Our relationship with food seems like a rewarding one and, if you are anything like me, you will love your food and find it oh so very enjoyable. Unfortunately, despite what we are often told, our modern diet isn’t necessarily a very healthy one; especially when you throw chronic illness into the mix.
I think deep down a lot of us know this, but food is often the one thing those of us suffering from chronic illness cling on to and hold tightly. We don’t want to change how we eat because chronic illness has already stolen so much from us. If we have given up so much already, why should we have to change how we eat too?
Personally, I found myself rationalising that I was going to enjoy eating whatever the hell I wanted. I felt like I ate more or less healthily and I didn’t want to see that what I ate could be contributing to my problems. Part of the reason was what I just said above; I felt like my illness had already taken so much away from me. And another part was because I felt like food was something I could control.
Chronic illness is often unpredictable in nature. I can’t guarantee that I will be well enough to do certain things and I hate this. Food felt like the consistent thing in my life that I enjoyed and actually had control over. Sounds silly but it’s how I felt.
Then I hit rock bottom. My illness got progressively worse and left me pretty much bed bound most of the time. No one seemed to have any answers on how I could get better. Desperate to improve, I took a leap of faith and began to follow the protocol set out in the book “Suffered Long Enough”. I knew that, to get full benefit from the protocol, I had to be fully invested. This meant letting go of my food attachments and overhauling how I ate.
I then subsequently started the Vital Plan Restore program, which set out the protocol in the book in an easy to follow format with help and support added in too. I wish I could report back and say it didn’t help or that I found a way to improve my health while clinging onto all those comfort foods I used to eat. But I can’t. Instead, I found my new approach to eating made a positive impact on how I felt.
To be completely honest with you, I didn’t expect this to happen. I have previously toyed around with diet changes and didn’t feel like it helped much. I was vegan for a few years (this was before my diagnosis when I knew something was up but I wasn’t quite sure what). And at one point I stopped eating wheat products for a month.
I even went a step further and cut out gluten, wheat, fried foods and sugar for 2 months on advice from a nutritional therapist. I’ll admit that my heart wasn’t in it though and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, with hindsight I continued to make poor choices. I swapped processed wheat products for processed gluten-free alternatives. I thought this was healthy but the truth was my body couldn’t handle those processed foods either.
This time around I invested 100% in an elimination diet and I believe these changes, along with the herbal therapies, made a significant difference. For me, I learned that I had issues with processed foods, dairy, wheat and refined sugar. Removing these from my diet lowered my pain levels and reduced symptoms such as nausea and bloating. I have spoken to other people with fibromyalgia who have reported the same.
My whole view of and relationship with food has changed now. When thinking about what I put into my body, I no longer think about my own greed and pleasure. I think about what will nourish my body. And I’ve found out that this doesn’t need to mean eating bland or boring food. There are loads of delicious recipes that are incredibly satisfying.
I’m going to hold my hands up and say that I am only human and therefore not perfect (though I have to say this is just a figure of speech and I don’t believe the aim here is perfection, more it’s about what helps me to feel as well as possible). However, I now notice a huge difference in how I feel if I eat something that I have been avoiding.
Foods that agrees well with me leaves me feeling as good as I did before I ate or better. Eating foods that don’t, leave me feeling groggy, drained and can increase my pain.
I think it’s important to say that I don’t believe food is a miracle cure. And it should not be a replacement for proven treatments and therapies. But it’s interesting to note the impact that food has on how I physically feel. Even though I felt like I was eating healthily before, because I had intolerances I wasn’t aware of, what I ate contributed to my problems.
I do think that food intolerances are commonplace in people with fibromyalgia, especially given that there are many digestive symptoms with the condition. However, it’s worth taking into consideration that these can be varied and complex. What works for one, may not necessarily work for another. It’s probably why some people claim being gluten-free helps, while others claim it doesn’t.
This is why I personally value the Restore program. It guided me through the process of an elimination diet easily and I had a support team (that includes a medical doctor) on hand to answer questions. Doing it on my own would have felt more daunting and challenging.
Overall, I’d say I’m a hell of a lot better than I was just two months ago and setbacks, though they have happened, are not as severe as they used to be. Funnily enough, setbacks are often when people begin to struggle with lifestyle changes, myself included. We want to immediately say, “it’s not working because my pain and fatigue are worse again,”and fall back into old habits.
However, it is worth sticking with it and riding out the storm. During those difficult times, I try to focus on the fact that I know it will eventually pass. I rely on support from others too. My family are great at keeping me on track and having the Vital Plan team there as additional support has also been helpful.
Although every now and again I wish I could eat whatever I wanted without repercussions, the truth is, I’m glad I have been able to give up my food attachments. I have found a way to enjoy food that also benefits my health. I therefore challenge you to think about your own relationship with food. Is it serving you? Or is it potentially causing problems?
I would love to hear if you have found improvements through diet changes in the comments below. Also, if you have any favourite recipes I’d love to hear about them too.