Back in 2012, after spending two years feeling so awful I barely got off the couch/bed except for doctor appointments, I finally reached the point where I was willing to try anything – even completely changing my diet. During the previous two years I’d had many people suggest food sensitivities as a potential trigger for my illness. But, I’d not been willing to really consider it, at least not until I’d hit rock bottom after trying what I felt was everything else.
I wanted there to be an easier answer… a pill I could take that would make me feel better without feeling worse… an answer that didn’t require a major sacrifice on my end.
In the end, major sacrifice is exactly what was required.
In 2012, I started by getting tested for food sensitivities. But, I didn’t wait for those results to come back to make major changes to my diet. I’d read enough to know that often the only way you can really know if foods are causing you issues is to stop eating them. So, I put together an elimination diet.
If I’d known about the Whole 30 diet, I probably would have tried it, but instead I did my own thing.
After watching the movie Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead and seeing how much juicing had helped Joe Cross, I decided to give that a try, but I wasn’t ready to commit to months of it (as he had). So, I decided to juice for about a week. The next week I strictly ate and drank only fruits and vegetables.
The following week I added in rice, and then the fourth week I added meat. During this time the food sensitivity tests came back with low sensitivities to wheat, gluten, eggs, yeast, and whey.
I felt so much better that first week.
By the third week I felt well enough to drive eight hours to spend a week with a gluten-free friend so she could show me how she makes it work. For the next six months or so I continued to avoid all of the items that showed up on the food sensitivity tests. I also avoided grains as I found that they seemed to cause stomach upset and bloating. I felt great!
Could food sensitivities be making your fibromyalgia symptoms worse?
Food sensitivities aren’t the culprit for everyone, but many find that food sensitivities can cause or increase certain fibromyalgia symptoms.
Food sensitivities are not the only trigger for me. But, they are enough of a problem for myself and many others that it’s definitely worth it to consider an elimination diet to see if removing any specific foods helps you feel better.
The first thing to understand is that a food sensitivity is not the same as an allergy.
The difference between an allergy and a sensitivity
A food allergy typically causes an instant reaction. The most common reaction is anaphylactic shock, however less severe reactions include hives and swelling.
A food sensitivity (or intolerance) is a reaction that typically occurs later, often even days after the food is ingested. The most common reactions to food sensitivities are fatigue, muscle aches, and digestive issues.
A food sensitivity is one aspect of generalized hyper-vigilance, a common issue in Fibromyalgia and CFS/ME, where our system reacts to a non-threatening stimulus as if it is an actual threat.Food sensitivities and food allergies are not the same thing Click To Tweet
The most common food sensitivities
The most common food sensitivities line up with the most common food allergies. These include gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, and soy.
Most people are aware of Celiac Disease and gluten allergies; however, you can also simply be sensitive to gluten without actually testing positive for either Celiac or a gluten allergy. This gluten sensitivity can cause the same types of extreme digestive issues and system fatigue that is seen with a gluten allergy.
Many who find that they are sensitive to gluten, also find that they are sensitive to other grains, such as rice and oats. For those who suffer from IBS, dairy products of all kinds tend to be the culprit. Other common sensitivities include yeast, eggs, whey, nuts, and nightshade vegetables. Any of these can cause or worsen a variety of fatigue and pain issues.
How to diagnose food sensitivities
While there are tests available for most food sensitivities, many doctors will not bother. Also, your insurance typically won’t pay for food sensitivity testing. A doctor may test for food allergies, but food sensitivity tests are often not as accurate.
With the hyper-sensitivity that is experienced as part of Fibromyalgia, a negative result on a food sensitivity test may not be accurate. If you’ve not eaten a food that you are sensitive to in quite a while it may not show up in your results. Alternatively, you may test positive for foods simply because they are the foods you eat the most. Food sensitivity tests are typically expensive and rarely covered by insurance, but there is another way.
An elimination diet is the best way to determine if food sensitivity is causing any of your symptoms. An elimination diet requires that you eliminate all potential offenders from your diet for a period of time (anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the diet). This period of elimination allows your system to have time to clear out the offending foods.
Usually, you’ll see improvements anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. It can be frustrating, especially if you don’t see results quickly. When you see results it’s a lot easier to stick to the diet, but without results you wonder what the point is and the frustration will often drive you back to previous eating habits.
Once you’ve given your body enough time without the offending foods, you slowly reintroduce foods one at a time, usually for just a couple of days. Over those few days you can eat as much of the food as you like.
Each week you can introduce a new food, paying close attention to how your body reacts and how you feel during those few days and for the next week. By introducing foods one at a time you’ll be able to determine which foods are causing issues and which ones are safe.
Sometimes it’s not specific foods
Sometimes the culprit may be diet but not a specific food. It may be your overall diet – perhaps eating too many carbs, or processed foods, or food additives. If this is the case a good elimination diet can still help you.
With a good elimination diet you’ll remove all processed foods, sugar sources (both natural and non), and eat a strict, clean, whole foods-based diet. If you try an elimination diet and find that you feel better but as you re-introduce foods you don’t find a specific culprit it may be that carbs or processed foods are the culprit.
You may also find that you don’t feel better at all while doing an elimination diet. If that’s the case then food likely isn’t a trigger causing your symptoms to worsen. There are many triggers for those of us who live with chronic illness, and there are also other underlying illnesses that often go undiagnosed/treated that can aggravate things.
Even though foods may not be a trigger for you, there’s only one way to find out. It’s frustrating to think that you may have to give up foods you love in order to feel better. But, if you find that you are one of those for whom food sensitivities are a trigger I can promise you that those foods you are giving up won’t be missed once you start feeling better.
There are still times when I see a food I used to love and think “oh I’d love to have that,” then I remind myself that those few moments of pleasure are simply not worth how bad I’d feel the next day.
- Improving Fibromyalgia Symptoms with Food
- Changing Your Diet (The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Living)
- 6 Easy Diet Changes to Make You Feel Better
- How to eat an anti-inflammatory diet
My doctor told me to try deleting gluten, diary, sugar, and caffeine from my diet when I was diagnosed with fibro. I did, and I have not had to take any meds other than tylenol or adivil at all. I do take turmeric and magnesium at bedtime as recommended by my husband’s pain doctor. When I cheat more than a bit, I can definitely notice the difference in how I feel pain wise.