Can You Gain Weight Eating Healthy Foods?


“I eat only healthy foods. So why can’t I lose weight?”

Believe it or not, this is one of the questions I get emailed about the most.

Because for the most part, most people these days know they should be eating plenty of veggies, lean protein, unprocessed carbohydrates, fruit, and healthy fats. They know they should be minimizing their sugar intake, cooking at home whenever possible, and swapping green tea and water for their daily soda.

So when people eat healthy but still can’t seem to lose weight, or even end up gaining weight, it’s understandably very frustrating.

So what’s the key to not gaining weight on healthy foods?

The answer is fairly simple, but unglamorous: portion control.

Watch what you eat

Yes, you know you need to control your portions when you have a piece of cake or bowl of ice cream. But you may not have realized that the same goes for ancient grains, healthy fats, and even fruit.

When you load up your plate with good things like quinoa, avocado, nuts, berries, greek yogurt and oatmeal, what you have to realize those aren’t “free” calories. No matter how healthy the food is for you, those calories can still add up, causing you to experience a weight loss plateau or even weight gain.

And sure, there are different schools of thought on calories—the traditional school of thought is that when you eat less calories than you burn, you lose weight, and vise versa. But recent research by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that this way of thinking is flawed, and that the body processes different types of calories differently. So basically, when you’re eating a diet that’s fairly low-carb and includes minimally processed grains, vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats, you can actually eat more than if you were eating a low fat, minimal protein diet.

But that doesn’t mean that even if your diet is mostly the latter, you don’t still have to watch your portions.

So how much healthy food should you be eating?

While it will obviously vary based on your own personal goals, here’s a general rule to follow when trying to figure how big your portions should be:

For guys:

  • Lean protein (meat, fish, eggs, etc.): Approximately 2x the size of your palm
  • Carbs (oatmeal, rice, quinoa, etc.): Approximately 1x the size of your palm
  • Vegetables: Approximately 2x the size of your palm

For girls:

  • Lean protein: Approximately 1x the size of your palm
  • Carbs: Approximately 1x your palm
  • Vegetables: Approximately 2x your palm

And that’s all you need to remember when it comes to figuring out your portion sizes.

Of course, you can get more technical by measuring grams, but if you stick to the palm rule, you should be doing ok. Oh, and those measurements are based on eating 4-6 times a day—feel free to adjust as necessary if you eat more or less than that.

As for fruit, try and stick to 2-3 portions a day—a portion size being a medium apple, orange, peach, a palmful of berries, a single small to medium banana, etc. Any more than that and you may be hindering potential weight loss.

Be aware of the extras

Aside from too big of portions, one of the easiest ways to make healthy food work against you is what you (or the restaurant you’re eating at) puts on it. The biggest culprits here are oils, sauces, cheese, butter, and grains.

Obviously, this is going to be a lot easier to figure out if you’re eating at home a lot, since cooking your own food helps you know exactly how much oil, etc. you’re putting in your food. If you eat out a lot, however, it’s going to be a lot more tricky, and this is where you might be getting yourself in trouble.

For example, there’s this awesome restaurant my husband and I love to go to in San Francisco that has really fantastic, fresh food, outdoor seating, and good wine. When you first look at their menu, they seem to offer several healthy options, including appetizers like broccolini (yum!), baked cauliflower, and roasted beats.

Most people probably order these dishes thinking they’re making a healthy choice. But they may not realize that:

  • The cauliflower is covered in butter and bread crumbs
  • The broccoli is smothered in oil and cheese
  • The beets have at least three servings of cheese (300 calories+) and probably oil or butter as well

Alone, these veggies would be incredibly low-cal, healthy choices. But with the toppings (that obviously make them delicious) they can easily contain more calories than you should be eating in an entire meal.

The lesson here? To pay attention to not only the amount you’re eating, but also what’s been added to your food.

Track what you eat

While I don’t necessarily recommend doing this all the time (doing so can be both time consuming and frankly just annoying for you and those around you), tracking what you eat can be one of the best ways to figure out if you’re consuming too many healthy foods.

And it’s easy to get started: simply keep a notebook and write down everything you eat for a few days, or even use an app like Lose It to track how much you’re really eating.

But here’s the thing: if you’re going to track what you eat, you have to be accurate. Most people actually underestimate how much food they’re eating during the day, so you’ll need to make sure to write down or record every single thing you eat and the quantity of it. You may want to even use a digital food scale or at least use measuring cups to ensure accuracy.

Try this for a few days or even a week, and see how you do. Are you eating too many healthy foods? Skimping out on your protein and fat and focusing mostly on carbohydrates? Your results may show you the real reason that despite your healthy diet, the pounds haven’t been flying off.

Tip: To figure about how many calories you should be eating, you can try this free calculator by Eat to Perform, which I prefer over the standard calorie calculators.

Get mindful

Eating healthy and reaching your goals depends not only on what you eat, but on how much you eat as well.

And the very best thing you can do to reach your goals? Train yourself to be a mindful eater.

