Weight Loss Plan

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s important to maintain a healthy weight.

The reason: Obesity can worsen RA and make its treatments less effective, according to a 2014 review published in Autoimmunity Reviews. As for people who don’t have RA, obesity can increase their risk for developing both this condition and other autoimmune diseases, the researchers found.

Another review, published in May 2016 in Arthritis Care & Research, found that people with RA who were obese were less likely to reach remission than those who were at a normal weight.

Losing weight can lower the levels of inflammation in the body — the cause of RA-related joint pain and swelling. That’s because fat cells produce hormones called leptins, which aggravate inflammation, says Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Maryland. “Regardless of what kind of arthritis you have, losing weight is a good thing for lowering inflammation,” he says.

A lower body weight can also help relieve pressure on your joints, which can reduce pain. In addition, losing weight can help reduce the risk of complications from RA, such as heart attack and stroke, Dr. Wei says.

Weight loss also generally helps improve your self-image, which can encourage you to make more healthy lifestyle choices. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Wei says.

Create Your RA Weight Loss Plan

Ready to get started? Follow these steps.

Reach out to professionals. A good starting place is to talk with your doctor — but don’t stop there. Seek out a nutritionist to help you plan meals and set a daily calorie intake goal. You can also see a physical therapist or personal trainer to help get your exercise routine on track.

Set specific goals. Weight-loss goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely, says April Miller, RD, CPT, a clinical dietitian at the Healthy Living Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. For instance, a good goal might be to lose 5 pounds in a month by keeping a food journal and working out three times a week.

Start a journal. Before you even begin to make any changes to your diet, you should keep track of the foods you eat. This can help you see how you’re currently eating and look for places you can make improvements. A food journal can also help you meet your calorie goals and see which foods may cause inflammation and worsen your RA symptoms, Miller says. You can use a pen and paper or an electronic food tracker to keep track of what you’re eating, and also record the times of the day when your symptoms are worse.

Stock up on RA-friendly foods. The same foods that can help you lose weight may also help minimize symptoms of RA. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which helps you feel fuller and may help reduce inflammation. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, Miller says. Other foods to include in your RA-friendly diet are cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, herring, and mackerel — aim for two weekly servings — and extra-virgin olive oil, which you can use for salad dressings, marinades, and roasting vegetables. “The easiest way to make healthy food choices is to look at your plate,” Miller says. “If half of it is filled with fruits and vegetables, you’re in good shape.” The rest should be split between lean protein and whole grains.

Choose an exercise to try. If you’re out of shape, start by slowly incorporating exerciseinto your routine and be gentle on your joints. Try low- or no-impact activities like swimming, water exercises, and cycling. Also be sure to do a mix of cardiovascular exercise, resistance training, and stretching, says Wei.

Put it on your calendar. Physically allotting time for exercise, grocery shopping, and cooking can help you achieve your goals. Miller says some of her clients add in exercise as a private appointment on their work calendars. It helps them commit to it and communicates to co-workers that they’ll be unavailable during that time, she explains.

Reward yourself for progress. Being able to move with less pain and stiffness might be reward enough. But for extra motivation, try planning a spa day or another healthy indulgence after reaching weight-loss milestones.

Overcome weight-loss plateaus. When you find yourself hitting a roadblock, it may be time to lower your daily calorie goal or change up your workout routine. Incorporating more strength training is a good way to mix up your level of physical activity. “It’s one of the last things people try,” Miller says. And it might be just the thing you need to get over a hump.