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Increasing Caloric Intake

Boosting the Amount of Calories in the Food You Eat


Updated February 01, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Weight loss is a common problem in people living with HIV. Obviously, to slow or reverse weight loss, you must take in plenty of calories each day. Sounds simple -- just eat more, right? Well, that is easier said than done, especially if you have a poor appetite. What if you just aren't that hungry for one reason or another? The answer is to maximize the calories you take in. In other words, if you can't eat a lot of food because of a poor appetite, then what you eat has to be loaded with calories. To that end there are tricks to increase the amount of calories in what you eat.

It should be said that well-controlled HIV is not associated with weight loss. Those with uncontrolled AIDS (as well as certain other conditions, such as cancer, untreated diabetes, endocrine diseases, and severe depression) are at risk for wasting syndromes, but treating HIV with antiretrovirals is the chief intervention for HIV-associated weight loss. If you're experiencing unexplained weight loss, the first step is to seek medical treatment.

If you have already consulted a doctor and are looking for a means of increasing calorie intake, here are some simple steps you can take.

Say you have very little appetite but know you need the calories to maintain your weight and to gain back some of the weight you lost. Unfortunately, you only feel like eating a bowl of tomato soup. So you get a can of soup from the pantry; dump the contents into a pan, and add water as directed. In 5 minutes you have a bowl of tomato soup. But you need more calories than the bowl of soup provides. What do you do? The water you add to reconstitute the soup adds absolutely no calories to your meal. So why not find a liquid to reconstitute the soup that will also add calories to the end product. In this case, we will reconstitute the soup with milk instead of water. While a cup of water adds no calories to your soup, a cup of milk adds 150 calories. By adding milk instead of water, your bowl of soup provides more calories without having to eat any addition soup.

There are a number of ways you can increase your caloric intake even when your appetite is poor. Let's look at a few examples.

  • Instead of three large meals, eat several small meals each day. They are easier to digest and are more comfortable than eating very large meals. Small meals should be spaced two to three hours apart ideally.
  • Stop eating two to three hours before bedtime to avoid trying to sleep with a full stomach.
  • Don't eat your favorite foods when you feel poorly. Your body will associate feeling poorly with your favorite food and will want less.
  • Breakfast isn't for only breakfast. Eat breakfast foods any time of day, including eggs, waffles, and pancakes.
  • Eat your largest meals when you are hungry. For instance, if you are hungriest at breakfast, eat a high-calorie breakfast. That way, if you aren't as hungry at dinner you can eat a smaller meal without a loss in caloric intake for the day.
  • If you can, eat nutritious snacks in between your small meals. Snacks like peanut butter and celery or yogurt with fruit can add additional calories to your day.
  • If you are having trouble eating meals, try to supplement your calories with healthy protein bars or liquid meal supplements (e.g. Ensure or Boost).
  • Save room for food. Liquids at meal time are typically lower in calories but take up a lot of room in your stomach. Take small sips of liquid during your meal and save the drinking for in between meals.
  • Add calories to your meal. Use whole milk to make soup. Add powdered or evaporated milk to recipes requiring milk. Finally, add protein powder to milkshakes made as snacks. These things add "hidden" calories that can help with your daily caloric intake.

High-Calorie Foods

Here is a list of foods that are high in calories foods; perfect for increasing your daily calorie intake and gaining weight.

Fats - Certain fats are good for you. Olive oil, flax seed oil, and fish oil are good sources of calories and can help keep bad cholesterol at bay. Dairy products like cheese and whole milk have fats and will help you gain wait but should be consumed in limited quantities. Finally, foods like peanut butter and toast with butter are good snacks that will help you add calories.

Carbohydrates - Nearly all foods have carbohydrates in them. The key is to find the right carbohydrates; ones that are healthy and add calories. Examples of these carbohydrates include fruits, various vegetables, whole grain breads and oatmeal to name a few. Simple sugars like soft drinks and candies do have carbohydrates but offer nothing in the way of nutrition.

Proteins - Proteins like lean beef and pork, chicken, fish and dairy products all contain proteins that help gain weight and are healthy. Powdered protein supplements are an excellent way to add calories when added to milkshakes and mixed with foods like scrambled eggs, pancake batter, and spaghetti sauces.

Beverages - Milkshakes, fruit juices, and fruit smoothies will add calories to your meal but be careful. Drinking too much liquid will fill you up, making it hard to eat your entire meal. Ultimately you may end up taking in fewer calories if you fill up with liquids.

Five Tips to Gaining Weight

If you learn nothing else from this piece, remember these five easy tips to gain weight. By remembering these tips, you can gain or at least maintain your weight. Your body fights HIV every minute of every day. It's a hard fight that requires lots of calories; calories that need to be taken in by you each day. There will be days you won't feel like eating; days where the side effects will make eating difficult. But by following these tips and suggestions, you can gain the weight you need to stay healthy.


Iannelli, V.; "High Calorie Foods"; About.com Pediatrics; 16 Aug 2006.

Jackson, F.; "Increasing Calories"; Jackson / Siegelbaum Gastroenterology; 2008.

Pandit, M.; "What to Eat to Gain Weight"; Buzzle.com; 2011.

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