Whenever I’m asked about the subject of fibromyalgia and weight loss, I admit that it makes me sigh. I have so many conflicting feelings when it comes to this weighty (forgive me) topic! My own weight loss journey is full of twists and turns, and I’m far from perfect. Striving for perfection in this area is an exercise in futility. Do you feel futile at times, too? If you have fibromyalgia, read on. Perhaps you’ll discover just the right tip to get you started on your own healing process when it comes to weight loss.
Fibromyalgia and Weight Loss
As an author, speaker, and practitioner who specializes in helping others to heal from chronic illness, here’s the first problem I have with the subject of weight loss. Weight loss is a result of healing. It’s a wanted side effect of a much more important goal — healing.
Therefore, I feel conflicted about addressing weight loss alone. It feels as if I’m putting emphasis on the cart and not the horse.
But, I get it. I’m a fibromyalgia patient, too. I once had overwhelming symptoms that included weight I wanted to release. I understand that when it comes to all of the symptoms of illness, excess weight (whether 5 pounds or 100+) is pretty hard to ignore.
My clients share their frustrations with me as well. They tell me that they’re:
- Frustrated with how they feel.
- Frustrated with how they look.
- Frustrated with how they’re treated by others.
- Frustrated at the “condescending” advice to lose weight from their doctors.
- Frustrated with the added pressure on their joints, muscles, and bones.
- Frustrated with comorbid experiences such as diabetes, digestive problems, cognitive dysfunction, hormone dysregulation, sleep disturbances, and more.
Have you experienced these frustrations, too? I sure did!
Where it began for me
I’ve mentioned before that when I first started my own health journey toward fibromyalgia recovery, I jumped in with both feet. I jumped with complete ignorance. I had no idea what to do, but I knew I had to do something. I was tired of the fibromyalgia pain, fatigue, confusion, brain fog, frustration, and growing symptoms that plagued me.
So, I started with nutrition. I completely changed what I ate and removed processed and packaged foods from my diet. I had no experience with, and hadn’t even heard of, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, grain-free, or preservative-free programs. I didn’t even understand the concept of clean eating and had never heard of food sensitivities or leaky gut. All I did know is that I thought my doctor was wrong.
At that point, I still didn’t have an official fibromyalgia diagnosis. The doctor I’d seen dozens of times said he finally had an answer for me. He declared that high cholesterol was my entire problem and one more medication would “fix” me. I was already on more than two dozen medications, and he wanted to add statins to the list.
I simply said, “Enough.” I decided to prove that I could lower my cholesterol, and simultaneously prove that I’d keep all of my symptoms. As you know, I did prove it: I proved I was right, and, I also proved I was very, very wrong. (Thank goodness!)
I reduced my cholesterol numbers (a teensy weensy bit). No one was more surprised than I to find that my fibromyalgia symptoms began to reduce — a LOT! I reduced my internal inflammation, which resulted in less joint and muscle pain. I experienced better sleep, fewer gastric and intestinal problems and improved digestion. I could think more clearly. My hands and wrists stopped hurting. My teeth stopped hurting.
Oh! And I dropped a few pounds. I lost about 15% of my body weight. This all took place in about four months. At that time, the weight part of this equation was a very big deal to me.
In my workshops and interviews, I often talk about my symptom reduction in my early healing process and go on to share the rest of my journey. But I don’t often talk about the weight. You see, I don’t want listeners to miss the big picture. The big picture is that I changed my entire life, and my future health, by changing my behaviors.
But I know that weight loss is the elusive, bright, shiny object we’re looking for. Being overweight is a royal pain. I understand being in a place (both physically and emotionally) where it’s a central focus of worry. That’s why I decided to write about it here.
Of course, not every person with a fibromyalgia diagnosis experiences stubborn weight concerns. But those who have no weight issues are the minority. This article is for the majority. I have clients confess their inability to drop pounds no matter what they do, and I know how that feels. While I’m not significantly overweight, I struggle with the same situation – carrying more weight than I’d like. Here, we’ll look at the connections between fibromyalgia and stubborn weight loss.
Causes of Weight Loss Resistance
I sat down to write a few main points on why we may find it difficult to release unwanted weight. I wasn’t surprised when a few points multiplied into many. I wanted to include them all, since it’s important to look at as many pieces of the puzzle as possible. By looking at all of the pieces, we can begin to sort and arrange them into place, making our personalized health picture.
Here are more than two dozen reasons why you may have trouble with achieving your weight management goals:
- Medications (including antibiotics, steroids, antidepressants, etc.)
