Losing weight is hard enough when you don’t have any physical limitations. When you live with chronic pain, losing weight and keeping it off can seem even harder. When you go to bed hurting and wake up hurting, the last thing you want to do is hit the gym.
As a chronic pain sufferer, I know how hard it can be to do any physical activity when you live with these types of conditions. Sometimes, the first step toward healthier living is the hardest. The good news is when you make exercise and a healthy diet a part of your pain management routine, losing weight is a natural way to increase your mood and lower your pain levels. Find out how weight loss helps chronic pain patients, and how to lose weight with chronic pain.
How Does Losing Weight Help Chronic Pain Patients?
Exercising and maintaining a healthy weight have tons of benefits for people without chronic pain and other significant health issues, and for chronic pain patients losing weight is especially beneficial. If you don’t exercise, your body gets out of shape, and your muscles lose their integrity. Plus, gaining weight puts additional stress on your joints. Your pain will get worse because your body isn’t as strong as it needs to be.
Exercising keeps your joints moving, and this is particularly important if you have arthritis. Exercise strengthens your muscles. Strong muscles support your bones and joints and help to cushion your movements. Excess weight weighs down your bones and joints and makes it harder to move.
Being active improves and protects your mental health. As a chronic pain patient, managing your emotional well-being is just as important as managing your physical condition. Staying active releases powerful endorphins that will naturally boost your mood. When you commit to losing weight and start seeing the results, it will give you a self-esteem boost too.
When you live with chronic pain, it’s easy to feel guilty that you can’t do the things you used to before your diagnosis. You can still accomplish important goals and manage your pain effectively. Committing to making healthy diet changes and scheduling small, manageable chunks of time for exercise will help improve your confidence levels.
Extra weight makes pain worse, especially if you suffer from chronic back pain. By committing to making healthier nutrition choices and exercising, you will lose weight and decrease your pain.
Losing Weight with Chronic Pain
As a chronic pain patient, I know how difficult it can be to do small, everyday tasks when you’re suffering, let alone commit to something as challenging as losing weight. Remember that losing weight will decrease your pain levels and boost your mood, and you don’t have to do anything demanding. It’s best to start small and go slow.
The first step to losing weight with chronic pain is to change your mindset. Look at exercise and healthy eating as a part of your routine, and an important facet to your chronic pain management techniques. It’s best not to look at this as a “diet,” but as a lifestyle change. Every part of pain management is a lifestyle change, because chronic pain itself changes your entire lifestyle. For me, I simply cannot lose weight at a pace I’m happy with unless I exercise. I had to find exercises that didn’t cause me more pain, and that I could work around my ever-changing pain levels.
Exercising with Chronic Pain
The best exercises for chronic pain patients are low impact routines. The two I can manage on a regular basis are swimming and using a recumbent bike. Many insurance companies will pay for physical therapy based gyms, so check with your insurance to see if you’re covered for a membership. These types of specialty gyms have machines that are specifically designed for chronic pain patients, such as NuStep machines. Some hospitals offer memberships to their physical therapy gyms, check to see if your local hospital does something like this.
I love the NuStep, I stream a movie on my iPad and set the course I want to use that day from the preset choices on the machine. By the time the movie is over I’ve burned over 400 calories painlessly. NuStep machines are especially helpful for knee replacement patients. It’s a painless way for me to exercise, and painless is everything to me because I have more than enough of it to deal with every day.
Swimming is a relaxing, low-impact activity too. The water supports your limbs and joints, so water-based exercises are ideal for people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic pain conditions. If you live near a hotel with a swimming pool, it’s possible to get a membership to the hotel pool. This is a more affordable option than having to pay for a full gym membership to use a pool. The bonus of using an indoor pool is they’re heated, which is even more comforting for anyone suffering from stiff joints.
As a chronic pain sufferer, leaving the house can seem daunting. You don’t have to join a gym or leave the comfort of your home to get the benefits of exercise and weight loss. Walmart and other discount stores sell affordable, recumbent bikes that are a great weight loss tool for chronic pain sufferers. When I'm not up for going to the gym, I use a recumbent bike at home.
You can go at your own pace, in the comfort of your own home, while watching uplifting or funny movies while you exercise. I do my best binge-watching while on the bike, but without the couch potato guilt that usually comes with it.
If you prefer to read, eReaders or reading apps on your phone or tablet are easy to use while you exercise on a recumbent bike. I use the Kindle app and get free ebooks from a variety of sources like Book Funnel and BookBub, plus I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription which allows me to read as many books as I like for $9.99 a month (you can get it on Amazon). Between movies I enjoy and losing myself in a great story, I've made exercising at home an enjoyable and pain-free way to lose weight with low impact equipment.
Setting and Tracking Your Goals
A great way to get started with your weight loss plans is to keep a journal of your goals. Writing down what you want to accomplish can help you plan and break things down into small, manageable chunks. Consider having long term and short term goals, like switching from processed, white bread to whole grain bread or replacing chips with a piece of fruit. One of the biggest changes I’ve made is what I eat for breakfast. I have to take medication in the morning so I used to reach for something easy like pastries. I switched to cereal with fruit to satisfy my sweet tooth while cutting calories (and I stay full a lot longer).
When you have your plans and goals written down, it can be easier to stay focused and see the progress you’re making. Seeing your progress feeds into a positive cycle of change. The more results you see, the more they compound and build on themselves. Seeing progress and results will help you set new goals and obtain them, boosting your self-esteem and confidence levels. Accomplishing healthy goals will improve your mental outlook, which is incredibly important as someone living with chronic pain.
I know that certain foods are pain triggers for me. If I eat high sugar foods, I tend to be in more pain than usual the next day. I use MyNetDiary to track my food intake and added tracking sugars as part of each entry. I have the world’s biggest sweet tooth so when I see low sugar numbers at the end of my tracking day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something and get motivated to do it again (especially when I wake up without added pain from eating lousy foods).
Celebrate Your Progress
Losing weight, making healthy lifestyle changes, and managing your chronic pain can be slow processes. But they are obtainable. How can you stay motivated? One of the best ways to keep focused and maintain your motivation is to reward yourself when you accomplish a goal. It’s important to celebrate small milestones when you commit to this part of your pain management journey.
Think of it this way - as a person with chronic pain, losing weight means you’re playing the game on hard mode. You deserve to treat yourself for making this difficult commitment and sticking to it. Treat yourself to a movie, a concert, new gadget, or an outfit. Indulge in a “cheat” meal with your kids or best friend. Small rewards for a job well done will lift your spirits and give you the confidence and motivation to continue with your plans.
Losing weight and eating healthy food will help you manage your weight and your chronic pain. Any day is a good day to get started, and the sooner you do, the closer you’ll be to effectively managing your pain and enjoying your life again.