It’s been almost 7 years now since I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disease and a few years since a second one was identified and added to the list. I’ve spent countless hours researching and experimenting with different things, as well as working with doctors and naturopaths, in order to fight for my quality of life and health as much as possible. I never really intended to share about these things on the blog, but over time, I am meeting more and more people who are experiencing some of the things I have. 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. 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, 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. She looks very fit and has plenty of energy when she’s teaching – but she’s silently, constantly suffering with health ailments that nobody knows about.
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?
1. Autoimmune Disease 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: Inflammation.
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.
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. Also, know that some links below are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission if you purchase through my link at no cost to you. I only promote products and companies I use and trust.
2. Reduce The Toxic 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!
B. Dry Brushing:
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.
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.
Here’s a detailed post I wrote on 15 anti-inflammatory foods that you can eat to help your body. 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
- Use a weight loss app to help you track what you’re eating. Here are my 6 faves.
- Drink Anti-Inflammatory Smoothies – A super quick way to shove many healthy things in your body while being gentle on your digestion system.
- Take Turmeric – Personally, I do not eat curry of any kind, so I use supplements.
- Add Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients like chia seeds and hemp seeds into your smoothies.
- Add collagen to your bedtime tea.
- Take Anti-Inflammatory 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.
- Drink celery juice first thing in the morning! I wrote a post on how I tried the celery juice trend for two weeks and it transformed my digestive health. I highly recommend this for people with any digestive issues! This is one of my MOST POPULAR POSTS EVER!
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.
3. Drink More Filtered Water
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.
Make sure you are using the right kind of water filters and avoiding plastic water bottles.
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…
So, grab yourself a reusable water bottle and drink more water. I absolutely love these water bottles from Iron Flask. Many of them come with three lid types, too, which is amazing, because you can pick your favorite for whatever you are drinking or have extras if one gets old or lost. I use these for everything from water, to smoothies, and even my iced coffee. Here’s my favorite one:
This exact water bottle is this one, the 22oz. in cotton candy – I LOVE 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, 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.
I wrote a whole post on the benefits of pilates if you have an autoimmune diseases, too.
Also, I picked up a highly-rated pilates DVD that chunks work outs into 10-minutes that I can use at home. Anything is better than nothing.
If you have an autoimmune disease, invest in a pilates membership as soon as you can or do 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 may feel some muscle soreness or stiffness, but it will never be limiting or debilitating like other workouts.
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.
Or, check out this post with 10 free gentle yoga flows for chronic pain.
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? 😉
I recently shared a post on how I started walking 10,000 steps a day and what it’s doing for my health. Check out part 1 of my new series on walking here.
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.
Feel free to check out my other posts on how to reduce your stress through various techniques:
- 5 Breathing Techniques for Anxiety
- How To Start a Mindfulness Practice
- 9 Meditation Apps to Reduce Stress & Anxiety (and Help You Sleep!)
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 giving a big shout-out to all my autoimmune disease homies out there trying to live their best lives.
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.
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.
THANK YOU. I got the recommended DVD and tried it for the first time today. WOWZA! Always thought at home workouts were not as effective as going to the gym but this one got me sweating! Looking forward to more recommendations. You rock!
Awesome! So glad you loved it! While pilates doesn’t ascribe to the “no pain, no gain” approach of typical workouts – it really does challenge your body, build strength, and get results!
Thank you for the article. I’m struggling for 7 years now and met so many useless doctors who told me to just ignore my symptoms…reading your article felt like you were talking about me🙈 sometimes it does feel like there is no one out there who knows how this feels. Made me realize I’m not alone, thank you again!
I’m so glad you found it helpful! I have a lot of content for people like us and I hope it’s helpful for you! I’ve researched, studied and experimented with different things for years and share what really works – even if doctors say it won’t – so maybe some of it will help you, too. You’re not alone! Fight for your health!
I’ll absolutely follow these! I really want to lose some weight as I’ve been struggling with this for a while now. Thanks for posting!
I totally understand. It’s really difficult if you’re struggling with inflammation or any health issues. Keep going and remember that every little bit helps. Good luck and thanks for reading!
This is a great article about losing weight, informative and well written. learn a lot of stuff today.
I loved everything about this article! Very informative!!! Thank you so much for this❤️
Thank you Tiah! I hope you find some tips that will work for you or inspire you to find your own ways that work. Thanks so much fo reading!
i really like your sense of humor. I have hashimoto’s disease and blog about thyroid issues. learning to “own” it since i was diagnosed last year, and now i’m in remission. so yay! thank you for sharing.
Thanks so much, Adrienne! Sorry to hear about the Hashimoto’s – that’s another really tough one! I definitely hope you’ll check out the Amy Myers MD site and maybe rent some of her books from the library. Getting in remission is a huge accomplishment, bravo! I wish you continued health and wellness!