Start paying attention to what you eat, how you feel afterwards, how much energy you have, and how your workouts go. You don’t have to weigh yourself, but at least start to notice how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror. If something is off, make small adjustments to change it until you feel like you’re finally on the right track.

And most of all, take joy in what you eat. Because life is short, and food is meant to be enjoyed, right?

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13 thoughts on “Can You Gain Weight Eating Healthy Foods?”

  1. Of course if you eat too much of anything, you’ll gain weight. The key to health and weight loss is controlling your diet. The key is to find the right diet for you. In order to find the right diet, you need to find a diet that fits your personality and lifestyle.

    For example, I am personally always on the move and prefer larger meals so I use intermittent fasting. Simple as that. Just make sure to find a diet that fits your lifestyle.

  2. Well I monitor portions from 1200 to 600 calories but still gain weight. I diversify sometimes testing differing measures of calories. But still can’t loose anything. One glass of water I look 20 lbs heavier. I work out 2 times daily at 30 min each morning and afternoon sweating but nope. I run 5 miles every other day but no luck. My dietician can’t figure it out. My thyroid is healthy as can be but I gain so much water it’s ridiculous. My doctor experimented once with putting me on diuretics at an overnight hospital stay and I pissed two gallon buckets full in the toilet. Plus he said my body naturally absorbs fat from any and everything. He said it’s because it sounds like I hail from survivors hunter gatherers that needed this fat to survive. So in essence it’s my family history of nomadic indians. That sucks cause I can go from 150 to 180 in two or less days.

    • I would try to get a second opinion as what you’re describing sounds like cortisol and a possible thyroid issue. I also think you’re working out too much which can cause excess cortisol and water retention which is more than likely responsible for the fluctuations in weight.

      Cut your cardio down to two to three days a week for no longer than 20-30 minutes. The other days do weight training ( again no longer than 30 minutes) and rest. Working your body too hard is the surest way to do more harm than good. Just remember, its about working out smarter not harder and longer.

      Best of luck to you!


      PS: I apologize for replying so late. I was scrolling though articles wondering what the hell to do. I am a descendent of the Blackfoot Indians in the America’s. Well known for nomadic living style.

  3. Portion control is a term I hate because it’s like you’re restricting yourself from eating enough (what your body needs to keep your body running well.) You need to learn how to listen to your body. If you feel hungry, give it some damn food. Portion control should just mean: don’t overeat. If you’re full, you’re full. But if you’re hungry, don’t tell yourself you can’t have a bit more of this or that because of “portion control” or “you can only eat this much of that” and all that.

  4. well i also tried this kind of diet oatmeal for my breakfast lunch and dinner + some sort of veggies, for my snacks i only consume crackers + doing the house hold chores as a form of my exercise after 3 mos. of sacrifices i only loss 3kgs.whichin turn for me very frustrating..because i almost deprived my self from foods.
    So i decided to change my diet plans which is so effective, this includes jogging for 1 hour every morning,then jumping rope and weights in the evening for 1 hour of course a healthy diet, in the morning eat moderatly a high protein and carbs diet to fuel you up and for repair your muscles ,lunch minimal carbs and a lot of veggies, snacks crackers and water no to SODAS lastly dinner only includes a bowl of oatmeal and fruits only for the flavor nothing else….thats for the diet + increase water intake+ eliminate SODAS=
    and sweets… i guarantee you you will loss 2kgs./mo. this diet is i know frustrating cause you will probably miss your favorite food which in turn causes you more to eat it.. my advice is that just taste TASTE your favorite once/week to satistfy your taste bud throat saliva or anything hahahahah…uhhhuh after tasting a little portion of it try to drink plenty of water…..

    i hope this will help you a lot 🙂

  5. I am one of the healthiest eaters I know. I definitely screwed up over the holidays (i bake cookie gifts for Christmas), but i feel like I’m still gaining weight. One point I appreciate from this article was the suggestion for portion control. U make a healthy light meal, so then u fill up your plate… I tend to do that. Most people give you an idea, but I am not a petite person. Even if I was super slim, I’m almost 5’10” – so when I read about calories, I don’t think the same amount should apply to every woman, or person. The palm of your hand is a general, easy way to portion myself. I intend to use this simple method to help me, except, maybe I will lessen the carbs, and increase the veggies. Thanks for the advice!

  6. For over a year, I worked out twice a day and made a “perfect” morning shake out of over 30 seeds, nuts, powders, spices, fruits etc. I felt great, was satiated and had energy in abundance but didn’t lose much weight. I took the time to enter all of those ingredients, in detail, into a calorie counter that lets you build recipes.
    1200+ calories! First thing in the morning. Needless to say I reduced the quantity of ingredients, removed some of the fruit, and/or split it up into two installments and now need to workout less to maintain a healthy weight.

  7. Been eating lile y toddler and added african grains and salad with slight vinegar and a small portion of chicken or flounder. No salt. Lemon most. Gained over 3 lbs in a week of mega healthy grains , veggies and occ berries. Why weight gain?


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