Weight loss, fibromyalgia, and fixes are three frustrating topics! But when you put them all together in a chronic illness stew, you’ve got a real quandary. Do fibromyalgia and chronic illness actually make us overweight? For some, yes. Does it make those who weigh more than they’d like more challenged if they try to lose it? Yes.
Join in the discussion below where I share WHY weight challenges exist for the chronic illness community and WHERE to place your focus if you’re looking for change.
First and foremost, I’d like to share that what you weigh is just one small, smidgen of data when it comes to the complexities of you. If you’re happy with your weight, feel comfortable in your skin, and feel good about your levels of health, then, by all means, continue in your healthy journey. Because weight is such a touchy subject, please know that this article is written in response to the scores of comments, emails, and questions I receive from the fibromyalgia community. And, of course, a fibromyalgia diagnosis is not a pre-requisite for benefitting from the information that follows.
(ADDITIONAL TIP: If the “fixes” you’re looking for are more of the cravings and emotional eating variety, please be sure to read to the end.)
Weight Loss and Fibromyalgia
Does the topic of weight loss make you cringe? Or, perhaps you’ve shed more tears over it than pounds. If you carry any excess weight on your body and if you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, chronic Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, or multiple sclerosis, it’s likely that you’ve tried many diets.
Did any of them work?
That’s a trick question. Of course, they didn’t work. Diets – by definition – are short-term, impractical dietary interventions. They have an expiration date. If they provide results at all, they’re temporary. Diets are not long-term solutions.
Dietary solutions that work, do so for a lifetime.
Practical and effective dietary solutions are lifestyle shifts. They’re designed around your special needs and circumstances. And, they shift and change as your body does. Your dietary needs will change as you age. That’s a natural progression.
But why is there such struggle now?
The unavoidable truth is that chronic illness adds a frustrating dimension to the weight loss puzzle. How can we work within the limitations of chronic illness? What lifestyle shifts work for the compromised body?
In this article, I’ll share the reasons why those with chronic health challenges find it more difficult to lose weight. We’ll also uncover new discoveries and familiar tried-and-true practices that can help your body discover the balance it’s looking for.
My Own Weight Journey
I’m no newbie when it comes to struggles with weight. I’ve been both overweight and underweight. I’ve fought a tough battle to find an equilibrium. Other articles I’ve written share more details of my story. Suffice it to say that the subject has a strong presence in my past experience.
If I could go back a few decades and speak to my younger self, I’d have a lot to tell her. I’d also give her a swift kick in the patootie. I can see so clearly – with clarity that only age can provide – how my beliefs created, fostered, and even stimulated my weight issues. It would be great to have a cosmic do-over. I’d do so many things differently.
I’ve experienced many blessings too when it comes to my weight issues. One main benefit of my past struggle is a deep and abiding understanding of the subject. So much so, that I’m grateful to share my success strategies with the chronic illness clients within my inner circle. I understand their worries and frustrations and apply solutions tailor-made for them borne from my own education and experience.
So, what have I learned?
First off, it’s important to understand why the chronic illness body is compromised. Once this is understood, the connections to weight issues become obvious.
Compromises of the Chronic Illness Body
While there are several key areas of compromise in the chronic illness body, here are four that we’ll discuss for our purpose today.
Whole body inflammation is often noted as the single most common contributor to chronic disease, including cancer.1 The overall implication of inflammation is that it creates widespread dysfunction in the body. Inflammation shows up in the intestines, muscles, tissues, and organs of the body creating systemic imbalances.
These conditions are part of a vicious cycle. They contribute to inflammation and in turn, are worsened by inflammation. Here are just a few of the many health conditions related to inflammation.
- Leaky gut
- Food sensitivities
- Fungal and Bacterial overgrowth
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Lowered immune system
2. Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) Dysfunction
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for our stress response. It comes as no surprise that those with chronic illness have a heightened stress response. Stressful situations trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response and then the ANS becomes stuck in a loop of over-activity.
The following conditions are impacted by the ANS and are also affected by inflammation. Think of them each as having a cascade effect.
