FMS | Please, Tell Me What I Can Eat….

Seriously. 😉

If you are like me and have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia as well as other comorbid illnesses, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Reynaud’s syndrome, then your relationship with food might be a complex one–and that probably is an understatement.

Eating the wrong foods or food combinations can mean more inflammation, pain, digestive issues, insomnia, fatigue, hair loss and gain (facial), decreased libido, mood swings, etc. And who wants more of that?

Especially, if you have comorbid diagnoses, you may find that the food recommended for one illness, may be discouraged for another illness. Sometimes it feels like a lose-lose battle.

Still, we must not despair. There is always a path to healthier and active living, if we choose to seek it.

For me, I live be a golden rule when it comes to living in my body.  I think of my body like any vehicle that I would drive. It is my personal vehicle, and so this rule applies:

Food is the Fuel

Exercise is the Engine

As long as the combination of those two factors is balanced, then I feel at peace with my choices. Whereas exercise may be limited to what my body can do at any given time and may not be a daily experience (although I try to make it so), food is something that I ought to consume daily for basic functioning and overall well-being.

However, food, the fuel that our bodies need to sustain us, is one aspect of self-care that can create havoc, for people with fibromyalgia, in our otherwise solid treatment plans.

Over the last six years, I have undertaken the task of discovering what foods my body can tolerate.  Perhaps this task is a leftover from my days as a personal trainer/fitness instructor or maybe it’s just that I want to feel the best I can every day. Whatever the case, I have been experimenting with foods in order to find a FMS+ plan that is nutritionally sound and interesting.

Here is what I’ve discovered about my body:

Foods it Likes

(Tolerates…because I can’t really say that I, personally, enjoy all of these foods):

  • Leafy Greens – Bring on the lettuce, cabbage, endive, etc.  I cannot express to you how much I detest endive…but I live in Italy and am a bit lazy with food preparation, so endive is bound to be present in the bagged salads that I buy.  Oh well.
  • Water – Natural. Okay, this may seem a bit strange, but it is my reality.  My body loves water in its most natural state, not effervescent (fizzy). There is little else beyond water that my body can handle as a liquid. It’s simply not on.
  • Fruits – The crunchy kinds.  Any kind of fruit that has a crunch to it, my body seems to appreciate more than fruits that could be considered juicy (or very ripened).  So, that leaves me with pears, nectarines, apples, etc. HOWEVER, I have learned that I can only eat these in moderation or, at least, rotate them out. I can also eat bananas, mangoes, susine gialle (I don’t know the English name), and grapefruits, but even more infrequently.
  • Nuts & Dried Fruits – Don’t get too excited.  I can eat two things from this category fairly often, but still I understand that I need to keep them in moderate amounts: peanuts & dried cranberries. That’s it. Sometimes, I can have almonds, but not as often.
  • Eggs –  Although I am not a fan, I can eat them and do.  I, however, rotate them in my diet, because I am not partial to the taste.
  • Seafood – Yes, I can eat seafood BUT not all. My body, for whatever reason, cannot handle frequent consumption of  certain fish, such as salmon and tuna.  Shellfish, however, gets a green light.
  • Yoghurt – Notice, I didn’t write milk.  I can eat all yoghurt (as far as I know).  I feel best, however, when I eat Greek yoghurt, which I eat frequently and often in combination with my nuts and dried fruits–it’s my little treat.
  • Gelato – Not often, but I can eat gelato.  I don’t know about ice-cream. Also, I have to stick with plain flavours. Ideally, the gelato should be gluten-free (gluten is sometimes used as a thickener).  So, nothing with cereals or candies, etc.
  • Chocolate (dark or white) – Again, not often, but I can eat chocolate every now and again.  Like gelato, should be ideally gluten-free and it cannot contain any kind of cereals and is best without dried fruits (which is often raisins, which I cannot eat).
  • Diet Soda Ideally, caffeine-free. Looking to spice things up liquid-wise?  Well, I can have diet soda fairly regularly, BUT because of my IBS, I understand that I need to limit my consumption.
  • Other vegetables – Mushrooms, olives, cucumbers, zucchini, garlic, onion, leeks, chives, scallions.  All of those get the green light.
  • Oils & other fats – I cook with olive oil. Period.  I do have butter in my refrigerator, but use it infrequently.
  • Seasonings – Well, most, as far as I know.  I tend not to season my foods, except with curry, black pepper, powdered/liquid garlic, rosemary, thyme or pimento.  And even these are used sparingly.
  • Gluten-free Products – WAIT…Please, don’t get excited, I can eat gluten-free cookies/biscuits…but not all, and it’s sort of a game of roulette.  I never know how my body will react to things.  Also, even though I have been able to eat these things, doesn’t mean that I think that it is good for me.  So, only when I am having a particular craving will I make the effort to purchase these.  They can also be great for making the crust of a low-carb/gluten-free cheesecake.
  • Cheeses – Apparently, I can whatever cheeses are available, but in severe moderation. 🙂 I am partial to softer cheeses, such as brie or cream cheese (which I use to make my low-carb/gluten-free cheesecake).
  • Fake Sugars – Yes, I can use them and do to add flavour to my cooking or sometimes to my water.  Fake sugars, however, are tricky and it is important to understand which ones work for you and which don’t.  My body, for example, cannot tolerate sugar alcohols in any form, whether as a sweetener or in the presence of a food (including gum and mint).

