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Diet Recommendations for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Patients

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Diet REcommendations Diet is one of the most obvious places to begin making the necessary accommodations to the demands of a chronic illness. However, it is not always the easiest. For many people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), devising a workable diet poses numerous difficulties. About two-thirds of ME/CFS patients have gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, gas, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps. In many cases, these symptoms are caused by food sensitivities. Others may have concurrent conditions such as interstitial cystitis or migraine headaches that require certain dietary constraints.

Even those who do not suffer from GI problems still have the demands of a chronic illness to contend with. These patients need to maintain as wholesome a diet as possible, simply to help their ailing bodies to heal. Problems caused by disruptions in cell metabolism, malabsorption, and food sensitivities make it all the more important for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis patients to maintain an appropriate diet - that is, following a diet that will maximize the nutrients available to a healing body while minimizing any harmful effects that specific foods or food additives may produce.

"What should I eat?" is a question asked by most Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Myalgic Encephalomyelitis patients, and although the question makes a great deal of practical sense, it is not easily answered. Diet is an important consideration for anyone who is ill; in the case of ME/CFS, however, what constitutes an appropriate diet?

This question has no simple answers. ME/CFS patients react to foods with the same frustrating inconsistency as they do to medications. Whereas one person can maintain a vegetarian diet, another needs to eat meat at every meal. Some feel significantly better after cutting back on carbohydrates and eliminating fruit. Because each person's digestive system reflects one's own unique case of ME/CFS - complicated by allergies, food sensitivities, bladder sensitivities, blood sugar problems - there is no single "best diet" for patients.

But finding a good diet, even in the most difficult circumstances, is not impossible. Most people proceed by trial and error, noting which foods make them feel better or worse. The following are some simple guidelines that may be helpful in devising your particular ME/CFS diet.

Listen to your body. This is the most important rule for people with ME/CFS. If a particular food item makes you feel worse, don't eat it, even if it is supposed to be "good for you." Even "good" foods, such as salad, broccoli, nuts, fruit, and spinach can do harm if you cannot digest them. Your body will, in most cases, give you clear signs when it can't. Nausea, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, gas, diarrhea, and constipation are some of the side effects produced by the digestive system when it can't digest the food you have eaten.

Eat sensibly. Patients with ME/CFS need to consume a healthy, balanced supply of nutrients to provide the basic raw materials required to make them well. For those whose choices are not already restricted by food sensitivities, maintaining a broad, varied diet will provide the best basis for improvement.

Eat simply. Try not to mix a lot of different ingredients in one dish. This will help with digestion and make it easier for you to identify food reactions. Use plain fresh vegetables, starches, and proteins.

Eat wholesome foods. Avoid all processed foods, as these contain artificial additives (even when advertised as "natural"). Buy organic foods, whenever possible, to eliminate the extra burden of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics abundant in most commercial produce and meats.

A Final Word on Diet

Experiment with your diet to find one that works best for you, but remember to use common sense.

Many nutritionists, chiropractors, naturopaths, and countless authors of best-selling diet books have special regimens they claim will produce immediate health gains. Often the pressure to adopt one of these diets can be intense, especially if your friends or acquaintances have heard rumors of cases in which people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or other conditions have been cured simply by following a particular diet.

Make diet changes slowly, proceed with caution, and keep in mind that you are the best judge of what is good for you.

*Adapted from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide, 2nd Edition by Erica Verillo.

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Further Reading

Elimination Diet For Those with ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia (Update)
A protocol for patients with chronic diseases that includes a preliminary step for CFS/FM patients specifically.
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Dr. Lapp's diet and nutrition recommendations for people with fibromyalgia.
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Food Allergies and Food Intolerance: The Complete Guide to Their Identification and Treatment by Jonathan Brostoff and Linda Gamlin. Healing Arts Press; April 1, 2000.

The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide: How to Cook with Ease for Food Allergies and Recover Good Health by Nicolette M. Dumke. Allergy Adapt, Inc.; November 1 2006


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