Weight Loss & Weight Gain: Managing Mass with MS

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis | Published on March 12, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on March 12, 2014

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. This attack causes the protective sheath around nerves to become damaged and can lead to a range of symptoms.

In most people with MS, symptoms get worse during flare-ups and then improve. In rare cases, the symptoms worsen progressively over time. Common symptoms of MS include numbness and tingling in limbs, blurred vision, pain throughout the body, and dizziness.

Weight Gain and MS

It’s common for MS patients to gain weight. MS causes fatigue, making it difficult to stay active. When you feel exhausted, the last thing on your mind is physical activity. But being overweight can worsen MS symptoms, so it’s important to reach a healthy weight and maintain it—despite your fatigue.

Managing MS with Diet and Exercise

A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you maintain your weight, and can help you in other ways too. These healthy practices stave off osteoporosis by helping keep your bones strong. 

Physical activity and a good diet also:

  • increase energy
  • improve mood
  • boost immune function

These benefits are all vital for living well with MS.

Losing Weight with MS: Diet

If exercise seems impossible because of your fatigue, consider kick-starting weight loss by improving the way you eat. Make small changes and set realistic goals to stick with your plan.

Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your meals. Keep healthy snacks on hand to help ward off cravings for junk food. If you feel like you need more guidance, consult a dietitian with experience helping MS patients.

Beware Special Diets

There are many different kinds of trendy diets, and some that specifically target MS patients. Most of these diets have not been investigated for effectiveness or safety. A generally healthful and varied diet should be enough to help you maintain your weight.

If you want to try a specialized diet, run it by your doctor first. Some special diets may include supplements that could be harmful, while others may lack nutrients that you need.

Losing Weight with MS: Exercise

Changing your diet is an important step, but adding exercise provides even more value. Regular physical activity helps you lose weight, improves your mobility, increases energy levels, and can reduce the severity of your MS symptoms.

Starting out with just a short walk each day will make a world of difference. Be sure to speak to your doctor before starting a more strenuous exercise regimen, and consider working with trainers who know how to help MS patients.

Yoga for MS

Yoga is great for symptom relief and weight loss. And you can do yoga at your own speed, which means you won’t overdo it. According to one study, MS patients who engaged in regular yoga classes experienced a significant increase in energy.

Yoga can also help reduce your fatigue, which may motivate you to get even more exercise.

Muscle Wasting

Although gaining weight is common with MS, weight loss and muscle wasting can occur in advanced and serious cases. Patients who experience muscle loss usually have symptoms severe enough to limit mobility.

Exercising and eating well can help you avoid losing muscle mass. Guided strength training, in particular, is a good way to maintain good muscle tone.

When You Need to Gain Weight

If you’re losing weight and becoming underweight, see your doctor to discuss options. You may need to change medications or try another type of treatment. A nutritionist can also help you create a diet that will help you to put on more weight. You can work with a physical therapist to get enough exercise to improve your muscle mass.

Treatment Options

For the majority of MS patients, symptoms can be disruptive, but manageable. If you’re having difficulty managing your weight because of your symptoms, you may benefit from muscle relaxants, physical therapy, stress management exercises, and getting plenty of rest.

Your doctor also can prescribe corticosteroids to treat inflammation, as well as other medications that may slow the progression of the disease. 

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