Weight Gain and What I'm Doing to Fight It

So you’ve gained weight again for the fifth time since your MS diagnosis. Bummer. And you’ve read MS articles about obesity being a dangerous secondary medical condition on the NMSS site, Healthline, Medpage Today, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, and study abstracts on PubMed. Wonderful, you probably thought, it’s not just me, it’s actually a thing—an MS thing, no less.

What’s more, if you’re a masochist like I am, you’ve taken a regrettable peek at fitness gurus scolding anyone seeking sympathy for having a disease. You don’t get a pass for having sponged up mega doses of steroids for a relapse, either. And if you’ve gained weight taking antidepressants then take your whining elsewhere, say the depressingly buff trainers to the stars. Your only real problem is being lazy and eating potato chips. Furthermore—and here’s the finishing blow to my aging carcass—Jillian Michaels once wrote that postmenopausal women who blame loss of estrogen for their spreading waistlines are ignoring the obvious: they’ve spent years being sedentary and eating the wrong stuff and it’s merely caught up with them in middle-age. Kiss my cellulite-pitted backside, Jillian.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do not deny the bio-factual content in that kind of wisdom. It’s just that broad declarative statements are given glibly and free-of-charge, while nuances are more gratifying, still free-of-charge, and harder to find. But an individualized solution can be had for the cost of a mere home refinancing loan. And just think: if left to my own devices, I might have found exercise and diet videos on YouTube for free. Thank goodness I avoided using my brain and helped Jillian buy an island near Fiji.

I’m half-kidding, I actually admire and look up to Jillian Michaels. She’s like the big sister I never had who does everything better than me. I hate her but I love her, if you get my meaning. I can say I hate her but if you say you hate her then I’ll get mad and defend her and start hating you.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about my weight.

Got fluid retention? This year I discovered a discouraging fact: if I take less than the full dose of my diuretic, I’ll gain six pounds and blow up like a dirigible. This could come in handy if I ever want to retrace Lindburgh’s flight to Paris. Here’s your take-away: if you suddenly gain weight and can’t trace it directly to calorie intake, it might be time to consult your healthcare professional. Here’s another reason why you should do that...

Weight gain as a medication side effect. Some medications are widely known to cause weight gain. It wouldn’t be a waste of time to ask your doc for a medication review. Sometimes drugs can cause unexpected symptoms when taken together that could thwart your attempts to lose weight, among other things.

What about food? Tricky because we have to eat, there’s no titrating it down to zero and eliminating it like a cigarette habit. So far, starvation always results in death. I might be buried in a size 2 Vera Wang sheath dress, but that’s cold comfort.

Since I also have IBS, I strive to follow a low FODMAP diet. It’s about eating select veggies and fruit, and whole grains provided they are gluten-free. My downfall is starch in the form of bread and pasta. I’m slowly replacing those simple carbs with starchy veggies such as peas and corn. Already I’ve lost a couple of pounds. Soon I’ll bring in less starchy and more nutritionally dense veg such as spinach, red pepper, and green beans. Unfortunately, high FODMAP foods like beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, watermelon and apples are discouraged. Still, I’ll probably compromise and enjoy some of these as well.

...and exercise?

I walk that way and still need the talcum powder. Fatigue is cited as being the main culprit that keeps us sedentary. But the health benefits we enjoy from increased activity are significant enough that we should try to maintain it despite our fatigue. Rather than crawling into bed, we should do the counter-intuitive thing and take a short walk instead. (I suspect Jillian played some role in this propaganda, but I’m trying not to let paranoia rule.) I’ve actually tested this theory and found it to be true. Taking a short walk does help my symptoms of GERD, IBS, and MS-related symptoms, especially if I walk right after a meal.

Another form of cardio I can easily do is riding my strider. It’s set up near my television and ready to go whenever the spirit moves me. I’ll put more time on the strider if I get totally into the story and forget I’m bored by exercise. This is my cardio of choice during the winter months. I have no particular goal except to hop on the stupid thing every day and do at least three minutes. As I see it, forming a new lifelong daily habit is more important than making a value judgment about whether I put enough time into it.

Don’t forget the weights. Another nugget of conventional wisdom I find to be true is that weight training is even more helpful than cardio in sustaining weight loss and strengthening nerve-damaged muscles. Resistance exercises such as lifting free weights will build muscle mass, which is essential in burning calories. It will also fight against muscle wasting, something that happens to everyone as a consequence of natural aging, but which can worsen dramatically in a severely disabled person.

I use 3-lb free weights that I curl and push over my head while sitting on the floor watching—you guessed it—television. Why the floor? Because I do leg stretches first, then lean sideways and grab the weights sitting right next to me. I’ll be more apt to use the equipment if it’s close at hand. Doing just a couple of reps each of curls and overhead pumps will make a big difference in my posture and core strength. As always, a little goes a long way.

I’m in no hurry. I’ve got the whole winter to get a nice start on establishing some healthier exercise and eating habits. After that, I can tweak my meals according to my goals and moods, and even look forward to some cheat days.

Taking these first steps toward weight loss and fitness has already improved my mood. My goal is to reach a lower, healthier weight and exercise for better strength and balance. If I happen to like what I see in the mirror, too, that’d be the icing. Even Jillian Michaels couldn’t do better.1

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