Welcome to the first Fitness Fridays post! I’m trying something new with this column, because I have a unique fitness journey (we all do!) and I am meeting more and more people who are experiencing some of the things I have. So, today, we are talking about how to lose weight when you have an autoimmune disease.
Quick Fact: Approximately 700 million people worldwide are suffering from an autoimmune disease worldwide, with 78% of them women. (source)
With most of us being “silent sufferers”, or people that look perfectly healthy and normal, but deal with daily symptoms of an autoimmune disease.
I meet people all the time who you would never guess are fighting an autoimmune battle. Literally just yesterday I was chatting with my pilates instructor about how she’s going through some health issues related to heavy metal toxicity and has been bouncing from doctor to doctor.
So, I am all about putting what I’ve learned out there in the hopes that it might improve other people’s lives even a little.
Because this post is rather long, I want to give you a nice outline of where we are headed:
- Why Your Autoimmune Disease Makes It Hard to Lose Weight
- How You can Reduce the Toxic Burden On Your Body With:
- Body care products and dry brushing
- Choosing food, ingredients, and supplements that will help
- The Importance of Water
- Exercise Options That WILL Tone & Shape Your Body and Drop Inches!
- The Right Mindset For Success
First, though, I’d like to do a little housekeeping: I am not a medical professional, nor am I attempting to give you any medical advice. Always be sure to do your own research and discuss any new weight loss or exercise plans with your doctor or team of medical professionals prior to beginning anything new, particularly if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.
Let’s jump in, shall we?
Autoimmune Diseases* and Your Weight :
I’m just going to say it: having an autoimmune disease SUCKS. It sucks big time. It sucks all the time. It sucks in the morning. It sucks at noon. It sucks at night. It just sucks. Some days are better, others are worse; but it always sucks.
And, when you are starting to experience the symptoms of having an autoimmune disease – you are often simultaneously struggling to get an accurate diagnosis. So, you’re experiencing all of this painful symptoms, brain fog, fatigue, while also – probably gaining weight!
This can be even more mystifying if you have an autoimmune disease that makes you nauseous and have digestive disorders that make it extremely difficult to eat!
Raise your hand if you have an autoimmune disease – are also inexplicably gaining weight and have thought to yourself – HOW AM I GAINING WEIGHT WHEN I BARELY EAT ANYTHING?
I literally feel your pain. My mom once told me I ate less than my then toddler-aged son. True.
So, what’s making it so hard to lose weight?
If you’ve been on the autoimmune train for awhile, you know the answer to this.
The reason you are struggling to lose weight, and maybe even gaining weight, is your new best friend:
After you’ve heard this one for awhile, it starts to sound like a four-letter word. You’ll spit it out through gritted teeth.
You’ll learn how this is impacting your health. How it’s burdening your struggling body. Crippling you with chronic pain. Causing your head to feel like a bowling ball threatening to roll off your achy shoulders at any given time. Resulting in your body swelling and bloating like a Macy’s Day Parade blimp.
I’m with you, friend. I hate inflammation.
The fact is this: If you have an autoimmune disease, your body is confused on what it should be attacking (toxins, illnesses, etc.) and is attacking healthy tissue instead. This overactive activity in your body is creating inflammation.
Or, as Dr. Hyman states in one of his articles, “Autoimmune conditions are connected by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.” (source here)
Basically, your body is doing something it normally would do – but doing it SO DANG WELL and IN SO MUCH EXCESS it is starting to cause HEALTH PROBLEMS.
How’s that for irony?
The result is lots of inflammation.
What this means is that in order to start to lose weight and feel better – you have to always be addressing the Big I: Inflammation.
Inflammation is now the name of the game. Inflammation is the focus and reducing inflammation is the goal.
If you can start to do that – you can and will start to feel better and lose weight.
That’s why the following tips probably could work for anybody, but will be particularly useful to those of us that have been inaugurated into the Autoimmune Disease Club – against our wishes and to our daily dismay.
It is my sincere wish that something in these steps will help you finally find some relief from the yo-yo hell of autoimmune disease weight loss.
1. Reduce The Chemical Burden on Your Body
Fight the inflammation = fight the weight gain. First step to your wellness.
Basically, we take in toxins constantly. They’re all around us: the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, the products we use, the clothes we wear…everything. It’s just part of life.
