it’s so hard you’ll just end up gaining more weight and smuggling ice cream products in your vehicle

The Obesity Epidemic

If you are an American adult, your chances of being overweight or obese are greater than the odds that you just flipped heads. In fact, it’s not even close. You have a fifty percent chance of flipping heads. But according to the latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control, there is an almost seventy percent chance that you are overweight or obese.

I was in an antique shop near my home in Central Florida and picked up a newspaper from the 1950s. Inside, was an advertisement for the circus that featured a picture of the “fat man.” Immediately, I was struck by the fact that by contrast to the current public, he really didn’t look that fat.

Today, the “fat man” of the 1950s would be a “medium” at Walmart.

As time goes by, the numbers are getting worse, not better. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, obesity rates among children and adolescents have nearly tripled, with 12.5 million children aged 2-19 categorized as medically obese—the stage beyond merely “overweight.” According to the Bogaluse Heart Study, children aged 5 to 17 are obese at a rate some three times the obesity rates in the early 1970s.

Adults are no better off. The American Heart Association lists 154.7 million adults as overweight or obese. About one-third of all American adults are simply obese.

In addition to costing us our health, obesity is costing us money. The CDC estimates the annual medical cost of obesity in the US was a staggering $147 billion in 2008, with obesity costing Americans an average of $1,429 more per year than people of average weight.

That’s a lot of quarters.

Dr. Ben Lerner , Maximized Living Co-Founder