A History of Anorexia Makes Following Fibromyalgia Food Advice a Challenge
As someone who has lived with experience with anorexia nervosa, I dislike the terms “good” and “bad” when it comes to talking about food. I’ll bring this up a few times today, and if you're interested in further reading, you can check out my book, Ana, Mia & Me: an eating disorder recovery memoir.
However, I can’t deny that food and nutrition play a critical role in health management, and that that creates certain categories by which we as chronically ill persons come to understand food choices. I didn’t need stats or pie charts to prove it, either. I can feel it. Many of us with fibromyalgia have food intolerances, sensitivities, or necessary restrictions or at least limitations. I know when my body is feeling “good” or “bad” based on what I’ve consumed, but again, that doesn’t make those good or bad foods. It makes them choices within context. Side note: If you are a loved one of someone with fibromyalgia and you’re here to learn more. Thank you! The world needs more of you. Please know, though, that whenever I mention something like eating and then“not feeling good,” it is not the standard, “Ugh, I ate too much and am tired and sluggish feeling,” or “I’m coming down from a sugar high.” It’s that, PLUS fibromyalgia-related reactions/symptoms. These vary from person-to-person and also depend on any other cooccurring illnesses. /
So while yesterday I mentioned we’d talk about bad habits in this Sunday morning blog post…I want to reframe it so the word “bad” is removed. Heck, we're not even taking about habits. We're talking about choices. There are no bad foods. There are no good foods. I know, this goes against any diet rhetoric you’ve probably seen slathered throughout society. But hear me out.
When we think about external things like food in terms of personal worth (good people eat good food and look good because of it and therefore deserve good things - type of ignorant thinking), we reduce our humanity to what’s in our fridge, on our plates, and in our digestive tracts. Despite what capitalism would have us believe, our food choices do not equate our personal worth. Someone eating an organic, free-range and grass-fed, humanely-slaughtered animal served with homegrown organic microgreens, real raw nuts, and fresh avocados is not inherently better than the person in the drive-thru lineup or sitting outside on the curb. And thinking otherwise is a dangerous game. Unfortunately, it plays out too often - both within and without the chronic illness community.
I could go into this topic for hours on its own, but in an effort to keep my daily writing goals, I have to stick to the assigned topic at hand. #spoons
Here are the following “bad” edible items people with fibromyalgia are told to avoid to improve their overall life quality (ie. reduce pain, improve sleep, maintain moods). Please note this list comes from both personal research, lived experience in the community, and from both naturopathic doctors and my previous rheumatologist. Did I mention all the unsolicited advice?
You can google “fibromyalgia and food” and find endless rabbit holes to run through, too.
The Shortlist of Foods to Avoid with Fibro
FYI I am currently drinking my morning espresso with dairy-free full sugar vanilla creamer as I work right now. It’s 9am. I will be getting another. It’s Sunday. AVOID
all sources of caffeine - this includes chocolate and chocolate desserts, teas, sodas, energy drinks, and any coffee-based beverage
sugar and its artificial counterparts - this includes everything from aspartame on one end to raw cane sugar on the other
gluten - this includes oats, pastas, breads, pastries, and wraps
dairy - this includes cheese, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, and milk
processed foods - this includes everything from potato chips and granola bars to organic canned soups and sauces
processed meats - this includes turkey and other lunch meats, pepperoni, burgers and hot dogs, and bacon
anything that comes in plastic - this includes pre-made to-go meals from natural markets
MSG - this includes soups and restaurant items
alcohol - this includes beer, wine, and spirits
simple carbohydrates - this includes white flour-based items like buns snack items or baked goods with added sugars, fruit juice concentrates, syrups, and many cereals
yeast - this is found in breads, baked goods, and beer
nightshade plants including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant.
fried foods and fast foods are also out
So…let’s break this down blog-style.
Many of the above foods, like sugar, can contribute to increased levels of inflammation in the body (not what we want when we’re already in pain and our nervous system is already on overdrive). Fair.
In fact, I can confidently say we would all be better off with lower levels of sugar in our diets. I've known this since reading Suicide by Sugar in 2008. This isn’t a controversial idea, it’s just challenging to achieve in modern society where the food industry is pumping what was once food full of sugar, fat, and salt to make it more appealing… but I digress. You can read more about that in this article I wrote for Healthline regarding obesity and COVID-19: Will COVID-19 Finally Get Us to Take Our Diets Seriously?
Pandemic or not, I have never been able to remove all the suggested foods from my diet at once. I have, however, over the last decade and a half, been vegetarian, vegan, raw-vegan, gluten-free, and pescatarian. I have gone through long periods of not consuming coffee, alcohol, or processed food.
Like so many other people in this big world, I have often struggled to stick with a list of appropriate foods, have the energy and funds to make a permanent change, and stay on course without it manifesting into something by which value is judged.
After all, if we can reduce our pain with "proper" diet, the failure to do so is a personal one. At this point, we won't even look toward researchers for more answers for we will already know what we've been stigmatized into believing before, this is our fault. Not fixing it is our fault. This is where a past history with anorexia can really begin to rear its ugly head in the self-blame and stigma cycle.
This is where the food guilt comes flooding back in, leading to personal evaluation, almost the same as when I was a calorie-counting, exercise-obsessing teen. Now, I know this list is meant to help me. It is not meant to define me. I know this. The power of list does not exist without my relation to it...
Tell that to the person who has breakfast with friends and ends up in a multi-day flare. (More on what the word “flare” means tomorrow.)
Explain that a vegan menu isn’t enough. That potatoes and tomatoes are not recommended because they are nightshades and nightshades...
Tell that to your 23-year-old who has a casual couple of beers and orders from a pub menu and ends up saying they have a “hangover,” but really, it’s a flare. Really, they can handle their alcohol quite well.
I didn’t actually intend to talk about anorexia today, and that’s the small pleasure of being in charge of my own blog. You see, for anyone who has had or has disordered eating, managing another illness that requires food scrutiny is overwhelming to the point where it becomes so easy to let a lot slide in efforts to remain remised from Ana. It feels like a necessary trade-off, but I am tired of making deals. Every time I begin to explain why I shouldn’t (eat this or do that), I feel that restrictive voice creeping in and taking control. I see my loved ones try to understand these fibromyalgia lifestyle guidelines have nothing to do with dieting - they have to do with physical and mental pain - but sometimes it gets confusing for me, too. After all, food impacts our energy and pain levels and this impacts productivity and productivity impacts the output by which we are told to measure our worth.
The truth is, we may feel we have to explain our choices to others, when we don't. Our loved ones will give the support when they see us living our best lives - no matter what that means we are putting on our plates.
For anyone reading this who has fibromyalgia and food guilt or is in remission, recovering, or in the throes of an eating disorder, for anyone managing multiple intersecting illnesses at once, you are doing the best you can with what you have today. Please be gentle with yourself and know that we all struggle with doing what is healthiest. We all have a different requirement for being our healthiest, too. We do not need to explain, less we want to.
We all have to make choices and some are easier than others but they all become simple when we put our holistic health as priority and leave guilt alone.