I will be honest: I am an emotional eater. Big mishap at work? A cupcake will make me feel better. Best friend got engaged? A night out for drinks! Kid had a bad day at school? Comfort food for dinner. Whether it is a happy event, sad event, or somewhere in between, I can find a way to mark the occasion with food.
For most of my life, my emotional eating habits didn’t affect my weight very much -- and then I got rheumatoid arthritis.
An autoimmune disease like RA provides many additional emotional ups and downs (more reasons to eat cupcakes). But on top of that, joint pain can make it challenging to be physically active and get exercise. I used to love to play tennis. I enjoyed being outside, socializing with others, and getting exercise without it feeling like a chore. As my disease progressed, my RA pain made tennis more and more difficult until it became evident that playing was doing more harm than good. Without regular exercise, the pounds started to creep with the potential to snowball.
Another hurdle with weight control and RA for me is medication side effects. One of the biologic medications I was on resulted in a 20-pound weight gain in 1 month (in the height of swimsuit season, no less!). I was grateful to have pain-free joints, but I hated that I had no control over my body. I stayed on the medication until it stopped working, but unfortunately it did not take the extra pounds with it when I stopped taking it.
RA has forced me to become more conscious about the foods I choose to eat. The cleaner I eat, the better I feel. I have been through stages of eliminating foods for 30 days or more -- no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no nightshade vegetables. I do feel better but IT. IS. JUST. SO. HARD. I try to be mindful of what I am putting in my body, but I have also learned to give myself a break.
Am I at my ideal weight? No, but I can brush my own teeth, walk 3 miles daily, and enjoy watching my son play tennis. I can exercise to the best of my ability and eat foods for the nutrients and peace they provide my immune system. I can celebrate numbers other than my weight: blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol, and glucose. I am learning to embrace the positive aspects of my body versus just the number on the scale.
If you are struggling with weight control during your RA journey, you are not alone! Please don’t beat yourself up. (RA is already doing that for you.) Try to take it one meal at a time and make the best decisions for that meal. I also find it helpful to have healthy options easily accessible to me. It is much easier to eat a healthy snack or meal when the option is right in front of you. And this may be obvious, but don’t even let the tempting foods come into the house. This is a challenge for me, but I can't eat cookies or chips if they aren’t in my pantry! Hang in there and know you are doing the best you can. A better-feeling body will provide the inspiration to keep making healthy choices.
Photo credit: Malte Mueller via Getty Images