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How to Build Yourself Up

Updated on November 22, 2017
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I am sure we are all familiar with the term 'build yourself up', and have probably even used it ourselves when advising other people on what they need to do in order to improve their health, or prepare themselves for important medical treatments such as radiology and chemotherapy for Cancer, as well as numerous other major surgical procedures. Even during recovery it is important that patients are able to rebuild their bodies, and as many patients lose significant amounts of weight during their treatment they need to restore weight they have lost, plus giving their bodies the fuel they need during their recuperation period.

Now when you feel ill quite often it becomes a real struggle to want to eat at all, especially if faced with a full meal on a plate in front of you. People who struggle to gain weight in general often experience this problem, and few of their friends and relatives understand because they are used to having the opposite problem.

Here are some useful tips to help you plan how to maximise your food intake even when your appetite is very small, and hopefully this will benefit anyone needing to gain weight in preparation for medical treatments or simply because they are frustrated at being unable to gain weight in general.

Useful Tips

  • Don't try to eat full plates of food that will defeat you mentally before you even attempt to consume them. Instead aim to eat 'little and often', and have frequent small meals and snacks instead.
  • Eat lots of different kinds of foods to avoid becoming bored with any one type of food.
  • Choose foods that are high in healthy calories even in small portions (this will be covered in more detail later in this article).
  • Keep snacks handy at all times, even when going out in the car or visiting friends and family.
  • Fill your fridge and freezer with quick easy meals for those times you just don't have the energy to cook or prepare food.
  • Have a fruit bowl full of fresh fruit within reach so it easy to 'graze' on when you feel peckish.
  • If you tend to have a better appetite at certain times of the day, then treat yourself to foods you really enjoy and aim to eat more than you would at other times of the day when your appetite is generally not as good.
  • Avoid drinking too many fluids at meal times as they can fill you up. Instead try having nourishing and tasty drinks between meals.
  • If you are a smoker try to stop, or at least cut right down. Smoking reduces your appetite dramatically, so cutting down or stopping smoking will definitely improve your interest in eating.
  • Try some light exercise to wake up your appetite, e.g. a short walk in the great outdoors.
  • Eat meals with other people in order to feel encouraged to eat more by virtue of the fact everyone around you is also eating.
  • Speak to your doctor about 'Marinol' (dronabinol), which contains synthetic THC. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a naturally occurring chemical substance in the marijuana plant. Cancer patients have used marijuana medicinally to find relief from the pain, nausea, and loss of appetite that can be caused by treatment.

Recommended Meal Plan


  • Toast with butter or margarine and topped with jam, marmalade, Marmite, honey or whatever your personal preferences are.
  • A full English style cooked breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes, black pudding, hash browns, baked beans etc.
  • Porridge or breakfast cereal (muesli, corn flakes, Weetabix etc) made with fortified milk.


  • Dried nuts and or dried fruit with yoghurt.
  • A glass of full cream milk with a toasted and buttered crumpet or teacake.
  • A mug of milky coffee with a slice of malt loaf or fruit cake.


  • Meat, fish, eggs (or a vegetarian/vegan alternative), accompanied by vegetables and some kind of rich potato dish such as a creamy mash or dauphinoise.
  • Rice pudding
  • Cheese and biscuits.


  • A rich build up drink such as Complan, Horlicks, Hot Chocolate made with fortified milk, or any similar drinks, e.g. 'crash weight gain' type drinks body builders use.
  • Breadsticks with dips such as guacamole, hummus and taramasalata, and accompanied by stuffed olives.
  • Creme caramel or trifle (latter topped with real cream).

Evening Meal:

  • Bowl of soup, ideally a 'cream of' type soup e.g. cream of vegetable, cream of tomato etc (add more cream if possible). If you can bear it sprinkle some cheese on top as well, e.g. Parmesan.
  • Jacket potato with butter and a rich filling e.g. chili con carne, cheese, tuna and mayonnaise etc.
  • Slice of cake or a stodgy pudding e.g. sticky toffee, treacle or golden syrup sponge.


  • A rich hot milky drink made using fortified milk e.g. hot chocolate, any malted drink, Complan, Horlicks etc.
  • Toast with butter and your favourite toppings as suggested earlier.


It is common knowledge that we should all drink about two litres (8-10 cups) of fluids a day. When trying to build yourself up it is advisable to make these drinks as nourishing as possible rather than simply drinking plain water.

Try the following ideas:

  • Buy the ready made milkshakes or smoothies that most supermarkets now seem to stock.
  • Drink glasses of full cream milk, (better still if you drink it fortified).
  • Make your own milkshakes or smoothies using fortified milk, but then boost these further by adding in yoghurt, cream or ice-cream. Experiment with flavours by adding melted chocolate, honey, fresh fruit or even milkshake flavouring.
  • Remember to use fortified milk to make all your hot milky drinks too, and in the case of hot drinks like hot chocolate try adding cream and marshmallows.

How to Make Fortified Milk

You will need:

  • 1 pint of full cream milk.
  • 4 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder.


  • Blend the milk powder with a small amount of the milk to form a paste.
  • Stir in the remainder of the milk.
  • Use and store as normal milk.

