Maintaining a healthy weight

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young woman eating fruit

When you have chronic pain, a balanced diet will help you feel better, help your body function as well as possible and help you maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important because excess body fat (for instance in the case of obesity) puts extra pressure on your joints. This pressure is a risk factor for musculoskeletal and certain other types of pain.

A healthy weight is not a number on the scale, however! Each person’s body is unique with its own body composition, in other words how much bone, muscle and fat it has. How your body is composed is affected by your genetics (the traits you inherit from your parents) and by your lifestyle. Just as some people are shorter while others are taller, some people naturally have more or less body fat or muscle than others. Your healthy weight is a range that is specific to you.

How do I maintain a healthy weight?

You can maintain a healthy weight by eating the right amount of nutritious foods for your needs and being physically active.

Because everybody is different, the best source of information about a healthy weight for you is your healthcare team. Your doctor, nurses or physiotherapist know you and your goals and understand the challenges that come with having chronic pain. They can give you suggestions to stay healthy and answer any questions. If you have very specific questions, they may refer you to a registered dietitian or another healthcare provider.

What foods should I try to include?

A balanced, nutritious diet includes lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, eggs and lean meats or vegetarian alternatives. If you drink a lot of soda pop, try drinking water instead. You can add some mint leaves, lemon, frozen fruit or cucumber if you would still like some flavour.

What foods should I try to limit?

Do you eat out at fast-food chains and restaurants regularly? A diet that is high in sweets, highly processed foods, fried foods and fast foods can result in poor nutrition. To maintain your weight, limit fast food and convenience foods such as burgers, fries, pizza, potato chips, candy and soda. These foods are both high in fat and/or sugar and are often not very filling. So even though they might have a lot of calories, you might not feel full for long and soon crave more food.

It is especially important to avoid energy drinks. Many teens and young adults turn to them – and overuse them – for sports performance, which leads to a severe increase in heart rate.

Eating regular meals

Do you tend to skip meals, especially breakfast? It is very important to start the day right with a healthy, balanced breakfast. It will set you up with many essential nutrients and energy for the day ahead. A nutritious breakfast can also prevent mid-morning hunger, which could lead to snacking on high energy “junk” foods rather than more nutritious foods.

Although each person is different, it is generally recommended that you space meals and snacks by two to three hours. It is best to start these meals and snacks early in the day and finish them in the early evening. Try to eat regular meals and healthy snacks even if you are busy.

What about popular diets?

Some people may want to follow a new popular, or "fad", diet if they see friends or famous people following it. These diets are generally not a good idea though, for a number of reasons.

  • They may not feature all the nutrients your body needs to grow and stay healthy.
  • They may require you to cut your calories dramatically one or two days of the week (or all week long). Your body needs to have a minimum amount of calories every day to function properly.
  • They may require you to avoid specific foods or avoid eating at certain times of the day. Over time, this could lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and a risk of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.
    • Anorexia nervosa is refusal (not wanting) to eat.
    • Bulimia nervosa is binge eating followed by some form of compensation, such as throwing up, taking laxative medicine, fasting (not eating at all) or doing heavy exercise to eliminate the extra calories.
    • Binge eating disorder involves repeated episodes of eating a large amount of food in a short space of time while feeling out of control. It is not normally followed by compensation.

The best “diet” is the one that provides enough nutrients for your body’s needs and that you can stick to for the rest of your life. Talk with your doctor if you are worried about your eating habits.

Other tips for healthy eating

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Balance the food you eat with physical activity. Find an activity you enjoy – even if you have to try a few first – so that you can stick with it long-term.
  • Learn more about good and bad fats.
  • Learn to read labels on your food, especially ingredient lists and the Nutrition Facts table. If the ingredient list on the package is really long, and contains things that don’t sound like food, you may want to limit your intake of that food.
  • Make sure your diet provides enough calcium and iron to meet your body's requirements.
  • Learn to follow the recipes for a few favourite healthy meals.
  • Encourage your family and friends to eat a balanced diet too. It is much easier to follow these tips if your family and friends try to follow them as well.
  • Create a meal plan and grocery list for the week to help stay organized with healthy meals, and spend less time at the grocery store!
  • Eat sit-down meals with your family or friends with no distractions from electronic devices such as TVs or smartphones.
  • Set SMART goals to help you eat healthy. These goals are:
    • specific
    • measurable
    • achievable
    • relevant
    • time-limited (they have a deadline).
Last updated: May 2nd 2016