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By Kara Sandoval

 

How many times have you sat in a doctor’s examination room and heard these dreaded words: “All you need to do is lose weight”?

There are an estimated 10 million people in the United States living with fibromyalgia and in several related medical studies of individuals living with fibromyalgia, obesity (a BMI greater than 29) was common in about half of the patients and one-fourth were severely obese (a BMI greater than 35)[1]. In one study that spanned 15 weeks, researchers found that people with fibromyalgia  who took part in twice-weekly 45 minute walking session saw a decrease in fatigue in normal-weight, overweight and obese participants-though the effects occurred faster in lighter-weight people.[2]  In another study  individuals with fibromyalgia who were able to lower their BMIs about three points, significantly improved in measures of inflammation and almost all fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain, depression and sleep.[3]

While the studies and science appear to support your physician’s thinking, we wondered in a “real world” setting how people living with fibromyalgia were affected by weight loss. We recently took an informal poll of 300 members of a fibromyalgia support group page on Facebook. We found that the answer to our question was not  a matter of a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to  how weight loss affected these women and men living with fibromyalgia.

Of our 300 participants, 50 claimed that with their weight loss they did notice a reduction in their fibromyalgia symptoms in the areas of joint pain, inflammation, brain fog, and sleeplessness. Those members also expressed how they were aware of  longer periods of remission between flares and were able to participate in more daily activities without pain, although some did state that their nerve pain had not abated. The majority of this group’s significant weight loss was attributed to diet; people cut off their sugar and caffeine intake, consumed a mainly plant-based diet, and took daily supplements including pre and probiotics.

According to participant Michelle Grishaber Eckmayer, “I’ve lost almost 50 [pounds] and my flares are definitely better…I don’t know if it’s because of the weight loss or the types of foods I have removed from my diet.”

The majority of our group, however, still experienced all their usual fibromyalgia symptoms (and in a few cases felt worse) with weight loss. “I lost about 30 [pounds], gave up diet soda and walked a lot, also watched fat intake,” said member Barb Prickett Ramutkowski, “and although the exercise did give me a bit more energy, I don’t think it made a difference in symptoms at all.”

Many of the participants followed various nutrition plans to lose weight. Several of the panelists stated that there was “little to no” change in how they felt on a day-to-day basis after their weight loss, and many were quick to point out that they were at a “healthy weight” when they first experienced fibromyalgia symptoms.

While there are clearly benefits to maintaining healthy eating habits, exercising, and reducing BMI in general, we’ve learned that it’s not necessarily the “answer” for those who live with fibromyalgia. No matter who supervises your medical care, it’s important to have an honest discussion with your practitioner about your concerns when you’re told that all you need to do is “lose weight.”

 

[1] Mayo Clinic study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research;  Article published on the Arthritis Foundation website.

[2] A 2013 Arthritis Research & Therapy study.

[3] A 2012 trial published in Clinical Rheumatology

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