Can MS Cause Weight Change? 4 Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Weight | MyMSTeam

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Can MS Cause Weight Change? 4 Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Medically reviewed by Federica Polidoro, M.D.
Written by Jessica Wolpert
Updated on June 27, 2024

  • People with multiple sclerosis (MS) are at a higher risk of weight gain.
  • Managing a healthy weight is important for people with MS, as it helps improve symptoms like fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
  • The two most effective ways of managing your weight with MS are proper diet and regular exercise.

Weight management is crucial for people living with MS. Excess weight can make MS symptoms worse and put you at risk of other problems, including pressure sores, joint stress, and other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, excess weight loss caused by physical symptoms and emotional stress can cause malnutrition.

Maintaining a healthy weight with MS can feel like an uphill battle — but it’s not impossible. Lifestyle habits, such as a balanced diet and regular physical activity, can help control weight and improve your overall health.

There are several ways of maintaining a healthy body weight with MS, including eating a balanced diet and getting regular physical activity.

MS and Weight Gain

Members of MyMSTeam frequently discuss weight management and weight gain associated with MS. “I keep gaining weight since my MS symptoms have increased, and my activity has decreased,” shared one member. Another member wrote, “I’m trying to lose weight, but I’m on steroids, so it makes it twice as difficult.”

Many people with MS are trying to understand why they are gaining weight. One member of MyMSTeam asked, “What can I do? I try not to eat bad foods. I can’t exercise. I am exhausted just walking to the bathroom.”

What Causes Weight Gain in MS?

Several factors can cause MS weight gain:

  • Comfort eating
  • Physical disabilities and limited mobility
  • Treatments for MS

Comfort Eating

Anxiety, stress, and depression can lead you to eat for comfort, which could eventually cause you to gain weight. This emotional eating can create a cycle where weight gain further affects your mental health, making it even harder to break the habit.

Physical Disabilities and Limited Mobility

MS-related symptoms like fatigue and spasticity can make it difficult to engage in physical activity. Over time, this can lead to an inactive lifestyle, which may result in weight gain.

Treatments for MS

Medications used as treatment options for MS, such as steroids, can also have the side effect of weight gain.

Some people taking certain disease-modifying therapies have reported weight gain. However, there is no evidence that weight changes are a side effect of these drugs. Other factors, such as physical inactivity, may contribute to these weight fluctuations.

Can MS Cause Weight Loss?

MS doesn’t just cause weight gain. The effects of MS can cause you to lose weight as well. The most common reason for MS weight loss is muscle loss due to lack of exercise. However, diet can cause weight loss as well. MS fatigue and tremors can make it hard to shop for food and cook. Swallowing can be difficult for people with MS. “Has anyone else had problems swallowing? I choke when I drink water,” one member said. Emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression, can make it difficult to eat.

MS weight loss due to poor nutrition can go unnoticed, as symptoms such as muscle weakness and fatigue are similar to MS symptoms.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Weight With MS

Members of MyMSTeam frequently discuss losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight as a way to manage MS symptoms and lower the risk for other health conditions. Here are some of the strategies they’ve used, as well as some techniques recommended by health care providers.

1. Control Your Diet

Eating a balanced diet is especially important for people with MS. One MyMSTeam member explained, “The one and only way I have found to lose weight is to become very aware of what you are putting in your mouth.”

Physicians specializing in MS generally state that the best diets are the same low-fat, high-fiber diets the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society suggest for the general population. According to Overcoming MS, a self-management program for people with MS, a healthy diet includes:

  • Whole grains
  • A variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Lean proteins, such as skinless poultry, fish, and beans

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society also recommends limiting processed foods and added sugars.

Some dietary plans, such as the keto diet and the Wahls protocol diet, may help with weight loss and ease MS symptoms. However, no one diet is guaranteed to treat MS symptoms.

Be sure to talk to your doctor or MS specialist before starting any new dietary plans. They may refer you to a dietitian who can provide medical advice to help you maintain a healthy weight.

2. Add Supplements To Help With Weight Loss

If you’re losing a lot of weight, adding a multivitamin helps supplement your nutrition needs. The following steps can also add calories in a healthy way:

  • Using more healthy fats, such as olive and avocado oils
  • Snacking on calorie-rich healthy foods, like nuts
  • Creating easy-to-swallow calorie-rich meals, such as smoothies
  • Supplementing your meals with protein and meal replacement drinks (also available in sugar-free versions)

3. Get All the Movement You Can

If you’re living with MS, it can be difficult to get regular exercise. As one MyMSTeam member shared, “I try to get 10,000 steps a day, even if it isn’t pretty. And often it isn’t.” However, exercise plays an important role in helping to relieve MS symptoms. After beginning an exercise regimen, one MyMSTeam member happily reported, “My right weaker leg does not drag or get ‘floppy’ as often as it used to.” Yoga, Pilates, and strength training can help with balance and improve mood as well.

Start with exercises that are not too physically taxing, “I did water aerobics/swimming to start, then I moved on to walking the treadmill,” shared one MyMSTeam member. If you’re able to, gradually move up to more challenging activities.

4. Access Wheelchair Workouts

Exercise with MS is possible even if you use mobility devices. MyMSTeam members have shared tips on finding exercises that work for those who use wheelchairs. One member wrote, “Picture what you can do while sitting in your chair. Try curling some weights. You can use a book to act as your weight.” Another member found a wheelchair exercise routine developed by the U.K.-based MS Society.

Be patient with yourself as you try to reach and maintain a healthy weight. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take it one day at a time,” one member reminded a teammate.

Be patient with yourself as you try to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

What About Weight-Loss Drugs?

MyMSTeam spoke with Dr. Aaron Boster about glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists such as semaglutide (Ozempic) and whether they’re a good idea for people with MS. A board-certified neurologist and president of The Boster Center for Multiple Sclerosis in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Boster also has a YouTube channel covering many aspects of treating and living with MS.

According to Dr. Boster, if you and your doctor agree that weight loss is a goal for you, GLP-1 agonists can be a useful part of that effort. However, they are not the whole answer.

“I would love to hear about a medicine like Ozempic being an adjunctive to that conversation, not the center of that conversation,” he said. “It’s not a magic shot. It needs to be considered in conjunction with an exercise program and lifestyle changes in eating and approaching food differently. That’s where you could see someone successfully lose weight and keep weight off.”

Find Your Team

MyMSTeam is the social network for people living with MS and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 213,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.

Do you struggle with weight management because of your MS? Do you have tips for healthy eating or exercising? MyMSTeam is the perfect place to share your experiences or ask for advice. Join today and share your thoughts in the comments below, or start the conversation on your Activities page.

Updated on June 27, 2024
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Federica Polidoro, M.D. a graduate of medical school and neurology residency in Italy, furthered her expertise through a research fellowship in multiple sclerosis at Imperial College London. Learn more about her here.
Jessica Wolpert earned a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and an MA in Literature and Medicine from King's College. Learn more about her here.

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