- Whole body inflammation
- Leaky gut syndrome / impaired digestion
- Food sensitivities
- Emotional traumas
- Chronic stress
- Other additional diagnoses including autoimmune conditions
- Macronutrient ratio imbalance (out of proportion ratio of healthy fats, healthy proteins, and fiber-rich veggies)
- Family/caregiver influences and pressures
- Blood sugar imbalances (insulin resistance / diabetes or pre-diabetes)
- Hormonal, thyroid, and/or adrenal imbalances
- Lack of sleep (or poor, non-restorative sleep)
- Lack of physical activity (due to pain)
- Toxic exposures (including cigarettes, pesticides, herbicides, manufacturing chemicals, heavy metals, and more)
- Consumption of processed sugar, flour, and dietary chemicals, preservatives, additives, flavorings, dyes, etc.
- Eating quickly (insufficient chewing and savoring)
- Isolation (feeling cut off from healthy, positive support and/or a lack of spiritual connection)
- Lack of phytonutrients in the diet (micronutrient deficiencies)
- Chronic dieting
- Distracted eating (eating in front of the TV, computer, tablet, etc.)
- Skipping meals
- Eating too often
- Exposure to xenoestrogens found in plastics
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excessive exercise
- Frequent business travel
How do these problems fit together for you?
Weight Loss Resistance as Linked to Fibromyalgia
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Which of the above items would you guess are most linked to fibromyalgia? You may be surprised to learn that a vast majority of them are. In fact, I’d select items #1 through #21 as applicable. Additionally, the remaining items may or may not apply.
I’m willing to bet that at least a few of the connections listed caught you off guard. Finding that they’re related to fibromyalgia may surprise you even further.
It would take an entire compendium of information to list the reasons that each of these items restricts the body’s ability to release weight. But you probably have enough background to pull out some basic themes. For example, the hallmark root “problems” of fibromyalgia are poor, gut health, blood sugar regulation, and hormonal dysregulation. That’s a wide collection of conditions, but together they create issues that will look familiar to you:
- Hormone imbalances
- Adrenal fatigue/exhaustion
- Slowed metabolism
- Compromised immune system
- Cognitive impairments
- Digestive disorders
Keep in mind that the underlying functional problems related to fibromyalgia are systemic. They affect the immune, muscular, integumentary, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, nervous, lymphatic, endocrine, urinary, and cardiovascular systems. Because of this systemic connection, one problem, if left unaddressed, may trigger another.
While this sounds like bad news, the same effect can also be good news. When one system of the body is improved – for example, the digestive system – the improvements can be seen in other systems of the body. The health benefits of healing are far-reaching.
While many of the above items look obvious and common, others might be a bit more obscure. For example, item #8: How could caregiver pressures relate to potential weight gain?
One of the most underrated influences over our behaviors comes from our friends, families, and caregivers. We’re raised in similar environments with our siblings and are exposed to the same external and internal toxins, the same foods, and the same belief systems. We may even handle stress in the same ways.
These “societal norms” become part of our behavior patterns, so if our parents, siblings, friends, and caregivers eat unhealthy foods, there’s increased likelihood that we will too. If they practice addictive food or substance behaviors, we may too. If they are the food-preparers, we may find that we simply eat what is served. After all, we don’t want to be a bother or have them go out of their way, do we?
How does this item in particular relate to fibromyalgia?
Due to our increased need for help or outside assistance, we may experience greater influence or exposure from our family or caregivers than the average person. Their behaviors often become ours.
Fitting the Pieces All Together
By now, you’ve probably reviewed the items listed above and noted the ones that seem relevant to you. You’ve made a mental note of ones that are familiar and ones that may take a bit more thought. I’d encourage you to look further into both categories. Because a majority of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia have had a problem at one time or another with unwanted weight gain or inability to release weight, dieting is a familiar behavior.
As society has proven over the past 30 years, dieting (restricting or changing your food habits for a specific period of time) simply does not work. The only nutritional changes that have the potential to create significant health improvements are the ones that we make for a lifetime.
To get started, check out this article, “The Fibromyalgia Diet: Help! I Don’t Know What to Eat.”
You may also wish to read, “Why Paleo for Fibro?”
For more information on the immune system, the metabolism, and what it means for your energy levels, check out this article, “The Fibromyalgia Energy Crisis: A Balancing Act.”
Now that you’re armed with new and powerful healing information, what changes do you plan to make?
Focus on a lifestyle that will last forever.” Author Unknown
Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.
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