Our Weight Is Not Our Only Asthma Trigger
"Want to improve your asthma? Just lose weight."
- Doctors everywhere
How often have you heard this at the doctor’s office? All you have to do is lose weight and your asthma will magically disappear.
There is more to asthma than weight loss
I, myself, have heard this and it's frustrating. Although obesity or carrying extra weight can worsen asthma, it is certainly not the only reason why people get asthma in the first place or the only reason you have symptoms.
Sure, our weight very well may be one contributor, but there can be many more. Often doctors won’t even discuss other triggers with you until you prove you are serious about managing your asthma by dropping a few pounds. It feels judgemental; a quick way to size up the problem and offer a solution. And it’s downright lazy. We deserve a medical team that is willing to discuss all of the things that trigger our asthma, including stress and depression, and our home and work environments.
The fear of the weight lecture
The fear of being lectured about our weight often keeps us from accessing health care when we need it. Don't let this fear keep you from seeing your doctor. Below are a few of my favorite statements I use with my medical team to guide the conversation in the direction that helps me feel heard.
I would like to focus on how to improve my overall health. What foods do you suggest I add to my daily diet?
Discuss the foods you should add to your diet that can improve your health, instead of discussing what you should remove. The Mediterranean Diet is low-inflammatory, easy to follow, full of flavor and budget-friendly, and will probably be acceptable to your doctor.
How can I safely increase my physical activity without triggering my asthma?
Asthma is episodic, so it comes and goes. Today it may be hard to climb the stairs, and 6 months from now you may be running three miles a day. Your exercise plan should be based on your current level of asthma control and severity. You don’t have to do cardio to improve your asthma and overall health. Walking 30 minutes a day, yoga, stretching, and even chair exercises will be beneficial. Increasing movement, even in small increments, should be your goal.
As I work on improving my health, I need help managing the symptoms I am having now.
Losing weight or taking steps to improve your health takes time and is a personal decision that includes a lot of factors. The goal is to identify and reduce all of your triggers. Tell your doctor when and where you have symptoms, such as at bedtime, or in your office. Ask how you can manage these symptoms to avoid a full-blown asthma episode.
I want to know everything about my asthma so we can create a management plan that’s right for me.
Asthma management does not have a one size fits all solution. Do you have allergic asthma? Eosinophilic asthma? What is your current level of control and severity? Is a biologic medication right for you, or do you need allergy shots? Answering these questions will provide the information needed to develop a tailored management plan tailored just for you.
Skinny people and elite athletes have asthma, too.
OK, I only break this one out when I absolutely need to because it sounds snarky. But it’s true. Thin people also have asthma. As do elite athletes, like Olympian speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno. Clearly, losing weight is not the magic pill to fix asthma that doctors say it is, at least not for everyone.
Let's focus on whole-person healthcare
Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle may go a long way to improve your asthma and overall quality of life. But so will identifying and reducing all of your asthma triggers. Have you been told by a doctor to lose weight to improve your asthma? Share in the comments below!
Do you feel your doctor has given you less care than you needed due to your weight?
Do you get muscle cramps caused by your asthma medicine?