Managing your weight
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Problems with posture, swallowing, fatigue and tremor can all make shopping for, preparing or eating food more difficult.
And your appetite can also be affected by stress, anxiety and depression, as well as certain drug treatments. If you are affected in any of these ways, you might find you lose weight.
If left untreated, weight loss can lead to malnutrition. You may not notice this at first, as the early signs of malnutrition – fatigue and muscle weakness – can also be symptoms of MS.
Treating weight loss
If you find that you’re losing a lot of weight, or you’re already underweight, speak to your GP. There are ways to treat the issues that might be causing you to lose weight.
If you find it difficult to get enough energy and nutrients, your GP may suggest that you see a dietitian. They can advise you on ways to get more nutrients and energy into your diet.
Sometimes high energy supplements are recommended, which are available either over the counter or on prescription, and should be taken between meals.
If you do use them, bear in mind that they often have high sugar content so it’s important to visit the dentist regularly (see our factsheet Oral health and MS for more on this).
Keeping generally fit and healthy can make it easier to cope with the symptoms of MS. But having MS may mean you are less active than you once were, so you may find you are putting on weight.
Certain drug treatments, including steroids to treat relapses, can also lead to weight gain. And if you’re drinking lots of fruit juices or sugary drinks to increase your fluid intake, this will also increase your calorie intake.
Stress, anxiety and depression can lead some people to comfort eat. Doing this occasionally is not a problem, but if you find you’re doing it a lot then you will put on weight. If you think your comfort eating is due to depression, you should speak to your GP as depression is treatable.
Following general healthy eating advice, as well as getting regular exercise, should help you to lose weight. Avoid crash dieting to lose weight quickly, and instead aim to lose around 1-2 pounds, or half to one kilogram, a week.
However, if your mobility is limited and you can’t be active, you may find your weight reduces more slowly. If you have put on a lot of weight, then you may want to speak to your GP about the best way for you to lose the weight and still get all the nutrition you need.
Living with MS can mean that regular tasks like shopping and preparing food take longer or need more careful planning. For example, fatigue can make shopping trips tiring, or tremor could make chopping vegetables difficult.
An occupational therapist (OT) can suggest energy-saving tips and helpful equipment or adaptations to make preparing food easier. They can also advise on grants that may be available for adaptations. To arrange an OT assessment, contact your local social services (social work in Scotland) department. Your GP can also make a referral for you.
The following tips can make all stages of preparing food easier – from planning what to eat, to clearing up afterwards.
- Planning a menu for the week can help to cut down on shopping trips, and can also make sure that food doesn’t go to waste.
- Cooking double batches and freezing the spare ones means there’s always something for you to eat even when you’re not feeling up to cooking.
- Even if you can’t get to the shops or prepare food, get involved in planning meals for the week ahead. That way you’ll still get to eat the food that you want.
- A ‘likes and dislikes’ list can also help to ensure you’re getting a good mix of meals that are to your taste, even if you’re not the one making them.
- All the major supermarkets offer a delivery service. If you do your shopping online, you can usually save your regular order so you don’t have to remember it each time.
- Make a master shopping list of things you regularly buy, and print off multiple copies. And if you’re having a bad day with your MS, someone else can use the same list.
- Delegate tasks – can someone else in your household, or a friend, do the shopping for you?
- If shopping is too difficult, you could ask for an assessment of your needs from your local social care services (social work in Scotland) department. You might be eligible for help with your shopping.
- Before you start to cook, gather everything you need together to avoid moving around more than you need to.
- Adaptations to your kitchen could make things easier. Find out more about adaptations.
- Using a microwave means you don’t have to lift heavy pans. They can also help if heat makes your symptoms worse.
- Can someone else help you? If you live with other people you could share tasks, or take it in turns to cook for each other.
- There are gadgets to help with almost every daily task in the kitchen. For ideas, contact the Disabled Living Foundation, Rica or the RNIB.
- Dishwashers can make washing the dishes less tiring.
- If you live with others, share the tasks – if you cooked, ask someone else to clear up.