How to Help a Loved One Maintain Their Weight

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Nov 02 2023.

Standing on a scale.

When thinking about health issues relating to weight, obesity is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, unexplained weight loss is one of the most common problems that family caregivers face. Even if you do all of the grocery shopping, food planning, and meal prep, there’s no guarantee that your loved one will eat. 

Seeing a friend or family member lose their appetite and become weak is worrisome. But it can also be addressed. There are plenty of things you can do to ensure your loved one gets the nutrition they need to stay active and enjoy their life. 

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Catherine Gervacio, RDN, a registered dietitian and a certified exercise nutrition coach with the National Coalition on Healthcare (NCHC). Below, we highlight some of her recommendations and provide tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy weight.

Why Is It Important for Older Adults to Maintain a Healthy Weight?

Maintaining a healthy weight is important throughout all stages of life, but it’s crucial as we age. Research shows that a healthy weight is associated with a reduced risk of chronic health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer

“Older adults also need to preserve their muscle mass and strength to reduce the risk of falls and fractures,” explains Gervacio. “Plus, our immune system function improves if we maintain a healthy weight, making it easier to recover from wounds, injuries, or illnesses. A healthy weight can also contribute to maintaining energy and vitality, leading to an improved quality of life.” 

What You’ll Need:

The best way to help your loved one maintain a healthy weight is to partner with their healthcare team. Since weight loss occurs for different reasons, everyone’s needs vary. 

Professionals, like doctors and registered dietitians, can develop a personalized treatment and dietary plan that aligns with your loved one’s needs. These experts can also answer questions and help you determine the best nutritional approach.

Steps to Help a Loved One Maintain Their Weight

Step One: Visit The Doctor

Make an appointment with your loved one’s doctor if you notice them losing weight or having less interest in food. These are both telltale signs that something is wrong.

“Dental issues, like cavities or ill-fitting dentures, are some of the most common problems that make it difficult to eat,” Gervacio says. “Gastrointestinal disorders are also common, including constipation, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome.”

Other health problems that may contribute to weight loss and/or difficulty eating, include depression and anxiety and neurological disorders, like dementia and Parkinson’s disease. By identifying these or other underlying issues you can address your loved one’s weight loss more effectively.

Step Two: Shop For and Prepare Nutrient-Dense Foods

The best way to combat ongoing weight loss is to shop for and prepare nutrient-dense, healthy foods. 

“Consider calorie-rich, protein-packed options like nuts, avocados, whole milk, and lean meats,” says Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian. “More specifically, aim for at least 15-20 grams of protein in every meal.” Protein digests slowly, keeping you satisfied longer. It also plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle mass, both of which are crucial for older adults. 

“It’s also good to make sure your loved one is properly hydrated,” adds Gervacio. “Dehydration may contribute to weight loss and other health issues. Ultimately, be patient and understanding. Sometimes boosting your loved one’s mood or providing companionship during meals is enough to bolster their appetite.” 

Step Three: Limit Junk Food

Junk food is calorically dense, which can help with weight gain. But these calories are empty and provide few nutrients or energy. 

“Limit giving your loved one foods with added sugars and refined carbs,” says Gervacio. “These include white bread, cake, ice cream, and other sweet desserts. Always check the nutritional labels on food and avoid those with added sugar.”

Caregiver Tip

You don’t have to deprive your loved one of their favorite treats, but you should try to moderate their intake. A diet that consists of sweet drinks, processed meats, and salty fats is a recipe for potentially serious problems, including heart disease and mental health disorders. 

Step Four: Encourage Your Loved One to Exercise

Consider encouraging your loved one to exercise if they’re mobile and in relatively good health. 

“Regular physical activity boosts metabolism, helping your loved one burn calories and not gain weight,” explains Gervacio. “Alternatively, strength training can help preserve or increase your loved one’s muscle mass. Other benefits of exercise include cardiovascular, mental, and bone health.” 

Regular exercise can be a boon for weight support, but it isn’t something to rush into. Talk with your loved one’s doctor before starting any new type of physical activity. They can recommend exercises that align with your loved one’s capabilities, reducing the risk of falls and injuries.

Recommended Reading: Chair Exercises that Promote Healthy Aging

Step Five: Supplement Meals with Nutritionally-Dense Snacks

Nutritional shakes are an easy and affordable way to increase your loved one’s caloric intake. They don’t require any special prep, which saves you time as a caregiver. And, they don’t need to be chewed –– making them ideal if your loved one wears dentures or has difficulty chewing. 

“Protein shakes, meal replacement drinks, and high-calorie oral nutritional supplements (ONS) are worth considering if your loved one is experiencing severe weight loss or malnutrition,” Arsenault says. “Common brands include Ensure and Boost. However, these drinks should support a balanced diet, not replace it altogether.” 

Shop Meal Replacement Drinks on Carewell

Hear it from a caregiver

“My mother loves the taste and I’m happy and confident that her nutritional needs are being reached.”

- Tama R. 

Boost Very High Calorie Oral Supplement, Vanilla
Boost Very High Calorie Oral Supplement, Vanilla

Calories per Serving: 530

Price: $59.00

Ensure Clear Nutritional Drink
Ensure Clear Nutritional Drink

Price: $11.59 - $33.47

Step Six: Make Weight Management Fun by “Gameifying” the Process

Trying to gain or maintain a healthy weight can seem like a hassle, especially if your loved one has underlying health problems. Rather than nagging and pleading, focus on staying positive and making good nutrition fun. 

“Maintaining weight shouldn’t be boring!” Says Gervacio. “Set up a reward system for every goal that your loved one achieves. For example, you could schedule a spa day, or buy your loved one a new book if they enjoy reading. Small bonuses like these can help them keep a positive perspective about healthy eating and weight maintenance.” 

Helping a Loved One Maintain Their Weight - The Bottom Line

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to weight maintenance, but with the right strategy and a positive attitude, you can give your loved one the nutrition they need to feel their best and prevent further weight loss. 

Have questions or concerns? Get in touch! Our friendly Care Specialists regularly help family caregivers with all things food and nutrition. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com. We’re available 24/7 and committed to making your life easier.

How to Help a Loved One Maintain Their Weight - Commonly Asked Questions

1) When should family caregivers be concerned about a loved one’s weight loss?

“Any rapid or unexplained weight loss is something to pay attention to,” says Arsenault. “These symptoms can point to an underlying health problem that needs to be addressed. You should also get help if your loved one experiences a loss of appetite, has significant changes in their eating patterns and eating habits, or suffers from extreme weakness or tiredness.” 

2) Can medications affect my loved one’s ability to gain or maintain weight?

It’s possible! Many older adults take two or more prescription drugs. Certain medications present side effects that may cause a loss of appetite, weight loss, and other eating difficulties. 

3) Should my loved one eat more calories if they’re losing weight?

Yes. If your loved one is losing weight quickly, it’s important to increase their caloric intake. That said, everyone’s caloric needs vary. 

Working with a qualified specialist, like a registered dietitian, can help you determine how to help your loved one best. Generally speaking, adding 500-1000 extra calories per day can help your loved one maintain or gain weight.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.