My Weight Loss Journey With Rheumatoid Arthritis

It’s amazing what you can do when you start believing in yourself.

Ever since I can remember I struggled with my weight. Seeing those commercials about 14 minute abs and buns, the grocery store was littered with the next fad diet, this is what women must look like to be attractive.

The insecurities and anxieties about our image are brain washed into us at a young age, for both men and women. It really is no wonder so many of us are insecure about our bodies so early on and those insecurities are hard to ignore.

I remember family members making comments about each others weight and what they ate. I remember the comments of “You don’t want to end up fat, Eileen”. The insecurities instilled in my mind by the women who should have been there to empower me into a confident woman and taught me healthy habits.

It was as if becoming overweight would be the worst thing anyone could do. I remember the comments about my aunt’s weight and use of a wheelchair, they failed to see the emotional crutch that food became when the pain of her rheumatoid arthritis set in. They failed to acknowledge what illness was doing to her and how hard it is to fight this disease, after all they didn’t go through it.

My diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis at 29 taught me that. My aunt passed away the same week of my diagnosis. Her death and my diagnosis made me take a deep look into my habits and my lifestyle. It also made look at the risk factors with this disease: certain cancers, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, depression, and what inflammation does to the body.

What Changed

Gaining weight made me insecure and uncomfortable with myself, it stole my confidence, it created guilt and anger inside me. It was poisonous to my my mind because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I felt like no one would ever love or accept me because I was overweight.

I decided to live on the other side of fear, the fear was that I couldn’t do it. It was me against me, after all I have an autoimmune disease, my immune system attacks itself.

I struggled with exercise because it hurt and I couldn’t lose weight, only gain it. I was terrified to exercise because of the pain, I thought I would only make things worse. I told myself I wasn’t worth it because of depression and I ate whatever I craved to satisfy my mood, drank alcohol and didn’t think much of my overall health. Often also what was cheap and quick.

It is common to be too tired to eat or to prepare a nutritious meal when living with rheumatoid arthritis. You just want to grab whatever is quick, easy and satisfying. Quite often food becomes an emotional crunch when dealing with pain and depression. And how some medications make you eat excessively.

When I got a diagnosis, I realized what I was going through and I educated myself on my health. I said goodbye to the shame, alcohol and toxicity in my life, now hello to the fight and it was probably the hardest thing I have ever done but the the benefits still keep coming. It didn’t happen overnight and it took a few attempts, it got easier once I found the right medication and it kicked in.

It was a journey that had to move at arthritic speed.

What did losing 60+lbs do for my health?

I used to see photos of myself and cry. I shamed myself for what unhealthy habits I felt I couldn’t break.

Now I see my photo and I am proud, I smile, I feel beautiful and I feel like a fighter yet I wish I felt healthy.

1 lbs of weight is equivalent to 4 lbs off your joints. When I lost 60 lbs I was able to do more, I still struggle with pain and fatigue but not like before because weightloss made a massive difference in my body.

A significant proportion of individuals with arthritis are overweight or obese and are physically inactive, adding undue stress to their joints. Many people with arthritis also have other serious diseases like heart disease or diabetes. While RA might not kill you, the comorbidities sure can. I saw this with my aunt and grandmother.

People with arthritis are more likely to experience anxiety, mood disorders, poor mental health and difficulty sleeping, than those who do not have arthritis. Many people living with arthritis report difficulties with activities of daily living, such as doing housework and running errands, and report needing assistance with aspects of daily life. I’ve been there. I struggled to walk up stairs without pain or being out of breath, sweaty.

I knew it was time to fight for a better outcome and better life.

I’ve noticed this in small things like being able to handle my doctor appointments and errands in the same day, rather than having to space them out because one task would tire me out for a day or two or the thought of walking between appointments was not something I ever saw myself being able to handle again. Overtime the little details developed into big changes. Overtime I conquer those steps without pain or losing my breath. I take the stairs because I can, they represent to me moving forward with rheumatoid arthritis. I’m not about to let arthritis stop me.

My Advice To Others

View food as medicine.

I don’t believe in dieting. I believe in adapting an overall healthy lifestyle and sticking with it because food is also a medicine. I’ll probably need to take medication for my incurable autoimmune disease for the rest of my life, this is why I changed my relationship with food to make appropriate lifestyle changes.

I like to focus on superfoods when I choose what I am going to eat. I’ve cut out as much sugar and processed foods as I can while also still living once in awhile.

Following diets tends to lead to giving up those diets and gaining all the weight back on, when you change your overall healthy eating lifestyle and how you view food you can implement some great changes for your weight and health, think of it as a balanced 80/20 percent of the time.

I take into consideration what I need to do prior to my meal, how will those foods make me feel? Common misconception with rheumatoid arthritis is that it’s only joint pain when it’s really a systemic autoimmune disease that effects vital organs and comes with a wide range of unpleasant symptoms, including stomach ones. Food plays a massive role in my fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. Greener, brighter, from the earth the better for you.

Crap food breeds inflammation. Diet won’t cure arthritis but it certainly will help.

The more I eat my favorite superfoods, the less I crave junk and the more I crave the good stuff and I eat less. I rarely eat much meat now and focus on a plant based diet but I will not deny myself anything. I still have weddings, birthdays, conferences, meetings, dates and infusion days in my schedule, I also have a 6 year old where I can often explore childhood memories with. Sometimes you also just have to pick what the healthiest option there is while still living and make portion control choices.

I drink coffee, tea or water and rarely put sugar in it. Drinking the adequate amount of water for your body weight is important also for the movement of your joints.

Healthline Authority Nutrition

If you need specialized guidance a registered dietician can assist you.

Get up and get moving

Music that moves you has shown benefits to help keep you active when exercise can get boring. I am always looking for upbeat music to get my frustrations and sweat out on the low impact elliptical. I go for walks often, do my strength training at home with kettle bells or resistance bands. The key was finding what worked best for me.

I started small, 3-4 times a week, often with naps after, 10 or 20 minutes at a time was sometimes all I could handle but instead of looking at it as if I was a failure I looked at it as one step forward with everyday increasing. It’s not easy to be motivated to exercise with rheumatoid arthritis but after the benefits kick in you’ll be happy you did.

The first few weeks were horrible with fatigue and a little increased pain but to my surprise not much. I almost always follow up with stretching, the sauna and lots of hydration. Over time I could see myself capable of being able to do more and more, with less symptoms afterwards. Also the more active I am the less bad food cravings I have and less I eat. I feel less guilt when I do eat something with a high calorie count, I know I am burning it off.

Do it for yourself, your health and to keep moving forward.