Autoimmune disease is a big problem around the country. Approximately 40 million Americans suffer from at least one autoimmune condition. At the same time, overweight and obesity now hover around 45% for the U.S. population. When you have an autoimmune disease, this can sometimes make weight loss more difficult.
Autoimmune conditions include: rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (hypothyroidism), multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn’s, colitis, type 1 diabetes (T1DM), and lupus — among many others. Even though these diseases affect different parts of the body, they all have one thing in common — they all cause the body to attack itself and cause inflammation.
When you have certain autoimmune conditions like RA, you often experience painful symptoms such as swelling, fatigue, and joint tenderness. You could also have difficulty performing regular daily activities. Some conditions like RA can make it hard to be physically active when your joints hurt too much — and this can lead to weight gain.
As different as all autoimmune conditions are and how they show their symptoms, they all have one common driving force — they all show up as the immune system going into overdrive. This causes overall inflammation and can lead to the body attacking its own tissues, such as the joints, glands, organs, or the digestive tract.
How autoimmune disease can make weight loss harder
When you have overall inflammation, this will make it more difficult to do the things necessary to stay at a healthy weight. Getting in daily movement, eating right, and taking care of yourself — these can be harder to do on a regular basis when you don’t feel well due to an autoimmune condition.
Also, medications you take for your autoimmune condition can lead to weight gain or make it harder to lose weight.
As a result, the body has a harder time maintaining your optimal weight range. It can be a vicious cycle because the more weight you gain, the more painful it can be to get in daily movement or stand at the kitchen counter to make a healthy meal.
In order to help cool down the overall inflammation that makes you feel terrible, it is important to start finding the root cause that is making the inflammation worse.
Here are a few ideas to help you start to pinpoint and reduce the source of overall inflammation so that weight loss becomes easier:
Uncover hidden food sensitivities
Certain foods, even healthy foods, can make your body inflamed if your body is reacting to them. A brief elimination diet based on testing your body’s reaction to certain foods can help you pinpoint what foods to temporarily avoid. This can greatly reduce inflammation and help you start to feel better quickly. While it is not a “weight loss test, the Mediator Release Test by Oxford Biomedical can detect both type III and type IV food hyper-sensitivity reactions that lead to overall inflammation. It is best to work with a trained provider who can help you decipher your results and come up with a personalized plan.
Repair your gut
Leaky gut can be caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeasts and/or parasites. If left untreated, any overgrowth will make inflammation worse and will make it harder to feel better when you have an autoimmune condition. Working with a trained practitioner, they can help you run tests to check on the health of your gut. Such tests can include a GI Map or a Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis.
Use anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Herbs and spices such as rosemary, turmeric, curcumin, ginger, and green tea can work well to help reduce overall inflammation. You can add some of these to smoothies, sprinkle them on your food, drink them steeped in hot water, or cook with them. Your food will not only taste great — it will also help you start to feel better. Fish oil is also a potent anti-inflammatory and it can be taken as a supplement — or you can incorporate fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon into your diet.
Practice some form of relaxation
When you are under a lot of stress, this can greatly affect your immune system. Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing to help shift your body into para-sympathetic mode. This will help to reduce your overall stress level.
Work with someone trained in weight loss
Working with someone who can pinpoint what is making weight loss hard will help you know what to do first. A trained, outside perspective can shed light on habits or things you might be doing that are making it harder to lose the weight. It can be helpful to have someone who understands your struggles and who can offer bite-sized suggestions for how to feel better over time. Taking action can be difficult when you’re working by yourself. It can feel overwhelming. Getting someone on your side who has the knowledge about your condition and how to lose weight — in spite of having an autoimmune condition — can make all the difference.
If you’d like to learn more about working with an integrative dietitian-nutritionist trained in helping you uncover the root cause of your weight loss resistance, you can book a complimentary call here.
-Caitlin Russell MS RDN CLT