There is one particular way that we can help reduce the amount of toxins we are taking in – and that’s by making change in the one environment we have some control over: our homes.
There are a variety of well-documented ways to do this. I’ll simplify and discuss a few you can incorporate into your daily routine as you are able. It can be as simple as running out of a product you use and purchasing a different one instead.
Baby steps is the name of the game. Small changes over time will equal huge long-term changes and health benefits for you and your whole family.
A. Body Care & Home Products
Basically, your body is not eliminating toxins as efficiently as it should, causing them to swim around in your body and wreak havoc. This creates inflammation. Inflammation makes it extremely difficult to lose weight.
If you have additional struggles, like an MTHFR Mutation, your body will be especially bad at that.
MUST. GET. THE. TOXINS. OUT.
Since we take in most of the toxins in our environments through our skin, this is a good place to start.
In fact, we absorb 60% of what is put on our skin into our bloodstream.
This is GOOD NEWS.
By choosing products with better ingredients, less chemicals, no synthetic fragrances, etc., we can help our bodies have less to filter through.
Here’s The Short List on Steps You Can Take:
- Use clean, non-toxic, organic products whenever possible (see more below)
- Use filtered water – for everything
- Check air filters in your house and replace as needed (they’re surprisingly cheap!)
- Start dry brushing (see more below)
- Add a magnesium lotion to your nighttime routine. It’ll help you sleep, while giving you much needed magnesium boost. Read more about the many benefits of magnesium here!
For More Detail:
If you want some specific body care and makeup brand recommendations, here’s an incredible, current list of brands to try. I’ve written a bit about some of my favorites here and here, and about my favorite eyeliners and sunscreen, too. I hope to write more soon.
I also really recommend a few sites that talk about this in much more detail:
- Amy Myers, M.D. – One of the most respected experts on autoimmune diseases and how to treat them. She has even created her own line of supplements and written many courses and several bestselling books. Her resources have been an absolute game changer for me.
- MindBodyGreen – This site is incredible. It’s all the big players in the game in one place. A one-stop powerful resource where you can access articles from many reputable doctors and holistic practitioners.
- Food Babe – A food ingredient investigator and advocate who has created an incredible stir in the food world – resulting in major food chains, such as Starbucks, Chipotle, Subway, and Chick-Fil-A making changes to their food manufacturing and ingredients. Most recently, she has started producing her own supplements. I have personally tried her turmeric and really like it. It’s very powerful and I get better results with less product.
- Wellness Mama – If you really want to go down the rabbithole, Wellness Mama is a team of two well-known, reputable bloggers who took the organic, natural living world by storm. They’ve since joined forces and now work together on WM, producing content that will teach you how to dissect those ingredient labels, choose better products, and even – make your own.
In addition to changing up your body care and home products, consider adding dry brushing to your routine. Dry brushing is a powerful way to help our skin release built up toxins. Plus, dry brushing helps with circulation, can help improve cellulite, and detoxifies your lymphatic system.
A cheap dry brush is all you need to start this 2-minute ritual before you step into the shower.
It’s not painful, it’ll even become something you find invigorating, and your skin will be softer and healthier. WIN. WIN. WIN.
Here’s a short article on dry brushing that will give you some background on the benefits and a quick tutorial to get you off to the races in no time.
2. Clean Up Your Diet
But not in the way you think.
You’re not eating to reduce calories or take on some kind of fad diet. The idea here is sustainable living. You want to make life easier on yourself, not harder.
There are plenty of foods that have been identified as triggers for autoimmune disease symptoms. The goal would be to try to make small, reasonable changes little by little, to help decrease inflammation, so that the good things you are doing for your body can actually work.
I want to write more in the future about this, but in the interest of brevity, I want to give you some resources that will guide you as you start to make long-term change to your diet.
But before I do, I’d like to say that at first, this is going to be no fun at all.
You’re already in constant pain. You’re already tired. The last thing you need is to feel guilt every time you try to eat something – even if you know that it is just going to make you feel worse.
I’m with you, friend. I live it every day.
But, the small changes you have the energy to make will pay you back ten-fold. This will give you energy to make the next small change. Then, the next one. And the next one.
