How to Lose Weight With Chronic Pain
If you are overweight and suffer from a chronic pain condition, but you are determined to make the difficult changes you need to lose the excess weight, the last thing you need from your friends and family is a lack of support.
Or even worse, intentional sabotage.
It's important to recognize these problem people, and avoid or have strategies for dealing with them.
Especially when you need to also deal with your chronic illness!
Please note, I am not a doctor or trained psychologist. I am speaking from my own personal experience of non-supportive people, and my 20 years of coping with multiple chronic pain conditions (spondyloathritis with secondary fibromyalgia, sciatica, and costochondritis, plus adenomyosis and endometriosis).
There are many ways to undermine the motivation and strength needed to lose the extra kilos, while managing pain levels, to return to and maintain a healthy weight and regain fitness.
If you are trying to lose weight, you need to avoid the saboteurs. And if you know someone who is trying to lose weight, be a healthy and strong support, not a hindrance!
Avoid people with double standards
Constantly hearing advice offered by someone who is overweight and unhealthy, who doesn't have any pain issues, and who doesn't follow their own tips, is one way to make you incredibly frustrated and angry.
If they are not doing anything about their weight, health and fitness, they should not offer advice to a person who is actively trying to lose weight and become fit.
Unless you can get them to join you and drop their double-standards, avoid them where possible.
If they do join you - great! You can exercise together, track calories, check in with each other and keep yourselves accountable, exchange reviews of the healthy recipes you have tried, plan healthy and portion-controlled lunches or snacks for each other, as well as swap exercise equipment and tips.
Avoid de-motivating compliments
I like you just as you are.
Don't lose too much, I don't like thin people.
Bones and/or muscles are not attractive to me.
But your belly is cute!
These types of comments are deadly to a partner or friend who wants to lose weight and is looking for motivation and support to reach their goal.
Overweight people are often insecure, both within themselves and about their relationship. Such 'compliments' are a tough dilemma - lose the weight and become healthy, or potentially lose their relationship.
It's good to keep in mind that weight loss and increased fitness impacts has many positive impacts on relationships.
Focus on these things as motivation for your weight loss goals.
- Less pain means happier relationships - dragging around excess weight adds to pain and depression, negatively affecting relationships. Losing the extra weight will reduce pain levels, and improve relationships.
- Increased fitness is better for sex - improved stamina, better flexibility, and stronger muscles allow for better and longer love making. Less obvious - flatter stomachs may result in less pain - many women experience pain from pressure applied to their stomachs (endometriosis, adenomyosis, IBS, periods, etc).
- You can wear nicer clothing - obviously, there are some costs associated with weight loss - replacing clothes as size decreases costs money. This can be lessened by selling old clothes and shopping sensibly (second-hand, sales, or swapping with friends). Also, more attractive clothing, available to those who are not overweight, increases self-esteem.
- Improved self-esteem means fewer fights - many couples fight because they are feeling insecure within themselves. Losing unwanted kilos and regaining fitness helps with self-confidence.
- Less stress and better sleep through exercise - this also reduces the daily pressure on a relationship.
- You can save money - fitness helps the immune system function, fewer doctors visits and less medication saves money, reducing relationship stress. Take-away and junk food typically cost (a lot) more than healthy, home-cooked meals.
Fight sciatica with exercise
Stretching and exercise are the best natural methods to fight sciatica. Sitting and resting puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, and reduces blood flow to the area, which means the sciatic pain worsens.
Medications for sciatica mask the symptoms, and although anti-inflammatories may help in the short term, they won't fix the problem.
Be positive - don't poke fun or criticise
It is horrible when you are trying to lose weight, but your efforts are laughed at. Exercise programs are not all that graceful, even at the gym!
An extremely overweight person, especially one battling pain and illness, will find walking on the spot in front of the TV difficult enough, to begin with. But it's a start - it will burn calories and build muscle strength. More so, when they start waving their arms around during their workout. Don't laugh at their efforts!
Closely related, and equally demoralizing and demotivating, is hearing constant criticism. It is easier to give up than to weather being battered by harsh, non-constructive, unhelpful, negative comments, along the lines of:
You are too fat.
You aren't fit enough.
You just aren't doing it right.
You aren't losing fast enough.
You aren't eating the right foods.
You aren't doing the right exercises.
Phrase comments and suggestions positively, offer to help, suggest changes more gently, make fewer suggestions, praise the effort and the healthy changes that are being made.
If you have a friend who makes fun of your exercising efforts or one constantly criticizes you, avoid them as much as possible. Look for people who will support your efforts.
Take your health into account - chronic illness
As I have several ongoing illnesses and chronic pain, I take multiple medications with weight gain as a common side effect. I bloat and hold water very easily, thanks to the illnesses and medications. My circumstances prevent me from losing weight as quickly, consistently, and as easily as many other people.
Coping with chronic pain?
- What is Idiopathic Pain?
Idiopathic pain has no detectable cause, but a variety of treatments may reduce this chronic pain to a manageable level
- How to cope with chronic pain
Learn how to manage chronic pain, with tips for your mind and your body.
- How to manage chronic pain at work and school
Between 10% and 55% of the world's population suffer chronic pain, and many of these people still work and study. Follow these tips to manage your pain levels at work and school.
Chronic pain and illness sufferers must listen to their bodies, and be very careful in planning their exercise. They know that effort will be repaid with pain, in addition to the fitness gains.
