When Food Is Not Medicine (from FibroHaven)

There is some debate among patients of chronic illness whether nutrition is a contributing factor to our illness. I can only speak to my truth on this matter, and for myself it is an emphatic yes.

When I think back to the days after both traumas – the first that triggered my fibromyalgia and the second that exacerbated my symptoms – I clearly see that my eating behaviors contributed to my dis-ease.

Before the first head trauma I had what I consider healthy eating habits. But as soon as I became couch-ridden, trying to recover my ability to speak coherently, I turned to food as a source of comfort. I jokingly say now that I was “medicating myself with mashed potatoes.” But really, it was the truth. Overnight I lost – was forced to give up – so much of my life as I knew it, but the one thing I could still do and not cause myself more pain or distress was to eat.

Eating became the one thing I still had control over.

Food became my comfort, and in a way gave me a sense of empowerment during a very vulnerable period of my life.

Eventually I made my way off the couch and back out into the real world, but with each flare I returned to this behavior. “Can I get you a glass of water?” my husband would ask me trying to help. “Yes.” I would reply, “And some potato chips.” Flare after flare, this was the pattern. At the time I did not make the connection, but with time and healing, it is painfully clear to me now.

No longer was I nourishing myself with foods that sustained me, instead I was stuffing myself with foods that depleted me. My new eating behavior did not cause me to develop fibromyalgia, but it did contribute to my overall pain, fatigue, and mental fog. It did prolong my flares, and it most likely is going to make my recovery more difficult. I actually was causing myself more pain and distress without realizing it.

But I forgive myself this lapse in food judgement.

My mashed potatoes and potato chips actually did bring me comfort on some very dark days. Would I ever go back and deny myself that comfort? No. But I would share some of my new wisdom with that me, and love her and forgive her if she was not ready to hear it.

Food matters.

And it wasn’t until my 13th year of illness that I started to acknowledge how much food matters. When a very wise doctor recommended I would feel better if I eliminated gluten from my diet, I walked out of his office and that day became gluten-free. I was ready for the change. I was strong enough that I could let go of my attachment to food as comfort. And he was right. Within three short days I was feeling better!

The pain in my hands that had me convinced I was developing arthritis was gone! The debilitating head and neck aches I regularly suffered – never noticing that they occurred most often after mealtime – happened with less and less frequency. My hair stopped falling out!

So, if eliminating gluten could improve my health so much, isn’t it worth considering how other foods I eat are affecting me? And so the shift in me happened. And today I can happily say I have cut back on or eliminated many foods that deplete me and complicate my health – gluten, processed foods, fried foods, sugar.

I am nowhere near a saint, and I do still enjoy my comfort foods. In fact the other night I made mashed potato for dinner. But instead of butter and milk, I use greek yogurt to thin them out. And instead of pan-fried pork chops to accompany them, I grilled vegetables. And instead of needing the mashed potatoes to comfort and sooth me, they were just a tasty part of my meal.

So when someone asks me if curing fibromyalgia is a simple as good nutrition I say absolutely – No.

Fibromyalgia is a neurological disorder, and there are many component of FM that nutrition will not address, but good nutrition can help improve many of the symptoms that are a part of fibromyalgia – poor sleep, fibro-fog, IBS, fatigue. It is not a cure. Currently there is no cure. But if good nutrition can reduce some of your symptoms and improve your quality of life 15, 20, 30 percent, then isn’t it worth a consideration?


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Fibromyalgia is a prevalent condition that affects many people in the United States. Approximately 3.7 million Americans have Fibromyalgia. That is 1 in every 73 people.

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