Living with MS can sometimes make it harder to manage your weight, and both weight loss and weight gain can be a problem.
Weight loss - losing weight when you don't want to
You might find you lose weight because of the way MS affects you.
For example, 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 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 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 you see a dietitian. They can advise you on ways to get more nutrients and energy into your diet. This could be by adding extra calories and protein to your food – known as ‘fortifying’.
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 they often have high sugar content so it’s important to visit the dentist regularly.
Weight gain - putting on weight when you don't want to
Keeping fit and healthy can make it easier to cope with the symptoms of MS. But having MS can create extra challenges with this.
For example, if you’re less active than you once were, you might find you’re putting on weight when you don’t want to.
Some drug treatments, including steroids to treat relapses, can also lead to weight gain. And if you’re increasing your fluid intake, fruit juice and sugary drinks can be a big source of calories.
Stress, anxiety and depression can lead some people to comfort eat. Doing this occasionally isn’t a problem, but if you find you’re doing it a lot, you’ll put on weight. If you think your comfort eating is due to depression, speak to your GP. 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 to 2 pounds, or half to 1 kilogram, a week. If you’re not very mobile and you can’t be active, you might find you lose weight 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.