How to Add Curves

11 Jul

If you are a very underweight person, you have probably been told many, many times by many, many people how to gain weight. Just eat more.

Frankly, that is a very simplistic approach and I am here to tell you that there’s more to it than that.

If you are suffering from low self-esteem due to low body weight and the associated issues that come with it (not filling out any of your clothing, for example, no matter how small it is), you may be tempted — out of desperation and ignorance — to take this sage advice. So you do it. You “eat more.” You eat a LOT more. Mostly fatty, sugary, and dense foods. And when you can’t eat any more, you supplement. Weight gainers, Ensure Plus, calorie-laden smoothies. Whatever. The whole point is to get those calories in, right?

And you gain a little weight. You fill out a bit and people say you look good. But then something weird happens — you plateau, well under your target weight. No matter how many thousands of calories you cram into your “diet” the scales simply don’t go any higher. And what’s worse is that you feel. like. crap. You lack energy, feel bloated, and your skin may be oily and greasy. Your face gets rounder to the extent that you begin to look like someone else. And if you were to check your blood chemistry at this point, your doctor would probably yell at you.

I tried this tactic seriously when I was 26, consuming well over 3000 calories a day for about 5 months. Starting at 90 lbs., I plateaued at around 105 lbs. — still a good 20-25 lbs. under average weight for my height. I didn’t know enough about my metabolism then to understand why that was the case, but facts were facts. Unless I started gorging myself even more, the scale wasn’t going to budge further. And at that stage I already felt awful. I’m at least smart enough to know that if you don’t feel good, you can’t be doing yourself any good.

So I tried something new — bodybuilding. Turns out that’s the trick (for me, at least). Starting in April 2006 at around 93 lbs., I began hitting the gym 3-4 times per week for an hour. By August I weighed 112 lbs. And the best part was that I felt great. My stamina and balance improved, I had lots more energy, and my mood was through the roof. I looked fantastic — muscular, not soft — and felt even better. I fondly remember this period as one of the happiest in my life.

However, it was superceded by the happiest in my life, that of meeting my husband. With the whirlwind of meeting, courting, and marrying, I quit going to the gym. And quickly, not slowly at all, I lost all the muscle I had worked so hard to gain within a matter of a few months.

And it stayed lost. We celebrated our 6th anniversary in April and I had long been back at my body’s favorite weight to be– 90 lbs. For most of those years, I had been telling people who wondered about my extremely low weight that I can gain weight by giving those calories something to do besides burn. By giving those calories (especially those from protein!) some muscle to build, I can not only gain weight but also become less fragile, build stronger bones, and become less susceptible to injury. As a small frame woman at high risk for osteoporosis, these are nothing but good things to do.

So why wasn’t I doing it? For the same reasons anyone else isn’t in the gym, or any other place they can get some exercise. I was busy. Really, really busy.

Thankfully, I got a lot less busy last May. And I immediately knew what I wanted to do.

I started lifting again in late May, when I was struggling to stay above 90 lbs. This week I have been hitting 99 lbs. for the past few days consistently. Here’s what the difference looks like.

Before (left): 90 lbs and feeling okay. After (right): 99 lbs and feeling fantastic!

Before (left): 90 lbs and feeling okay. After (right): 99 lbs and feeling fantastic!

Obviously, the biggest change so far has been in my thighs, but I am also making impressive gains in upper body strength — particularly the shoulders. Importantly, I can tell you once again that I feel fabulous and look forward to each and every workout with renewed energy and enthusiasm. We’ll talk more in a future installment about why this is the case, and why simply “eating more” doesn’t work for people like us. But until then:

Quit stuffing your face and go to the gym, hard gainers. Do not be afraid of the weights, they are your friends!

One Response

  1. Ania says:

    Wow! I am not alone! I look a heck of a lot like you Chana (though my body mass is greater; 5’9” and 110 lbs; I guess I am denser than you and maybe my butt is bigger, but the rest of me looks almost identical). I’ve also had the ‘skinny hate’ all my life despite eating as much as a man. I remember a temp job in administration in the NHS working at a mental hospital… I was too embarrassed to walk around outside my building because we worked next door the eating disorder building, but almost all of those girls going in or out were heavier and shorter than me… It really hurts to try so hard to put on weight and be ‘type cast’ and ‘hated’ by bigger women. What I would give for a fuller figure! Which gets me to the point: Do you also have hell getting bras? For me it isn’t a lack of breasts that is the problem, it is that ectomorph boobs, as far as I can tell, are different. They don’t fold over or wobble about (great for sports) but the down side is, with modern bras all about squeezing boobs together and upwards, that is just plain agonizing for well attached boobies. And going down to the smaller cup sizes actually doesn’t fully cover the boob (i.e. surface area not covered, or wires painfully ill-fitting) and means suffocatingly tight chest bands. I’ve taken to sewing bikini inserts (the extra triangle of spongy fabric, a couple mm thick, that comes in bikinis to stop your nips pointing through when wet) inside of vests to go without a bra at all. Have you (or anyone else reading this) come up with any other solutions? Or found a bra make that works? I’ve searched and searched but they all seem to be aimed at women who are petite (i.e. tiiiiiny in all dimensions, not just skinny).

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The Skinny

Life as an extreme ectomorph