Rheumatoid Arthritis Weight Gain: 6 Ways to Lose Weight With RA (2022)

Why Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Weight Gain Common?

While unexplained weight loss can be one of the earliest — and sneakiest — signs of RA, weight gain after an RA diagnosis is unfortunately quite common, and difficult to bear. Even if you’ve maintained a healthy weight all your life, you could see the number on the scale rise when symptoms and medications begin to interfere.

Whenever you want to make a change in your health or lifestyle, it’s important to understand what’s causing the problem in the first place. Getting to know the factors and processes behind your rheumatoid arthritis weight gain or loss issues can help you attack the problem at the source and change your trajectory for a healthier body mass and a happier self-image.

What Causes Unintended Weight Gain in Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While the disease itself doesn’t cause you to pack on pounds, RA disrupts your body and routine in a number of ways that could result in weight gain. It’s difficult to predict how each patient will adapt and react to their RA, but there are some clear factors that will increase your chances of struggling with unwanted rheumatoid arthritis weight gain:


Not all medications will interfere with your metabolism, but the corticosteroid prednisone has a particularly bad reputation when it comes to weight gain. It also happens to be one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for the chronic inflammation of RA.

Unfortunately, the majority of patients who take prednisone will experience some degree of weight gain — and sometimes in places you don’t expect. Fat can accumulate in the face, abdomen and even the back of the neck. Fortunately, most people will quickly shed the excess weight once the steroid dosage is lowered.

Exercise Problems

It’s no secret that exercise is one of the very best things you can do for your muscles, joints,and waistline, but it can get complicated when RA flares up. You may realize that an exercise class or long walk is best for your body in the long run, but simply getting off the couch and out of the front door can be too much to ask some days.

If you have trouble with weight bearing movements, fatigue or range of motion, build up an arsenal of readily-available activities that favor certain movements over others. For instance, you can do laps in the local pool or join a yoga class when you’re up for the journey, but having an elliptical machine, treadmill or selection of gentle exercise videos on hand will let you get your muscles moving at home (or the office) when you can’t commit to travel.

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Diet Issues

Once you factor in unwelcome medication side effects and a less active lifestyle, you’ll find that your regular diet may no longer be suitable.

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After all, if you’re not burning those extra calories, they will get stored as body fat. And if you’re not taking in quality calories, you’ll see and feel the unhappy consequences. As your body’s needs and metabolism change, your diet needs to change, too.

Obviously, a wholesome diet is the way to go, but it can be difficult to jump into an entirely new menu plan when you’re used to eating whatever you want. The first step is to learn which foods are “calorie dense” versus those that are “nutrient dense” and begin to make smart substitutions.

How to Lose Weight With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Losing weight can feel like an uphill battle when you live with RA. You’re sore, tiredand struggling to simply get through your day. In turn, many people with RA fall into a reactive cycle rather than a proactive routine.

It’s time to break that cycle. You may not be able to control all the factors, but when it comes to the basic grounds of weight gain — taking more calories in than you’re burning — there are some ways to tip the balance in your favor.

How to Lose Weight With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Below are six ways to help you lose weight and achieve your weight loss goal.

Don’t Drink Your Calories

Most people vastly underestimate the amount of sugar, carbohydrates,and calories that come in liquid form, which can be a major pitfall when you’re trying to lose weight. Your first step is to cut out the soda and juice, and switching to diet versions may not be a better solution. Although more research is needed, anecdotal evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners can negatively affect your symptoms, appetite and weight goals.

Water is clearly the best beverage option, but you can add some interest with some fresh fruit (think citrus, berries or herbs like ginger), or opt for herbal tea instead. Keep most of the flavor on your plate, and use your beverages to quench your thirst and refresh your body.

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Eat Your Veggies First

When you’re faced with a feast, it’s natural to jump into the richest, most flavorful delicacy on your plate. However, beginning with the meaty, starchy, creamy or saucy part will almost certainly add up to more calories at the end of the meal than if you had started with the vegetables.

If you’re not a huge fan of veggies, don’t fret: there are plenty of creative ways to pair and prepare them for more satisfying taste and texture. There’s also a huge array of available vegetables, and it pays to try a new one every now and then. Your new favorite flavor could be hiding in the produce stand!

Calm Your Appetite

Restaurant appetizers are traditionally served to whet your appetite, a way to get you salivating for the main course. Try to look at them from a different perspective — as a way to diminish your appetite a bit so you can make healthy choices and avoid over-indulgence.

Instead of reaching for the bread basket, ask for a cup of (veggie) soup or a green salad right off the bat, which will fill your stomach without adding too many calories. If you don’t expect to be enjoying a multi-course meal at the restaurant, eat something small and healthy before you leave the house. That will help you curb temptation when you see the menu.

Trick Your Eyes

Since portion control is so important (and equally challenging), it’s worth investing some effort and money into that aspect of your diet. The way your food looks makes a big difference, so make it look like you’re giving yourself a bigger helping than you really are.

