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13 March 2020

MS Weight Gain & Bloating: Everything you need to know

If you find yourself wondering if the pounds that are creeping up are anything to do with your MS, you could be right. Certain MS symptoms such as fatigue, as well as MS medications, plus depression and anxiety, are all linked to weight fluctuation. Exercise is especially important for weight management in PwMS, as well as avoiding highly processed foods, improving hydration and increasing fibre intake.

Why does Multiple Sclerosis cause weight fluctuation?

When you have MS, the scales can be your worst enemy. MS and weight fluctuation is a common topic in MS forums —  both losing and putting on weight. Whatever way your weight is fluctuating, it can cause negative emotions and feelings of discouragement and self-consciousness. It can also cause you to become anxious as to what is causing it — is it the MS, is it your lifestyle — or both?

There are a number of potential causes for weight gain when you have MS. These can include:

  • Depression, anxiety and stress which can lead to unhealthy eating for comfort.

  • MS symptoms such as fatigue and spasticity which can mean that you are more inclined to skip exercising, leading you to become less active over time.

  • Certain medications like steroids which are used to treat MS relapses, can also cause weight gain. 

You may also lose weight as a result of MS. Depression can cause some people to eat less. Fatigue can mean that you are simply too exhausted to food shop and cook a healthy meal. Swallowing problems can physically prevent you from eating what you like. A danger is that some of the symptoms of malnutrition — muscle weakness and fatigue — are also MS symptoms, so it may go unnoticed. 

The importance of exercising with MS

We all know that exercise helps us to burn calories and lose weight when combined with a healthy diet. But exercise is even more crucial when you have MS. Research shows that exercise can also help with your other MS symptoms such as alleviating fatigue, as well as to lose excess weight. Exercise can also improve your muscle strength, improve balance, increase your mobility and boost your mood!

It can also decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, obesity and osteoporosis. Cardiovascular exercise will help you to burn calories and body fat, while exercising involving weights will increase your metabolism and help you to lose weight over time. The bottom line is that exercising is about much more than just weight loss — especially when you have MS — it benefits both your body and mind. 

Choosing physical activities that you enjoy and that are social will help you to stay motivated. Research has found that people who exercise with others have reduced stress and improved quality of life. Consider activities like yoga classes, boxing fitness classes, aqua aerobics and zumba.  

What to eat to lose weight with MS

Following dietary suggestions that are specific to MS is advisable, because as well as helping you to maintain a healthy weight, the evidence-based OMS diet can help to manage your MS symptoms, helping you to feel better, with more energy. The diet plan is plant-based and includes fish and seafood, but minimizes saturated fat.

It includes

  • Avoiding highly processed food

To help yourself, don’t stock any junk food in the home that is tempting to snack on. Instead stock your cupboards with a variety of fruit, popcorn, cereal bars, crudités and dips.

  • Cutting down on alcohol

A glass of wine is surprisingly calorific and can also lead you to snack on things like chocolate, crisps and other salty snacks as you relax. 

All types of alcohol are OK in moderation for people with MS (not more than two standard drinks a day, with at least two alcohol-free days a week). However, if you are trying to lose weight, it is advisable to cut down on the alcohol calories! 

  • Eating more fruit and veg

Fruit and vegetables are low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. Don’t forget fruit and vegetables at breakfast as well as lunch and dinner — avocado, mushrooms, spinach, citrus fruits, melon — pile up your plate!

  • Drinking more water

Hunger can often be quelled by a glass of water. If you are dehydrated you can feel hungry, when all you actually need is to drink more fluids.

  • Eating high fibre foods

Fibre can help you to feel fuller for longer so that you snack less. You can find fibre in wholegrain bread, lentils, brown pasta and rice. 

Does Tecfidera cause weight gain?

You may have found that some people with MS taking Tecfidera think that they have gained or lost weight due to the medication.  So far, none of the studies into Tecfidera have found weight fluctuation as a side effect. 

It is hard to tell if the weight gain or loss is a direct result of taking Tecfidera, or as a result of comfort eating or lack of exercise due to MS symptoms.

One thing is for sure, if you follow the diet recommendations and increase your exercise through the OMS recovery plan, you are much more likely to maintain a healthy weight. It takes planning and some discipline to make these changes, but you can join our OMS community for added support, encouragement and tip sharing.

Other treatment options to combat weight gain from MS

Here are some extra tips you might not have thought of:

✔ Strengthening exercises to improve flexibility and balance. Take a look at these videos for inspiration and exercises to follow.

✔   Meditation to reduce stress and prevent comfort eating. Guided meditations are an easy introduction.

✔   Being more physically active, such as taking small walks or gardening. You can monitor your movement with various apps and devices on the market. 

✔   Portion control — simply using a smaller plate or bowl can help you to eat less if you are looking to lose weight. 

If you have noticed yourself gaining weight and are wondering if it is related to your MS, don’t panic, there is so much you can do to take control and get back to a healthy weight. It will take some effort, but the rewards and confidence boost will be well worth it.