This isn’t some intense 30-day craze that will leave you totally physically exhausted and your AD flaring up before the end of the first week. This is about improving your health, reducing inflammation, so you can LOSE WEIGHT, GET SOME PRESSURE OFF THOSE JOINTS, AND FEEL BETTER.
Here’s the Short List On Steps You Can Take:
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods; avoid foods that cause inflammation
- Take supplements that replace and replenish necessary vitamins and minerals, and help your body detoxify
- Incorporate powerful, inflammation fighting ingredients, such as: turmeric, chia seeds, hemp seeds, collagen, and so many more.
- Drink More Water
This is about your long-term battle against inflammation.
- FOOD: Here’s a quick read article with simple lists on what foods fight inflammation and which ones you should try to avoid.
- MORE FOOD: If you’re ready for more, here’s a more intense article with more detail on the way you can structure your diet to fight even more inflammation. It’s really helpful and full of great tips.
- SMOOTHIES: Simple Green Smoothies: Here’s a really great smoothie resource. Smoothies are such a powerful way to shove so many healthy things into your body that you could never have the time or energy to eat separately. They offer a free 7-day plan, along with smoothie challenges you can join and more. I’ve personally made many of their smoothies and love the variety.
- SMOOTHIES: Here’s a Simple Green Smoothie dedicated to fighting inflammation!
- TURMERIC: Drink it. Take it. Learn to love it. Personally, I do not eat curry of any kind, so I have to find other ways to work it in and let me tell you – this single change in your life will be big!
- Incorporate powerful, inflammation fighting ingredients into your diet. For example, add chia seeds and hemp seeds into your smoothies. Add collagen to your bedtime tea.
- Funny sidenote here: I started adding collagen to help with joint pain and it started turning back the clock on my face. I regularly have people estimate my age incorrectly and I think my love for collagen and sunscreen are the reasons why!
- SUPPLEMENTS: You don’t need all the supplements, you just need the right ones. You need the ones to detoxify your liver and your body, to help fight inflammation, to help calm your digestive system, and to balance your gut flora.
A note on supplements:
When it comes to these types of supplements, the brand does matter. You don’t need supplements full of synthetic chemicals your body will have to flush out in addition to everything else.
If you’re on a tight budget, you’re better off with a couple high quality supplements to start, rather than a whole bin of the other kind. There are quite a few really reputable supplement companies, with more affordable options being Gaia and Seeking Health.
This is an article on the most trustworthy supplement brands that has been SO HELPFUL to me on my journey.
**I am NOT an Amy Myers, M.D., affiliate or salesperson. I will not make a dime if you buy anything from her. It has literally changed my health for the better and I want to share it with you.**
I know you’re tired of this one – but hear me out.
Think of every new fad diet you’ve read about, what do they all have in common? Drink more water.
Every new fitness craze that sweeps the nation, what do they tell you? Drink more water.
All those articles on getting your best skin and aging well, what do they have in common? Drink more water.
The articles on fighting inflammation, taking back your health, restoring your gut bacteria, and more, what do they have in common?
SAY IT WITH ME: DRINK. MORE. WATER.
This is so critical to those of us struggling with an autoimmune disease because we are not flushing the toxins out of our body as quickly and efficiently as we should. Drinking water helps us do this.
However, if that water is full of contaminants – invisible to the naked eye – we are just adding more to our toxic burden.
If you just trade out every other beverage you reach for with water – you’ll probably quadruple your water intake.
I used to squeeze a fresh lemon into a big cup of water first thing in the morning – I gotta tell you, I glowed like the sun. I was like a human light bulb.
Maybe I should go back to that…hmm…
Even though I linked this article on the importance of drinking filtered water a few times in this section already, here it is again in case you missed it.
4. Consistent, Low Impact Exercise
I hate to be the one to break it to you – but if you’re suffering from inflammation and autoimmune diseases, you probably need to step out of the gym and into the yoga studio.
This was hard for me, too. I was very athletic growing up and went through periods where I was a total gym rat. Working out was a way to clear my head.
When that stopped being an option – it was really depressing. Suddenly, a 30-minute Jillian Michaels DVD would leave my physically depleted for a week.
The yo-yo of trying to work out, then being in too much pain to work out, and then giving up on working out, and then trying again to work out went on and on and on for me for years.
I just couldn’t accept that I wasn’t going to be able to work out the way that I had been used to.