Okay, so those are the major (if not complete list of) items that I can eat.

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What I Choose Not To Eat…

The list of items that I ought not to eat is very long.  Notice that I write ought not to eat.

This is because I can eat them, but there will be repercussions.  As long as I am willing to accept the repercussions (major IBS symptoms, random/sudden weight gain, increased pain and fatigue, migraines, increased insomnia), then I’m good to go. 😉

So, what I do I choose not to eat?  Well, I’ll give you general categories:

I discovered how bad it was for me just the other day.  Recently, I bought a bag of gluten-free flour, thinking that I would make myself some awesome Jamaican boiled dumplings. Well…the experience left me in misery.  Sure the dumplings tasted good, but I felt almost as awful as I would have if I were to have used regular flour.  Why?

Well, the foundation of most gluten-free flour is grounded rice, potato starch, sugar, and even some finely grounded nuts, such as almonds.  Remember my list of foods that my body likes?  Well, there you go.  Of course, having spent close to 4 Euros on this bag of flour, I intend to use it all, but sparingly (it’s good until next year).

  • Nightshade vegetables & fruits As much as I love them.  I have said goodbye to tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant (mostly), peppers, and most berries (cranberry exception).  They cause/increase inflammation and possibly insomnia, so it’s just not on.
  • Citrus Fruits – High sugar content, acidic, and too much vitamin C.  Well, all of these things I can do without. I already take a daily supplement of vitamin C, so I can live without them. Of course, as mentioned above, every now and again, I can eat a grapefruit. 🙂
  • Caffeine-heavy products – So, that basically wipes out tea, coffee, sodas, and even chocolate. 🙂  Of course, anything can be consumed in moderate amounts.  Still, I do not drink coffee, and rarely tea or soda. Of course, I mentioned chocolate before.
  • Meats – Like grains. It’s simply not on.
  • Milk – I always find it strange that I can eat yoghurt, but not drink milk. Well, that’s the reality. I can, however, use heavy cream for cooking.
  • Nuts & dried fruits – Too much sugar, too challenging for the body to process. 
  • Alcohol – I’ve never been partial to drinking alcohol. That being stated, alcohol simply presents a challenge for many with FMS. Want to feel more tired? More nauseous? Less restful sleep? Then, drink alcohol. I’m good without it though.

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Other things of consumption to think about?

Well, if you smoke, STOP. Smoking increases pain severity.

Chewing gum? Pause. Check the sugar content. Your sugar intake may be having an adverse impact on your health.

Of course, the research on what foods actually help or hinder us is limited.  Each person is different. So, each of us must take responsibility for what we put into our bodies.  Don’t just read this blog or something else and say “Aha! Now I know what to eat!”

Don’t be lazy!

Instead, take this information and use it for your own research. As I mentioned before, it has taken me 6 years to sort this out for myself AND it is still an ongoing process, especially as my body grows older (as a woman, this presents certain nutritional and hormonal issues).

What I’ve come to understand is that, no matter what, I must love my body.

It’s become a mantra…

I must love my body, even when it isn’t doing what I want it to do, even when it isn’t looking the way I want it to look, even when it feels like a stranger to me.  I must love and care for it the best way that I can.

I must shut out the emotional voice of my body that sometimes longs for foods that are unwise for me to eat, and listen carefully to the wise voice of my body that reveals to me the foods that will help me heal and maintain balance.

Food is fuel for our bodies, not a crutch for our self-esteems.

