Unavoidable Weight Gain From Multiple Sclerosis

Increased activity with Cardio Exercise while having MS


Having Multiple Sclerosis can really put the pounds on most of us by our decreasing activity and side effects from some of the medications that we take. It can sure be a vicious cycle and having suffered from a weight problem most of my adult life this sure didn’t help. From the time I was diagnosed and started medication then losing my ability to walk, it didn’t take long before I had reached my highest weight. Needless to say I was totally miserable all the way around and most of this weight gain I can contribute to all the Solumderol I was taking. Steroids make you retain fluids, and unfortunately also make you so hungry.  As with many of us, when we feel bad and not able to do much more than lay around, we want COMFORT FOOD to help us feel better. This became a daily habit contributing to my weight gain. Of course I was able to make excuses to myself that I couldn’t deal with my weight and MS at the same time so since food made me happy, then I indulged in whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. At 5 foot 5 inches this weight made me look like a roly-poly. What I didn’t take into account was the high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and adult onset diabetes that I was finally diagnosed with. It became all too clear that something had to be done.

Fortunately I started a study drug called Lemtrada which helped me get out of a wheelchair and with the improving MS, started increasing my activity level as I could tolerate. This was also a good time for me to change my eating habits as well. Slowly the weight started coming off but I had to remember that true weight loss along with keeping it off, would take time and needed to become a lifestyle change. The weight didn’t go on overnight and it wouldn’t come off that fast either. At first I must admit that the changes that I made weren’t major, my activity included walking short distances on flat ground and as far as food goes, just slowed down on the portion sizes at each meal. Just with these small changes weight started coming off but as with most initial weight loss, most of it was water weight. Still this motivated me to really get serious about becoming healthier so I started researching weight loss programs and different types of exercises only to find myself extremely confused. It seemed every site on the web that I visited had different advice than the site read prior to it. The one thing that became clear though with all this research was to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume.

As my condition continued to improve so did my ability to walk further and faster therefore burning more calories. The sites say though it takes exercise and diet or diet and exercise going hand in hand to lose weight. 1 pound is equal to 3500 calories, meaning to lose 1 pound you must take in 3500 calories less. To me this was overwhelming, but I saw a program on TV which helped make it a little simpler, like if you want to say weigh a certain weight you multiply that by 10 which means if you want to weigh 140 lbs., then you eat 1400 calories. So I set my goal weight and decided that this is what I would aim for. Some of what I did to help meet my goal was to cut out unnecessary calories like cutting out sodas, cutting back on sweets, high calorie foods, fried foods, breads, carbohydrates, and changing things like using mustard on sandwiches in place of mayo. Roasting vegetables in place of frying them became the norm for me. If I need to fry something like an egg, in place of oil or butter I use spray oil, and coconut oil in things where vegetable oils are used. Even using dill pickles in place of sweet pickles in foods where pickles are needed reduces calories. Greek yogurt is a great substitute for sour cream. Little changes like these do add up and will reduce daily calorie intake without a major change in your diet. Another trick is to eat on a smaller plate thus reducing proportion sizes. This tricks your brain by your eyes seeing your plate is full but you are actually eating fewer calories. If you drink a full glass of water before you eat your stomach will get that full sensation before you finish your food. It takes 20 minutes when you begin eating for your brain to catch up with your brain to inform you that you are full, so water assists with this as well as eating slower.

Of course if you eat out, restaurant portions are always bigger than the portions you serve yourself at home so try eating half of what it brought to you and take the other portion home to eat at a different meal. When choosing a meal at a restaurant, look at the “Lighter Menu”. Most places offer these type meals and they are really good and satisfying. Limit your sweet beverages and alcohol intake as these are high in calories. It is recommended if you are starting a diet not to go below 1200 calories as your body will think it is starvation mode therefore not burning any fat calories. It is also helpful to keep a daily food log of what you eat and drink to help you keep on track your calorie count. This helps prevent you from nibbling on things which increase your calorie intake and going over your daily goal. To sustain long term weight loss, the suggestion is to aim for ½ to 1 pound per week.  I have seen where if you burn 300 calories in just one work out it would take 12 workouts to lose 1 pound. If you cut 300 calories from your diet and burn 300 calories with your workout, it would only take ½ that long to lose 1 pound. Research has also shown that people who eat 2 large meals a day in place of several small meals will lose weight faster. It also states not to eat a meal past 6 p.m. or 3 hours before you go to bed, which will enable your body to burn these calories before going to bed.

Now as far as workouts go, a beginner needs to start about 50 minutes a week and work up to 200 minutes. The recommendation to a maintenance workout need to average from 150-250 minutes a week. Don’t do too much too fast as this will cause injury preventing future exercise. Strength training needs to be included to exercise but only on an every other day routine. This training doesn’t really help with massive weight loss by itself, but when including it with a cardio workout it assists with building muscle which in turns burns more fat. Gaining 1 pound of muscle will help burn 5-10 extra calories a day. When performing a cardio exercise it is recommended to alternate between moderate to high intensity. Also alternating between different types of exercise will help relieve the boredom, burnout, and work different muscle groups. Resting your body at least 1 day a week is also suggested to provide it time to heal. When exercising, it is not uncommon for small tares to result in your muscles causing inflammation and pain. Rest days will help reduce these symptoms.

Try and have a buddy to diet and exercise with you to help keep you on track. Also if you keep a calendar of your workout days as if they were scheduled appointments, this will help assist you from deciding not to exercise. I have read where some say to weigh daily, some say don’t weigh but once a month, but from my experience, weighing often helps me to recognize if what I am doing is working or not. There will be fluctuations in your weight and you need to keep that in mind, but which ever you decided to do, weigh at the same time of the day and in the same type of clothes. Mine in scheduled every morning without clothes before I get in the shower so that the weight of clothes or shoe types don’t influence the scale outcome. I also measure myself monthly and keep a log of it to compare from month to month. Remember to take into account that when you start an exercise routine, you will probably lose inches before you see weight loss. Many even gain weight and become frustrated resulting in stopping exercise altogether. Please remember that muscle weighs more than fat so you are gaining ground of slimming down but it will show in your inches and with how your clothes fit. This happened to me and I didn’t understand why, but I just kept the workouts going and behold one day they weight started dropping on the scale and just kept coming off; you just need to vigil with your routine and make sure you are eating right along with enough calories.

If you aren’t one who needs to lose weight, you have been blessed BIG TIME, but for others like myself, it is a lifetime change of behavior. Since following these practices, I have lost 118 pounds and several inches all over. My blood pressure and cholesterol is great so I am off of these medicines. My A1C from the diabetes is now 4.0 requiring nothing at all. I feel so much better since making all of these changes, but I don’t beat myself up if I have a weak moment with food or exercise. I just start over the next day and get back on schedule. That is what I recommend for you, set a goal that is obtainable and try each day to eat right and do what you can do with your activity to improve your strength and weight loss. It took 3 years to lose my weight but my lifestyle change still continues each day to help maintain all my hard work.  I wish you good luck on your lifestyle change and hope that it helps you feel better physically and mentally.

MS Blogger and Multiple Sclerosis Activist shares her journey living with MS, tips for others living MS and her husband, Steve, offers his insight as a caregiver for MS.