We all have had the occasional aches and soreness from doing a heavy workout or having a crazy, busy day. Nevertheless, what would it be like to wake up in the morning with the same amount of pain from an average day? Those with fibromyalgia have a pretty good idea. They also know that finding the best diet for fibromyalgia can go some of the way towards helping them find relief.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal condition. It causes localized or widespread muscle and joint pain in various places throughout the body. It mostly affects women. Those who have it experience tender points throughout the body. These are specifically in the neck, back, and arms. They hurt when pressure is applied. This condition usually develops in cycles and, because fibromyalgia has no unique indicators, it is difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms that are typically experienced by those with fibromyalgia include the following.
- Chronic pain in muscles and joints that can be described as shooting pain or deep muscular aches and throbbing. This pain is generally worst in the early day and can include other neurological issues, such as numbness and burning.
- Fatigue is common in many illnesses, but is particularly prevalent in those with fibromyalgia. It can lead to very low stamina and complete exhaustion after a busy day. This is due in part to the effects fibro has on the brain, which interferes with the brain’s deep sleep activities.
- Mood disorders like anxiety and depression are also common in those with fibromyalgia.
- Other symptoms include irritable bowel and bladder, muscle spasms, poor balance, and restless leg syndrome.
You can learn more about this pain condition in the following video.
According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, at least ten million people in the United States are diagnosed with this disorder. While many people are thought to be affected, researchers have yet to identify the exact cause, which makes treatment more problematic.
Drugs are often used to ease the pain of fibro, but they are not the only option. There are alternatives ways to fight back, including by adopting a fibromyalgia diet.
What is the best diet for fibromyalgia?
There are a ton of options when it comes to treating fibromyalgia through lifestyle changes. A big part includes your diet, so make sure to discuss with your doctor what the best options are for you and your lifestyle. Here are some health tips to better control your chronic pain and help you maintain a healthy body and an active life.
1. Be mindful and control what you eat
A lot of pain management comes down to realizing what foods aggravate your fibromyalgia symptoms. If you find a pattern that every time you eat a certain food you are in pain, try cutting it out of your diet for a short while to see if it is the culprit. A great tool to use with this is a food diary that allows you to track what you eat and how it makes you feel.
Start by recognizing how you feel after you eat something. You can design a trial by error test to develop a menu that makes you feel better and still hits all the important nutrition points. Keep a journal in a pain management app to record how you feel physically and mentally after each meal. If you begin to notice patterns when you eat certain foods, you may wish to eliminate that food from your diet. It’s a process, but it can lead to finding the best diet for fibromyalgia for you.
Pro tip: it is always a good idea to limit your caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food intake as they can set off a new cycle of symptoms.
2. Consider going gluten free
A lot of physicians suggest going gluten free as a way to relieve inflammation in the body. Removing it from the diet can lead to overall reduced pain and achy joints. There are mixed reviews on whether gluten really can cause such issues, but there is anecdotal evidence that suggests that those with fibromyalgia are more likely to have food allergies and, therefore, gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease, a high gluten intolerance, also causes similar symptoms as fibro including:
- Joint pain
- Muscle soreness
- Irritable bowel disease
3. To paleo or not to paleo?
Is paleo a good option for a fibromyalgia diet? The paleo diet focuses on eating foods that are low in carbs and have been processed as little as possible. This includes things like meat, berries, vegetables, and nuts. But, will eating a paleo diet help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Since fibromyalgia is a disease of inflammation, a paleo diet works best if you focus on those foods that are high in anti-inflammatory properties. This includes things like fish and avocadoes that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is proven to fight inflammation. The added benefit to this switch is that omega-3s have been shown to provide a whole slew of other benefits as well.
Everyone reacts differently to a diet change, so it is best to wait a few months to notice a difference. You should also make sure you reach out to your physician to make sure that the changes you want to make are the right choice for you.
4. Avoid these foods
Making the right food choices may be an excellent way to help combat symptoms. Foods can appear on both ends of the spectrum: those that help, and those that harm. There may not be a lot of hard science behind the choices for foods, but even doctors recognize that anecdotal evidence from patients who have experienced various levels of relief is a move in the right direction.
Some foods cause inflammation and can increase pain. They include:
- Aspartame: There has long been controversy about artificial sweeteners and whether they help or hurt. Artificial sweeteners have a different effect on the brain and may open pain receptors that are already overactive due to fibromyalgia pain.
