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Despite the claims you may see or read sometimes, there is no magic arthritis diet. No single food or special eating plan can slow arthritis or reduce pain. A well-balanced diet is important for your overall health and energy level, of course. But when it comes to managing osteoarthritis, the single most important thing you can do is to maintain a healthy weight.

If you’ve dieted before, you already know that’s not easy. But arthritis sufferers have an added reason to try to drop even a few pounds. Excess weight puts added stress on joints, particularly knees, causing pain and worsening arthritis damage.

“Being just 10 pounds overweight increases the force on your knees by 30 to 40 pounds with every step you take,” says Kevin Fontaine, PhD, assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University. Small wonder, then, that being obese is linked to a four- to five-fold increase in the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight before, don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to lose a lot to have an impact on arthritis. “Almost any weight loss can have beneficial effects, especially in reducing pain,” says Fontaine. And though losing weight and keeping it off isn’t easy, some people do succeed. By learning how these losers succeeded, researchers have identified six key winning strategies.

1. Set Realistic Weight Loss Goals When You Have OA

Many people set themselves up for failure by pegging their goals too high. “If you begin with unreasonable goals, you’re going to be disappointed, and for too many people, that spells the end,” says nutrition and exercise counselor Ruth Ann Carpenter, RD, author of Healthy Eating Every Day (Human Kinetics).

If you’re overweight or obese, start out with a goal of lowering your weight by 5%. (That’s just 10 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds.) Once you reach your first goal, set another goal of losing another 5%. Setting doable goals is especially important when you have the challenge of arthritis, since you may be limited in the amount of physical activity you can do.

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