High Energy Nutritious Snacks

Most people trying to build themselves up will find it easier to snack frequently rather than face up to large meals. For this reason it is wise to ensure that your cupboards, fridge and freezer are full of lots of easy to eat products that have a good shelf life. Some of the best examples of these are frozen, dried or even tinned products.

Try the following foods:

  • Bread (for toast and sandwiches), bread rolls, crumpets, muffins and bagels.
  • Baked beans, cheese, eggs for frying, scrambling, boiling etc, tinned fish such as sardines, pilchards, salmon, mackerel and tuna, ravioli, peanut butter, hummus and spaghetti.
  • Omlettes with various fillings such as cheese, mushroom, ham etc.
  • Scones with butter, jam and cream.
  • Toasted Teacakes with butter.
  • Soups (canned or dried, but add cream wherever possible).
  • Sausage rolls, cocktail sausages, pies, steak slices, pasties, quiches, chicken drumsticks, vol-au-vents etc.
  • Dried nuts, seeds and fruit.
  • Biscuits, cakes, chocolate, cereal snack bars and crisps.
  • A variety of cheeses and your favourite crackers to go with them.
  • Sweet desserts such as trifles, puddings etc.
  • Breakfast cereals to snack on with fortified milk whenever you feel a little peckish.


Naturally there are loads of desserts to choose from, but for the purpose of building yourself up you need to avoid the low fat varieties, and instead focus on the highly calorific choices that are open to you.

Dessert suggestions include:

  • Ice cream
  • Milk based puddings such as semolina, rice pudding, tapioca etc. You can enrich these by adding in evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream or even jam.
  • Pies, cakes, pastries, crumbles etc. Serve with cream, custard (ideally made with fortified milk), evaporated milk, condensed milk or ice cream.
  • Instant desserts such as Angel Delight, Instant Whip, blancmange, milk puddings and custards made using fortified milk.
  • Jelly made with evaporated milk or fortified milk instead of water (if you whisk up the liquid jelly with the evaporated milk added it will set with thousands of small bubbles in it and taste like mousse).
  • Fresh or canned fruit served with cream, evaporated milk, ice cream, fortified milk custard or condensed milk.

Breakfast Ideas

  • Cereal: Remember to add to the basic cereal using booster foods like yoghurt, fortified or evaporated milk, honey, syrup, jam, sugar, dried fruit, nuts or seeds.
  • Toast: Add plenty of butter or margarine. Top with cheese, peanut butter, cold meats etc.
  • Cooked breakfasts: Have plenty of hot bacon, sausages, fried eggs, black pudding, hash browns, bubble and squeak etc.
  • Yoghurts: Buy full fat varieties and either eat on their own or add to cereals and fruits.
  • Canned foods: Ravioli, baked beans or spaghetti on toast, try grating fresh cheese over the top to boost calories and flavour.
  • Eggs: So very versatile and nutritious. Use for omlettes, eat them fried, scrambled, poached etc.
  • Oily fish: Mackerel, kippers, smoked haddock etc. Serve with lots of butter.
  • Smoothies and milk shakes: Make with fortified milk and add fresh fruit, cream etc.

Savoury Meals

Soups and Casseroles:

  • Boost soups up by adding noodles, beans, lentils chicken, fish and minced meats.
  • Add cream, crème fraiche or grated cheese to soups and casseroles.
  • Use fortified milk to make up dried soups.
  • Serve soups with lots of bread and butter and top the soup with croutons.

Other savoury alternatives:

Try to incorporate one or more of these in every meal:

  • Dairy products: Eggs, milk, cheese, cream, butter etc.
  • Fish: Fresh, frozen, canned etc.
  • Meat: Fresh, frozen, canned etc.
  • Vegetarian products: Quorn, tofu, soya etc.
  • Beans and pulses: Canned, dried etc (including lentils, chick peas, kidney beans, haricot beans).
  • Sauces: Try to make rich sauces to serve with meals wherever possible. Include plenty of ingredients like cheese, fortified milk, butter etc.

Pasta, rice, potatoes and noodles:

  • Potatoes: Best served fried, roasted or mashed (with lots of butter and fortified milk).
  • Pasta and Noodles: Stir in butter, oil or even a little cream prior to serving.
  • Pasta: Add rich cheesy/creamy sauces and then grate further cheese on top just prior to serving.
  • Rice: Fry cooked rice with egg, make rich creamy risottos with plenty of meat and seafood included.

Salads and Vegetables:

  • Salads: These contain very few calories, so add lots of high calorie salad dressings such as mayonnaise, salad cream and full fat oils. Boost up the calorific content further by including avocados, croutons, cheeses, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, etc.
  • Vegetables: Fry where possible (ideally in butter) and add grated cheese or cheese sauces e.g. cauliflower cheese, leeks and ham in cheese sauce etc.
  • Raw vegetables: Prepare sticks of raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, asparagus etc, and serve with dips such as hummus, taramasalata, mayonnaise and thousand island dressing.


I hope you found this article helpful, whether for yourself or for a much loved friend or relative that you want to help to 'build themselves up' prior to medical treatment such as radiology, chemotherapy or major surgery. Even if you are just a skinny person struggling to gain weight, you should find following the advice in this article beneficial.

Please be aware that you should consult your doctor or dietitian before following this advice in case they wish you to avoid certain types of food for medical reasons, or they need you to lose weight as opposed to gaining weight.


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