The only way to lose weight and keep it off is to change the way you eat and the amount of exercise you do. You need to balance your food intake against the energy you burn.
The energy in food is measured in kilocalories (kcal), often just called calories. If your diet contains more calories than you use, your body will turn the extra to fat and you’ll put on weight. Most people gain weight gradually often by just eating a few extra calories a day. For example, 100 calories per day more than you burn off will add about 500 g (1 lb) of fat per month. On the other hand, if your food contains fewer calories than you use, your body will burn stored fat and you’ll lose weight.
If you have arthritis you may find it hard to get as much exercise as you did before. And if you’re burning less energy you’re likely to put on weight unless you also reduce your calorie intake.
If you eat fewer calories, it’s important to maintain a balance between different types of food so you don’t lose out on important nutrients. It's important to eat starchy foods like potatoes, rice and pasta. Wholegrain types of rice and pasta are better because they contain more fibre, which is good for bowel health, and they often provide more vitamins and minerals as well. Fruit (but not fruit juices) and vegetables are low in calories but still provide plenty of nutrients.
Cut down on fat
Fat has twice as many calories as the same weight of starch or protein and most people eat far more fat than they need. Eating 30 g (about 1 oz) less fat each day saves 270 calories.
There are four kinds of fats in foods:
- Saturated fats are the most important kind of fat to reduce since they can increase inflammation and pain in the body. These come mainly from animals and are found in:
- full-fat dairy products
- processed foods like cakes, biscuits and pastry
- chips (if fried in animal fat)
- Asian foods, especially those cooked using ghee (clarified butter)
- some vegetable oils such as palm oil or coconut oil.
- Monounsaturated fats are neutral or even useful fats which don’t make inflammation worse. However, they contain just as many calories as saturated fats, so limiting them is important if you're trying to lose weight. These are found in olive and rapeseed oil.
- Trans fats are the worst kind of fat. They're made from oil chemically processed to make it solid and increase its shelf life. They increase cholesterol and are harmful to your circulation and possibly your joints. They're listed on food labels as 'hydrogenated oil' but have mostly been removed from processed foods in recent years.
- Polyunsaturated fats:
- Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids can increase inflammation in the body. You should therefore aim to eat less of these softer fats and oils from corn or sunflower sources.
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are useful in the diet and are found in rapeseed oil, walnuts, free range eggs (depending on the chicken feed), oily fish and fish oil supplements.
To eat less fat you should:
- Avoid 'invisible' fats in foods like biscuits, cakes, chocolate, pastry and savoury snacks, or limit them to special occasions – check the labels.
- Choose lean cuts of meat and trim off any excess fat before cooking.
- Choose fish and poultry more often.
- Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
- Use low- or reduced-fat dairy products (e.g. low fat or diet yogurt, low-fat cheese).
- Use low-fat, olive-oil-based or soya margarines.
- Grill instead of frying.
- Use a very small amount of olive oil if you need to for cooking (if you want to fry foods, use rapeseed oil which doesn’t smoke as much).
- Look for snacks that are naturally low in fat, such as fruit, vegetable sticks, plain popcorn. Small quantities of nuts and seeds provide good fats but don’t appear to cause weight gain.
Cut down on sugar
Sugar contains only calories and has no other food value (so-called 'empty calories'), so you can cut down on sugar without losing any nutrients. Eating 30 g (about 1 oz) less sugar each day saves 120 calories.
You can use dried fruit, like raisins, to sweeten cereals and puddings; unlike sugar and artificial sweeteners, they also provide vitamins and minerals. But go easy, as dried fruits are still fairly high in calories. Try to get used to food being less sweet by not adding sugar or sweeteners to hot drinks.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. A portion is about 80 g (3 oz). This is to make sure your body gets the important nutrients that it needs to stay in good health and to protect it during the stress of disease.
It’s been suggested that antioxidants may help to protect the joints by mopping up some of the chemicals (known as free radicals) which may cause inflammation. Choose more brightly coloured vegetables or salad to help fill your plate but lower your calorie intake.
Fruit and vegetables are good sources of fibre and choosing fruit and vegetables of different colours will give you a variety of vitamins and minerals. Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants, as are leafy green vegetables.
Exercise not only burns calories that would otherwise end up as fat it also increases your strength and suppleness. Of course, arthritis can make exercise difficult and painful so it’s important to find something you can manage and enjoy as this will encourage you to do it regularly. Swimming is particularly good if you have arthritis because it exercises almost all the muscle groups and the water takes the weight off your joints. But walking, cycling, Pilates or yoga are also helpful.