Fibromyalgia & Obesity: Cause, Effect or Vicious Cycle?

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Yet another study has pointed a finger at something pretty obvious -- a lot of us with fibromyalgia are obese. Researchers say the obese participants had more pain, worse sleep, less sleep and poorer flexibility.

It's not surprising that, as a group, we're overweight: most of us are far less active that we used to be; some of us take medications that cause weight gain; a lot of doctors and researchers believe we have some sort of metabolic problem; we're prone to sleep disorders, and a sleep-deprived body won't lose weight.

So yes, we get fat.

Researchers in the study didn't look at whether obesity was a cause or effect -- likely because we have prior research indicating that obesity is a risk factor for fibromyalgia and vice versa. Instead, they were trying to gauge the effect.

It makes sense that excess weight makes symptoms worse: it puts more strain on our bodies; it's harder to get comfortable to sleep; obesity can lead to sleep apnea, which can seriously disrupt your sleep; both fibromyalgia and obesity make exercise more difficult, which leads to less strength and flexibility.

Of course, it can also go the opposite way. A lot of us develop fibromyalgia secondary to other health problems, especially chronic pain, thyroid problems, and blood-sugar issues -- all of which can cause weight gain. And let's face it, obesity is an epidemic all it's own.

So regardless of why we're overweight, this study shows that it makes fibromyalgia symptoms worse.

That's bad. So what can we do about it?

The researchers concluded that weight management may need to be incorporated into treatment regimens. The really great doctors out there are probably already working on that, by encouraging a healthy diet and appropriate levels of activity.

However, I have to shudder when thinking about the other doctors and what they'll be saying.

It was already common enough for them to say, "You've got fibromyalgia because you're fat. Lose weight and you'll feel better." What they fail to do is address the reasons we're overweight and recognize that it's not easy. Healthy people struggle with weight loss. We struggle more.

That said, I am working hard at losing weight to improve my health and my appearance. I'm trying not to be de-railed by the fact that it's really, really hard -- I have to limit my activity or I'll put myself into a flare, it's often difficult to shop for and cook healthy meals, and I can tell you it takes a heck of a lot more work to lose a pound than it used to.

I think what we need to take away from this research is that it doesn't really matter whether we're fat because we're sick or we're sick because we're fat -- the extra pounds makes us worse and also put us at risk for other health problems. We should do what we can to improve our health overall, but we have to remember that it's likely to be a long, tough road.

Meanwhile, we need to ignore the doctors and other people who want to make our illness our fault because of our weight.

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