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Balanced Eating with Chronic Pain


So you’ve been told to “eat healthy” to reduce your symptoms…


But what does that mean? Like most topics in the chronic illness world, very little is straightforward.


Even after spending many years in the food & nutrition industry, this chronic pain warrior admits that choosing foods to nourish my body and improve symptoms can be overwhelming.


The key to good nutrition comes down to balanced eating and finding the right combination of foods to fuel your body.


Are you puzzled about what to eat? As a nutrition professional and fibromyalgia warrior, I thought I would piece the balanced eating puzzle together and give you a better picture of what to eat.


There are many factors to consider as you focus on eating a balanced diet with wholesome foods to nourish your cells. In addition to time, budget, food preferences, and intolerances, it is crucial to consider medications, comorbidities (two or more medical conditions in a person), and blood sugar management.


What is balanced eating?

With so many diet choices, where do people with fibromyalgia start? Keep it simple – balanced eating doesn't have to be complicated!

  • Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains

  • Limit saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt

  • Drink plenty of water; limit caffeinated and alcoholic beverages

Eating well means eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs. These nutrients include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.


Are you with me so far? Let's break it down even more.


Fibromyalgia is characterized by abnormal pain processing within the central nervous system, which includes the brain. This is also called “central sensitization” as the nervous system has become more sensitive and overactive. In layman's terms, central sensitization is when the nervous system is on high alert even when there is no danger present. Since fibromyalgia is a central nervous system disorder, it makes sense to nourish the central nervous system and the brain.


How do I feed my central nervous system and brain?

To function optimally, our bodies need:

  • A steady supply of glucose from lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to sustain energy levels

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which can impact brain health and central nervous system functioning

  • Essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids needed for the production of neurochemicals

  • Antioxidants needed for repair

  • Hydration

Protein keeps our immune systems in tip-top shape, keeps us full after a meal, allows us to absorb minerals for bone density, and provides the amino acid building blocks of many critical neurotransmitters. Protein helps our bodies stay strong.

Food sources: Fish, skinless poultry, lean beef and pork, eggs, beans, lentils, soy, and nuts.


Healthy fats help reduce the growth of some fungal pathogens in the gut and are beneficial for the immune system and inflammatory responses. Omega-3 fatty acids found in plant-based oils, nuts, and fatty fish reduce inflammation. Fish contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are associated with improved cognitive function.

Food sources: Salmon, trout, tuna, almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds


Complex carbohydrates found in whole foods act as a slow-release of energy. These unrefined carbs from nature include plenty of fiber and proteins, meaning our bodies take longer to convert them into glucose. Complex carbs support balanced blood sugar, which gives you sustained energy long after you have eaten. Stable blood sugar levels will also help reduce high-sugar cravings.

Food sources:

  • Whole fruits (contain the perfect balance of sugar and fiber to protect against blood sugar spikes)

  • Vegetables (dark leafy greens, squash, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips)

  • Whole Grains (oats, quinoa, brown rice)

  • Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans)

The immune system plays a major role in many debilitating chronic pain conditions. A variety of vitamins and minerals are important to incorporate into your balanced eating plan.


Essential fat-soluble antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E support various cellular functions of our immune system, reduce oxidative stress in cells, and prevent cell damage.


What other vitamins and minerals are significant?

Vitamin B is essential in synthesizing and circulating neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that regulate heartbeat, respiration, and digestion.

Magnesium is critical in the nervous system for optimal nerve transmission and neuromuscular coordination. Emerging data suggests magnesium can help with chronic pain and anxiety.

Zinc is an essential mineral critical for immune function and cell survival and function.


Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Proper hydration affects the health of your muscles, joints, heart, skin, and even your brain, and without it, your body begins to shut down. Water regulates your body temperature, cushions your joints, transports oxygen and nutrients, and removes waste in your body.


You can make water more appealing by infusing it with lemon, lime, strawberry slices, or other fruits. If you would like to add variety to your hydration choices, check out other beverage options to help prevent dehydration.

Many fibromyalgia fighters have sensitivities to gluten, dairy, and nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, bell pepper, and potatoes. If you suspect a sensitivity to these foods, it is recommended to discuss a food elimination with your healthcare provider.


Nourishing your body with the right combination of food choices unique to you will allow you to have increased energy, less stress, and happy cells. Let go of the idea of "bad" and "good" foods and pay attention to how the food you consume impacts the way you feel. We all have days when we eat things that lack the nutrients our bodies need. Focus on building balanced eating habits and incorporating "feel good" foods one day at a time.


Need a handy list of fibro-friendly foods?

Look no further – we created this straightforward cheat sheet just for you (and your refrigerator)! Check out our Fibro Food Cheat Sheet - you will want to keep it handy!

 

Disclaimer

Fibromyalgia is not a "one size fits all" diagnosis. What works for some doesn't work for others. The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Should you have any health-related questions, please consult your physician or other health care provider promptly.

 

Teresa is a certified dietary manager, wellness coach, fellow fibromyalgia warrior, and co-founder of Fight Against Fibro. We're on a mission for a life with less stress and more energy.

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