My So Called Diet: Dealing with the Ibbs and the Fibbs

6 May

Here’s what’s going on with me these days:

First, a quick rant.  I recently tried a personal training session at the gym that I go to.  The trainer was informed ahead of time that I have fibromyalgia and that I struggle with lifting weights because of chronic neck pain. He studied up a little before my session and told me that he had great news!  Exercise had the potential to eliminate all of my pain (bullshit). He speculated that my pain probably got worse after starting my desk job (the opposite, actually). The trainer informed me that coffee is bad for you (while drinking a Monster energy drink).  So many red flags and still I wanted to trust an expert in a field in which I am completely unfamiliar. I let him lead me through a short (yet brutal) routine that seemed suspiciously intense given the pep talk about taking things slow he had just spouted at me minutes prior. I felt good afterwords thanks to the immediate endorphin rush that exercise is known for.  I almost let him trick me into signing up for more sessions (my God, they’re relentless salesmen). Luckily, before making any rash decision to spend lots of money on a trainer who is not formally trained in rheumatic conditions, the session caught up with me by the next day.  I had terrible post-exertional malaise for OVER A WEEK afterwards. My insomnia spiked, my pain reared its ugly head after hibernation, and my energy took a serious nose-dive.  I had been feeling really good up until that point.  The diet changes I’ve been implementing had brought me to a good place. I felt betrayed but also validated.  I really am broken.  Moments like these remind me of just how vulnerable I am to unexpected set-backs and how necessary it is for me to be my own health advocate. They also make me more determined to figure out ways to regain what chronic illness has taken from me.

Coffee: I have mostly eliminated coffee (even decaf). It has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. When I drink it, it feels like my brain short-circuits and starts going haywire (similar to when I eat raw onions and get “onion brained”). My vision gets kind of wonky, my muscles ache and feel more vulnerable, my stomach gets gross, and my nose stuffs up. A few weeks ago, I decided to retest coffee as it had been several weeks since I had a cup. I felt like crap after a few sips, so I ended up dumping it out. On the plus side, I ordered it black and like it that way now, proving you can recalibrate your taste buds in a matter of months with sugar-free eating.  Luckily with the change in seasons, I do not feel too deprived without my beloved coffee.  I tend to steer clear of coffee in the summer and switch over to iced tea.

My saving grace? La Croix! For now, I have replaced my morning beverage indulgence to flavored carbonated water.  I like the Grapefruit flavored La Croix. Or more accurately, since my cousin/health ally introduced me to this product, I have become psychologically addicted, and generally drink about 1-2 per day. 🙂

Chocolate: I reintroduced dark chocolate at the end of March.  I have been eating some dark chocolate on a daily basis. I decided that if I was planning a strict gluten/dairy free diet in addition to all of my other dietary limitations (low FODMAP, no processed oils, etc.), I would need something fun to look forward to!  I choose 85% or 88% versions and eat anywhere from 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce per day.  That means that I eat 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of added sugar per day. I am fine with this. For perspective, the average American adult eats about 22 tsp of added sugar per day while the average American child eats about 32 tsp of added sugar per day. Yikes!

How could I introduce dark chocolate when I vowed to be 100% sugar free for 1 year? Easy. I feel no need to be a diet zealot on this go-around. I wanted to eliminate sugar for the challenge, the mindfulness, and to regain control of my taste buds and cravings. Eating dark chocolate does not seem to make me crave more sugar which means that it is not a threat to my experiment. Unfortunately, I suspect that the stimulant properties in chocolate are causing me to sleep less soundly lately.  As a result, I’m working up to phasing chocolate back out. If you love something let it go, right? Le sigh.

My saving grace? Summer = lots of delicious fruit in season. 

Being (mostly) sugar-free?: It’s been amazing.  I rarely crave sweets, and when I do, I get over it quickly. I have the healthiest relationship with food than I’ve ever had before thanks to forcing added sugar out of my life. I am afraid of losing sight of the progress I’ve made.  It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about it for another 8 months though. 🙂

Mostly gluten-free: I was going to do one month on a very strict gluten and dairy free diet, but I changed course along the way.  I can’t afford to switch out my entire pantry on a hunch that gluten may not be my friend. If I had an official celiac disease diagnosis, it would be easy to go all in, but without it, it’s hard to take it too seriously.  Instead, I’ve decided to be as strict as possible at home.  When I buy new staples, I will do research beforehand to seek out certified gluten free products.  At some point, I’m going to have a very clean home diet.  If I am exposed to gluten at a restaurant or while eating at a friend’s house, the reaction should be pretty obvious if I turn out to have a very high sensitivity. I’m at the point where I have no reason not to aim for gluten free eating as much as possible anyway.  As mentioned before, I don’t digest wheat well. I also have celiac disease in my family, a chronic pain disorder, and genetic susceptibility for autoimmune disease, so my health can only go up by cutting it out.

Testing Dairy in Doses: I am testing different dairy products here and there.  For whatever weird reason that I can’t pinpoint, certain things are definitely problematic and other things are more illusive. For example, time and again when I eat greek yogurt, I get the most disgusting post-nasal drip, a sore throat, and fluid build-up in my ears.  I’ve never noticed such symptoms with hard cheeses, however.  I don’t really get it? The only theories I can come up with are that I have an allergy to one of the cultures used in the making of the yogurt or a strong sensitivity to lactose/whey.  Since hard cheeses are essentially all casein, the reaction is different.  Or maybe the reaction is just delayed, and I’m in denial…In any case, I shall continue to try things every once in awhile to see what I can learn from it.  Overall, however, my diet is dairy-free.

Going without gluten and dairy is less sad to me than going without chocolate and coffee.  I mostly like gluten for its baking properties and cheese for it’s ability to make a quick, tasty meal.  The worst part is that the more things I cut out, the less variety of foods I am able to work with.  For the most part, it’s not the end of the world not having these foods on my plate.

Low-moderate FODMAPs: for obvious reasons listed in numerous other posts.

Processed oil free: Cutting these out has been easier than expected.  Of course that’s because I make most meals from scratch. When I eat at restaurants, I let this rule go, mostly because I have no choice.  Even if the menu says “olive oil”, there’s a good chance you are getting diluted canola oil in your dish. I only eat at restaurants once or twice a month, so this minimal exposure is not much of a concern for me.

Let the record show that when I eat the cleanest diet possible, I feel like my best self.  This is no surprise really.  If sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, and processed oils are able to create inflammation and/or rev up the nervous system in a healthy person, it’s little surprise that my fibromyalgia symptoms would diminish while following a diet that excludes or greatly limits such components.

Am I cured? Sadly, no.  But I’ve come a long way, baby.

The quest for health continues…



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