Reprinted with the kind permission of Donna Grant and Fibro Geek.
Editor's comment: Although this article discusses diet change in relation to fibromyalgia, the tips shared are equally beneficial for ME/CFS patients or anyone who is interested in optimizing their health.
Changing my diet and giving up food attachments has been a big step in improving my life with fibromyalgia. I’ll be completely honest with you and say it’s something that I was reluctant to do for a long time. I kept coming up with excuses as to why it was not the right time to do it. Sometimes I tentatively made changes. However, I continued to push myself and inevitably ended up feeling like rubbish. The conclusion I always came to was that the diet changes were not helping. Logical, right?
As a side note, you need to reduce physical and mental stress too. Lifestyle changes are just as important if you are serious about improving your fibro.
I have spoken to many people with fibro thanks to social media and here’s what I have learned. Every single person who told me that they had seen improvements with their symptoms had one thing in common; they had all changed their diet to one extent or another. Wheat, dairy and refined-sugar were all avoided. Before I did it for myself I felt like I would be giving up so much! The truth is, it really wasn’t that difficult and how I eat now is not about deprivation. It’s not a diet as such but rather a new way of life. It’s about nourishing my body with the right foods; foods that help to create a healing environment within my body and give it the best chance to feel well. And it’s about avoiding the foods that cause inflammation and pain.
Breaking old habits and creating new ones can be tough in the initial stages but with time it becomes easier and soon it becomes second-nature. Once you start to feel better because of it, you don’t look back. You don’t miss the things you thought you would. You may begin to allow yourself very occasional indulgences (we all need those after all) but you won’t feel the urge to return to your previous diet. I’m not going to get into details of what you should and shouldn’t eat in this post. There are many inspiring blogs out there that can help you with clean eating. Today, I simply want to share with you five tips that have helped me to successfully change my diet. They seem simple and that is because they are. However, they were all important in helping me to make this transition.
1. Plan Your Meals
Sit down each week and figure out exactly what you are going to eat: breakfast, AM snack, lunch, PM snack and dinner. Planning it out is really important in the early stages because it is so easy to fall back into what you are already comfortable with. If you find yourself hungry, you will gravitate towards foods you know if you don’t know what you should be eating. My husband and I sit down each Sunday and figure out our meals for the week ahead and exactly what we need to buy in our weekly shop. Tip: Plan meals that include some of the same ingredients to keep the costs down and prevent waste.
2. Keep A Food Journal
I have a notepad and in it I write down absolutely everything I eat each day. I’ll also briefly jot down how I am feeling. This helps to keep me on track as I am naturally quite competitive with myself and I don’t want to write down any foods that I am not supposed to eat. It has worked as I haven’t ‘cheated’! Even if you do eat something you were trying to avoid, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t beat yourself up about it but do include it in your food journal. Pay attention to how you feel over the coming days and what impact eating that food has on you.
3. Don’t Buy Food You Shouldn’t Eat
Remove all temptation if possible. If you can’t due to other family members, at least keep them out of sight. I am incredibly lucky in that my husband has supported me 100% and has joined me in my healthy eating (and is feeling a lot better for it). This previously meant that we simply did not have food in the house that I am avoiding. I am three months in now and finding it much easier so he has some treats for himself in the house now because I have no desire to eat them anyway!
4. Buy Lots Of Food You Can Snack On
I found myself struggling with cravings in the initial stages of changing my diet and I was snacking constantly because of this. It is so important to have lots of good food in the house to snack on. Nuts, seeds, fruit (both fresh and dried), vegetables with houmous, popcorn, corn chips with guacamole and my favourite- dates with almond butter. It might not be exactly what you want but if you fill yourself up with the good stuff, you soon become less bothered about the bad stuff. If you are really struggling with your sweet tooth then you can bake some clean eating goodies- cakes, cookies, ice cream, fudge… it is possible to make all of these without dairy, wheat and refined sugar. Just don’t go crazy with them as they still contain natural sugars and you want to keep all sugars to a minimum when you have chronic illness.
5. Change Your Mindset
This one I saved for last because it has been the most important for me. It’s so easy to want to go and grab processed foods. You need to train your brain into realising why you shouldn’t do this. I started to associate processed foods and foods containing refined-sugar, wheat and dairy with pain and fatigue. I thought of all the good foods as being nourishing for my body and envisioned them helping my body to heal. This helped me to make the correct choices. When you start to feel better this becomes a lot easier because you then know it is true. Plus, chances are if you do eat some food you have been avoiding you will end up feeling pretty lousy, which again reinforces your thoughts.
Have you found improvements through changing your diet and do you have any tips that have helped you? Share your story in the comments below.
About the Author: Donna Grant was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2013 and subsequently began blogging about life with chronic illness. She shares her journey and how she has improved her life with fibro, as well as other inspirational posts, on her blog Fibro Geek.