Maintaining a Healthy Weight with MS
You don't have to follow a special diet when you have multiple sclerosis (MS), but maintaining your overall health is important because MS is a chronic disease — the healthier you are, the better you'll be able to manage it. Experts recommend a well-balanced diet with limited fats and lots of fiber. And while you may struggle to keep weight on if your MS is advanced, you're more likely to struggle with weight gain.
MS is an unpredictable, lifelong disease that can result in periods of anxiety or depression. That means you might turn to eating to comfort yourself. You also may find that some medications used for MS, especially steroids used to treat an MS flare or relapse, lead to weight gain as a side effect. MS fatigue can also cause you to put on weight. If you're too tired to exercise, it’s hard to burn off excess calories.
Why Carrying Extra Pounds Is Bad for MS
In fact, if you're overweight or obese, you may be making your MS worse because those extra pounds can lead to:
Heart and lung stress
Feeling down about yourself
Increased risk of other illness
How to Lose Weight With MS
To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn. That means choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, eating smaller portions, avoiding drinks with added sugar, and being as physically active as possible. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends these steps for weight control:
Learn about healthy nutrition. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of Agriculture website ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Set realistic goals. Aim for a weight-loss goal of about 10% of your body weight.
Avoid crash diets.
Start each day with a healthy breakfast.
Use healthy snacks during the day to control your cravings.
Avoid eating or snacking in front of the TV.
Get some exercise every day. Even a few minutes a day can help.
Get support. Exercise with others or join a weight-loss group.
Three Special Diet Concerns for MS
When planning your MS weight-control diet, factor in these three diet tips:
Avoid low-carb diets. You should avoid any crash diets, including low-carb diets. Carbohydrates are important for maintaining energy and fight off fatigue—a common symptom of MS. Crash diets and low-carb diets may also limit sources of calcium, which is important for bone health. By eating a diet high in fiber from carbohydrates—like whole grains, fruits and vegetables—you can also prevent the common MS problem of constipation.
Get enough vitamin D. You need vitamin D to absorb calcium for strong bones. Vitamin D has also been shown to be important for a healthy immune system, and MS is an immune system disease. Most MS doctors agree that if you have MS, you should get your vitamin D level checked with a blood test. Vitamin D is not found in many natural food sources, but you can get it from coldwater fish and in cereals and milk that have been fortified with vitamin D.
Include omega-3’s. Some research shows that healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids are good for MS. These fats can be found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Because fish are high in healthy fats and protein, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. If you don’t like fish, you could consider omega-3 supplements in pill or liquid form. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, you can safely take up to 3 grams a day.
A healthy weight and a nutritious diet are important for MS.
Being overweight or obese can make living with MS more difficult.
Learn about nutrition basics and have reasonable weight-loss goals to reach a healthy weight.
Avoid crash diets, especially those that limit carbohydrates.
Ask your MS doctor about vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids as part of your MS nutrition strategy.