Weighting Around

Weight gain has been one of the worst side effects I’ve experienced from having RA for the past 18 years, and it seems to be even worse of a problem the older I get. The main causes of the weight gain, I’d argue, are due to long-term prednisone use and physical inactivity. My “normal” healthy weight that I held onto fairly easily after high school and during college (some post-college years too) was 40-50 lbs less than what I weigh now. Incredible! I can’t believe it when I stop to think about it. I try not to think about it too much though, or else I’d be constantly wallowing in the depths of extreme depression and self-loathing. Still, being this overweight is something that really bothers and upsets me, and trying to lose weight (while taking prednisone) feels like a futile, nearly impossible pursuit. I keep trying, and nothing keeps happening.

Prednisone and other corticosteroid medications are sneaky friends/foes to those of us with uncontrollable inflammation. While prednisone is often the most effective RA drug–it often works fast and well–it also has some of the most severe side-effects. Many times I have to ask myself: What’s worse, my pain getting better or looking like a humpback whale? I guess I’ll choose the whale, if I have to. Being severely crippled and disabled from pain is worse than feeling and looking like a big fat faux-pregnant blob, but not much.

I know I’m hard on myself regarding my weight and physical appearance, but I just want to look and feel like my old self again. I want to fit back into cute stylish clothes and not feel embarrassed by shirts or dresses that semi-cling to my abdomen. I’m tired of wearing shapeless, tent-like T-shirts and elastic waist skirts every day because I can’t fit into my shorts or pants right now. This is maddeningly frustrating. Depressing. Esteem-crushing.

I’ve been eating a vegan diet for the last three weeks, which is a major change to my eating habits. I thought for sure that by now I would have lost some weight from giving up dairy and meat. But no, not a single pound. What is going on? WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY BODY?! I feel like I’ve been sacrificing a lot and eating much less, but maybe I’ve been fooling myself. I’m not sure.

What I’m sure of is that this fat–especially my giant stomach and “buffalo hump” neck lump–is hanging around, quite literally. I feel so disgusting and uncomfortable. Since I’m having to give up a lot of my favorite foods right now, can’t I at least lose some weight? I don’t know whom I’m asking this of–God maybe. Hey God, can you please take a second and zap some of this blubber from my body? You know, like divine liposuction. That would be awesome, thanks. Sadlyso far my losing-weight-prayers have gone unanswered. Maybe I’m not begging enough?

But seriously, losing weight while having RA and taking steroids for years is extremely difficult and it’s something that most able-bodied people don’t realize. Another thing most people don’t realize is that even if you’re able to taper down or off of steroid medication, that doesn’t mean the weight just magically disappears. No. You’re stuck trying to get rid of all of that unwanted fat the old-fashioned way. Over and over and over again. It’s exhausting; I’m not surprised when I or other people don’t have the energy or determination to keep doing it.

Despite the food sacrifices and frustration from not seeing results, I am determined to keep working at losing weight. I have to. My self-esteem, self-confidence, and most importantly my physical health depends on it. I know that my RA symptoms would be much better if my body wasn’t working extra hard to drag around all of these unnecessary pounds of fat. Being overweight also causes much more pressure and wear on your joints and can lead to other serious health problems, whether you have RA or not.

So now the challenge is this: being strict about tracking my food and calories every day. I managed to lose weight doing this a few years ago, but since then I haven’t been able to get back on the calorie-counting wagon. It’s not fun, however it’s necessary, I’ve decided–especially since I’m not losing any weight from my new vegan diet. Even if I’m cutting out a lot of foods now, that doesn’t mean that I’m not consuming more of other things. I suspect this is the case. According to the SparkPeople website and app (which I used before successfully), my total allowed caloric intake per day is 1,200-1,500 calories. I figure that if I can at least not go over the upper end of that range to start with, then hopefully something will start to happen. And by “happen,” I mean pounds of fat melting away with me being able to fit into my favorite dress again and no longer resembling the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Goals!

Another important challenge that should be part of this weight-loss plan is getting more and regular exercise. Since my flare-up began in mid-April, I’ve found it hard to get back to riding my bike every day (or several times a week at least). Bike-riding, swimming, and light weight-lifting are basically the only types of exercise I can do, because of my constantly painful feet and ankles. No running or even leisurely walks for me, sadly. Thankfully, biking is something that I really enjoy and it’s also a great workout, so I have to get back to doing it ASAP.

I also really enjoy swimming and doing water exercises, but I do get kind of lazy about actually dragging my lumpy body to a pool. The inconveniences of having to drive somewhere, change clothes, take showers, and drive back home–it’s all a pain. Yet, as soon as I lower my aching body into the water I feel immediately lighter and a sense of relief. Admittedly, it is worth the wet and damaged hair, skin and hair that smells like you bathe in household cleaning products, and the embarrassment of strangers seeing you in an unattractive muumuu-like swimming suit. Um, I think so anyway. No, no, it is.

Today I have started over with food tracking and so far it’s going well. Although night-time is my “bad time,” so we’ll see if I can stay strong when I get home from work, exhausted and weak-willed. I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again. I also vow to take my bike out for a short ride later tonight, after the heat and humidity of Minnesota’s typical August stickiness has gone down a bit. Being faithful to my diet and caloric intake without also exercising doesn’t work quite as well, I’ve been noticing.

