Keeping my weight under control (if not as low as I’d like) has been an ongoing battle for me since I was a teenager. In the beginning, it was just a matter of five or six pounds, but as time passed, the amount of weight I needed to lose grew along with the number of candles on my birthday cake. After I turned 40, my body decided to hang on, tenaciously, to every single extra pound, and if I forced it to let go of them, it just added them right back on—along with a few more—as soon as I stopped dieting.
I’m 61 now. My body and I have reached a sort of détente: I haven’t gained any weight in the last two years, but I haven’t lost much, either. If I weighed what I did in my early 30s, I’d be content, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’m carrying a lot of extra weight for my height, build, and age.
Change is Hard, but it’s Good
I know very well that getting my weight down to a reasonable level has a lot of upsides. Since I have both rheumatoid disease and osteoarthritis, being lighter on my feet means taking a lot of joint-destroying stress off my hips, knees, ankles, and feet. That might mean less pain, too, and over time, less or maybe even no disability. In addition, I’ve learned that obesity causes a lot of inflammation in my body, and goodness knows, with RD I don’t need any more of that!
There are other good—even life-saving—reasons to slim down, too
- Metabolic Syndrome. This is a combination of four health problems: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess body fat around the waist. Metabolic syndrome is common among adults age 50 and older—and more recently, among younger adults (and even some children), too. The risk? People who have it are more likely to develop heart disease, have a stroke, and develop Type 2 diabetes. All are potential killers. T2D may cause additional serious damage throughout the body, as well.
- Better Overall Mental and Physical Health: When I’m slimmer, I feel better not only physically, but mentally, too. Being slimmer also means I can buy and wear all my daily clothing in smaller sizes, so both they and I look a lot better. (Ever try finding chic, affordable clothes in plus-sizes? It’s soul-killing.) When I feel better about how I look to myself and others, I have more self-confidence, I smile more, and I’m just And yes, I know I ought to “love myself as I am.” In most ways, I do. But more than five decades of exposure to TV and advertising have trained my brain to see my pudgy, lumpy body as distinctly un-lovely. As to physical health, well, who doesn’t want to feel better, have more energy, sleep better, and be able to do more?
I have been able to drop a few pounds in recent weeks. I’ve combined, loosely, three weight-loss methods. None of them are new, but the first two were new to me:
- I’m being a “flexitarian.” What’s that, you say? A flexitarian is someone who’s following a vegetarian diet most of the time but allows herself to have a small portion of meat or fish now and then since she knows she’s a die-hard omnivore at heart and will never be able to cut either out of her diet entirely. I’m finding this eating method easy to follow, and if I go out for a meal occasionally, I don’t feel guilty if I order something other than yet another Salad-of-Despair. In addition, I’m finding that I eat less overall without feeling deprived. You can learn more about the flexitarian diet
- When I have the willpower, I try to “half-fast” up to three days a week, alternating fasting and non-fasting days. Fasting, of course, means going without any food at all, which is extremely hard for most people. Half-fasting means eating roughly 500 nutritious, protein-rich calories on fasting days. It’s not nearly as hard to do, and a good friend of mine has had some excellent weight loss results with it. Learn more about this way of eating
- Finally, I’m still sticking mostly to the foods allowed in the Mediterranean diet. It includes vegetables, only certain carbohydrates, and chicken or fish instead of red meat, with vegetables dominating your plate. Eggs are OK, too, as are brown rice and whole grain breads and pastas, olive and canola oil, nuts, beans, and legumes, and limited dairy foods. Sugary, high-carb foods and red meat are allowed as very rare treats. I’ve been following the Mediterranean diet in a general, not-very-strict way for about 10 years now. It’s a fairly easy diet to follow and maintain, and with exercise, weight loss is slow tends to stick. It sets a healthy-eating habit. Learn more here.
About that Exercise …
While it’s true that exercise alone won’t help you lose weight, it certainly helps a healthy weight loss plan work even better. And yes, exercising is hard with RD pain, fatigue, and malaise—so much so that many of us who are challenged with this disease give up, allowing ourselves to settle into a sedentary lifestyle.
But there are ways to get moving, even with RD. Simply walk, briskly, for 30 minutes each day, four days a week, along with doing weight-bearing, strengthening exercises for 30 minutes each day for the other three days. (Break it up into two 15-minute sessions, if you like!) You don’t need to dress in Lycra and go to a gym to do this type of exercise, either. Try this (like me): walk in your neighborhood or near work on walking days and do your exercises at home—in your PJs, if you want! If you’re out of shape (like me), walk slowly at first and work yourself up to a brisk pace. Exercise in the same way: start slowly with the lightest weights, stretchiest exercise bands, and fewest repetition first, adding more of each as you get stronger and build up endurance. Doing these every day will, in time, make exercising a habit that you enjoy rather than loathe.
Maintaining good health while coping with RD isn’t easy. Just remember that there are going to be days when you just feel too rotten to exercise, or maybe it’s just too much to stick to that diet every single day. No problem—just pick one or both back up the next day. You’re allowed all the guilt-free do-overs you need!
Have you reclaimed what RA has tried to take away?