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Adrienne Dellwo

Holidays & Food Sensitivities With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By November 19, 2012

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Blog Classic: Nov. 30, 2008

One of the many aspects of fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) is food sensitivities. This time of year, with all the traditional holiday foods, poses a real challenge for those of us who pay consequences for eating the wrong things.

Food sensitivities can cause digestive or intestinal problems, inflammation, fatigue, immune system abnormalities, headaches, depression, muscle pain, coordination problems and cognitive issues. Hmmm ... where have I heard that constellation of symptoms before? Ah yes - FMS, ME/CFS and other conditions linked to central sensitization.

As with so many other things, food sensitivities can make our symptoms worse. For some, it's a little worse. When I eat a lot of sugar, for instance, I get some inflammation and water retention that make my muscles ache more. For others, food sensitivities can be debilitating (think irritable bowel syndrome and Celiac disease.)

The first step toward managing your food sensitivities is to identify them, through symptom journaling and/or an elimination diet. After that, it's all about avoidance, and that's especially difficult during the holidays. A few simple tricks can help you resist temptation:

  • When you're going to a party or event, don't arrive hungry! If you're only nibbling on a few things, you're less likely to over-indulge in the things that don't suit you.
  • Plan to take a day or two to recover from holiday parties. (This is a good idea even if you don't have food sensitivities!)
  • Make sure friends and family know about your food issues and work with them on alternatives.
  • Find alternative recipes for your favorite things so you can safely indulge.

What are your food sensitivities? How do you deal with them this time of year? Have you learned some lessons the hard way? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo David Ellis/Getty Images

November 20, 2010 at 10:57 am
(1) Jamie says:

“Food sensitivities. People can become sensitive to certain foods without developing overt allergic reactions. When this occurs, the body may have a reaction similar to that of chronic stress, when cortisol levels are increased. Additionally, undetected food allergies can also result in constipation, diarrhea, and contribute to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).”


November 23, 2010 at 11:48 am
(2) Ellen says:

Food sensitivities can be really tricky. Sometimes your “replacement” foods can have digestive consequences as bad or worse than the original offender. Giving up sugar is hard, but some artificial sweetners, especially aspartane or sorbitol, can cause gas or diarrhea is consumed too much. Try powdered Stevia products to replace sugar. It is a natural sweetner and has less side effects than sugar or artificial sweetners.
A second culprit is flour in baked goods. Fibromyalgia patients may not test as Celiac, but may still react to gluten. Cooking with coconut flour or rice flour works well on many, but not all, recipes. It is worth it to not be the one “hogging the bathroom” when you have a house full of company.

November 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm
(3) Benia says:

FODMAPs! I’ve been learning about how certain kinds of sugars and other things, more prevalent in some foods than others can make IBS worse, especially after the tipping poking of what can be easily digested in the small intestines has been surpassed. Apples are on the list, as are Jerusalem Artichokes, for example. Wheat can be a problem, and so can some dairy foods. It takes practice and patience to learn, but it can certainly be helpful in avoiding or reducing painful IBS symptoms.

November 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm
(4) Marsha says:

I’m one of the lucky ones with multiple food allergies. Included in the long list are pumpkin and cranberries! I get hives and itching. I have found that if I take vitamin C 1000mg right after eating a suspected allergen, it blunts the reaction. I may take another dose an hour or two later if necessary. It’s one way of treating myself to a little taste of my favorites without suffering too much.

November 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm
(5) Cinda Crawford says:

Food, food sensitivities and allergies are a popular subject for people with all kinds of illnesses, but particularly Fibromyalgia and CFS. When asked what foods I suggest that a person stay away from, I can only speak from personal experience (I’m not a doctor), but I find that Aspartame, MSG, caffeine, tomatoes, potatoes, sometimes white flour and milk can be real troublemakers. Some people have a hard time eating meats like beef, because it takes so much body energy to digest them. There’s a good audio/podcast file on my blog today talking about foods, digestion and the immune system at: <a href="http://healthmattershow.com/fibromyalgia-diet-what-did-you-eat-yesterday-for-thanksgiving/&quot; the Health Matters Show. It’s snippets of files where I interviews 4 live guests about this important topic. Enjoy!

November 27, 2010 at 5:15 am
(6) Jeanette says:

This year I have established that I am severely allergic to all Dairy Products, Yeast, Sugar, Tomatoes, Oranges, and Egg Whites! At first I was so poorly with my Fibromyalgia and Hemachromotosis that sorting out a brand new diet was so hard. But now I am getting into it all and I am starting to feel human again.
My advice is to stick to it, buy yourself a bread maker and give yourself more time to prepare your food. Be organised if you are going out – take your food with you and don’t be afraid to refuse food when you are at a party. It certainly is not worth it.

