Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of fibromyalgia (FM) is the weight gain that occurs in spite of efforts to keep your body at a healthy weight. It is not unusual for a person with FM to gain 25 to 30 pounds in the first year after developing the condition. Diets produce very mixed results because a person with FM is dealing with much more than eating too much. Often pain makes exercise difficult and medications can immobilize you.
How Did I Gain All This Weight?
There are several factors that contribute to weight gain with fibromyalgia:
- Lack of Sleep. Along with weight gain, sleep disturbance is a primary symptom of FM. The inability to get to the deep, level four sleep that is necessary for restoration of the cells in the body, means the metabolism is reduced which increases the need for the blasts of energy that come from high-sugar simple carbohydrates.
- Hormonal Deficiencies. Neuroendocrine abnormalities can be a contributing factor to weight gain. The imbalance and deficiencies of hormones such as serotonin, growth hormones, cortisol and thyroid hormone slows the body’s metabolism down significantly. Insulin sensitivity is often increased as well.
- Decreased Activity. Because of pain many people with FM become sedentary and are not able to rev up their metabolisms with exercise so excess calories pile on as fat.
- Medications. Anti-depressants, a common medication given to people with FM, as well as some of the other medications prescribed for FM, cause weight gain.
How Insulin Impacts Weight Gain
Research is now clearly showing a connection between weight gain in FM sufferers and insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a powerful and vitally necessary hormone in the body. Its function is to manage the storage of amino acids, magnesium and glucose (gained from carbohydrates) as energy for the body in the form of fat. Insulin also controls salt and water retention which not only impacts weight but also affects blood pressure, adrenalin increases and cholesterol.
Insulin sensitivity is essentially the way the body reacts to excess blood sugar (glucose). People with FM crave carbohydrates in order to keep energy up. Carbs convert to energy faster than protein and fat, and simple carbs (refined flour and sugar) convert to energy very quickly. With increased carb intake, the pancreas is stimulated to produce more insulin which should move blood sugar into the cells to be burned as energy. However, increased insulin sensitivity that is exacerbated by high carbohydrate intake causes the body to remove excess glucose from the blood. The glucose is then stored in the muscles, which are not designed to store glucose, and there the excess glucose is converted into fat. Things become more complicated as the insulin imbalance thwarts the use of carbs as energy for the person with FM. Cravings increase to fill the energy need and the body’s inability to metabolize the carbs leads to increased fat production. It’s a vicious cycle of craving, gaining, and the inability to lose weight.
In order to gain the upper hand in the insulin sensitivity realm, it is necessary to fill the energy needs in a way that is more conducive to health and less to gaining weight. Pain does make it difficult to exercise and since the metabolism is so slow, eating less doesn’t usually make much of an impact. So, what is a person to do?
10 Ways to Gain Control
We offer ten suggestions to help gain control of weight while dealing with FM.
- Build a diet around high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods. Good sources of high proteins include:
- lean meats
- dairy products
- fermented soy products
Use organically grown foods as much as possible.
2. Confine carbohydrate intake to complex carbs, like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
3. Include good fats, such as plant and fish oils, almonds and avocados.
4. Sweeten with Stevia or Xylitol.
5. Avoid these foods:
- Sugars and other sweets
- Breads and pastas
- Partially hydrogenated oils
- Carbonated drinks
- Alcohol (except in moderation)
6. Always eat proteins first to activate the digestive enzymes then eat carbs.
7. Eat until you are full but not stuffed, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly.
8. Eat several small, well-balanced meals per day.
9. Include protein, carbs and fats with each meal or snack.
10. Give yourself a break from the regimen on weekends – a little indulgence allows for better adherence.