Losing weight is a struggle for most people. But when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it can pose even more challenges, as Tara Manriquez of Vancouver, WA, found out over the past year. “I’d always been small, but one of my early RA medications caused me to gain a lot of weight,” she says. In fact, it’s common to pack on pounds while taking certain medications, especially corticosteroids like prednisone. Plus, moving is difficult when you’re in pain, which can lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity and weight gain, putting more pressure on joints that are already stiff and painful.
But slimming down when you have RA doesn’t have to be an exercise in frustration! Just take a cue from Tara, who shed 30 pounds—without depriving herself—by adopting these smart strategies:
Track your daily food intake. “For the first time in my life, I had to learn to count calories,” says Tara, who used a website to record what she ate as well as the number of calories.
Eat more often. Sound surprising? Skipping meals can actually backfire: Studies suggest that eating smaller, more frequent meals may help increase your metabolism and control appetite. Weight loss became easier once Tara started eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the day.
Dial back your exercise intensity. Tara went all out when she began exercising, taking aerobics classes and lifting weights. But the regimen soon zapped her energy, along with her motivation. “I was trying to exercise too hard and ended up overexerting myself,” she says. To prevent exercise burnout, ask your healthcare provider to recommend an appropriate plan, and consider seeing a physical therapist to help you set up a safe, gentle routine.
Skip shortcuts. Fad diets that promise fast results don’t work over the long term. “For me, losing weight is all about eating regular, small meals and doing less strenuous exercise, like walking," she says, adding that the benefits of being lighter are worth the effort of establishing new habits. “I have more energy than ever!”