Thanks for sharing these 5 ways to lose weight!
You’re welcome! I hope some of it helps you!
Thank you for this article. I have managed my AD for 21 years fairly well. However, I contracted Covid in November and it went crazy afterwards. I am rapidly gaining weight, having constant flare-ups, and the inflammation isn’t going away.
This article gives me direction and hope that I can turn this around. Thanks.
Oh no, Karyl, I am so sorry to hear that you got Covid. I’ve heard that it has a particularly destructive impact on those of us with AD. I am really glad that this post gave you hope. You may also like my posts on the 10 supplements I take for inflammation and the anti-inflammatory food posts as well. I’ll tell you that in the last year, I have started having slow weight gain, too – I think due to being more sedentary at home and from the stress of 2020 – and I think a lot of it has been due to inflammation as well. I’ve started doing some new things and working with a naturopath to get to the root of it. Your comment has inspired me to share more about that journey in the hopes that what I’m learning/doing can be of service to others. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Please let me know how things go for you!
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been on my autoimmune journey for about 6 months now. I’m still bouncing between doctors to get the correct diagnosis, but we know that it is autoimmune-related. And I have felt so alone. Reading this made my cry because I relate and connect to it so much.
I am exhausted ALL the time. I love working out, but it tires me so quickly. My knees and my back hurt after. I also eat like a toddler. And still, I’m gaining weight. And with my history of eating disorders, it’s been particularly challenging. I am SO grateful to see someone talk about this, to know that I’m not doing anything wrong, to hear that I shouldn’t hate myself for it, and to learn what I can do to make my body just FEEL better. I’m going to invest in every single one of these strategies and see what happens. Thank you for being real and honest.
Ahhh, Thank you so much Morgan. I’m so sorry you’ve joined the club that nobody ever wants to be in. I am glad my journey has given you some ideas. I’ve written a lot more content on this, so please feel free to use whatever works for you. We’re all different; so listen to your body, track symptoms, make changes slowly and see what really works for YOU. Here are a few more posts to give you some ideas of what I have tried: my favorite anti-inflammatory smoothie (this one is so good), the supplements I take for inflammation, free yoga sequences for chronic pain, and much more. I really hope you find what brings relief and comfort to you. Let me know if you have any questions!
Is there a good alternative to celery juice? Celery (raw and undiluted, specifically) has been better than ipecac syrup in causing me to vomit (ever since I was a child, and I’m now in my fifties), and I think inducing vomiting is probably counter-conducive to reducing gastric inflammation, in my case.
Lemon juice with ginger, maybe?
Wow, in that case, definitely avoid celery juice! As for what to use instead – I would say maybe the anti-inflammatory smoothie recipes or a golden milk recipe! I have posts for both on the blog, but you can always google for ideas, too. Magnesium is also amazing for gastric inflammation, too, and you can find magnesium powder that you mix into water. I also use magnesium lotion at night, too. Water with lemon juice is great, but I’ve never tried it with ginger. I hope some of these help!
Oh man I could cry! This describes me to a T and it can feel so lonely and it seems like no one understands what it’s like and I feel like when I describe what I’m going through people either look at you like your crazy or just feel sorry for you! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I’m slowly getting on the right track!!
Gosh, I am so sorry you’re going through this. I really understand how you feel. I’ve shared a lot of different posts with various natural remedies I’ve tried that have helped, such as celery juicing, various supplements, anti-inflammatory smoothie recipes, etc. I hope you can find some more ideas that might help. You are NOT alone!
Thank you so much for taking the time and writing this article. I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and I also have a MTHFR mutation. With still learning about what all this is, it has been quite the struggle emotionally and physically. I have been very down on myself with seeing I have been struggling to lose weight and all I do is gain. I am very self-conscious about my body now and very much so hate the way I look. I certainly feel hopeful now from reading your article in simple changes I can start doing with baby steps. So again, thank you so much for making a change in yet another person’s life.
Ahh, I have an MTHFR mutation as well. It really is so challenging and it’s difficult to not let it change how you view yourself. Just remember that you are so much more than how you look. I’ve shared a lot of other natural remedies that I’ve used to reduce inflammation on the blog, such as celery juicing, anti-inflammatory smoothie recipes, supplements I take and much more. I truly hope you feel encouraged and find some new ideas that you can try to see if they’ll help you. Never give up. You are not alone and your weight does not define you.
Wow I loved this post so much! Thank you! I’m only a month or so into my diagnosis and it’s ALOT but nice to know it’s manageable and I can start feeling like myself hopefully soon ❤️
Ange, I am so sorry to hear you’re on the autoimmune journey, but know that you are not alone! I have a ton of posts on what I’ve learned over the years and I hope some of it helps you find what works for you! Warm hugs coming your way from California!