“What foods are good for chronic pain?” is a question I get asked all the time.
As a medical society, we tend to look for the quick fix of drugs, injections, surgery to fix the things that hurt. The answer can be so much healthier and simple: Eat whole foods. Avoid processed, inflammatory crap.
When I started having arthritic symptoms in my low back and hips, I went to a rheumatologist for treatment. She put me on an antimalarial medication and strong NSAIDS that ended up tearing up my gut. As my symptoms progressed despite the meds, I turned to more natural ways to address the pain: my diet.
I’ve tried a lot of nutrition approaches since then. Elimination diet, Whole30, Whole30 Low Fodmap diet, keto, and now vegan. I was grasping at straws to find something that worked that was outside the realm of medications.
I started out small and got more detailed in how I managed my nutrition based on my physical symptoms. If I felt good and wasn’t gaining weight, I stuck with it. If I wasn’t, I knew that changes needed to be made. The other thing I’ve learned is that what once worked for me, doesn’t always continue to work as the seasons change in life. Getting older, health issues… all of that requires attention.
The other thing to keep in mind is that following these more restrictive diets is hard. There are a lot of don’ts and can’ts with following them but if there’s one thing I’d tell you that works time and again, it’s to simply focus on the things you can eat because the list is still pretty long. And the food is still delicious.
So let’s start with the basics:
If you feel like you’re at square one, your diet’s a mess, and you know you’ve gotta clean it up, start with cutting out the junk. This was the biggest and yet most effective change I made when I first started questioning what foods are good for chronic pain. Now let’s back up the truck a sec – I didn’t eliminate ALL junk. I just cut it back. No matter how much I’d like to think that a cupcake a day is a good thing, my body was telling me otherwise. And if I wanted to look and feel better, I needed to be willing to change. But I also needed balance.
Are you experiencing joint pain, GI symptoms, or fighting a generalized sense of blah?
Then take it a step further by eliminating the two biggest contributors to those symptoms: dairy and gluten. Start with dairy. It’s much easier to eliminate because it’s not hidden in every freaking food like gluten is.
Once you’ve tackled dairy, eliminate gluten.
But be aware that gluten is in so much more than just wheat products like bread and pasta. It has a crap-ton of sneaky names and is in so many products that you never even thought to consider. Soy sauce, teriyaki, canned goods, ice cream. I even found it in a can of jalapeno slices! You can find a great resource for hidden names of gluten HERE. Study it, know it, and live by it. Give it 4-6 weeks before you decide if it’s working or not. You are worth the time commitment!
For those of you who have autoimmune disease and/or chronic pain that just won’t quit:
Going deeper into elimination diets may be the answer for you, even if it’s only a partial one. There are options such as the Autoimmune Protocol and Whole30 but the one I found to be the easiest to wrap my pea-sized brain around was Whole30’s Low Fodmap Diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo, Di, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Basically, these are types of carbs that are known to cause GI symptoms. Wheat and dairy happen to fall into this category as do beans, garlic, onions, and a few others. The gist is, following a low FODMAP diet can reduce GI symptoms. Gut health is linked to inflammatory responses elsewhere in the body (like joints). So by getting your gut in order, your inflammatory symptoms should improve.
The thing I liked about Whole30’s plan (other than that it was super easy to know what foods to eat and has a ton of resources), was that it walked you through how to safely and effectively reintroduce foods. The REINTRODUCTION sequence is also pretty straightforward. You just need to be patient with yourself as you walk through it.
When thinking about what foods are good for chronic pain, start with small tweaks in your diet. Eliminate some stuff and see what happens. Wherever you are at with your symptoms, varying your nutrition approach may bring you at least some relief. It’s certainly not the fix all cure for what ails ya, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try!
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