A healthy diet plan is important for managing fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). While it's not a "cure" and there is no magic diet that works wonders for everyone with these conditions, eating right can help you feel better, have more energy and boost your immune system.
As important as eating right is not eating wrong -- certain foods and drinks could be worsening your symptoms. It will take some trial and error to find what works best for you, but the information here is a good place to start.
While improving your eating habits might help you lose weight, keep in mind that your first goal needs to be feeling better. FMS and ME/CFS can make it especially hard for you to lose weight, but to properly address that problem, it's important for you to first get your symptoms to a more manageable level. Once you feel better, you'll be more able to increase your activity level and to face the specific challenges that keep you from dropping extra pounds. DO NOT TRY EXTREME OR "FAD" DIETS. Make dietary changes one at a time so you can gauge their effect on your health. Sudden or extreme changes -- even beneficial ones -- can temporarily make your symptoms worse.
A lot of websites advertise "cures" or treatments in the form of diets and supplements. Some of these are reputable, while others are not, so it's important to research the claims they make. Some diets may not provide proper nutrition, while others may require you to spend a lot of money on proprietary products that might not work and could potentially damage your health.
A "Balanced Diet"
You hear it all the time -- "eat a balanced diet!" With so much contradictory information around, it's hard to know exactly what "balanced" means. According to the University of Washington, a good diet includes some choices from each of five groups:
- Protein (poultry, fish, lean meats or dried beans)
- Dairy (low-fat milk, cheese or yogurt)
Getting enough protein in your diet is especially important, because your body needs it for growth and maintenance. Protein is directly responsible for about 20% of the material in your cells and tissues, and it's also necessary for hormones, antibodies and enzymes that keep your body going. Animal-based proteins (such as milk, meat, fish, poultry and eggs) will give you the amino acids your body needs to build protein.
Some experts say the tissue abnormalities that can go along with fibromyalgia may get worse or may even be caused by inadequate protein. Additionally, they say eating enough of it can help relieve stiffness and pain.
Things to Avoid
Some people with FMS and ME/CFS find that certain foods make their symptoms worse. To see how they effect you, try eliminating them from your diet for several days. Then reintroduce one food at a time (with a few days in between) and see how it makes you feel. The most common symptom triggers are:
- High-calorie foods
- Fried foods or those with high saturated fats
- Refined sugar
- Nutrasweet (aspartame) and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Cigarettes and other tobacco products
Other factors can disturb your sleep, which will make you feel worse. You should try to avoid:
- Candy/sugary foods
A note on caffeine: While many people with these conditions believe caffeine is essential for helping them wake up and have energy, it's important for you to look at it as a possible barrier to better sleep. While you may have withdrawal symptoms and feel more tired for a little while, if eliminating caffeine helps you sleep better it will be well worth it in the long run.
You can find a lot of claims online that a gluten-free diet may alleviate symptoms. This may be true for some people, but research hasn't given us definitive answers about how effective it is (or isn't.) See what we do know: Should You Be Gluten Free?
For more on finding food sensitivities, see The Elimination Diet for FMS & ME/CFS.
Raising Available Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's involved in several processes in your brain, including pain perception, sleep regulation and feelings of well being. Abnormal serotonin levels are linked to both FMS and ME/CFS, as well as depression, which is a common result of any chronic pain condition. (Neither FMS nor ME/CFS is caused by depression.)
To raise serotonin levels through food, you can try eating:
- Carbohydrate-rich foods, especially before bed
- Complex carbohydrates (grains, beans and many starchy foods)
- Dark chocolate (considered healthy only in small amounts)
As with everything else, you'll have to experiment to see what works best for you.
- More on symptoms & treatment of low serotonin
- Symptoms & treatment of low norepinephrine
- Sypmotms & treatment of low dopamine
- (Up next - controlling inflammation.)