Because of the metabolic problems occurring in fibromyalgia and CFS, two in-house studies done in our research center showed an average 32.5 pound weight gain in this illness. As most of you have found, trying to lose this weight before one has addressed the underlying metabolic problems can be near impossible.
A new study in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology also noted that people with fibromyalgia are more likely to weigh more. Unfortunately, the perspective of the authors shows through even in the first line of the study where they claim "Fibromyalgia (FM) is a biopsychosocial disorder." So we'll take their interpretations with a grain of salt. But the data is interesting. It showed that in fibromyalgia:
- 0.4% were underweight
- 25.9% were normal weight
- 29.9% were overweight
- 43.8% were obese
When comparing the people with fibromyalgia who were obese with those who had normal weight, the study did find what we have often seen before as well. People suffering with obesity report higher prevalence of abuse (48% vs 33.9%, P = 0.016) and sexual abuse (17.3% vs 6.8%, P = 0.01) than those with normal weight.
My problem with the study? Although this study was well done and I applaud the authors, their writing does reflect the general lack of understanding of this illness and the people who suffer with it. The study conclusion? "Physicians treating FM should … discuss weight loss with their FM patients. Even if increasing BMI [weight] is not intrinsic to FM, it contributes to poor mood and functional outcome and should be a treatment goal."
As if most people with fibromyalgia who have weight issues haven't tried to lose weight!
So here are a few important points to keep in mind if you start hearing comments related to this study:
- Our studies showed that the average 32.5 pound weight gain occurred after fibromyalgia symptoms began. In other words, the weight gain was triggered by the illness not the other way around.
- The decreased metabolism likely directly contributes to the weight gain. Until this is addressed, it's unlikely that the person will be able to effectively lose weight. Just saying "lose weight" without addressing these is setting the person up for failure. Key factors that must be addressed for weight to be lost and overall symptoms to improve are:
- Optimize thyroid function, even if the blood tests are "normal."
- Optimize adrenal function. Elevated cortisol can cause weight gain, and inadequate cortisol can cause sugar cravings and food cravings that trigger weight gain.
- Optimize sleep. Sleep contributes to the production of growth hormone which increases muscle mass and lowers fat. Inadequate sleep is associated with an average 6.5 pound weight gain and 30% increased risk of obesity.
- Treat the Candida. Candida overgrowth in the gut has clinically been shown to trigger sugar cravings, and increased sugar intake can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. Sugar craving caused by low blood sugar (from adrenal fatigue) is an irritable "feed me now or I will kill you" kind of feeling." The sugar cravings from Candida are more what I characterize as "the happy Twinkie hunter," where you merrily go through the kitchen cabinets looking for something sweet. It isn't uncommon in fibromyalgia to have both. When the underlying adrenal and Candida issues are addressed, not only do you feel dramatically better, but the weight comes down and the sugar cravings resolve.
- Begin a walking program. Many of us are afraid to exercise because of the postexertional crashing. Unfortunately, this lack of exercise results in deconditioning, which is devastating in this illness. So start a walking program, and wear a pedometer. Look to increase your walking by about 50 steps a day (as able). See my article on Exercise in Fibromyalgia for more information.
The free Energy Analysis Program at can analyze your symptoms, and even pertinent lab tests if available, to show you how to optimize energy production and metabolism in your case.
Please don't beat yourself up over weight gain. It was out of your control. But by understanding the causes, you can not only take action to begin to feel better, but you can drop the weight as well.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.