November 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm
(7) Patty says:

Jeanette – I too have hemochromatosis along with fibromyalgia (coincidence?). Anyway, we have to not only watch our diet with fibro (sugars, artificial sweeteners, msg, caffeine, etc.), but also watch our iron intake. Anything that ferments and turns into yeast is a big no-no. I also have to watch alcohol intake, for both the liver and irritable bowel. It’s a constant process, and takes patience. I can take anything in small doses, but persistance pays off. I also take anti-yeast supplements, along with probiotics which I believe helps a great deal, as well.

November 19, 2011 at 6:57 am
(8) Nancy says:

This year I have another challenge. I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, in addition to already having CFS/FM/MCS and IBS. I’ve been trying to figure out how to enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner! I think I’m just going to eliminate some of the high carb foods that we usually have.

I’ll eat more turkey!

November 21, 2011 at 4:53 am
(9) lin says:

I find it fascinating when I read all of your comments. I am going through a really bad time with IBS at the moment.My food sensitivities are getting worse and am finding the list is growing. Tomatoes are a real bad food for me. I too cannot tolerate oranges, yeast and very sugary things. Cheese makes me feel so bad its unreal.My GP has just agreed to do bloods for RAST and Celiac. Fingers crossed I will find what is causing such terrible abdomen pains.Best Wishes to all of you for the Holidays.

November 21, 2012 at 11:18 am
(10) Christian says:

On top of fibro, I have ADHD, PTSD and absolutely no stomach so this time of year is always difficult. To deal with all the dietary restrictions, I usually bring my own foods to parties so the host(ess) doesn’t have to even try to make things fit. Another great trick I use is to focus on liquids before and during. Water, tea, and coffee keep that full feeling, hydrate, taste good, and (for me) the caffeine helps open blood flow and helps with pain.

November 23, 2012 at 4:24 pm
(11) Donna says:

Wow timing on this topic couldn’t be better! I’ve been having a horrible time with my stomach the last few weeks. I’ve had issues for years with tummy troubles but it has increased dramatically the last few weeks to becoming unbearable. Every evening/afternoon it bloats so bad I look like I’m seven months pregnant and the pain is terrible. I’ve made drastic changes in my diet this last week eliminating all processed foods, coffee, anything with flour, yeast and corn and am still having issues. I am also taking probiotics. Anyone have suggestions on what should be safe to eat or anything I could take to help with the bloating.

November 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm
(12) sue says:

I’m taking probiotics and it helps but what really helps are enzymes for pancreatic insufficientcy – I haven’t kept food in me for years. Unfortunately meds like Nexium cause osteosporosis and cholesterol meds affect the pancreas – so I may not have those problems but now I have worse problems.

November 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm
(13) Nancy says:

In addition to CFS and FM, I also have developed type 2 diabetes in the last few years. This makes holiday cooking and eating much more dificult. I have to limit the amount of carbohydrates at each meal and can’t eat dessert till a couple of hours after meals.

The hardest part for me is that I’m unable to do much cooking by myself due to the pain and fatigue of CFS/FM, and most of the restaurant takeout for holiday meals is loaded with high carb foods; potatoes, yams, macaroni, etc. And of couse, the desserts.

I wonder if a lot of CFS/FM sufferers also have diabetes? I’ve never seen any statistics on this.

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December 1, 2012 at 2:44 pm
(15) Sandra says:

I’ve been having an increasing problem with sugars and fats. I can have a very limited amount of sugar. If I overdo food not only tastes unedible but smells that way too. Can drink a small amount of fat-free milk and eat a little hard cheese. Right now I’m in a flare from eating two small cookies. They tasted so good at the time! I eat only lean meats and those in small quantities. Can’t eat cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, once some of my favorite foods. It does work going out to eat with a full tummy. If nothing, usually everyone serves a simple salad. All of this had made no logical sense to me but is the way life is.

December 9, 2012 at 10:53 pm
(16) Winaker says:

As someone who’s dealt with food allergies for 14yrs I know all to well what it’s like to deal with pain, fatigue, depression, etc from what we eat. I’ve done the elimination diet and found that in addition to wheat I was allergic to eggs, however you only find the answers to what you test. Recently I’ve developed an allergy to lettuce and paprika. I’ve decided to have IgG and IgE testing done to look at more foods/spices. In addition, I do take enzymes and probiotics as well. One thing to note, even if you take something to deal with the symptoms it isn’t actually dealing with the problem it’s only masking it, thus the inflammation is still in your bodyand doing damage…just because you aren’t feeling the symptoms doesn’t mean that that the inflammation isn’t taking its toll. The best solution if a food is causing you discomfort eliminate it entirely for your long term health.

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