Some clever accessories can help you enjoy your meal without feeling like you’re missing out or eating less. Smaller plates are a good place to start: ditch the wide-rimmed dinner plates for a sizable side plate, since empty space will emphasize the fact that food is "missing". Studies have also shown that the color blue can be an appetite deterrent, so according to the theory, blue side plates may be your keys to portion control success.

Take Up Yoga

Whatever end of the scale you’re at, yoga is a wonderful addition to your healthy routine. It’s both aerobic and strengthening, plus it’s a gentle way to maintain and improve your range of motion. Best of all, yoga is incredibly variable and customizable, so you won’t have to stress your joints or any given muscle group to get through your practice.

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Yoga is generally slow-paced and gentle, but it comes in all sorts of forms, and it’s important to start at the lowest level. The postures and movements can be more taxing than they seem, so don’t get overly ambitious at the beginning – talk with a yoga instructor to find the routine that’s right for you.

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Monitor Your Emotions

It’s amazing how your psychological states can influence your physical habits, and the burden of RA symptoms can drag you down quickly. If you’re feeling isolated, anxious, weary or depressed — all possible consequences of living with a chronic illness — other aspects of your life and health will inevitably suffer.

Emotional eating is a big problem for some people, and a major roadblock to weight loss. Likewise, forgetting to eat or losing your appetite in stressful times can sap your strength and lead to muscle loss and other problems that come with being underweight. Keeping a food journal can help you track your eating patterns, which will show you when and where you need to be more vigilant about what you’re eating (or not eating).

What's Next for Dealing With Rheumatoid Arthritis Weight Gain?

Starting with the above weight loss tips may help you at the beginning of your weight loss journey. If you're looking for ways to help achieve your weight loss goals, there are plenty of resources online that focus onarthritis dietweight loss advice and exercises that won't aggravate your symptoms, or you can speak with your doctor about finding nutritional or weight loss assistance.


Is it hard to lose weight with RA? ›

RA can result in weight loss or gain, depending on a person's symptoms, medications, and overall health. While maintaining a moderate weight can be challenging, being underweight can potentially cause harm. If a person loses weight as a result of their medications or symptoms, they should talk with their doctor.

Do people with RA gain weight? ›

About two-thirds of people with RA are overweight or obese — the same proportion as in the general population. But when you have RA, extra body fat can create extra problems. The fat in your body doesn't just take up space. It's an active organ that releases hormones called adipokines.

Can RA cause belly fat? ›

Conclusions. The distribution of abdominal fat differs significantly by RA status. Higher VFA in men with RA, and the more potent association of VFA with cardiometabolic risk factors in men and women with RA, may contribute to cardiovascular risk in RA populations.

Does hydroxychloroquine cause weight loss? ›

Weight gain or weight loss

For some people, Plaquenil may cause weight loss. This is because the drug can decrease your appetite, which may lead to the weight loss. But it's not known how many people have had weight loss while taking Plaquenil.

Will methotrexate make you gain weight? ›

As helpful as this medication is, those taking methotrexate may experience some side effects, including nausea and vomiting, mouth sores and ulcers, headaches, and fatigue. 1 Research has shown that using this drug can also result in weight gain.

What is the life expectancy of a person with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

The average duration of disease were 10.5 years in male patients and 17.7 years in female. The average life span of the patients with RA, revealing 65.8 years in male and 63.7 years in female, were much shorter than of general population. The causes of all deaths were investigated by ourselves and/or autopsy.

Can hydroxychloroquine cause weight gain? ›

Abnormal weight gain is a side effect of long-term doxycycline and hydroxychloroquine treatment.

Which RA meds cause weight loss? ›

According to one 2016 study, the drug leflunomide (Arava), one type of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) for rheumatoid arthritis, is more apt to cause weight loss as a side effect than some other RA medications.

What RA meds cause weight gain? ›

Out of 52 662 treatment courses in 32 859 patients with RA, weight gain was seen at 6 months in those taking methotrexate, prednisone, and TNFi. Patients taking prednisone had more weight gain on average (β =0.072 kg/m2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.042, 0.10; P<. 001) than those taking methotrexate.

Does methotrexate make you lose weight? ›

Official answer. Methotrexate was shown to cause a modest amount of weight gain over 6 months, in a study measuring weight changes in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The patients who were most likely to gain weight when starting methotrexate, were patients who had recently lost weight due to rheumatoid arthritis.

Are bananas good for RA? ›

Bananas are not a typical choice for people with arthritis, but the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in them may aid in protecting the body against certain oxidative stress.

Is Lemon Juice good for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Citrus foods, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemon, and limes, are rich in vitamin C, and are also good sources of inflammation-fighting antioxidants, which are beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

What is the best cereal for arthritis? ›

Hot and cold cereals are good options. They are quick ways to get a serving of fiber-full whole grains that can help reduce inflammation. While oatmeal may be your go-to grain, there are several nutritious cereals made from corn, brown rice, quinoa, hemp, buckwheat and kamut.

