7 Tips to Manage Weight With Arthritis
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is really important. It can help prevent and control many illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancer.
It is extra important to maintain a healthy weight when you have arthritis because the more weight you have the more pressure you will be putting on your joints. Losing just 10% of your body weight can make a big difference in pain reduction. You can check your body mass index (BMI) to see if losing a little weight may be beneficial for you.
“Body weight plays a crucial part in arthritis, especially the three most common types of arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout),” says Martin Lau, Arthritis Action’s Dietitian and Services Development Manager. “Excess weight places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints. A landmark study found that one pound of weight loss lessens four pounds of pressure on the knees per step. For those with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, carrying more body weight could reduce the chance of achieving remission.”
Not sure where to start? Read on for our 7 tips on managing your weight when you have arthritis.
Stick to a healthy diet
“No diet can ‘cure’ arthritis, and there are no particular diets or specific types of food that will make arthritis better or worse,” says Martin. “Instead, the aim should primarily be to strive for a normal body weight if carrying more than you should, and eating a well-balanced, varied diet.
“Fruit and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins and antioxidants which are essential for staying in good health, not to mention the high-fibre content which is helpful for our gut bacteria. It’s also a good idea to practice common sense when trying to lose weight. Opt for nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, and avoid ready-processed foods and new diets that promise remarkable results. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!”
Try to think about it as a lifestyle change, not a diet
Losing weight isn’t always the hardest thing - it’s maintaining that weight. To do this, it’s important to create a healthy, balanced diet that is both sustainable and actually enjoyable. You don’t have to ‘ban’ certain foods that you enjoy - just strive to be healthy for the majority of the time. This will help you feel better inside and have enough energy to go about your day.
“Try to avoid thinking of yourself as being on a diet as most diets that are too restrictive are destined to fail in the long run,” says Martin. “Instead, think more about healthy eating and putting healthy foods inside your body. For example, eat more fruit, vegetables and grains to fill you up, and try to eat less sugar.”
Set yourself some realistic, regular goals
It’s important that you don’t try to lose too much weight at once - aim for between half a pound to 2 lb per week. To do this, aim to eat around 500 calories less than you usually do by having smaller portions, swapping sugary drinks for calorie-free ones, exercising regularly, and eating less food that is high in calories and low in nutrition.
It’s important to remember that weight loss isn’t always linear and - especially if you’re going to be exercising more than usual - you may find you actually gain weight at first. This isn’t a bad thing, because you may be gaining muscle which, if maintained, can increase your metabolism and help you burn fat.
For this reason, try to set some goals which aren’t directly related to weight loss and are instead around things that can help you lose weight and keep it off, like exercise or food. Perhaps you could start trying to walk for just 10 minutes a day and have a goal of walking for 15 or 20, or maybe you want to be able to swim a few extra lengths at the pool next week.
Maybe your goal could be trying a new salad recipe a week, or learning more about cooking. Whatever it is, try to set some regular goals that can help you see how well you’re doing.
Have a food plan
Some people like to plan down to the last detail while others prefer to be spontaneous, and both approaches are perfectly valid. You don’t have to plan all your meals for the week ahead, but it can be good to have a general idea of what you’ll be making so you can be sure to have all your ingredients and that you have access to healthy, easy meals when your arthritis is making it hard to cook.
Try to stock up on healthy foods and, if you want some treats around, try to include them in your overall calorie intake. There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods and eating a slice of cake or pizza won’t ‘ruin’ your diet. Just enjoy it and get back on track for your next meal.
Commit to regular exercise
We know that it can be intimidating to start exercising, especially if you have arthritis and are worried about making your pain worse. Exercise is actually really helpful for arthritis, because not only can it help you lose weight but it also strengthens your muscles and joints so your body can better support itself with less strain.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean jogging or joining a gym. Gardening, dancing, walking and anything which gets you moving counts. Try to find something that you enjoy and actively want to do, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get more active and have fun in the process!
Get enough sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, it can have a negative effect on your weight because you may be hungrier and need to eat more to keep functioning. Getting enough sleep can have a positive impact on your metabolism and also improve the quality of your day as you’ll feel fresh and focused.
Try going to bed at the same time every night, putting down your phone and reading, maybe try some meditation or other relaxation techniques, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Check out this article for more tips on getting a good night’s sleep with arthritis.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you’re struggling to lose weight, it can be helpful to seek support from a professional like a doctor or health trainer. They can provide advice on food, exercise and perhaps give you some resources for clubs you could join or support groups which may help. Everyone is different, so it’s important that you try a few options and see what works best for you.
What are your tips for managing your weight when you have arthritis? Let us know!