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Hormonal imbalances
- Respiratory inhibition (taking short, shallow, breaths)
- Slowed/sluggish digestion (from stress)
- Sleep disturbances
- Critical thinking impairments
3. Pharmaceutical and OTC Medication
Many medications prescribed specifically for fibromyalgia and other chronic health challenges have known side-effects related to unwanted weight gain.
Some of these medications destroy gut flora creating impaired digestion and impair mitochondria, the energy centers of the body.2 Others may stimulate appetite, slow the metabolism, cause fluid retention, and lessen tolerance for exercise.3
- NSAIDS4 (contribute to ulcers and gastrointestinal problems)
- Diabetes medications
- Blood pressure medications
- Migraine medications
- Beta-blocker medications
4. Brain and Mindset
Your brain has a lot to do with your ability to lose or manage your ideal weight. Brain health is often impaired in those with chronic health conditions due to the inflammation issue. The gut is often called “the second brain” as they’re interconnected systems. So, when the gut is impaired, brain function is also.5
Your mindset and beliefs also have a deep impact on your body’s ability to lose weight or manage a healthy weight. In my personal example, I believed that after my first pregnancy, I’d never be the same. While the changes were actually quite minor, that’s not how I viewed myself. Following the advice in books and magazines, I dieted. In doing so, I effectively crippled my metabolism. Equally destructive were my negative thoughts.
There’s much more to say on this topic than time or space allows. Mindset and our beliefs play a large role in how our bodies resist or allow weight loss. For example, we may – at a nonconscious level – feel resistance to the term, weight loss. Losing something typically brings to mind a negative emotion. If we lose something we usually want to find it again or want it back.
From this point on, you may wish to change how you think of your weight. Rather than striving for weight loss, consider striving to release the weight instead.
The following conditions are some of the many issues related to this broad topic.
- Cognitive impairment
- Depression and other diagnosed mood disorders6
- Eating behaviors including binging/cravings/emotional eating, etc.
- Motivation and sense of hopefulness or hopelessness
- Negativity, anxiety, fear, isolation, and self-judgment7
- Inability to plan or see future goals
Now that we’ve highlighted ways that the chronic illness body is compromised, it’s clear that the conditions listed affect multiple systems of the body.
need to be solved by systemic solutions.
Applying Root Level Support for the Chronic Illness Body
As mentioned earlier, systemic problems have a cascade effect on the body. While they can multiply and expand into worsening your health, the good news is that the same effect can be applied in reverse. When healthy solutions are applied at a root level, the results also have a cascade effect. But this time, in a good way!
This means that small actions can have very big results.
The goal is to apply root-level solutions specifically chosen to reduce inflammation. When these solutions are layered one upon another, the results are amplified.
Here are three simple steps to get you started.
Simple Root-Level Food and Fluid Fixes
Let’s begin with the basics of eating and drinking. The solutions I propose are not only not complicated, they’re also painfully simple. But that’s how healing works. The simplest solutions are often the ones most overlooked.
Are you properly hydrated on a consistent basis?
Setting basic standards of hydration helps to restore cognitive function as well as improve digestion. Drink adequate amounts of clean, filtered water that’s free from contaminants and heavy metals.
Your quantity requirements will vary. A basic equation used to estimate is to take your weight in pounds and convert to ounces (150 pounds = 150 ounces). Then divide by two and make that a goal to consume on a daily basis (150 ounces divided by two is 75 ounces). Of course, you know your body better than anyone. This is just a broad guideline and your needs may be more than this estimate or less.
You may find it helpful to download this free hydration tip sheet. It can help you to consider how much to drink, and just as importantly when to drink.
Next, What about supporting your body through nutrition?
Are the foods you eat most predominantly packaged and processed? Do you often consume meals from restaurants and takeout vendors? If so, your body may be lacking in vital micronutrients as well as a balance of macronutrients.
Make a point to include the basic macronutrients of healthy proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates (mainly sourced from vegetables and fruits).
Simply shifting your diet from processed foods to natural, whole, nutrient-dense, and fiber-rich foods can go a long way toward reducing whole body inflammation.
