It’s time. Actually, it’s way past time, if I’m really honest. Spring is here once more, bikini-season is looming, and I feel like I am the size of a whale. Maybe a small baby whale, but a whale nonetheless.
You see, along with a heavy emotional weight, my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis brought some literal weight: 15 pounds of it, to be exact. I have often joked about it on my blog by calling it the RA freshman 15 and likening it to some kind of obligatory hazing ritual for the newly diagnosed. But, in many ways, I think it is. It’s not uncommon for people to gain weight following a devastating diagnosis, particularly when that diagnosis is for rheumatoid arthritis.
Think about it: RA physically limits your ability to move, so exercise regimes go out the window. And, if the pain doesn’t keep you from exercising, the fatigue almost certainly will. Many people experience depression after their diagnosis, which can add to the pounds, and several commonly prescribed medications for RA can cause additional weight gain as a side effect. How lovely. While the prognosis of RA is certainly bad news for you, it is essentially an instant death sentence for your metabolism.
Add to that sleepless nights due to pain and anxiety, and there is pretty much no way for even the stealthiest of metabolisms to keep on keepin’ on. So not only do you get RA, you also get, well, fat. Or at least fatter than you were or wanted to be.
This is not fun for anyone, regardless of age, profession or location, but imagine that you are post-diagnosis, 29 year old, single me, stumbling to work on the busy and unforgiving sidewalks of New York City. You pause at the corner waiting for the little green man to signal your turn to walk, silently thankful for the opportunity to rest because your feet, which are clad in boring, no-fun, no-glamour flats, hurt like hell. You look down at them, assessing how swollen they are that morning, only to notice a kick-ass pair of sleek, sexy four inchers next to you. Filling in those fabulous four inch heels is a pair of long, endlessly skinny legs that culminate in the one thing that could possibly make you feel even worse than you already do: a supermodel.
That’s right, when you walk the streets of New York City you are sharing the pavement with a bunch of models, or at least want-to-be models or could-be models. This fact really sucks when you are only 5’4’’ and are feeling woefully out of shape and rather like a cow thanks to the debilitating disease that has taken up residence in your immune system and indirectly caused your thighs to inflate and wag back and forth when you walk. It’s enough to make a good day bad.
But, all vanity aside, there are some legitimate concerns to deal with when it comes to weight gain and RA. As some new ad campaigns for NSAID’s are so fond of telling us, each additional pound of weight adds additional stress to our already taxed joints. And, given the current statistics of heart disease rates for people with rheumatoid arthritis, paying attention to what we eat and making sure we stay trim and fit is even more important.
Because we didn’t have enough to worry about already?
When my Enbrel first started working and I was able to slowly but surely resume normal physical activity, I secretly hoped the extra weight, or at least a good portion of it, would magically fall off my frame. When that didn’t happen, I tried different cleanses and diets and tried to up my exercise in a vain attempt to exorcise that unwanted weight. At different times, I’ve been more or less successful in taking off some of the weight, but the unpredictability of RA makes sticking with a particular diet or exercise schedule even more difficult than usual. Let’s face it, when you feel like total crap, your whole body hurts and you have the energy of a slug, the idea of exercising is completely unappealing. Conversely, the idea of eating mac and cheese is intoxicating.
It’s no surprise then, that over a year later, my RA freshman 15 has turned into a sophomore slump. Part of me has wondered if maybe this is just how I’m going to be from now on. Maybe that skinny yoga figure of mine is a thing of the past, and maybe that’s OK. Though I’m technically overweight, I’m not alarmingly so, and I seem to carry the extra weight fairly well. But if I’m honest, I do need to curtail my indulgences, and losing even just half of the weight and keeping it off would likely make a big difference in how well I feel, RA or not.
So I’m going to do something about it instead of just complaining and avoiding my skinny jeans like they have some kind of poison covering them. I’m joining Weight Watchers, where I will have to be accountable on a weekly basis for the choices I’m making, and where I will have a supportive group of people around me to encourage healthier (if slightly boring) habits.
Hopefully, within a few months, my RA freshman 15 will be reduced to a 7, or maybe it will even be erased all together! Stay tuned….
Sara Nash is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.