Drop Unwanted Weight Gain from Medication

Find out how to fight back against unwanted side effects.

After Bonita A., 32, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it took cortisone injections and a long course of systemic prednisolone to finally control the inflammation. But the treatment also came with an unwanted side effect—a weight gain of more than 50 pounds.

“I was on the medication for about five years,” she recalls. “It took a year to get off it and at least five more years to finally lose the weight.”

This is a familiar scenario for many RA patients who respond well to prednisolone, but at a price.

Medrol and prednisone are corticosteroids—drugs that treat a wide range of inflammatory conditions. Unfortunately, they also wreak biochemical havoc in the body and often cause increased appetite and fluid retention, resulting in unwanted weight gain.

According to Leslie Bonci, a registered dietitian at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “there’s no denying that weight gain is a major downside to treatment with steroids. But there’s a lot you can do to tame their appetite-stimulating effects and prevent your weight from skyrocketing.”

Try the following tips:

1. Pump up the protein
Low-fat, high-protein foods like turkey, beans and reduced-fat cottage cheese replenish your body’s supply of protein while also helping you feel full. Make a smoothie with fruit, low-fat yogurt and whey protein, or blend a savory dip out of low-fat cottage cheese and your favorite veggies and herbs.

2. Eliminate bad fat
Fat helps you feel full and makes food taste good. But being selective is critical. Choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil and avocado, instead of butter, cream and full-fat cheese. Sprinkle olives or your favorite nuts on top of a salad. Make guacamole and use it as a dip or sandwich filling.

3. Picture your plate
You can control the quantity of carbohydrates you consume via a quick visualization exercise: One-fourth of your plate should be set aside for grains, potatoes and other carb-rich foods. Fill the rest of your plate with vegetables and foods high in protein. Whole-grain cereals, breads, tortillas, rice and pasta won’t tend to raise your blood glucose level as much as refined flours—especially if you use the plate image as your guide to portion control.

4. Emphasize low-cal liquids
Keep plenty of low-calorie beverages on hand. Tomato juice, V-8, flavored water, fruit-flavored tea and non-cream soups will provide the fill factor you need to help stave off extra pounds.

5. Master the art of the snack
You never know when the munchies will creep up on you, so stock up on smart snack foods that promise to satisfy. If it’s something crunchy you crave, veggies with low-fat dip should hit the spot. If you’ve got a yen for a salty snack, try a generous bowl of unbuttered popcorn with salt substitute, lemon pepper or your favorite herbs. Or nibble a chunk of low-fat, low-salt cheese with whole-grain crackers. Soothe your sweet tooth with a mixture of colorful berries topped with low-fat vanilla yogurt.

Updated November 2012

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