Luckily, my new rheumatologist made a suggestion that pushed me in the right direction.
A. Benefits of Yoga & Pilates
My new rheumatologist told me – start pilates. Right away.
While I’ve always had an interest in it, and had tried barre classes and yoga, I’d never started pilates simply because of the cost. But, when I finally accepted that our pricey gym membership was just a waste of money for me, we were able to free up the funds.
Also, I picked up a highly-rated pilates DVD that chunks work outs into 10-minutes that I can use at home. In the past, I’ve downloaded free workout apps on my phone that offer short workouts or daily yoga practices. Anything is better than nothing.
I definitely have some tips on how to make a pilates practice as effective as possible and I will write about those in future Fitness Fridays posts.
But, until then, I would say my #1 recommendation for losing weight when you have an autoimmune disease is investing in a pilates membership as soon as you can or doing videos at home.
- Pilates builds strength, balance and muscle tone without the added pressure of gravity.
- You perform most of the exercises while lying down on a reformer machine, so you can completely isolate the muscle you are working – making it much more effective.
- Plus, pilates is considered the “Zero Pain” workout. You should never feel that horrible 3-5 day soreness period that you will have after a weight lifting session or hard core workout. You may feel some muscle soreness or stiffness, but it will never be limiting or debilitating.
THIS IS SO HUGE FOR THOSE OF US WITH CHRONIC PAIN.
Now, I won’t lie to you – you will NOT see the kind of quick results you will with hard core gym workouts, running, or other high impact exercises. But, you also can’t really do those anymore when you’re suffering from chronic pain or an AD anyway.
But, with consistency, you will see results. I have not changed my diet at all from what I was doing before starting Pilates, and in 2 months I have lost 6 inches and my clothes fit better.
I know, I know. I am thinking what you’re thinking. It’s not my favorite either.
However, walking is free. Just throw on some sneakers and go out the door.
You’ll breathe in the less toxic air outside (yes, inside air is more toxic than outside).
You may even see a nice sunrise or sunset.
You can spy on your neighbors.
I mean, what else are you looking for? 😉
Probably the easiest on your body. Talk about zero joint damage here. There are even water fitness classes you can sign up for at a local gym or community center.
My kids love to swim, so even just getting in the pool with them rather than gluing myself to a nearby lounge chair is something.
5. Be Kind To Yourself
Will this help you lose weight? Why yes, yes it will. Here’s why:
When you’re constantly experiencing this yo-yo of emotions based on how much you can work out, or how well you can eat, or how much weight you are losing – you create more stress and anxiety.
When you have an autoimmune disease, stress and anxiety are directly related to having flares, increased chronic pain, fatigue, and inflammation.
When you are in more pain and experiencing flares, you are not able to workout and have almost no energy to think carefully about what you eat.
Therefore, you will not only NOT lose weight, you may even GAIN more weight. This puts even more pressure on your gentle joints and can increase pain and digestive distress.
So, it is time to practice the right mindset for health and weight loss.
When you look in the mirror – refuse to put yourself down.
When you don’t make the best meal choice or don’t make it to your workout – refuse to hate yourself.
When you see other people simply look at a carrot and drop 20 – refuse to hate yourself.
When you don’t have the energy to take care of everyone else AND yourself, so you look like an electrocuted mombie at the school pick-up line – refuse to hate yourself.
Treat yourself with love and kindness. That acceptance will free your body to focus on other, more important things – like healing, quieting the inflammation inferno, and making the most of all those anti-inflammatory foods you’ll be eating.
Someday, you will meet someone else that you will be able to help because of what you have gone through and what you have learned.
It doesn’t make it okay that you had to experience this – but you will feel less alone and that your pain has at least been useful.
That is why I am sharing all of this with you today and why I am turning my Friday column into a big shout-out to all my autoimmune disease homies out there trying to live their best lives.
Gosh, I’m feeling all sentimental and ready to break into song.
Don’t worry I won’t.
Do me a favor, if any of this resonated with you, or you have your own point to add – will you leave it in the comments below or send me an email? I love hearing from my readers.
Oh, and chime in next week for part 2 of Fitness Fridays.
Have a fabulous day,
P.S. I want to share the single most powerful book I have read yet on this subject. Maybe it will help you, too.