- MSG: Like aspartame, the use of MSGs in foods has been the subject of many health debates. MSG stands for monosodium glutamate which is a “flavor enhancer” used in a number of frozen foods. MSGs exacerbate many of the common fibromyalgia symptoms. The same is true for nitrates, an additive in many prepackaged deli meats.
- Caffeine: While caffeine is a common ingredient in many pain medications, it can also magnify the fatigue common for patients with fibromyalgia. The short-term boost of energy provided by caffeine drinks is short-lived and the crash is hard.
- Gluten: Sensitivity to gluten, such as in Celiac’s disease, causes major problems with digestion. Since fibromyalgia is associated with similar symptoms it may be a smart idea to limit or eliminate gluten from the diet.
- Nightshade plants: Hearing the word “nightshade” conjures up images of poisoned potions and Halloween witches. Not all nightshade is deadly, however. Did you know that potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants are all part of the nightshade family? It isn’t understood exactly why but many fibromyalgia pain patients who cut out these foods saw an improvement in their condition.
5. Get more of these into your fibro diet
On the flipside, there are many foods that can be quite helpful in alleviating the pain caused by fibromyalgia. They form the backbone of the best diet for fibromyalgia. These foods include:
- Vitamin D: A deficiency in this vitamin can actually mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many adults already don’t get enough vitamin D so taking a supplement or eating foods rich in this nutrient is an added bonus for someone with fibromyalgia pain.
- Fish: Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in the muscles and tissues affected by fibromyalgia pain. Adding these fish to your diet is a great way to add this nutrient. You may also take a supplement.
- Fruits and vegetables: The most important component when it comes to the consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables is to restore the body’s antioxidants which control the free radicals in the system. Some professionals suggest that a vegan diet may be the best solution for someone with fibromyalgia pain but if it is too difficult to stick to a restricted diet like that, simply adding in more fruits and vegetables will still be beneficial.
- Lean protein: Protein is the building block of our muscles and it is a necessary nutrient for maintaining a healthy body. By adding in the right proteins like lean meats, legumes, and other protein rich foods it can help boost your health overall.
What else can you do?
The best diet for fibromyalgia won’t work if it isn’t paired with other lifestyle strategies for managing pain.
1. Exercise and lots of rest
Exercise, combined with rest, will help most people live a healthier life. Exercise is shown to be second only to pain meds in its ability to relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Try some light aerobics first, like walking around the block to get your heart rate going. It is always a good idea to start slow and work your way up.
Sleepless nights are also fairly common for those who suffer through fibromyalgia. To get more restful nights, the National Pain Foundation and the National Sleep Foundation recommend:
- Keeping to a sleep schedule
- Sleeping in a cool room
- Cutting out caffeine and alcohol in the evenings
- Finding a soothing activity to do before bedtime
2. Reduce stress
Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. It is, however, an important step in managing pain. Take 15 minutes each day to practice your stress coping strategies. It can have a big impact on fibromyalgia flare-ups and other emotional conditions. To work on your stress:
- Write down what is bothering you and why you feel that way.
- Try meditation and breathing techniques as they can help you focus on the now. Yoga is always a great option to add to your exercise routine.
- Join a support group. A lot of stress comes from feeling alone and helpless, so take the first step in finding a caring community that understands. The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association provides a great resource for just such a thing.
- Learn to say no. If you don’t set personal limits, it is easy to become overwhelmed with too many demands. Remember: it is okay to say no and practice self-care.
What will work for me?
Because researchers still don’t understand the underlying cause of the condition, most medical science is only able to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia. This can lead to a disconnect between the body wellness and mental well-being of individuals suffering from this kind of pain.
Depression and anxiety can exacerbate the pain and make living with fibromyalgia even harder than it already is. Treating the whole patient and their mind, body, and spirit can help someone better cope with the effects of fibromyalgia pain. This is why the best diet for fibromyalgia pain can aid in your overall treatment and help your quality of life.
Changing your diet too drastically and too quickly can also have adverse effects. It can be difficult to stay on track when making big changes as well. Instead, consult a pain specialist or holistic health counselor to find the best diet for fibromyalgia for you. Also, bring your pain journal or diary. This can help provide detailed information to a nutrition expert to help you plan better meals and help fight the effects of fibromyalgia pain.
Finally, always remember that a holistic approach to treating fibromyalgia pain may involve a number of therapies and treatments. The best diet for fibromyalgia should be used in conjunction with medical treatments to help relieve your day-to-day symptoms.
To get a diagnosis for fibromyalgia, and to learn about treatments that could work for you, find a pain specialist in your area today!