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Ask Dr. Gourmet

I'm on a low fat diet after my heart attack and now I'm underweight. How can I gain?

I was put on a low fat or no fat diet and lost 23 pounds, but am now too skinny. I was given this diet after a heart attack. I have trouble gaining weight even though I eat fairly well. Except for fats - now the dietitian says to use butter on toast and olive oil in my salad. I am 5 foot 7 and weigh 120 pounds--23 less than when I came out of the hospital.

Does this loss have something to do with the function of my heart? There was some damage, so I was put on a very light exercise program. I hate losing this weight as there seems to be very little fat on my body. I have an appointment to see my general practitioner but not till three weeks time.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

You are not underweight. You can calculate your Body Mass Index on the Dr. Gourmet website here: Dr. Tim Says... How Much Should You Weigh?

When you do this you will find that your weight is at the low end of what is considered normal. For someone who has had a heart attack, being within a normal BMI is associated with less risk for another heart attack.

It may be that since you are on a restricted exercise program you have lost some muscle mass as well. Discuss this with your general practitioner and see if there is a way for you to begin exercising more.

The dietitian who instructed you to eat butter on your toast is wrong. Use a light spread like Take Control Light, Promise Buttery Spread Light or Smart Balance Light and then only in sparing amounts. Having heart disease you do not want to add any extra saturated fat to your diet.

Part of the problem is that people's perception of what a normal weight is has been skewed in the last few decades by the growing obesity of the population. While you are at the lower end of what is considered normal, this is still better than being overweight and having heart disease.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet