I debated whether or not to write this article because there is so much stigma and shame that can come with being a chronic pain patient who is overweight. Many of us are criticized by insensitive doctors and loved ones who have remarked, “You’d feel so much better if you just lost a little weight…”
Well, you and I both know that’s not true for everyone. I do know some people whose fibromyalgia and Lyme symptoms improved after losing weight. I happen to be one of those people.
But I want to be clear here: I do not believe diet and exercise alone can cure fibromyalgia or Lyme. I see diet and exercise as simply tools that may be helpful in feeling better.
With that said, I’m sharing my journey today because I know losing weight with fibromyalgia, Lyme or a similar illness is a huge challenge for many. A few of the reasons we have difficulty shedding excess weight include:
- Hormonal imbalances and slow metabolism
- Inability to exercise because it intensifies pain, fatigue and other symptoms
- Taking medications that cause weight gain
- Reaching for unhealthy foods because we lack the energy or financial resources for healthier alternatives
(Read more: Why fibromyalgia makes it hard to lose weight)
Quick disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. This is just my personal experience of losing weight with fibromyalgia and Lyme disease. Please conduct your own research and discuss your findings with your medical provider as appropriate.
Losing weight with fibromyalgia … my first 30 pounds…
When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014, I weighed around 150 pounds, which is considered moderately overweight for my height of 5-foot-2-inches. Within one year of my diagnosis, I put on more than 30 pounds due to taking amitriptyline, an antidepressant that was supposed to improve my sleep and reduce my pain. It accomplished neither, but it did give me gross stretch marks on my thighs and a big butt!
In 2015, I gave up on conventional medicine’s treatments for fibromyalgia and began working remotely with Dr. Rodger Murphree, an Alabama-based chiropractor and functional medicine practitioner. (At the time, I didn’t know I had Lyme disease, which is likely the underlying cause for my fibromyalgia symptoms.)
As part of Dr. Murphree’s 6-month “get healthy” program, I followed the Shape ReClaimed anti-inflammatory diet, combining homeopathy with a low-calorie, physician-supervised elimination diet.
The goals of Shape ReClaimed are:
- Decrease inflammation
- Enhance immune function
- Detox/cleanse the liver
- Lose unhealthy excess weight
- Repair basal metabolism
- Implement a sound foundation for a future healthy lifestyle
Shape ReClaimed is an extreme diet and is definitely not for everyone. Honestly, if I had known what all was involved in the diet, I probably would have given up before I even started, but Dr. Murphree and his staff were there to help me through the process.
Food choices were very limited especially during phase 1 of the diet. Gluten (bread, pasta, etc.) and starches like beans and potatoes were a no-no. Oils and butters were not allowed. Certain fruits and vegetables with a higher natural sugar content were also restricted. Greek yogurt, plain yogurt and kefir were the only dairy allowed on phase 1.
In the beginning, I was advised to eat around 500 calories a day. No, that’s NOT a typo! Shape ReClaimed is physician supervised because it’s a restricted-calorie diet. As I progressed with the diet, I increased my caloric intake to around 1,000 calories a day, which was more manageable but is still very low compared to what most Americans eat.
Shape ReClaimed’s magic comes from the homeopathic formula that’s taken at least 15 minutes before each meal. These drops helped to reduce my appetite so I wasn’t hungry even though I wasn’t eating much food. For those who are wondering, Shape ReClaimed is NOT an hCG diet.
(Read more: Find a Shape ReClaimed practitioner.)
Still, the first two weeks were hell as my body began detoxing from all of the crap I’d eaten for the first 40 years of my life. I was initially quite hungry as my body adapted to the homeopathic drops and my much lighter diet.
During the first few weeks of the diet, I lost about 1/2 to 1 pound a day. My progress slowed when I added cooking oils and cheese back into my eating plan, but I still gradually lost weight.
I did not exercise at all due to the severity of my fibromyalgia symptoms, so all of my weight loss was strictly from changing my diet.
I stayed on some phase of the Shape ReClaimed diet for about 6 months. By the time I stopped working with Dr. Murphree in spring 2016, I lost all of the amitriptyline weight and some extra, too. I was down to around 135 pounds.
My second 30 pounds…
Overhauling my diet through Shape ReClaimed made a noticeable difference in my fibromyalgia and Lyme symptoms. I had less pain, less fatigue and fewer mood swings. Everything improved overall.
After I stopped Shape ReClaimed, I continued to follow a gluten-free, mostly whole foods diet. In 2018, I gave up dairy after testing positive for a casein allergy. By then, I had put some of the weight back on that I’d lost using Shape ReClaimed. I was hovering around 150 pounds again, but that was still far less than my maximum weight of 186.
(Read more: How going gluten free may help with fibromyalgia)
After a few weeks of no dairy, I noticed my appetite was much less than it used to be. I speculate I was likely in ketosis, although I didn’t test my blood or urine to confirm it. Because I wasn’t hungry, I ate less overall.
I also kind of naturally fell into doing intermittent fasting, which I continue today. I’m not hard core about intermittent fasting. If I wake up and I’m super hungry, then I eat, but most mornings, I don’t eat until 11 a.m. or so. I also try to limit snacking at night to keep my eating window to around 8-10 hours. That allows my body a good 14-16 hours to concentrate on healing and repairing instead of using valuable resources to digest food.
Making those two changes – cutting dairy and adopting intermittent fasting – helped me drop another 30 pounds with minimal effort. I did not exercise at all due to my physical limitations. All of my weight loss came from diet alone.
I hover around 120 pounds now, fluctuating 5 pounds up or down depending on how strict I’m following my elimination diet. For maintenance, I try to adhere to my elimination diet at least 90% of time, allowing for a few indulgences – usually when we eat out at restaurants. I do sometimes still eat pizza or a really good cheeseburger on a bun, but these are treats, not everyday meals.
My day-to-day elimination diet avoids the following: gluten, dairy, GMO corn and soy, most food additives/preservatives (especially monosodium glutamate), artificial sweeteners, fast food, soda, most processed sugar and most processed foods. I eat mostly meat, eggs, nuts, vegetables and fruit. I also occasionally eat oats, rice and beans, but I always try to buy these organic to reduce my exposure to heavy metals and pesticides.
Do I feel better since losing the weight? Yes, definitely! Compared to how I felt at my worst in 2015-16, I would say I’m 2/3 recovered from fibromyalgia and Lyme. Radically altering my diet has contributed to that healing.
But I don’t think it’s the actual weight loss that helped me to feel better. I think it was reducing the toxic burden on my body by giving up foods laden with sugar, pesticides and other damaging chemicals and instead choosing healthier, cleaner, more nutrient-dense whole foods.
The weight loss was a welcome side effect of changing my diet.
Now it’s your turn: Have you successfully lost weight while managing fibromyalgia and/or Lyme disease? If so, how did you do it? Share in the comments below!