For people with chronic pain, medication-related weight gain poses an unfortunate catch-22. Chronic back and joint pain are two reasons doctors often prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, opioids and steroids. These conditions are often caused and perpetuated by excess weight. Taking medication that causes weight gain to relieve pain worsened by weight gain is clearly problematic.
If you’ve been putting on pounds since you started taking medication for pain, there’s a good reason to suspect medication as the cause. Opioids and antidepressants alter the brain’s biochemistry, which can lead to slowed metabolism and/or increased appetite. If you were depressed, medication that reduces depression can lead to increased appetite simply because you’re feeling better. Steroids affect both metabolism and the way in which your body distributes fat; one of the main areas affected by the change of fat distribution is the abdomen. Excess abdominal fat is linked not only to back pain but other health problems like diabetes as well.
There are a number of steps you can take to combat or eliminate weight gain from medication use. The right option for you will depend on your situation. Consider the following general advice.
1. Ask Yourself: Do I Need Medication?
Prescribing medication for pain has become a default rather than an exception in the medical field. This has sparked reasonable suspicion of over-prescription, particularly of antidepressants. Pain is unpleasant, and none of us want to feel it. However, given the many side effects of medications, including weight gain, it’s important that we check our urge to reduce pain with a cost/benefit analysis.
If your pain interferes with your ability to work and participate in regular daily activities, or if it’s severe enough to significantly lower your quality of life, then medication is called for, at least in the short-term. If it’s not that bad, consider tapering off your medication with the guidance of your doctor and pursuing more natural, proven methods of pain management and recovery, such as massage, acupuncture and exercise. Even if you need the medication, start pursuing other natural methods if you haven’t already; this may enable you to reduce or eliminate medications later on.
2. Talk To Your Doctor About Other Medication Options
If there’s one thing our medical professionals have access to, it’s a diverse array of drugs. If you need medication, inquire into other options that won’t cause weight gain.
3. Watch What You Eat, More Than Ever
This is obvious advice, but given the knee-jerk appeal to medications for solutions, we often don’t take it seriously enough. Burning more calories than you consume leads to weight loss. Since exercise is difficult for people with chronic pain, diet may be the best place to focus these efforts. One of the best ways to eat healthier and consume fewer calories is to cut out processed and fast foods from your diet. Unless you replace them all with full-fat dairy products, this will automatically lower the amount of saturated fat you consume; sodium and sugar levels will drop as well. All the standard healthy food recommendations apply: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, limited dairy or low-fat dairy.
4. Tailor Your Diet To Your Medication
5. Find Ways To Exercise
You may not be running a marathon, but don’t underestimate the value of less rigorous exercises like walking or housework. Any movement you do will burn calories; if you’re unable to walk or stand some days, you can search YouTube for seated workouts, which there are many videos of. For people with joint pain, swimming is a great option as it takes your body’s weight off your joints.
Whenever possible, treat medication as a temporary solution. Seek out natural forms of pain management in an effort to reduce your reliance on medication and take action to combat counterproductive weight gain.