This story originally appeared in the August/September 2015 issue of Pointe.
At my last checkup my doctor said I needed to gain weight. I'm 91 pounds and 5' 3". I understand the health risks of being underweight, especially since I'm 17 and haven't gotten my period yet, but I like my body the way it is. What is the best way to gain weight without overdoing the ice cream? —Sarah
Even though you're happy with your body as is, your doctor is right—you're underweight. And the fact that you haven't had your first period yet is a serious concern. A delayed first period, called primary amenorrhea, is often accompanied by low estrogen levels and frequently occurs in athletic teenagers because they exercise heavily, eat too few calories or both. As a result, you're at a greater risk for low bone density—which can mean stress fractures and osteoporosis down the line.
According to Emily Harrison, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian for the Centre for Dance Nutrition at Atlanta Ballet, gaining 7 to 12 pounds is a good start toward being in a healthier weight range. She recommends slow, steady weight gain of about one pound every one to two weeks. “It's best to achieve this by eating regularly throughout the day in smaller but frequent meals and snacks," says Harrison.
Since individual needs are different, it's a smart idea to meet with a registered dietitian in your area for a personalized plan. Here are some of Harrison's recommendations for snacks containing healthy fats and protein, which will help you achieve your weight goal: Add 1/4 cup of nuts to your oatmeal for breakfast; top salads with three slices of avocado; eat 1/2 to one cup of high-protein red-lentil pasta before or after class, or hummus with crackers or veggies. You can also increase your portion sizes of healthy foods such as soups, wraps and salads—Harrison offers a variety of recipes on her website, dancernutrition.com.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.