If you’d like more information on specifically adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet, look at these articles:
“6 Ways Leafy Greens Pack a Powerful Healing Punch”
“Phytonutrients Fighting for Fibromyalgia Recovery”
“The Fibromyalgia Diet – Help! I don’t know what to eat”
Simple Root-Level Body Detoxification
The chronic illness body is affected (to a higher degree than the healthier public) by internal and external toxins. Chemicals in foods, the air we breathe, and in our surrounding environment can train the body to hold onto weight.
There are many detoxification programs available when it comes to the foods we eat, but what about our environment?
One of the best ways to detoxify the body is through body movement. It’s also one of the most underused solutions.
To clarify, I’m talking about moving the body in healthy ways within your own range of motion. I’m not referring to fitness programs geared to give you buns of steel or six-pack abs.
Unfortunately, many in the chronic illness community have been told that fitness is a yes or no thing. They’ve been told that some tolerate it and others don’t. Rather than this black or white approach, look for ways to make fitness activities work for you. Range of motion activities, such as restorative yoga, tai chi, and qigong can be particularly beneficial. These activities can even be adapted for those who are unable to stand.
Fitness has many more benefits than just body detoxification. It’s also proven to boost mood, strengthen muscles, improve posture, and improve digestion.
Simple Root-level Stress Management
Stress management can also be tackled at the root-level. The most fundamental way to calm the autonomic nervous system is through deep breathing.
Deep breathing patterns let the body know that “all is well.” In a calm and relaxed state, the body learns to release anxiety, fears, and yes, even weight.
Begin slowly and practice simple breathing exercises on a regular basis. For example, practice them when going to bed at night, and again first thing upon waking.
Simple Deep Breathing Exercise:
Get into a comfortable resting position and close your eyes.
- Focus on breathing in and out slowly. In through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Focus on the coolness of your incoming breath as it passes through the nostrils. Focus on the warmth of your outgoing breath as it passes through the mouth.
- Focusing on the breath allows the mind to disengage from worrying thoughts.
- Practice this for just a few minutes and notice the reduction in your feelings of anxiety and stress.
There are many other deep breathing exercises to try, so as you progress, add new ones to your repertoire. I love to combine my efforts. Try practicing deep breathing while you do restorative yoga or tai chi. Practice deep breathing while walking or stretching. Apply it to whatever physical activity works for you.
Deep breathing exercises are also helpful to add to prayer and meditation practices. Add deep breathing exercises to your existing habits and enjoy the benefits of maximized relaxation results.
Can Root-Level Solutions Really Work?
This isn’t earth-shattering news: there’s no quick fix to weight loss concerns.
You already knew that. It likely took years for chronic illness to take hold of your body and it’ll take time to address the underlying causes of your condition. But the efforts are well worth it.
The great news is that current research supports the notion that small improvements can magnify into big results.8Like the magic of compound interest, small shifts in your diet and daily routine can compound into amazing accumulated shifts in your body.
The root-level lifestyle shifts mentioned in this article provide a great pathway to help your body heal. A body that feels relaxed, nourished, and safe no longer needs to hold on to pain and other chronic illness symptoms. An additional, and desirable, side effect, is the result of releasing weight.
Sometimes this happens without even being aware of it.
Don’t be surprised when you hear this from a clerk the next time you’re in a department store dressing room. “I’m sorry. I can see that the item you requested is too big for you. I’ll go look for something in a smaller size.”
“One of the most beneficial and valuable gifts
we can give to ourselves in this life:
is allowing ourselves to be surprised!
It is okay if life surprises you.
It’s a good thing!” – C. JoyBell C.
(TIP: A considerable weight-related topic not discussed in this article is emotional eating. This is a very relevant, persistent, and crucial topic that takes a one-on-one approach. We’re each different and the roots to our behaviors are different. Because I often work on this subject with clients, I’ve come up with some very basic protocols designed to weed out these unsupportive behaviors.
If you’d like to ask questions and discuss this topic with me further, please contact me at Sue@RebuildingWellness.com and put “Fibro Weight” in the subject line. And, of course, you do NOT need a fibromyalgia diagnosis to contact me.)
This article is my original work and first appeared at ProHealth.com. It is reprinted with their kind permission and may be viewed HERE.