When they choose to exercise harder on a good day, they know they will pay with pain and a longer recovery time. It is part of maintaining a balance between weight loss, fitness progress, and illness management.
Ignoring such influencing factors when recommending a training schedule, diet modification, or offering advice does not support weight loss. It sends a 'give up now' message, that because of the situation, weight loss is impossible.
Even with my difficult circumstances, I lost 30kg over 4 years, built up the stamina to regularly walk 20km in a day, and reached a huge milestone - I walked a marathon. Yet at this time, I was repeatedly told that I wasn't exercising long or hard enough, I wasn't counting calories properly and I wasn't losing fast enough. It was like a knife in my belly - I could not do more than I was doing, but it was not good enough.
Don't be one of those people. If you have someone like that who is not supporting you, avoid them.
Celebrate your successes
I think it should be a rule to never tell someone that they are not losing weight fast enough. Consistent and slow weight loss is much easier to maintain and healthier than dropping a lot of weight fast.
Hearing someone who has lost weight say how easy it was for them, and complain about your slow (and much more healthy) progress, is demoralizing and absolutely demotivating. Many people find it difficult to lose weight, even when they eat a healthy diet and do moderate exercise. Genes, medications, illnesses, stress and so many other factors play a role in how easily a person is able to lose weight.
Celebrate your successes with healthy rewards, relaxing and fun activities. Spend time with friends and family members who celebrate your success. Avoid the rest!
Give healthy presents and rewards
The most common way in which weight loss efforts are sabotaged is by giving presents that show a complete lack of support. Think of Valentine's Day, birthdays, Easter, Christmas, and so many more opportunities where high calorie treats are the most popular types of presents.
The best approach is to avoid getting presents of chocolates, candy, biscuits, cakes, and bottles of wine or beer. Ask for hampers of healthier foods or something that will help burn calories.
Better food choices as gifts include:
- fruit and vegetable hampers - include some exotic fruits and vegetables for interest and fun. Although high in natural sugars, fruits are also full of fiber and vitamins, and necessary in a healthy diet.
- nuts and trail mix selections - high in protein and great for snacking when in small portions.
- gourmet tea and coffees - of course, without sugar! Black, green, white teas, or herbal and fruit infusions are good at encouraging increased daily fluid intake.
- a variety of herbs and spices - include some gourmet mixes or lesser known herbs and spices to increase their interest in healthy home cooking.
Be careful of mixes with large amounts of salt, or those that contain MSG.
A small basket of anti-inflammatory herbs and spices is a great choice for those with arthritis, sciatica or fibromyalgia.
Of course healthy recipe books are always good ideas, perhaps paired with a collection of ingredients with which to make some of the dishes.
Gifts to help with pain management
- heat or ice packs
- a snuggly warm blanket
- sports gels or rubs
- a massage
- bath products
- a visit to hydrotherapy pools or warm spas
- a physiotherapy or osteopathy treatment
Even band-aids make a good present for those who always develop blisters on their feet!
Fun fitness related gifts
Fitness gifts are great for maintaining motivation and momentum, especially important for those who fight chronic pain and are trying to lose weight.
- sport and fitness equipment - yoga mats, balance balls, and resistance bands are low impact, low pain equipment - great for chronic pain patients. Dumbbells, hoops, racquets, balls, or more expensive home-fitness gear - often dreamed about, but rarely purchased for fear of wasting money.
- water aerobic classes - exercising in water causes much less stress on muscles and joints, yet still burns calories. It can reduce joint pain, and limit the exercise induced muscle pain that many fibromyalgia and arthritis patients suffer.
- health and fitness apps - popular fitness smartphone apps are usually partnered with a website where you can form teams to encourage each other.
- joint gym or fitness class memberships - it is best to have a partner when going to the gym or attending fitness classes, to encourage regular attendance. All too often, gym memberships are paid, and not used, because there is no one to help them get out the door.
- fitness DVDs - check which type of exercise is preferred before giving such presents. It is no good giving a bellydance or zumba exercise DVD to someone who hates dancing! Tai Chi, yoga and pilates are good for increasing flexibility, but with low impact and less pain.
- entry to a community fitness event - a community walking or running event is a goal to work towards. Even better is to enter and train together! Many shorter events raise money for health-related research (cancer, MS, etc.).
- games for consoles - there are a huge range of fitness games available for various consoles (Wii, XBox 360 and Playstation 3). Some of the more popular games include Wii Fit+, EA Sports, dance mat or motion sensor dance games. With improved motion sensor devices and balance boards, yoga, martial arts and traditional 'circuit' style exercise 'games' are good motivation.
Check in with a training partner or friend, swap equipment and games occasionally, and trade tips to increase motivation and keep each other accountable.
Stay positive and motivated
The hardest thing to do when you are trying to loose weight while battling your illness is to stay positive.
There will be good days, and bad.
Small baby steps, consistently, are the key to losing weight, especially when you are fighting against pain.
- Don't beat yourself up when you have to skip exercising and look after yourself to manage the chronic pain.
- Make changes gradually - don't try to change everything at once. It will be overwhelming, and too much exercise can increase pain levels.
Chronic pain sufferers - how have you lost excess weight, or maintained a healthy weight?
Friends and carers - how do you provide support?
Let us know in the comments below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.