The Take-Away?  Well, I try to follow two basic rules when shopping, especially when I am thinking to buy something new:

  • If the food can live on a shelf longer than one to two weeks, then I don’t buy it.
  • If the food is in a can, bottle, plastic package, then I hestitate to buy it and refer to the first rule.

 

Well, I’m off to the grocery store! Happy Sunday!

P.S. If weight is an issue for you and you are looking for a place to begin, or you are needing inspiration on your journey, then check out fitness motivation speaker and certified women’s fitness, weightloss, and nutrition trainer Erika Nicole Kendall‘s blog:  A Black Girl’s Guide To Weightloss.  Kendall’s blog covers a variety of topics, including fitness, body image, sex, culture, food recipes, and beauty.

The Next Step…

True life.

True life. (Photo credit: axiomphotog)

Some time ago, I wrote a post regarding a professor who asked me to do creative writing about my experience of having fibromyalgia (FMS).   It is true that I have written poetry that deals with the subject, and even began a somewhat semi-autobiographical novel some years ago.   Still, I remain uncertain of retaking such paths.  Instead I am now considering what it would be like to write about my process of change, i.e. change towards improving my life.

The reality of living with FMS can be one that is punctuated by a series of losses:  continuous loss of health, loss of self-perception, loss of self-esteem, loss of employment, loss of status, loss of friends, loss of family, loss of supports, etc.  The list could go on ad infinitum.

On a weekly basis, I take time to research the latest developments in the treatment of fibromyalgia.  Typically, the titles are filled with words such as “fight,” “battle,” or “war.”  Of course, I understand the desire to motivate those who are living with FMS by using such words.  Who amongst those of us with FMS, hasn’t felt as though fibromyalgia were waging war against our bodies, our minds, or even our very souls?

27/365: fractured reality/grace under pain

27/365: fractured reality/grace under pain (Photo credit: Samie Harding)

Still, why fight against?  Why scream a battle cry?  Why wage war?  For what purpose?  Our bodies are the spaces in which we exist daily.  Why should we be in conflict with it?

Mother Teresa said, “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.”  I am in agreement.

I choose never to be anti-fibromyalgia.  I choose, instead, to be at peace with fibromyalgia.  It is a part of who I am.  It is living within my body.  Thus, embracing, rather than rejecting it, is the obvious choice for me.  It is a matter of shifting one’s mindset.

So, what is this next step?  Beyond having shifted my mindset, I have decided to take the step that I have been utterly avoiding for a multitude of reasons.  I have decided to become vegan and live gluten-free (I am already vegetarian).  As some may know, animal bi-products as well as yeast and gluten can provoke digestive problems, especially for people with IBS, which many people with FMS experience.

End of Summer Still Life

End of Summer Still Life (Photo credit: mystuart)

Moreover, I am letting go of other foods that can create disharmony within me, such as nightshade fruits and vegetables that aggravate pain:  tomatoes, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), eggplant, and sweet and spicy peppers–yes, I know I am living in Italy. 🙂

Will this be challenging?  Perhaps.  Is it the right time?  Absolutely.

At the start of this post, I wrote that fibromyalgia can be about loss.  Well, that was my mindset about taking this next step.  I was focused on losing.

In my mind, all that I could see was that I would be losing, once again, more foods that I love (in this case:  milk, bread, and the above-mentioned fruits and vegetables).  Furthermore, the thought of having to “lose” certain foods felt too much like “dieting,” of which I am not a fan, i.e. unless absolutely necessary for medical reasons.

I could not see the gain.  I could not see the invitation for living a peaceful life with my body, and thus with fibromyalgia.

Yes, it is true that FMS can push one to leave behind old and unhealthy patterns, even places and people.  Yet still, it causes us to arrive at a new understanding of ourselves, learning and using new and healthier patterns, experiencing new internal and external places, and meet new people who can support us as we make our journey.

vegan food pyramid adapted from recommendation...

vegan food pyramid adapted from recommendations made in “A new food guide for North American vegetarians” (2003) from the American Dietetic Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am excited to have taken this next step, and am doing so with the help of The Vegan Society that offers a mentor for 30 days (The Vegan Pledge).  The next thirty days begin my journey towards a new way of eating and living.  Over those days, I will update as I can, including places in Rome and in the U.S. that are vegan and gluten-free friendly.

Cheer me on, as well as yourself and others, on taking another step towards living peaceably with FMS!

And remember what Mahatma Gandhi said,

“A  man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.”

Thus, think positively about living with FMS.  There is much to be gained!

Until Next Time,

D.

P. S. I will be adding an Italian version of this post as well.