Weight-loss is a billion-dollar industry which helps illustrate the fact that losing weight is not easy and that most of us struggle with it–especially people suffering from RA and chronic pain. So many desperate people throw money at weight-loss programs and weird diets (who on earth thinks the Grapefruit Diet or other fads are a good idea?) and often don’t see any benefits. Also frustrating, we live in a very impatient society where everyone wants a quick fix without doing a lot of work. Pop a pill, buy that weird exercise contraption that’s on late night infomercials, eat all your meals from a juicer, or pay to look just like Marie Osmond. Easy!

Losing weight the healthy way, and keeping it off, is actual work and not gimmicks, which many people don’t want to acknowledge–myself included. It takes time, motivation, dedication, energy, perseverance, and a lot of mental and emotional strength. I do want to keep working at it though, persevering against prednisone’s vicious attacks, and to help myself look and feel better for the long term. My RA and my skinny jeans will thank me for it, I think.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (6)
  • Eilis Smith
    2 years ago

    I am someone for whom steroids don’t work. My weight issue is quite the opposite, I seem to be waisting away, legs are just scrawny tendons, untoned skin. I have had to buy two new wardrobes of clothes, and am praying I don’t lose any more as I simply can’t afford to be any skinnier, both in terms of my health and my finances.

  • elisee55
    2 years ago

    OK. So this may sound weird, but I had gained 30+ pounds over the past few years and felt much as you did. I tried watching portions etc, but I really don’t over eat anyway, and snacking is not my problem either. I used to eat way more than I do now. I’m not on Prednisone. (although sometimes I wish I could take it, but I already have severe osteoporosis so it’s totally not something my doctor will prescribe). So, it must be my metabolism. Around January I read an interesting article about fasting. Not total fasting, but trying to up my metabolism through a sort of targeted good abstinence. I do it 2-3 times per week. You fast for at least 12 straight hours in the day, and then eat a normal meal for supper/dinner (whichever word you use). Instead of reducing our changing the types of food I eat, and keeping my metabolism constantly used to the same caloric intake, I confuse it by doing this. Rating normally for a few days, and then not for just one day, my body never goes into that ‘conserve calorie’ mode. You can read articles about it. I’ve lost twenty pounds! And not dieting or reducing my food on any permanent basis. I’ve stopped doing it and I’m fine. If I gain, I just do it for a day, and get myself burning calories again… Food for thought. Is it healthy? Well, healthier than starving, or restricting good groups, or being 30 pounds over weight. I’m now back into a healthy weight range. My Joints are thankful too… It was a method. Perhaps not for everyone, but it worked for me. Read about it…

  • Linda
    3 years ago

    Angela, I completely understand what you’re going through. I had a tumor on my adrenal gland that went undiagnosed for 10 years and caused Cushing’s syndrome endogenously, which caused 90 lbs of weight gain along with all the other lovely symptoms. I went from a size 4 to size 18 and have not been able to lose the excess weight even after the adrenalectomy. I still get inquiries from the occasional stranger of asking when I’m “due,” and still have the buffalo hump. Now I’m tumor free but back on a prednisone burst due to a bad RA flare. Believe me, I know your struggle. Losing weight seems as impossible to me as telling me to grow an inch taller.

    But please try to be kinder to yourself. I’ve learned that it is not worth it to be so hard on yourself, especially when you are struggling with this awful disease of RA and are already hard on yourself because of your physical limitations. Would you tell your friend she looked like a humpback whale or a big fat faux pregnant blob or that she should have her ugly blubber removed? I’ve come up with a rule to live by as a very hard on myself perfectionist with severe RA and a long list of other health problems. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend then please don’t say it to yourself. Instead say the kind and compassionate thing to yourself that you would say to her. You are trying your best in each moment to survive and that’s all you can do. You are beautiful because of who you are inside. You are a strong woman who has persevered through a terrible illness and you are successful and kind to others. That’s more important than your size. Ok I’ll stop my preaching. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to offer you a different perspective. Hope I didn’t overstep. Warmly, Linda

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thank you for writing and your compassion Linda. This community operates best when people acknowledge each others struggles and humanity in the face of a condition that attacks not only the body, but the whole person.

    Thought you might like this article from one of our contributors on being kind to yourself: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/be-kind-to-yourself/. If you haven’t already please check out the Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/RheumatoidArthritisDotNet/.

    Best to you! Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • pasparry1
    3 years ago

    Thank you! I so appreciate this article. I thought it was just me being unable to lose weight on Prednisone and since I cannot see me coming off this medciation, or any of my other medications for that matter, I was becoming fairly upset with it all. Now I see this as a problem for everyone. I certainly will not expect any quick fix!

  • Carla Kienast
    3 years ago

    Having been on the weight-loss rollercoaster most of my life — especially now with RA and our friend prednisone — I can empathize. Your body resists losing weight, but I have faith that you can hold out longer than it can and soon your efforts will pay off! Hang in there.

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