What type of inflammation causes weight gain? ›

A 2019 study found that levels of a key inflammatory marker in the blood known as C-reactive protein (CRP) increased as weight increased. This inflammation appears to be triggered by hormonal and metabolic changes and remains until excess weight is lost.

What should you not do if you have rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis
  1. Grilled, broiled, or fried meats (and other fried foods). ...
  2. Fatty foods full of omega-6 fatty acids. ...
  3. Sugars and refined carbohydrates. ...
  4. Gluten. ...
  5. Preservatives and flavor enhancers. ...
  6. Alcohol.
Sep 26, 2018

Does inflammation cause weight gain? ›

Studies show that inflammation is a common underlying factor in all major degenerative diseases — including heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and diabetes — and that it can also cause weight gain and difficulty losing weight.

What is the safest drug for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Methotrexate is widely regarded as one of the safest of all arthritis drugs, though it carries some potential downsides. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting are its most frequent side effects.

What is the downside of taking hydroxychloroquine? ›

muscle weakness. unusual bleeding or bruising. bleaching or loss of hair. mood or mental changes.

What does Plaquenil do to your eyes? ›

Plaquenil binds to retinal pigment cells, causing adverse changes in vision that occur slowly over time. Objects may start to appear blurry or distorted. In the most serious cases of Plaquenil-induced retinal toxicity, the macula is completely destroyed.

Is 20mg of methotrexate a lot? ›

Adults—At first, 10 to 25 milligrams (mg) once a week. Your doctor may adjust your dose as needed and tolerated. However, the dose is usually not more than 30 mg per week.

Why should you not touch methotrexate? ›

Methotrexate and pregnancy

Even touching or inhaling the dust from the tablet can allow the medicine to get into the body. Methotrexate goes into sperm, so it's important that a man taking it doesn't get his partner pregnant.

Do any biologics cause weight loss? ›

TNF-alpha Inhibitors

In very rare cases, these medications may also lead to an increased risk of developing a type of blood cancer such as leukemia or lymphoma, which can cause sudden unexplained weight loss.

What is the most common cause of death in patients with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Cardiovascular disease accounted for 31% of all deaths while pulmonary problems (including respiratory infection and lung cancer) were responsible for almost 29%. Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) accounted for a quarter of all deaths and carried an SMR of 1.49.

Does RA get worse with age? ›

RA usually presents between the ages of 25 and 45 years , but it can affect people of any age. When the onset of RA occurs at a younger age, there is more time for it to progress. Consequently, it may cause more severe symptoms over time and is more likely to lead to complications.

What does RA do to your organs? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis can increase your risk of hardened and blocked arteries, as well as inflammation of the sac that encloses your heart. Lung disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of inflammation and scarring of the lung tissues, which can lead to progressive shortness of breath.

Does prednisone make you gain weight? ›

Weight gain is a common side effect of prednisone. Prednisone can also cause a redistribution of fat to the face, back of the neck and the abdomen, although these changes vary from person to person. Generally speaking, the higher the dose and the longer the treatment, the greater the changes.

Does Plaquenil cause hair growth? ›

Hydroxychloroquine has been reported as variably effective in inducing significant hair regrowth in adults with alopecia areata.

Does gabapentin cause weight gain? ›

Although they're not common side effects, gabapentin has been reported to potentially cause weight gain and fluid buildup in the legs (edema). If you're taking gabapentin or another medication that you think may have led to gaining a few extra pounds, talk to your healthcare provider.

What is the life expectancy of a person with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

The average duration of disease were 10.5 years in male patients and 17.7 years in female. The average life span of the patients with RA, revealing 65.8 years in male and 63.7 years in female, were much shorter than of general population. The causes of all deaths were investigated by ourselves and/or autopsy.

What should you not do if you have rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis
  1. Grilled, broiled, or fried meats (and other fried foods). ...
  2. Fatty foods full of omega-6 fatty acids. ...
  3. Sugars and refined carbohydrates. ...
  4. Gluten. ...
  5. Preservatives and flavor enhancers. ...
  6. Alcohol.
Sep 26, 2018

Does joint inflammation cause weight gain? ›

When someone has PsA, painful joints can make exercise difficult, contributing to weight gain. This places even more pressure on the joints and can make symptoms, such as pain and stiffness, worse.

Does methotrexate cause weight gain or loss? ›

Weight gain was seen at 6 months among users of methotrexate, prednisone, and TNFi. On average, prednisone-treated patients had significantly more weight gain, while leflunomide-treated patients demonstrated weight loss.


1. Rheumatoid Arthritis - Lifestyle Options | Johns Hopkins
(Johns Hopkins Rheumatology)
2. Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
3. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Weight Gain. The Thing I Never Talk About. #chronicpain #fatigue #spoonie
(Lori MacLean)
4. Rheumatoid Arthritis | obesity ra
(Nathan Wei)
5. One Woman's Story On Beating Arthritis With A Healthy Diet
(That's TV South Midlands)
6. Weight Loss and Arthritis
(University of California Television (UCTV))

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