On the fibromyalgia group pages of various social media sites, I read this comment more than any other:
HELP! I Don’t Know What to Eat!
Does that sound like you?
If so, you’re shouting in good company. The cacophony over what to eat (or more loudly, what not to eat) is practically deafening.
Any post, tweet, or article I write that mentions nutrition is likely to have multiple comments expressing frustration over a fibromyalgia diet — and for good reason. While the specifics of individual diets vary, it’s clear: What we eat has a great effect on how we feel. Plus, we are each different, with unique nutritional needs.
How Diet Affects Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Whether fibromyalgia sneaks up slowly, or begins suddenly (such as after an accident, significant illness, or traumatic event) it’s common for fibromyalgia symptoms to develop in a cascading fashion. It may start with stiff joints and then travel to that foggy, fatigued, and all-over bruised feeling. Most of us, at one time or another, have said that from head to toe, nothing feels right.
While you probably know that most people with fibromyalgia have digestive issues, such as IBS, you might be surprised to learn that poor digestive health can actually be a major contributing factor to many fibromyalgia symptoms, including that all-over miserable feeling. Fibromyalgia and diet deficiencies usually go hand-in-hand.
When considering fibromyalgia treatment options, a healthy diet should be at the top of your list. Here’s why:
Poor digestive health is a widespread systemic concern, affecting the entire body. It contributes to cognitive impairments, fatigue, skin conditions, and immune system dysfunction, as well as joint and muscle pain. Of course, digestive symptoms are also present such as intestinal pain, bloating, gassiness, intermittent or chronic diarrhea, and constipation.
Those of us with fibromyalgia (as well as various autoimmune challenges) are known as super-sensitive individuals, right? We’re super-sensitive to lights, sounds, touch, scents, and tastes. That heightened sensitivity also relates to the foods that we eat.
We may be overly-sensitive to foods that don’t seem to bother others. A comprehensive list of these potential problematic foods can be found below, but for now, we’ll discuss how to approach this knowledge.
Rather than focusing on what not to eat – place the focus of your attention on what to eat.
The Fibromyalgia Diet – What To Eat
The best fibromyalgia foods are those that feed the body at a nutritionally fundamental level. Consume a healthy balance of quality macronutrients (protein, veggies, and healthy fats) and be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking clean, filtered water.
By providing the vital nutrients that are typically missing from the Standard American Diet (S.A.D), the body is then better able to create a healing environment which results in reduced overall inflammation.
You may wish to review this ProHealth basic nutrition article for more details.
Making healthier substitutions is a great way to make small changes that yield big results. For example, swap out processed grains (corn, rice, breads, pastas, cereals, etc.) for ancient grains such as quinoa, millet, and amaranth. They make a great addition to any meal and are naturally wheat and gluten-free. Replace processed peanut butter with whole, natural almond or cashew butter. Use hummus as a spread or dip rather than highly processed mayonnaise.
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Experiment and get creative in the kitchen. Make it a goal to try new and different foods, giving yourself permission to be patient and flexible. It takes time to adapt to new and different tastes and textures. Don’t worry if something isn’t an instant “like.” It may surprise you later on to develop a craving for healthier versions of foods you once liked.
Feeling empowered about your nutritional options leads to making healthier choices rather than leaving you to feel limited or deprived. The goal is to do your best to replace highly processed and empty-nutrient foods with whole food choices that are as close to nature as possible. There’s no hard and fast rule about this.
When it comes to feeding ourselves well, taking steps toward better health is the important part – not the “exactness” of it all.
The Fibromyalgia Diet – What Not To Eat
Phrases such as “shouldn’t have” and “can’t have” are not typically helpful when making nutritional changes. They imply a sense of helplessness and submission to your health concerns. It’s far more empowering to intentionally make healthy food choices based on your knowledge and understanding of what foods feed your body the best.
When I first began my nutritional healing journey, I put dairy on the top of my no-no list since I knew it gave me intestinal trouble. Once I made it an official “can’t have” item, I began to notice intense cravings for ice cream, cottage cheese, and quesadillas. When I gave in to the cravings, I suffered terribly (there was no ambiguity about the physical side-effects). When I held firm to my belief that I “couldn’t” have it, dairy was all I thought about. It was only after doing more research and learning how the lactose intolerance issue was affecting my health that I made the educated choice to give it up.
I’ve learned that I have more success when I decide to remove something from my nutritional plan rather than feeling that I have to.
My experience with dairy just happens to be one example, but I’ve seen this same scenario play out with my clients. The ones who are very regimented with themselves about what they “can” and “can’t” have often experience significant cravings.
Remember that nothing makes us crave something more than the forbidden nature of it.
Instead of thinking in terms of limitations, simply focus on doing the best that you can, most of the time.
The following chart shows a basic list of foods that may be problematic for you. Whether they trigger an intolerance or sensitivity response, it’s important to note their potential negative impact on your overall health.
After consuming any of the following foods, you may wish to track any subsequent symptoms that arise. Pay attention to how you feel immediately after your meal as well as any symptoms that occur even several hours later. Track a variety of symptoms such as overall pain, fatigue, cognitive function, itchiness, runny nose or eyes, joint stiffness, and digestive dysfunction. Also track any disturbances you may notice regarding your ability (or inability) to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Try – as best you can – to assess the foods individually. This is known as the “Elimination Diet,” and I’ve listed some fundamental foods here, but you may wish to add to this list as you feel necessary to find out which foods are problematic for you.
2 – 4 Hours
|Corn (and likely other grains)|
|Nuts (peanuts and tree nuts|
containing sweeteners as well as Splenda)
Veggies (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, peppers)
A note about wheat and gluten: This is probably the most talked about problem food related to fibromyalgia and autoimmune conditions. The connections to inflammation and cognitive impairment alone make it a top suspect for triggering symptoms. There are multiple ways of “going gluten-free,” and while selecting foods from the gluten-free grocery store aisles may seem a quick solution, you may not find the symptom relief you desire. It’s unfortunate, but many packaged gluten-free foods simply substitute a host of other artificial ingredients for the gluten.
As always, read labels and select the highest quality foods with as few ingredients as possible. Even better? Select foods that have always been gluten-free (i.e. visit your store’s produce department). Of course, always make the best choices that you can while working within your personal budget. (See “How to Eat Healthy on a Limited Budget”)
This article, originally published on August 28, 2013, was updated on May 25, 2019.
Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.
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