Nutrition and Weight Maintenance for the HIV-Positive Woman
Good nutrition, combined with exercise, strengthens the body and mind. It relieves stress and optimizes the most out of HIV-related therapies. The building blocks of good nutrition include an appreciation of the basic food groups and principals of a well-balanced diet.
When making a nutrition and exercise plan, it's probably best to start with small improvements over what you already do. Do you eat three healthy meals a day? If not, try to incorporate that third (or even second) meal into your day. Do you exercise? If not routinely, then commit to walking around the block or stretching in your home each day.
Once you've made these small changes, then try another set of healthful new activities. The key to success is not to create unrealistic goals and expectations, but rather real and do-able goals that you find enjoyable and fit within your lifestyle. And like any basic program, periodically check and adapt your strategy to your changing needs.
Women, HIV, and Weight Loss
Society's glamorizing of thin women might lead doctors -- and some women with HIV -- not to be alarmed by unplanned weight loss. Any weight loss that is unplanned and can't be explained should be cause for alarm. Your weight should be monitored with the same watchful eye as your lab results.
Malnutrition and weight loss are common problems with HIV disease. Malnutrition can result from loss of appetite and food intake due to depression, fatigue, illness or side effects from therapy. Without monitoring, it can persist undetected for a long time.
Weight loss is an obvious sign of malnutrition. It can begin and become severe anywhere in the course of HIV infection, though it's an increasing threat when CD4+ cell counts fall below 100. Wasting is an extreme type of weight loss and is an unexplained loss of 10% or more of a person's normal weight.
Treat the Causes
HIV and related conditions can cause weight loss, fatigue, loss of muscle mass and chronic diarrhea. The gut, where your body absorbs nutrients, is a major reservoir of HIV infection. Also, many other infections grow unchecked there once the immune system is weakened. All these factors can contribute to weight loss and poor nutrition.
It is important to identify the cause of weight loss and diarrhea. Often, multiple causes occur at the same time. Also, some wasting is due to malabsorption, when the tissue and cells lining the intestines can no longer properly transfer nutrients.
Finding the cause(s) of weight loss and/or diarrhea is always critical to finding the right solution. Treating symptoms, without understanding the underlying causes, can sometimes do more harm than good.
A Final Word
When correcting nutrition and wasting problems, there's no guaranteed solution for every situation. What works for one person in one situation may not work for the next. The best solution is to form your own opinions after collecting as much information as possible.
Of all the options out there, enhancing and maintaining a well-balanced diet is likely the best cornerstone of a nutrition and weight maintenance program. For more information, read Project Inform's publications, "Nutrition and Weight Maintenance," "Drug Interactions Fact Sheet," and "Herbs, Supplements, and HIV," available from the hotline.
This article was provided by Project Inform. It is a part of the publication WISE Words. Visit Project Inform's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.