Gaining Weight With MS

Every so often, I’ll glance at myself in the mirror and think, “Wow, what happened?” After two decades of battling an incurable illness that plagues me with mobility issues and numerous courses of steroids, I realize that I am very far from the trim and fit former college athlete that once greeted me in the mirror. It took a while for these results to happen, but eventually, my body has become something that I don’t even recognize. While not true of everyone, one common problem that you don’t often hear about when it comes to having Multiple Sclerosis or other chronic illness is weight gain.

Why do people with MS gain weight?

Well, if you know much about MS, you know that three of its most common symptoms are fatigue, mobility problems, and sensitivity to heat. It shouldn’t be too difficult to realize that those symptoms can make exercising extremely difficult. Yes, there are ways to combat those symptoms, but overall, it can make working out more than a little challenging. To put it in perspective, there are many people with MS who have problems with the simple act of showering (itself, a common post-exercise activity; at least, I hope it is for most people). When the very basics of daily activities can seem daunting, it’s not hard to imagine how difficult it can be to consider exercising.

Steroid use

The disease symptoms aside, one of the common treatments for those with Multiple Sclerosis is steroids. Often used to slow or stop an exacerbation, depending on your disease activity, these can be prescribed often. Heavy steroids too: a common course for a serious exacerbation is five days of intravenous steroids, followed by a slow tapering of oral steroids. That entire process can easily lead to being on them for way over a month. Of course, one of the most common side effects of steroids is weight gain.

My experience with weight gain

As I said, it wasn’t always this way. I was lucky enough to still be training for marathons even a decade into the disease. At one point, I was probably even the healthiest I had ever been. That health created a false sense of security, which lead to me not always being on my disease modifying therapy. Eventually, the disease caught up. I had numerous steroid courses coupled with decreased mobility. It became harder and harder to keep active and to lose the steroid weight. As the disease began taking more and more, I was eventually forced onto disability, which has led to even less physical activity on my part. While I still work at it, it’s not easy, and results almost seem non-existent at times.

Keep fighting

You can and should keep fighting weight gain. As with most things with MS, you need to adapt. You may not be able to “go for a run” anymore because of your legs and the heat, but maybe you can work out on an exercise bike while wearing a cooling vest. Swimming is an extremely popular way for those with MS to exercise, as it can offer cooler temps and less fall risk. Talking to a physical therapist is always recommended; in my experience, they often have tips and exercises that you might not really think of. Thinking outside of the box and outside of your comfort zone is critical to living a successful life with MS and that applies to exercising with it too.

Thanks for reading!


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